Neuralink, a neurotechnology company funded by Elon Musk that is developing implantable chips designed to connect the human brain to artificial intelligence via computers, is facing serious allegations of animal abuse. The abuse reportedly happened while Neuralink was testing the devices on monkeys.
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The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against the University of California, Davis, where the experiments using the primates took place. The complaint claims there were violations of the Animal Welfare Act on 23 monkeys.
The nearly 600-page complaint alleges in gruesome detail that the monkeys were not given proper veterinary or psychological care prior to or following the experiments; were killed after the injection of a non-approved substance that destroyed their brains; and suffered seizures, facial traumas, neglect and even euthanasia and death.
Musk’s Neuralink donated an estimated $1.4 million to UC Davis’ California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) to conduct the experiments, partnering with the facility from 2017 to 2020 before building its own facilities.
“UC Davis may have handed over its publicly-funded facilities to a billionaire, but that doesn’t mean it can evade transparency requirements and violate federal animal welfare laws,” Jeremy Beckham, research advocacy coordinator with the Physicians Committee, said in a statement. “The documents reveal that monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments and were left to suffer and die. It’s no mystery why Elon Musk and the university want to keep photos and videos of this horrific abuse hidden from the public.”
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However, Neuralink and Musk are fighting back against the allegations, insisting that the company is “absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible,” and noting that it is a “privilege to work with animals in research.”
A lengthy post, penned on Neuralink’s website, explains that six animals were euthanized due to infections and complications at the advice of the university’s veterinary staff. Another two were euthanized “at planned end dates to gather important histological data.”
“All animal work done at UC Davis was approved by their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) as mandated by Federal law, and all medical and post-surgical support, including endpoint decisions were overseen by their dedicated and skilled veterinary staff,” Neuralink said. “While the facilities and care at UC Davis did and continue to meet federally mandated standards, we absolutely wanted to improve upon these standards as we transitioned animals to our in-house facilities.”
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According to the company’s post, the new facilities include a 6,000-square-foot vivarium to house the animals, which is designed to “prioritize their needs.” This includes more humane methods of motivating and tracking animals’ activity and preferences, above-standard diet plans, a team of socialization and behavioral specialists and the commitment to not use animal restraints.
“If animals must be used in research in the meantime, their lives and experiences should be as vital and naturalistic as possible,” Neuralink wrote. “It is our responsibility as caretakers to ensure that their experience is as peaceful and frankly, as joyful as possible.”
In December, Musk said in an interview at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit that he hopes to begin implanting the chips in humans sometime this year.
“Neuralink’s working well in monkeys, and we’re actually doing just a lot of testing and just confirming that it’s very safe and reliable, and the Neuralink device can be removed safely,” he said at the time. “We hope to have this in our first humans — which will be people that have severe spinal-cord injuries like tetraplegics, quadriplegics — next year, pending FDA approval.
So far, the company has seen success in a monkey named Page, who was seen playing interactive games with its mind in a viral video last April.