Science

How a drunk dial from a friend led to paralyzed man becoming Neuralink’s patient zero – five months later he is playing Mario Kart with his mind


A mid-day drunk-dial from a friend has changed one man’s life forever.

Noland Arbaugh, 29, rose to fame after being revealed as Neuralink’s first patient to receive its brain chip, but it all started when his friend called slurring his words in September.

Arbaugh was paralyzed eight years ago during a diving accident.

The friend called Arbaugh to tell him about Elon Musk opening up human trials and urged him to apply and even helped him fill out the form.

Just five months after he was approved for the Neuralink trial, Arbaugh had a cutting edge brain chip embedded in his skull. 

Noland Arbaugh became the first person to receive a Neuralink brain chip implant when he applied in September

Noland Arbaugh became the first person to receive a Neuralink brain chip implant when he applied in September

Arbaugh was paralyzed from the neck down during a diving accident eight years ago

Arbaugh was paralyzed from the neck down during a diving accident eight years ago

Since undergoing the brain chip implant surgery, Arbaugh has made waves by playing an online game of chess using only his mind and pulling an all-nighter to play video games for the first time since he was paralyzed from the neck down during a diving accident eight years ago.

In an hour-long video posted to X, Arbaugh shared that he had never heard of Neuralink until six months ago when he received the now-infamous drunk call from his friend.

He said his friend was a biology major who worked in a neuroscience lab and called to tell him that Neuralink had just received FDA approval and had opened up clinical trial applications and that Arbaugh should apply.

‘I was like, ‘What the hell is Neuralink,’ Arbaugh said, adding: ‘The best part of the story is he was wasted when he did it. He was drunk and calling me at noon.’ 

Neuralink brain chips transmit signals to the body's nerves which are translated into motor controls

Neuralink brain chips transmit signals to the body’s nerves which are translated into motor controls

Arbaugh said his friend helped him fill out the application form online, and even though his friend had misspelled his name, he still was offered an interview.

When the interview slots opened, Arbaugh chose the earliest one each time, hoping it would give him an advantage of being selected to receive the brain chip.

He did take time to consider whether receiving the brain chip was something he wanted and had to weigh the pros and cons and what this would mean for his family.

‘I definitely took time to step back and evaluate all of the downsides that I could be bringing to my family,’ he said. 

‘Not just the health downsides—things that could have happened during surgery or afterwards—but everything that comes with this, like any notoriety.’ 

But once he decided to proceed with the procedure, Arbaugh said: ‘It was really crazy how fast everything happened.’ 

Arbaugh was able to play an online chess game using just his mind and stayed up all night to play the video game, Civilization IV

Arbaugh was able to play an online chess game using just his mind and stayed up all night to play the video game, Civilization IV

Arbaugh's friend called him while drunk in the middle of the day to tell him that he should sign up for the Neuralink brain chip implant trial

Arbaugh’s friend called him while drunk in the middle of the day to tell him that he should sign up for the Neuralink brain chip implant trial

Arbaugh can move a cursor around the screen using the remote brain chip in his head

Arbaugh can move a cursor around the screen using the remote brain chip in his head

In the weeks and months that followed, Arbaugh had to adjust to the brain chip implant and said they were still working out the kinks, although he did not specify what those were. 

Videos of Arbaugh playing online chess using just his mind and playing a Mario Kart video game with his dad appeared on the screen during his Neuralink interview, and when he tried to explain what it felt like, he didn’t have the words.

‘I can feel myself moving my index finger,’ Arbaugh said. ‘It’s not moving, but I can feel it. 

‘… It’s such a wild feeling. … It’s very difficult to explain,’ he said.

Neuralink kept Arbaugh’s identity confidential until last week when it live-streamed him playing online chess by moving the cursor on the screen using the chip implant.

When Arbaugh finally gained the ability to play Civilization IV – a game he hadn’t been able to play since before his accident – he pulled an all-nighter, playing for eight hours straight.  

‘I’m so lucky, everything just lined up like the stars. 

‘It was September 19 … and five months later, I was getting brain surgery,’ Arbaugh continued.

‘It all happened so quickly,’ he said, ‘And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

Although Arbaugh has expressed his pleasure and excitement about being the first Neuralink test subject, his interviews come as the company faced intense scrutiny for how they handled the initial round of tests on animals. 

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) wrote a letter to the FDA earlier this week, criticizing the agency for not inspecting the lengthy list of animal abuse allegations.

Former employees claimed that Neuralink’s tests had caused needless suffering and the death of more than 1,500 animals.

The company denied the claims and said at the time: ‘Currently, all novel medical devices and treatments must be tested in animals before they can be ethically trialed in humans.

‘Neuralink is not unique in this regard,’ it added. ‘At Neuralink, we are absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible.’

Meanwhile, Musk posted on X on March 21 proclaiming that ‘no monkey has died or been seriously injured by a Neuralink device.’ 





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