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Report: Elon Musk’s Neuralink under federal probe over animal testing

A Reuters report estimated that since 2018, nearly 1,500 animals have been killed in experiments

SHARE Report: Elon Musk’s Neuralink under federal probe over animal testing
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, attends the opening of the Tesla factory Berlin Brandenburg in Gruenheide, Germany, March 22, 2022.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends the opening of the Tesla factory Berlin Brandenburg in Gruenheide, Germany, March 22, 2022. Another one of Musk’s companies, Nueralink, is under a federal probe, according to a news report.

Patrick Pleull, Pool via Associated Press

Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink is under federal investigation for allegedly violating animal welfare regulations, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

This probe, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, comes amid staff complaints about the mistreatment of animals, the report stated. The USDA has declined to comment.

Neuralink’s goal is to create technology that will help paralyzed people regain the ability to walk, as well as aid those with neurological issues.

What is the federal investigation against Neuralink about?

For now, the scale of the investigation is unclear, but Reuters interviewed 20 current and former employees who attested that the pressure to produce results from Musk led to fumbled experiments.

  • In one such test, 25 out of 60 pigs had implants that were the wrong size in their heads. After alarms were raised about the mistake, the experiment was repeated with 36 sheep. All of the pigs and sheep were reportedly killed after the experiment.
  • The failed experiments were repeated, increasing the number of animals tested and killed. Neuralink did not respond to requests for comment, per Reuters.
  • The report estimated that since 2018, nearly 1,500 animals have been killed from tests. Most of the pigs, monkeys and sheep were killed after the experiments were completed.

Previous allegations of animal mistreatment

According to The Verge, Neuralink has held public demonstrations to showcase its technology, whether it's by displaying a monkey playing pong or typing using the chip in its mind.

The company pushed back on allegations of mistreatment of monkeys in research earlier in February, per Bloomberg. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an animal rights group, accused the company of botching surgeries done on monkeys.

“All novel medical devices and treatments must be tested in animals before they can be ethically trialed in humans,” Neuralink said at the time, adding that it has never received complaints from USDA after inspections were conducted.

Animal testing: Did Neuralink cross the line?

The Verge reported that it is fairly common for animals to be killed after testing so that their bodies can be autopsied and provide further data.

But current and former employees of Neuralink told Reuters that these deaths were higher than necessary due to Musk’s pressure.

The CEO told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads so that they work faster, an employee said. In one email from February, Musk wrote: “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!”

Meanwhile, five workers said they tried advocating for a more traditional approach toward experimentation where conclusions and adjustments are made one test at a time, leading to fewer animals tested and killed.

What’s next for Neuralink?

Reuters notes that the report isn’t evidence of concrete wrongdoing.

At a recent company event, Musk announced that human trials could start within the next six months, per Engadget. He also chose to directly address the allegations concerning animal mistreatment.

“Before we would even think of putting a device in an animal, we do everything possible we with rigorous benchtop testing, We’re not cavalier about putting these devices into animals. We’re extremely careful and we always want the device, whenever we do the implant — whether into a sheep, pig or monkey — to be confirmatory, not exploratory,” he said