You’ve heard of Elon Musk. You’ve heard of animals dying. Now get ready to combine the two in today’s godawful story: Animals maybe dying because of Elon Musk.
Reuters reports that Musk’s medical tech company Neuralink is currently being investigated by the U.S. government after potentially violating animal welfare laws. Animals are allegedly suffering and dying in Neuralink’s labs on a greater scale than necessary due to Musk’s push to hasten development — and in many cases the deaths don’t even provide valuable research data.
Neuralink’s primary purpose is to develop a brain implant designed to help people who are paralysed or have neurological issues. Like many other medical tech companies, Neuralink conducts animal testing in the course of its research, such as implanting chips on pigs’ spines or monkeys’ brains. Animal deaths are unfortunately expected in such research, with test subjects often euthanised after an experiment is complete.
However, Neuralink’s kill count has reportedly been much higher than it needs to be, as Musk’s rushed timelines have apparently resulted in increased pressure and avoidable mistakes. This has allegedly led to botched experiments, repeated tests, and unnecessary deaths.
To make matters worse, many of these animals’ deaths apparently haven’t been painless. Mistakes made in Neuralink’s experiments have reportedly caused needless suffering, while simultaneously producing data of questionable quality. Such instances have allegedly included surgeons using the wrong surgical glue, implanting Neuralink’s device on the wrong vertebrae, and implanting devices that were the wrong size.
According to documents seen by Reuters, Neuralink has killed approximately 1,500 animals since 2018, including pigs, monkeys, mice, and rats.
Of course, the number of animal deaths isn’t necessarily an indication that Neuralink has done anything wrong. A large company doing large-scale animal testing logically leads to a large number of deaths. Reuters also notes that Neuralink reportedly treats animals relatively well when compared to other labs, right up until they’re actually experimented on and killed.
Yet even taking this into account, both internal documents and Reuters’ interviews with over 20 former and current employees indicate that Neuralink’s test animals have suffered and died at a greater scale than required due to Musk’s demands that researchers speed up their work.
The investigation into Neuralink is reportedly being conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and focuses on the Animal Welfare Act. Reuters couldn’t specifically confirm whether it concerned the allegations made by the employees it spoke to, but it’s a pretty safe bet. If the investigation isn’t related to these allegations, that would mean Neuralink has even more potential animal welfare issues, which isn’t a reality anyone would like to contemplate.
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Last week Musk announced that Neuralink could be ready to begin human trials within the next six months, provided the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves. It’d be advisable to take this proclamation with a giant pillar of salt, though. Even setting aside the recent revelations surrounding Neuralink’s animal testing, Musk has a history of declaring unrealistically optimistic timelines and failing to deliver.
Back in 2016, Musk said that Tesla expected to demonstrate a self-driven trip across the U.S. in 2017. This did not happen. In 2018, Musk declared that he’d launch two cargo missions to Mars in 2022. This did not happen. Musk even previously announced that human testing for Neuralink would begin in 2020, then in 2022. This also did not happen.
It will be genuinely shocking if Neuralink does begin human trials within half a year. But even if it does, you’ll probably want to do an awful lot of thinking before you undergo invasive brain surgery to let the richest man in the world implant a chip in your grey matter.