Neuralink employees describe animal testing as ‘hacking jobs’

During last week’s public “show and tell” demonstrating Neuralink’s latest advances in achieving an affordable human brain-computer interface, co-founder and CEO Elon Musk pointed to videos of apparently healthy test animals with early versions of the product. implanted in their heads. Onstage, Musk reiterated earlier claims that Neuralink “wasn’t arrogant about putting devices on animals” and that test subjects, like his exhibit macaque named Sake, “really like” performing the tests. “He’s not tied to the chair or anything,” Musk added.

But a stunning new exclusive released this morning courtesy of Reuters, however, details a much more troubling company culture. In fact, the claims are so substantial that they convinced the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General to launch a previously undisclosed federal investigation into violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

[Related: Elon Musk hopes humans will be testing Neuralink brain implants in the next six months.]

Neuralink records reviewed by Reuters they cite approximately 1,500 animals killed since the experiments began in 2018, including more than 280 pigs, sheep and monkeys. However, the sources urged skepticism about that number, given that federal law does not require the company to keep accurate statistics on test subject counts. Although animals are routinely euthanized in as humane a manner as possible after medical testing for postmortem analysis purposes, the investigation highlighted at least four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that were compromised by human error.

“The errors weakened the investigative value of the experiments and required the tests to be repeated, leading to the deaths of more animals,” he explained. Reutersciting current and former employees’ descriptions of a “pressure cooker environment” that frequently led to lack of preparation and mistakes.

Reuters’ The findings show that the environment appears to be directly related to Musk’s insistence on accelerating measurable benchmarks and public outcomes for Neuralink’s product: a brain-computer interface implant initially intended to restore physical movement and vision of users in disabled, paralyzed and blind communities. Both sources speaking with Reuters and internal documents reviewed by Reuters cite Musk’s direct communications with Neuralink employees as confirmation, with an email sent by Musk in February complaining that, “Overall, we just aren’t moving fast enough. It’s driving me crazy!”

[Related: Brain interfaces aren’t nearly as easy as Elon Musk makes them seem.]

According to the report, several employees recalled that Musk told them to work as if “they had a bomb strapped to their heads,” which allegedly resulted in numerous “hacking jobs” that caused unnecessary suffering and death for test animals. The findings also cited fatal errors, such as using the wrong type of surgical glue on monkeys, placing experimental implants in the wrong vertebrae in pigs, and installing devices of the wrong size in sheep skulls.

The presumably failed and rushed experiments contrast with the quality of life Neuralink and Musk desired for their animals. Sources in the report called the company’s housing facilities commendable, comparing them to a “Monkey Disneyland,” and an employee told Reuters that Musk previously stated that he wanted his company’s test subjects to be “the happiest animals” while they were alive.

Musk estimated last week that human trials of Neuralink could begin as soon as this summer, pending FDA approval.

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