Elon Musk's Neuralink Reportedly Hit With Federal Probe Over Animal Welfare Claims

Elon Musk is once again facing a controversy, though this latest debacle doesn't involve his newly-acquired Twitter 2.0. According to a Reuters report that cites a large number of insiders and a mass of documentation, Neuralink has attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture over allegations regarding animal welfare. The sources claim that Musk has implemented a demanding work environment and schedule that has resulted in rushed work and otherwise avoidable mistakes — an allegation that, if true, wouldn't be surprising given the billionaire's very controversial demands for Twitter's remaining workforce.

Neuralink is working on the development of "ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces," according to the company's website, ones that will enable the human mind and machines to communicate with each other. The company was founded in 2016, and we've heard some big ambitions about it from Musk in the years since, as well as the occasional look at its progress. If the insiders are accurate with their claims, it seems that progress hasn't moved nearly as fast as Musk wants and that his lofty ambitions — seemingly ungrounded from what is feasible and sensible — have led to botched surgeries and needless animal deaths.

'Pressure-cooker' work environment may fuel avoidable mistakes

The allegations were published by Reuters, which cites current and former employees, as well as internal documentation reportedly viewed by the news agency. Based on those materials and sources, Reuters paints a picture of a company where employees face a demanding work environment in which Musk allegedly pushes for progress at a rate that may compromise the work — something similar to claims made by some Twitter insiders. Some employees are said to have rebelled against the demands, while others have reportedly left the company over concerns about animal welfare. Amid this, Neuralink is said to be facing a federal investigation, possibly over alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Neither the company nor the USDA has commented on the report at this time.

The report alleges that while Neuralink doesn't keep detailed records on the animals it uses for experiments, after which point they are killed, the insiders estimate that around 1,500 animals used by the company have died since 2018. Employees both past and present told Reuters that the death toll is needlessly high due to the fast pace required to meet "Musk's demands." The allegations span from unprepared surgical staff to botched surgeries and the need to repeat experiments that allegedly failed due to these internal troubles.

The claims are particularly concerning, as it was only days ago that Musk said the first Neuralink human trials may be only half a year away — though this isn't the first time he's claimed that the neurotechnology company is on the brink of reaching the milestone. At least one of the allegations seems to call into question the integrity of Neuralink's research, indicating that the company may have taken steps to obscure the "exploratory" nature of some of the work.