The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General is reportedly investigating Neuralink for possible animal welfare violations related to research testing. Corresponding ReutersInternal documents show that employees have expressed concerns that the company is rushing animal testing and causing unnecessary suffering and death.
The news agency said the company had killed 1,500 animals since 2018, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys. These numbers don’t automatically mean that Neuralink breaks the law, and the company has passed all USDA inspections of its facilities. Former and current employees told ReutersHowever, pressure from Neuralink founder Elon Musk to speed up development has led to flawed experiments and thus higher mortality rates than they need to be.
Musk has reportedly told his employees since the company’s founding in 2016 to imagine having a bomb strapped to their heads to make them go faster. He also reportedly told employees that if they didn’t make progress, he would trigger a “market failure,” which some employees interpreted as a warning that he was closing the company. Earlier this year, Musk also emailed his staff an article about Swiss researchers developing an implant that helped a paralyzed person walk again. Reuters said. “In general, we just aren’t moving fast enough. This is driving me insane!” he reportedly wrote in a follow-up email.
After checking the internal test documentation, Reuters said it found four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys whose results were questionable due to human error. Neuralink had to repeat these experiments, resulting in more deaths. A message from a disgruntled employee discussed how rushed animal surgeries had resulted in ill-prepared and overworked employees who ended up making mistakes. Some examples Reuters The documents detailed how Neuralink employees implanted the company’s brain-machine interface device on the wrong vertebrae of two different pigs — something that could easily have been prevented by counting the animals’ vertebrae — and forced the team to replace them to kill to end their suffering.
Earlier this year, the animal rights group’s Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine accused the company of botching operations that killed monkeys. Neuralink admitted that in its joint study with the University of California, Davis, it killed six monkeys due to problems caused by their experiments. However, they defended their research, saying it did not break any laws.
Neuralink recently held an event announcing that it could begin human trials within the next six months. During the program, company founder Elon Musk directly responded to the medical board’s allegations: “Before we even think about putting a device in an animal, we do everything we can with rigorous laboratory testing. We are not unconcerned when using these devices animals. We are extremely cautious and we always want the device whenever we implant it – whether in a sheep, pig or monkey – to be confirmatory and not exploratory,” he said.
Reuters, but said it found Neuralink recordings with numerous references to “reconnaissance operations.” Autumn Sorrells, Neuralink’s animal care program director, also reportedly instructed staff in October to remove “exploration” from their study titles and to refrain from using the term going forward.
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