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Neuralink livestream shows paralyzed person playing chess on laptop

Elon Musk said in January that the company he co-founded had implanted its first device in a human with the goal of allowing people to control devices “just by thinking.”
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Elon Musk’s brain science startup, Neuralink, offered a peek Wednesday into how a quadriplegic person is using its brain implant to control a computer. 

Neuralink released a nine-minute video in which its first human patient, who is paralyzed below his shoulders, appears to move a cursor across a laptop screen with nothing but his thoughts. The video shows him playing chess and turning off the laptop’s music.

The patient, who had not been previously identified, said in Wednesday’s video that his name was Noland Arbaugh. He said that he’s 29 years old and that he lost all movement and sensation in his arms and legs after a diving accident about eight years ago. 

Arbaugh said he was a satisfied patient so far after having previously relied on a mouth stick for certain tasks. No external devices or wires were visible in the video. 

“It’s all being done with my brain. If y’all can see the cursor moving around the screen, that’s all me. It’s pretty cool, huh?” he said, with a Neuralink employee by his side. 

The video makes Neuralink one of at least three companies to have released evidence of a functioning brain implant. The two others, Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron, both have yearslong head starts on Neuralink. Each of the three companies has a different approach, and other startups are rushing into the field. 

Neuralink released its video on Musk’s X platform about two months after Musk announced that the company had implanted a device in a human for the first time. 

The video follows decades of research by physicians and neuroscientists in the field known as brain-computer interfaces, or BCI. Doctors implanted the first interface device in 2004. It was known as the Utah array because of where it was invented, and a version of it is now used by Blackrock Neurotech. 

Neuralink has received both wide publicity and heavy scrutiny in part because of Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, who is among the world’s wealthiest people. 

The startup has been notable in part for how little information it has released to the public, with major announcements coming in brief statements on Musk’s X account. Neuralink received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in May for its first in-human clinical study.

Scientists who have worked on technology to treat certain disabilities by tapping into the body’s nervous system have told NBC News that Neuralink appeared to have made significant gains but noted that the company’s trial is in its early stages and that not much information had been released publicly.

One of Neuralink’s co-founders left the company to start a rival, Precision Neuroscience, in 2021. That company began an in-human clinical study last year. 

In the Neuralink video, Arbaugh talks about the process he underwent to train on the device after doctors implanted it in January. He said that he would think about moving his hand and that, eventually, moving the computer cursor became second nature. 

“It just became intuitive to me to start imagining the cursor moving. It was like using The Force on the cursor, and I could get it to move wherever I wanted,” he said, using a “Star Wars” reference. 

“Every day it seems like we’re learning new stuff,” he said.