Elon Musk’s company Neuralink is in the focus of the U.S. authorities because, to all appearances, animal welfare laws are being violated on a large scale. Within four years, around 1,500 animals have been killed – in many cases due to avoidable mistakes made as a result of time pressure.
Time pressure, stress, lots of mistakes
Neuralink is working on the development of a brain-computer interface and is conducting numerous animal experiments as part of this. In addition to the fundamental ethical problems of animal experiments in research, Neuralink is also blatantly violating the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, which in principle allows them. Around 1,500 animals are said to have been killed in the past four years. In many cases, this was due to errors in the experimental set-up or in the way the experiments were carried out, which made the animals simply unusable for the company. For example, implants of the wrong size or in the wrong place were inserted into numerous animals, whereupon they were immediately killed. Since this is not only ethically but also legally highly problematic, the US Department of Agriculture is investigating the company.
The violations are attributed primarily to time pressure within Neuralink. The news agency Reuters reports, for example, that the documentation shows that the transplantation of incorrect implants could have been avoided with better preparation. Also, according to Reuters, the implantation in wrong places could have been easily avoided with more careful work. According to reports, Musk, the company’s owner, is behind the lack of care and regularly puts employees under time pressure. For example, he sends e-mails to employees urging them to hurry. It is also reported that he has repeatedly asked employees to imagine that they are working with a ticking time bomb attached to their heads. This working climate in the company leads to stress among employees, which is reflected, for example, in last-minute changes to experiments as well as in a generally careless way of working – and apparently also promoted animal welfare violations. The first reports on this had already been made at the beginning of the year.
Chalk all of this up primarily to Musk’s turbo-capitalist ideology. Mass layoffs at Twitter, the severe softening of regulation there, or highly exaggerated expectations of employees, such as the demand to make Neuralink market-ready in six months, show that Musk’s profit motive comes first – far ahead of legal, ethical, or social aspects of his actions. The now revealed ignorance of animal welfare concerns such as limits to human performance fits seamlessly into this context.
Fundamental problems revealed
Overall, the Neuralink case thus demonstrates once again the problems that a lack of regulation of the power of individuals can bring: Both humans and non-human animals suffer massively from Musk’s unrestricted authority in the company in this specific case. It is possible that Neuralink may set a precedent for the containment efforts of capitalist economics, which have also increased in the U.S. recently.