The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received another request to investigate Elon Musk’s Neuralink from U.S House Representatives Earl Francis Blumenauer and Adam Schiff who are also members of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.
Neurolink under scrutiny
According to Reuters, the investigation has been requested over the concerns raised by a number of internal staff members over potential animal-welfare violations. Complaints suggest that animal testing is causing unnecessary deaths and suffering for animals. In total 1500 animals including 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys, have been killed from the start of the experiment in 2018 until now.
In a letter addressed to USDA secretary Thomas Vilsack and Kevin Shea, lawmakers said, “ We are very concerned that this may be another example of high-profile cases of animal cruelty which involves USDA- inspected facilities, referenced in previous letters to your agency, where there hasn’t been adequate action from USDA”.
Staff interviews highlighted the fact that this is due to the company’s decision to accelerate the research. Few mentioned that trials were due to the company’s mistakes in decision-making and paper dating back several years which lessened the credibility of the research. Therefore experiments were conducted again, causing the additional unnecessary killing of animals. The USDA inspector general has so far declined to comment on the matter.
One of the employees seen by Reuters, sent angry notes to his colleagues earlier this year complaining about the company’s poor way of conducting animal surgery which produced quick results at the expense of the quality. According to him, everybody was in a hurry to produce results which led to erroneous data and made last-minute changes ahead of scheduled surgeries putting animals in danger. It’s not clear how many of these deaths are directly due to the surgery.
What is Neuralink?
A Neuralink N1 chip no bigger than a coin needs to be surgically implanted in the subject’s head. It is wireless, charged externally, and can be accessed by a Neuralink app. It is said that one could also control these devices via one’s mind through regular exercise. Neuralink is a promising technology aiming to read neuro signals which travel across our body in specific patterns, instructing every cell and muscle to move and react to stimuli.
Musk disclosed last week that Neuralink might start its human trials within the next six months (which was initially expected to start in 2020), presupposing US Food and Drug Administration approval.
The company’s CEO has been seen making ambitious promises in his other projects as well as this one. It will be interesting to watch how he will deliver on his recent ambitious plan of starting with the human trials in 2023. Amidst the controversy of hurried experiments, people are definitely to lose some faith in this human-invasive project of Mr. Musk. Another school of thought says that animal trials have always been necessary to advance in the healthcare sector.
If this project successfully clears the trials, it can answer so many questions and solve the oldest mystery which is the human brain. In the beginning, we can at least hope to understand mental disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Autism, and Dementia to name a few with such technology.