Days after announcing that it had developed a brain chip that lets monkeys type using the power of mind only, Elon Musk’s Neuralink is under investigation for animal abuse. Neuralink has been working on Musk’s vision, which foresees a technology that could link brains directly to computers. But animal rights activists and Neuralink staff have complained about gross mismanagement in animal testing, forcing federal agencies to launch an investigation.
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Documents seen and reported by Reuters claim Neuralink’s testing of animals was causing “needless suffering and deaths”. Citing its sources, Reuters said the federal probe was initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General at the request of a federal prosecutor. The probe’s focus is potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the code of ethics for using animals for research and medical testing.
Neuralink is hoping to develop technology that will enable the control of computers, and eventually other devices, through the power of the mind alone. It hopes the tech will eventually help direct motor control in people with physical handicaps or those suffering from partial or complete paralysis.
Reuters claimed it had seen documents that revealed the company had used 1,500 animals, including sheep, pigs, rats and mice, and monkeys in various experiments, though the number could be much higher. The use of animals could be within the ambit of the law, as companies use animals for testing products that advance human health and well-being.
However, insiders Reuters talked to say the number of animals killed could have been far less had Musk not insisted on expediting half-baked research and testing.
Four such experiments, Reuters reported, involved 86 pigs and two monkeys that were unnecessarily killed due to experiment failures caused by human errors. The mistakes led to more animals being killed, current and former staffers told Reuters, owing to the “testing staff working in a pressure-cooker environment”.
The news of alleged animal abuse is set to throw a spanner in Neuralink’s works. Animal testing has become a necessary evil for researchers to engage in before products and technologies can move to the human-trial phase. But the anomalies reported by Reuters and under investigation by federal authorities could spell trouble for the company, given the heightened concerns about animal cruelty and additional focus on their welfare by both civilians and the state.
It would also add to the troubles of Musk, who is already having a hard time managing the world’s leading microblogging site Twitter following a recent $44 billion takeover. Twitter has seen its popularity plummet as many famous users have publicly expressed their dismay over Musk running the show at Twitter.
As the investigations move ahead, Neuralink could come under increased public scrutiny for the alleged violations and animal abuse. And any gains, like the recent breakthrough in which its chip helped monkeys type using the power of the mind, could be muddled by the bad press the investigations garner.
Neuralink has a robust commitment to animal welfare within its organization; however, as the saying goes, there is never smoke without fire. While all allegations might not hold true in a court of law, there is a serious possibility of something being actually off at Neuralink, and the investigations ahead will uncover the truth.