Elon Musk’s Tweet About Neuralink’s Test Monkeys Could Spell Trouble

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The Securities and Exchange Commission may have to double the size of its staff just to keep an eye on Elon Musk’s tweets.

Wired reported this week that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — an anti-animal testing medical ethics nonprofit — wrote to the SEC to complain that Neuralink founder Elon Musk, whose companies have paid the agency millions in fines over ill-considered tweets, misled investors by tweeting that “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant.” He also said the test animals in the implant’s early development stages were “terminal monkeys (close to death already).” Wired spoke to an ex-Neuralink employee who refuted Musk’s tweet, calling it a “straight fabrication.”

Monkeying Around

This isn’t the first time the PRCM has targeted Neuralink with a complaint to a federal agency about the mistreatment of its animals, a claim Neuralink has refuted vigorously. However, Musk’s tweet gives them a new line of attack based on the fact that his Twitter (or X) feed acts as a direct line to investors, so if he says something materially false about one of his companies there, the SEC wants to know about it.

Publicly available documents detail some test animals’ deaths that appear to show a direct link with the implant being put in their brain, and the ex-Neuralink employee told Wired that the company needed to put its monkeys through a year of behavioral training before it would perform surgery, so animals at death’s door wouldn’t be appropriate. Per Reuters, the US Department of Agriculture is already investigating how the company treats its animal subjects, and if the SEC starts to poke around due to an errant tweet, that could severely damage the company’s reputation just as it’s asking real human beings to trust it with their brain tissue:

  • The company won FDA approval to begin human testing back in May (years later than Musk said it would) and this week it finally started advertising for human test subjects.
  • Neuralink is specifically looking for people with quadriplegia, either due to cervical spinal cord injury or ALS, as its first test subjects. The theory is that the implant will allow them to: “control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.”

Cranium Competition: As far-futured as that sounds, Neuralink is not the only company in this arena. Rival neural tech firm Synchron began its first US clinical trial in 2022, and in December it received investment from both Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. So Neuralink does not have a first-mover advantage here, and quibbles over dead monkeys could give Synchron and other companies a little extra edge…

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