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 error would follow. It is the animals involved in the experiments that would pay the price in the tens of thousands due to poorly performed surgeries.

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

The figure, revealed on December 5, 2022, is shocking: 1,500 animals are said to have died during experiments conducted since 2018. Among these living creatures are sheep, monkeys and pigs, as well as rats and mice. .

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

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

To get this information and figure, Reuters studied internal documents and consulted sources inside Neuralink ” have first-hand knowledge of the company’s animal testing activities These sources also indicate that the number 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 concerns. Because in addition to animal cruelty 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 Neuralink delivers better results faster.

Sources indicate that in the hustle and bustle of meeting tight deadlines, human error would be associated – 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 operations without stopping to try to correct problems during the procedures, instead of analyzing the results of each experiment before moving on to the next. Two employees and a former employee have attributed the failures to a lack of preparation on the part of trial staff working in a pressured environment.”

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

The pressure that Musk applies is also sourced. Elon Musk would regularly use the metaphorical image of a bomb attached to the head of his employees to explain to them that they need to be faster. On February 8, 2022, the entrepreneur sent his entire team at 6:37 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 ” decline in the market from Neuralink in case of too slow results.

Many employees have tried to ring the alarm bells internally to management, to no avail 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 much talked about presentation at the end of November 2022. He showed new images of monkeys moving the cursor on a computer with their minds. And above all, he explained that he had requested official permission for human tests. According to him, this approval procedure could take six months: the first human guinea pigs of Neuralink would therefore be approved in the spring of 2023, according to him.

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

As Reuters explains, US law is vague in this area: US rules do not specify how many animals companies can use for research, and they give scientists a lot of leeway in deciding 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 connected to this widespread animal abuse. Because a few months ago, Neuralink successfully passed the regulatory inspections by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) for all its installations. In fact, it is not entirely impossible that this accumulation of dead animals during the experiments does not prevent the approval of human experiments.

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