Neuralink: US investigation into possible violations of animal protection laws

In four years, Neuralink trials have killed 1,500 animals. Partly after erroneous experiments were not carried out at all.

The pong-playing macaque pager (Image: Neuralink)

Investigations are underway against US billionaire Elon Musk’s company Neuralink because too many animals may be killed for the development of the brain-computer interface (BCI). This is reported by the Reuters news agency, citing relevant documents. Since the experiments began, Neuralink has killed 1,500 test animals, including over 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. The number alone is not an indication that animal welfare requirements have been violated, the news agency writes. However, several cases are listed in which dozens of animals were killed after devices had been incorrectly implanted under time pressure and then no experiments were carried out.

The inspector general of the US Department of Agriculture has been investigating for months. For example, Reuters reports a trial involving 60 pigs in which 25 of them were implanted with the wrong size devices. According to the documents, this mistake could have been avoided with better preparation. In another case, two pigs accidentally had the Neuralink device implanted in the wrong vertebra. According to the report, that too could have been easily prevented by carefully counting the vertebrae. Employees were frustrated by the mistake. The pigs were then immediately killed.

The background to the problems is apparently, among other things, time pressure, which is being built up personally by Elon Musk. This results in underprepared and stressed employees making last-minute changes to operations to meet deadlines. Musk keeps increasing the pressure personally, for example when he sends out newspaper articles internally and complains: “We’re just too slow, it’s driving me crazy!” He has repeatedly told employees that when they work, they should imagine that a bomb is attached to their heads to propel them. He also threatened to close the company if there was not enough progress.

Neuralink develops BCIs with which certain movements no longer have to be executed, but only have to be thought of. To do this, the activity of the neurons in certain areas that are active when certain parts of the body movements are to be measured. This information is then evaluated and later used to control computers. In a particularly famous example, Neuralink implanted a brain chip in a macaque that enabled it to control the game of Pong, here called MindPong, with its mind. In the future, paralyzed people should be able to use computers with technology and be able to move again.

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