In the long event of a few days ago, Elon Musk and his followers tried to take the matter a little lightly. What question? That of the welfare of animals used as guinea pigs for the (mysterious, to be honest) experiments of his Neuralink, the Californian company with which the owner of Twitter and SpaceX is designing a wireless connection platform between the human brain and external technological devices capable of enhance or restore neurological abilities.
In fact, there had been very detailed complaints about the alleged abuses committed by researchers at the University of California-Davis and by Neuralink experts during tests, for example by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Already last February the company had denied any accusation to the report filed by the non-profit with the US Department of Agriculture.
Complaints that evidently have run their course if it is true that, as Reuters explains, the company is under federal investigation for possible violations of animal health conditions. According to testimonies collected by the agency from various sources, including the personnel involved in the experiments, these tests – which have been conducted internally since 2020, without the use of the Californian university laboratories – are carried out hastily, thus causing unnecessary suffering and deaths. avoidable.
The federal investigation, which was not known until now, was opened in recent months by the general inspectorate of United States Department of Agriculture at the request of a Northern California federal prosecutor. Which further supports the hypothesis that the PCRM report just mentioned may have been the kick-off of the investigation. On the plate there are violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the law that also regulates methods and treatments of scientific tests on animals.
The documents reviewed by the organization, on the basis of which last winter’s complaint was compiled, indicated, for example, that many, if not all, of the monkeys involved have “experienced extreme suffering due to inadequate care and highly invasive experimental brain implants ”. These implants and their hardware, inserted into the brain after drilling into the skull, “triggered recurrent infections, greatly compromising their health as well as the integrity of the research,” the report continued.
The numbers are probably slightly different today, but at the time of the complaint, the association explained that at least 23 rhesus macaques were used by the Californian university in the tests, partly subsidized by federal funds: some underwent numerous surgical procedures, up to ten craniotomies, in order to implant the chips in the most effective way possible which Musk has renamed “The Links”.
Not only infections and deaths following the operations: after the implants the monkeys were kept blocked to favor the success of the intervention while, during the recording sessions of their activities – those proudly shown by the founder of Tesla during the last event, for marketing purposes, as the result of the ability to communicate or act with the mind thanks to the device – they have been tied to chairs for up to five hours a day. “Some monkeys have also been subjected to (fatal) device explantation procedures.”
One of the fatal cases: the 6-year-old macaque
Also in the complaint of February 10, a series of specific cases of ill-treatment were listed, by way of example, to give a better idea of the actual tortures to which primates are subjected. For example, it was said of a 6-year-old macaque killed on January 16, 2019 as part of an “experimental design” project. On October 10 of the previous year, he had in fact undergone an extremely invasive surgical procedure during which scientists had drilled multiple holes in his skull by implanting a large number of electrodes and “securing them with titanium screws”.
It was in all likelihood a guinea pig of that robot designed internally by Neuralink, at the time still in the initial stage of development and now called R1. In early December 2018, the area around the implants began to become infected, the skin eroded and bled until the underlying electrodes clearly showed, and the lab staff had to administer huge amounts of antibiotics to the monkey, who had only a few weeks left to live : was then suppressed on January 16, 2019.
No one from Neuralink or from Musk’s staff has responded to the news of the federal investigation, not even – as happened in February – to deny the allegations by acknowledging minimal losses. “The investigation comes amid growing dissent from employees over Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to speed up development has led to failed experiments,” he explained. Reuters by analyzing dozens of company documents – messages, audio recordings, emails, presentations and reports – and conducting interviews with more than 20 current and former employees.
The central point is also another: some company executives have publicly stated that animal testing would only happen when the group has exhausted all other options. The evidence also proves the opposite of what Musk recently explained during the update event, in which he announced the start of human trials within six months.
The balance: over 1,500 animals killed (but there is no trace of official data)
Overall, and this obviously does not mean that it has violated the loose US regulation, Neuralink has killed about 1,500 animals in experiments since at least 2018, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys. But these are precisely estimates: the company would not keep track in a precise way of the animals that undergo the experiments or of how many die.
In its investigation, Reuters basically underlines how the pressure placed by Musk to speed up the search, even with splatter formulas very dear to him (such as imagining having a time bomb glued to your head to speed up the job) have led to truly avoidable and embarrassing mistakes even in an area, that of research, which struggles to give up animal guinea pigs and where countless other corporate acronyms consider animal existences as accidents on the road to their goal.
In one case last year, for example, 25 out of 60 pigs in a study were implanted with the wrong size chips — fearful that the mistake could be caught by Food and Drug Administration officials who the company has gradually sent the documentation to obtain authorization for human tests, the scientists repeated the experiment on 36 sheep. When finished, all the animals were obviously killed.