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Neuralink demonstrates a patient using ‘Telepathy’ to play games with the power of the mind

The mind physically integrating with the machine can be an uncomfortable concept to think about. Something about the idea of implanting electrodes, chips or indeed anything non-biological inside the delicate workings of the brain can create squeamish thoughts. However, Neuralink has released a livestream of a quadriplegic patient using artificial brain implants, a tech it calls “Telepathy”, to play games, and it’s difficult to argue with it as a potentially beneficial use-case for the technology.

In a Twitter livestream, patient Noland Arbaugh is joined by a Neuralink engineer to demonstrate the change the implant has made to his life. Arbaugh was injured in a diving accident, causing his C4 and C5 vertebrae to become dislocated, paralysing him from the shoulders down.

Since the Telepathy implantation in January, in which a brain-computer interface was surgically placed in the region of his brain that “controls the intention to move” alongside ultra-fine threads to help transmit signals between the two, Arbaugh says he has been able to control a computer cursor on screen, allowing him to play games.

In the stream he demonstrates using this movement to play chess, however he’s also apparently a fan of Civilisation VI, a game he’d previously stopped playing but says he’s since been able to enjoy for hours thanks to the device.

While previously he was able to have some limited control over a touchscreen by the usage of a mouth stick, Arbaugh thanks the company for giving him the ability to play games effectively once more, admitting that he stayed up until six in the morning playing Civ VI after receiving the implant.

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Neuralink has never been far from the news since its creation in 2016, not least because its founder, Elon Musk, never strays far from the headlines himself. Among recent controversies ranging from a workplace described as having a “culture of blame and fear” to some genuinely horrifying reports of animal testing coverups, it’s perhaps no surprise that the company would be keen to generate some positive publicity.

Still, it’s difficult not to look at someone who’s received a joyful part of their life back, when perhaps previously it may have seemed like an unlikely possibility, and not feel a tug of emotion towards the meaningfulness of the event.

While Neuralink is still in the early stages of human clinical study, after receiving permission for the first trials in May of last year, it looks unlikely that the technology it develops will receive widespread approval and adoption until much more testing has been carried out. Medical trials are notoriously slow, and for very good reason, as every precaution must be made to ensure that the tech is safe to implement before moving forward to consumer usage.

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In that regard, Elon Musk has some far reaching ideas. He’s previously spoken about long term goals for the company that include “symbiosis with artificial intelligence” and “something analogous to a video game, like a saved game situation, where you are able to resume and upload your last state”.

While those visions currently seem far-fetched, in the meantime it does appear like the technology may have some initial benefits to those with limited movement, although much more long-term testing will be needed to verify the initial results.

In the meantime, as a Civ IV fan myself, I congratulate Mr Arbaugh on his achievements, and wish him many happy hours of turn-based fun.

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