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Elon Musk’s Neuralink re-entered public discourse Tuesday, when the world’s richest man announced that his neurotech startup is developing an implantable vision chip purportedly capable of curing blindness. While Musk says the release date for such a device is still years away, the announcement whipped up plenty of excitement among technology enthusiasts.
But, as Neuralink starts the daunting work of turning its sci-fi dreams into reality, the risk of human suffering exacted in the name of such experiments has never been higher.
Since 2018, Neuralink has killed roughly 1,500 animals in the process of trying to connect brains to computer interfaces, according to company records reviewed by Reuters. In the wake of that work, the company began actively recruiting for its first human trials in late September, after receiving FDA approval.
Many of the animals Neuralink killed were larger mammals with brains closer in size and likeness to those of humans, such as monkeys and pigs. And the details of their deaths are documented in vivid detail, to put it mildly.
Records from UC Davis’ California National Primate Research Center, first obtained by Wired, reveal that several monkeys who received Neuralink brain chip implants suffered immensely post-surgery. One such monkey, “Animal 20,” scratched at the chip insertion site until it became bloody, then pulled at wires connected to the implant until part of the device came out of its head. Neuralink eventually euthanized the monkey.
Another female monkey, “Animal 15,” began losing coordination after its brain implant surgery, and would shake uncontrollably whenever it saw lab workers. The animal’s condition worsened until, months later, it too was killed by Neuralink employees. An autopsy later revealed the monkey had suffered immense bleeding in the brain, and that the Neuralink surgery had left parts of its brain in tatters.
Musk had denied that any monkeys ever died as a result of a Neuralink implant. But within days of Neuralink announcing its first human trials, a national group of physicians sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), begging the federal regulator to investigate Musk for securities fraud on the grounds that the entrepreneur is misleading investors about the violent toll taken by Neuralink surgeries.
The group—the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—has urged Neuralink to halt all animal and human experiments and instead focus on non-invasive brain-computer interfaces. Such devices, most of which are still in development, typically utilize electrode sensors placed close to the head to communicate with the brain without risking pain or harm.
Their insistence appears to have done little to dissuade Neuralink. The company is still actively recruiting an undisclosed number of Americans with quadriplegia or ALS to receive a brain implant in the coming months.
Edited by Ryan Ozawa.