Neuralink, the start-up of Elon Musk, suspected of animal abuse

Neuralink, the start-up of Elon Musk, suspected of animal abuse

The company is under federal investigation for possible violations of the welfare of the animals on which its implants are tested. Since 2018, she has killed around 1,500 during her experiments.

Last week, Elon Musk estimated that the device of his start-up Neuralink could be implanted in a human brain within six months. This neural implant allowing communication between a brain and a computer directly by thought would help sick people, starting with paralyzed people who could walk again.

However, an obstacle could stand in the way of the objective of the first tests on humans. On Tuesday, Reuters revealed that Neuralink is under federal investigation for animal law violations. Having tested its implant on animals, the start-up is accused of having botched its tests, causing unnecessary suffering and death. “This investigation comes at a time of growing employee dissent over animal testing, including complaints that CEO Elon Musk is pushing for accelerated development”reports the news agency, after having consulted documents and having spoken with about twenty former and current employees.

A higher number of deaths than necessary

The investigation was launched in recent months by the inspector general of the United States Department of Agriculture at the request of a federal prosecutor. It focuses on violations of the law governing how researchers treat and test certain animals. According to records reviewed by Reuters and “sources with direct knowledge of the company’s testing operations”about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys have been killed in experiments since 2018. The sources have also specified that this figure is an estimate because Neuralink does not keep track of animals that have died during experiences.

Several companies conduct such experiments, with the animals usually killed after the experiments are completed, so that they can be examined post-mortem. The number of deaths at Elon Musk’s start-up is still higher than necessary according to former and current employees. This, because of the request of the billionaire to accelerate the research. On February 8, for example, he sent staff a press article on Swiss researchers who had developed an electrical implant allowing a paralyzed man to walk again. “We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in everyday life! »Elon Musk wrote to them at 6:37 a.m., adding ten minutes later: “In general, we just don’t move fast enough. It is driving me crazy ! ».

The contractor also told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads to make them move faster on several occasions in recent years and threatened to cause a “fall in the market” if Neuralink wasn’t going faster.

Human errors linked to a stressful environment

With this pressure and stress, many human errors have been made. At least four experiments involving 86 pigs and 2 monkeys, for example, were botched. Similarly, in 2021, 25 out of 60 pigs had the wrong size device implanted in their head, which could have been avoided with more preparation. Since the research conclusions could not have the same value because of these errors, the tests were repeated, leading to the death of more animals. Neuralink’s research approach is also criticized. Indeed, instead of testing one item at a time to draw the relevant conclusions before moving on to another test, the start-up launches a series of tests, which leads to more animal deaths.

It’s unclear whether the federal investigation will prevent Neuralink from beginning human testing. Syncron, a competitor of the company, won approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start human trials last year after killing around 80 sheep in its experiments. The rules are vague in this area, as Reuters explains: “U.S. regulations don’t specify how many animals companies can use for research, and they leave significant leeway for scientists to determine when and how to use animals in experiments.”.

The news agency also says it was unable to determine the exact scope of the federal investigation or whether it involved the same alleged animal testing issues identified by the employees. It adds to the complaint filed by an animal rights group in February, which accuses Neuralink of having caused the death of several monkeys by botching surgeries.