We already knew Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface startup, Neuralink, was having trouble. Internally, employees have warned of chaos as Musk is said to be pushing for over-ambitious goals. Externally, subject matter experts say Musk’s glamorous promises gloss over profound challenges standing in the way of a commercial human brain implant — and downplay deep ethical questions that will arise if it succeeds.
Another problem is also apparent early on: criticism of the way the company treats its animal test subjects. Now a bomb Reuters story reports that these concerns have been significantly exacerbated in the form of a federal investigation into animal welfare at the company by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General at the request of a federal attorney.
Reuters‘ Coverage sounds extensive, drawing on interviews with numerous current and former Neuralink employees, the news agency says, during a “time of growing employee disagreement over Neuralink’s animal testing.”
The specific allegations are grim, with Reuters reports that Neuralink has so far killed around 1,500 animals since 2018, including 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys. It’s not clear exactly how many of the animals died after being implanted with the company’s prototype brain chip – which Musk said this week will be implanted in human subjects within six months – but it was previously reported that 21 percent of his monkeys died because of problems with the devices.
tell sources Reuters that many mistakes that endanger animal welfare are avoidable. For example, outlet employees said the company allegedly botched surgery on two pigs when it implanted their chips in the wrong vertebra, prompting the company vet to recommend killing one of the animals because of its “poor mental health.”
Worse, employees said Reuters that mistakes that led to animal deaths were sometimes made worse by Musk pushing the company to operate faster than safe. An employee unloaded colleagues in a message received by Reuters that the company’s work on animals was a “hack job.” The outlet reported that numerous employees have raised the concerns internally, and some have left the company entirely over concerns about the treatment of the animals.
Another detail reported in the story smacked of an ugly retroactive approach to scientific literature: After Musk called the company’s surgical approach “confirmative, not exploratory,” the company’s researchers were reportedly instructed to use the word ” explorative” to be deleted retrospectively from the study titles in order to avoid future use.
Neuralink’s issues with the perception of its animal testing have been piling up for some time. PETA has given the company a say, and a lawsuit is ongoing to obtain photos of monkeys Neuralink experimented with at the University of California, Davis.
However, a federal investigation — as well as what sounds like growing resentment at the company over Musk’s dictatorial leadership style — could cast a rapidly darkening shadow on the already-challenged company. The drama also comes as Musk faces major challenges on his just-acquired social media site Twitter, as well as delays at SpaceX and a slew of troubles at Tesla.
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