Neuralink, the brain implant company founded by Elon Musk, is reportedly facing a federal investigation into the treatment of animals used in its experiments. Reuters reports recently opened an investigation by the Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) into possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. A spokesman for the USDA’s inspector general declined to comment Reuters on his report.
although Reuters says it’s unclear how broad the investigation is, the news agency details a range of animal welfare concerns raised in interviews with more than 20 current and former Neuralink employees. These include reports that in one experiment, 25 out of 60 pigs allegedly had the wrong size device installed as part of a study, while on another occasion two separate pigs installed devices on the wrong vertebra, resulting in one having to be euthanized for his end suffering.
Staffers are reportedly pushed to meet ambitious deadlines
Neuralink’s goal is to develop ways for the human brain to communicate directly with computers to treat a range of neurological conditions and even help paralyzed people walk. So far, the company has given a number of public demonstrations of its technology used by animals, including a monkey at play Pong with his brain and another typing on a computer using an implant.
It is common practice for animals used in scientific tests to be euthanized after the experiments are completed so that their autopsies can provide further data. But current and former Neuralink employees interviewed by Reuters said testing errors could lead to additional deaths by requiring tests to be repeated. They can also make the resulting data less accurate. Reuters reports that Neuralink has killed about 1,500 animals since 2018.
None of this is hard evidence of wrongdoing (and Reuters notes that Neuralink has passed all USDA inspections), but employees have reportedly raised concerns internally that Musk’s drive for rapid progress has created an environment filled with some Reuters cites “underprepared and overworked staff rushing to meet deadlines.” Musk’s efforts to motivate employees to work faster reportedly included telling staff to imagine having a bomb on their head. Reuters the CEO also says in an email in February of this year: “In general, we are just not moving fast enough. It makes me crazy!”
Publicly, Musk was optimistic about the potential for Neuralink to launch human trials in the near future. At a recent event, the CEO of Tesla and now Twitter said he hopes to install the device in a human’s head within six months. Musk previously said he hoped to begin human trials in 2020 and then 2022.
Neuralink has previously been criticized for its treatment of animals. Earlier this year, a non-profit called the Doctors’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which opposes the use of animals in medical experiments, claimed that in a Neuralink-funded study, scientists at the University of California, Davis treated monkeys involved in one of its experiments inhumanely. Neuralink responded to the allegations, saying that “the facilities and care at UC Davis met and continues to meet federally mandated standards.”
Neuralink did not respond The Verges request for comment. Reuters’ report is worth reading in its entirety.