Neuralink: 1,500 animals would have died during the experiments of Elon Musk’s startup

Neuralink: 1,500 animals would have died during the experiments of Elon Musk's startup

According to revelations from Reuters, Elon Musk would put such pressure on Neuralink employees that human errors would follow. It is the animals involved in the experiments who would pay the price by tens of tens, because of badly done surgeries.

Elon Musk talks about it as the future: his biotech startup Neuralink aims to connect the brain to machines. But it is now under federal investigation in the United States. This is revealed by Reuters, which also conducted an investigation demonstrating a major problem internally: serious animal abuse.

The figure, unveiled on December 5, 2022, is chilling: 1,500 animals are said to have died during experiments carried out since 2018. Among these living beings are sheep, monkeys and pigs, as well as rats and mice. .

In 2020, Musk showed sows with a connected implant. // Source: Neuralink

Stress, human errors: it’s chaos at Neuralink and the animals are paying the price

To obtain this information and this figure, Reuters studied internal documents and consulted sources internal to Neuralink “ having first-hand knowledge of the company’s animal testing operations “. These sources, by the way, indicate that the figure is an estimate and cannot be more precise: Neuralink does not keep track of animals that died during the experiments.

Either way, those sources told Reuters of their concern. Because, in addition to animal abuse strictly speaking, the number of dead animals is higher than it could be in normal times for this kind of experiment. At issue: Elon Musk’s request to speed up research so that Neuralink delivers better results faster.

Sources indicate that, in the rush and stress to meet tight deadlines, human errors would be linked – especially during surgical operations on animals. Faced with these errors, the results would not be reliable enough, which would require repeating the experiments, involving more animals and therefore more risks. Neuralink would tend to chain surgeries without stopping trying to correct problems during the procedures, rather than analyzing the results of each experiment before moving on to the next. Two employees and a former employee have attributed the errors to a lack of preparation on the part of an experimental staff working in a pressure environment.”

One of the monkeys having been operated on with a Neuralink chip, causing a computer cursor to move.  // Source: Neuralink
One of the monkeys having been operated on with a Neuralink chip, causing a computer cursor to move. // Source: Neuralink

The pressure that Musk puts is also sourced. Elon Musk would regularly use the metaphorical image of a bomb attached to the heads of his employees to explain to them that they must be faster. On February 8, 2022, the entrepreneur sent his entire team, at 6:37 a.m., a group message: “ We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in daily life! In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It drives me crazy! “. He also threatened his teams to cause a ” fall in the market from Neuralink in case of too slow results.

Many employees have tried to sound the alarm bells internally to management, unsuccessfully due to Musk’s demands, and many have left as a result of this animal abuse.

Human tests for Neuralink in 2023?

Despite this internal chaos, Elon Musk made a highly publicized presentation at the end of November 2022. He showed new images of monkeys moving the cursor of a computer with their minds. And, above all, he explained that he had requested official authorization for human tests. According to him, this authorization procedure could take six months: the first human guinea pigs of Neuralink would therefore be authorized by the spring of 2023, according to him.

Could the federal investigation prevent this step? It is difficult to say, because the ethical border is not necessarily a legal border. A Neuralink competitor, Syncron, won permission for human testing in 2021, and before that, 80 sheep died in the experiments. Davis University, which collaborates with Neuralink, also admitted last year that it had euthanized six monkeys who encountered “complications” after the tests, but claimed to have nevertheless followed all the legal rules.

As Reuters explains, US law is vague in this area: U.S. regulations don’t specify how many animals companies can use for research, and they give scientists a lot of leeway in determining when and how to use animals in experiments. »

It is for this reason that it is difficult to know whether or not the federal investigation is linked to this large-scale animal abuse. Because, a few months ago, Neuralink successfully passed the regulatory inspections of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) for all its installations. In fact, it is not totally impossible that this accumulation of dead animals during the tests does not prevent the authorization of human tests.

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