Neuralink | Inset: Good Morning America / YouTube

Noland Arbaugh’s life was drastically changed when he became quadriplegic after diving in shallow water. Last year, he was given the opportunity to receive the first-ever Neuralink, a tiny chip implanted in Arbaugh’s skull that enables him to control a computer simply with his thoughts. The technology is the first of its kind to be tested on people, and is from the mind of Tesla’s Elon Musk. It could potentially be a game changer for those like Arbaugh who are living with severe physical impairments. “I can control a computer just like anyone else can, which is not something I was able to do beforehand,” said Arbaugh, speaking to “Good Morning America’s” Will Reeve. The implant enabled Arbaugh to browse the internet and play video games.

Neuralink was founded in 2016 and went through a series of animal trials before being approved for human trials. One of the biggest concerns of the implant is the retraction of the tiny wires attached to the device, something that can limit the device’s responsiveness to Arbaugh’s brain. The wires are thinner than human hair and movement in the brain can make it difficult for designers to adjust for changes. In a previous study on pigs, Neuralink’s designers found that a subset developed granulomas in the brain, an inflammatory response due to infection or a foreign object. Neuralink eventually was unable to conclude the exact cause of the granulomas but ruled out the device and its threads as the culprit.

Just a few weeks after his Neuralink was implanted, Arbaugh experienced similar retraction, causing performance issues with the device. Neuralink engineers worried they might have to remove the device, something that caused Arbaugh to get emotional. “It was very, very hard to give up all of the amazing things that I was able to do. I think I had cried, basically, afterward,” he said. However, Neuralink was able to make modifications to the device, including increasing its algorithm’s sensitivity to keep the device in place. “We rolled up our sleeves and found various different ways for Nolan to be able to recover his performance,. Ever since then, he’s been able to actually do better than what he’s been able to do before this,” said Neuralink co-founder DJ Seo.

For his part, Arbaugh is thankful to be the first. “I knew that if I did this then it would take a lot of headache and heartache away from the people down the road,” he said. Musk announced on X that the company is currently seeking a second participant for the implant. He included a video of Arbaugh discussing his experiences with the chip. According to Bloomberg, the company intends to operate on 11 people this year and be in 22,000 by the year 2030.

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