Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface has been rekindled

The Neuralink saga is enriched with a new work. On the program: heaps of animals sacrificed on the altar of a sulphurous billionaire’s ambition.

We both pick up and start over. Neuralink, the firm funded by Elon Musk that works on brain-machine interfaces of the same name, is again in trouble following the revelations published by Reuters after a major investigation.

As is always the case when it comes to testing molecules or technologies intended for the human body, the process began with extensive animal testing. But since this chip is destined to be in the cranium of our species, it is not possible to choose any species. For example, rats routinely used in many scientific studies are relatively ill-suited to this situation; their physiology is certainly quite close to humans, but the architecture of their brain, on the other hand, is very different.

Federal investigation into animal testing

To conduct tests as conclusive as possible, Elon Musk’s troops chose to experiment with pigs, sheep, and especially primates. This is an approach that has already generated harsh criticism, especially from some organizations that advocate for stronger ethical precautions in animal research (see our article).

And these accusations became even more serious. In a lengthy article, journalist Rachael Levy revealed that the company is now under investigation at the federal level. This investigation, which had not been mentioned in the media before this week, however began several months ago. And the cited reasons are all related to an allegedly harmful management of animal testing.

© Neuralink

In particular, Neuralink has been accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act. This is an important text, as it is one of the foundations of animal protection in American law. This AWA defines what researchers have the right to do or not do when using live guinea pigs in their work.

Musk is always impatient and intrusive

Reuters said it had access to internal documents that show staff regularly expressed concern about the crazy pace imposed by Musk. This information will come as no surprise to observers familiar with the sulfur billionaire’s methods. He openly asserts his love for lightning-fast innovation in all the companies he leads; for him, a company must work fully at 200 an hour, even if it means destroying the morale of the troops or making big mistakes in haste.

It is largely thanks to this philosophy that Musk’s companies are often the undisputed champions of their respective sectors (we think particularly SpaceX for aerospace and Tesla for de- electric vehicle).

© SpaceX

But it also sometimes backfires, with potentially catastrophic consequences; SpaceX, for example, is close to a financial fiasco due to problems encountered during the development of the Raptor V2 rocket engine (see our article). However, in these cases, it seems perfectly legitimate to want to move quickly provided you accept the risk, which is essentially financial.

But in Neuralink’s case, we’re talking about living beings, and Musk’s haste has more problematic consequences. By putting great pressure on his troops to get results quickly, he placed his employees in a permanent state of emergency; according to another Business Insider article, to “motivate” his troops, he would regularly ask his employees to work “as if they had a bomb stuck in their heads” – implied, like madmen, at full speed and at the lowest cost. precautions.

Neuralink still has a long way to go

According to Reuters, many tests were carried out in a hurry to stick to the specifications of the great Manitou. And this haste will greatly increase the suffering of some animals and the number of deaths. The investigation says the organization has killed around 1,500 animals, including more than 280 pigs, sheep and monkeys. And in some cases, it will only be carelessness that is directly related to this enormous speed.

Note that in most cases, animals do not die because of failed experiments; these were primarily animals euthanized under healthy conditions at the end of the protocol. The purpose is to be able to perform an autopsy to check the absence of undesirable lesions, for example. Plus, any competitors who don’t necessarily get the same media exposure — another side effect of Musk’s antics — could also be unwittingly problematic. So it must be noted that certain non-negligible elements of context are missing, even though the investigation seems to be very serious and thorough.

But in absolute terms, it’s still a very important balance – especially since the company isn’t growing as fast as expected. Moreover, it probably has something to do with Musk’s pressure movements. Since Neuralink was founded in 2016, it has been overtaken by several competitors already in the clinical trial stage (see our article).

Therefore, it will be necessary to monitor the fallout from this investigation closely, as it could put new spokes on the wheels of the tech mogul; currently, the company seems to be still very far from achieving the very ambitious goal it originally set, such as treating paralyzed people.

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