Last week, Elon Musk (Elon Musk) showed the outside world the latest developments in the Neuralink brain-computer interface.
Compared with the products of other peers, the Neuralink brain machine implanted on the head of Sake (the name of the test macaque) has not made much breakthrough in functionality.
But it is small, upgradeable, and replaceable, and it is infinitely close to mass-produced products on the market. It even joked (or seriously) at the communication meeting, "The advantage of miniaturization is that it seems that I have implanted a Neuralink now, and You don't even know."
Musk did not have high expectations for Neuralink, as in the movie, spawning super warriors one by one.
Rather, it is quite practical to believe that Neuralink's products must first solve eye diseases and general paralysis, and also submit procedures to the FDA. If it goes well, human trials can be carried out in half a year.
The high-profile and pragmatic style makes many people think that the brain-computer interface, a device that only exists in the cyber age, will soon appear in the medical equipment column of shopping websites.
Not long after the longing, the cold water of reality poured over. This time it is not for Neuralink products, but for Neuralink company.
Neuralink is under federal investigation
Neuralink has been using animals for brain-computer testing before, involving mammals such as pigs, sheep and monkeys, as well as earlier mouse tests.
As early as February 2021, the US animal protection organization filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture, stating that it has materials to prove that the animal experiments conducted by Neuralink and the University of California, Davis, caused cruelty to monkeys.
But Neuralink and the University of California successively responded to the allegations, saying their research was strictly supervised and in compliance with procedures.
In the subsequent Neuralink official website and public activities, it also began to focus on the promotion of the welfare of participating experimental animals.
In the blog of Neuralink's official website, the health assessment of animals involved in experimental projects will be updated regularly.
The evaluation mainly revolves around the four major aspects of basic needs, species behavior, experimentation and emotion.
In the podcast, almost all animals and their behaviors said that they "eat deliciously" and "be healthy".
And Musk also said last week that the monkeys implanted with brain machines are happy every day.
Whether in the experimental project or in the process of charging the brain machine, they always have an unlimited amount of banana milkshake, and they will jump and sit in front of the machine, eating and playing.
But this seems to be all the glamor in the Neuralink brain-computer interface experiment.
Recently, Reuters said that the U.S. federal government is investigating Neuralink, and the reason is still suspected of violating the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.
And some Neuralink employees also said that Neuralink was suspected of violating regulations during the experiment and caused the death of some animals.
Neuralink's brain-computer implant experiment is like "driving ducks to the shelves"
In the same communication meeting last week, Musk has been emphasizing that Neuralink is safe enough, and will do everything possible to test before implanting in humans and animals.
However, during the interview, more than 20 Neuralink employees said that Musk was rapidly advancing the research and development progress, which put considerable pressure on the team.
In some experimental projects, they can only "catch ducks" on the shelves, resulting in the experimental results not being obvious enough, or failing.
These projects had to increase the number of tests, increasing the life-threatening and even death of the tested animals.
Just like during the mass delivery of Tesla Model 3, Musk will sleep in the factory and personally supervise the production.
I am also very concerned about the development progress of the Neuralink brain computer. After he saw a related research article on the Swiss brain-computer interface, he forwarded it to the Neuralink work group and said, "We are not moving fast enough."
Other Neuralink researchers interviewed also said that Musk has repeatedly urged employees to let them go faster, and if expectations cannot be met, related research may be shut down at any time.
Under Musk's pressure, many studies on animals had to be accelerated, and the next round of testing began before the results were even analyzed.
Frequent testing and lack of complete pre-preparation bring a lot of risk to the experiment.
According to documents, recordings and emails obtained by Reuters, it is estimated that since 2018, Neuralink has killed nearly 1,500 animals during experiments, including 280 pigs, sheep and monkeys.
The death of animals in research experiments does not mean that Neuralink violated the rules. Musk also admitted that some monkeys were in danger of life in the process of testing brain machines. Neuralink also euthanized them out of humanity.
In 2021, in response to the monkey abuse incident, Neuralink’s facilities and projects will also be re-examined by the US Department of Agriculture and finally approved.
But the number of animals that died after Neuralink testing is too high. Synchron, Neuralink's competitor, has been approved to start human experiments in 2021.
Reuters also estimated that Synchron only killed about 80 sheep in brain-computer experiments and research based on a similar method. And in August, Musk also appeared to be preparing to acquire or invest in Synchron.
many animals were forced to die
Musk has many identities, no matter which field, he is almost an industry pioneer and tries to lead the development of new industries.
Obviously, Neuralink also has this kind of expectation. Therefore, it has been delayed to obtain the FDA human experiment license, and it has fallen behind many competitors in the brain-computer process.
Even though Neuralink is relatively topical, it all depends on Musk himself, not the Neuralink product itself.
After Neuralink announced Sake typing last week, some in the industry said the technology had been around for years.
Even before Neuralink was established, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, an amputee wearing an exoskeleton kicked the first ball by standing up from a wheelchair with a brain-computer interface.
Neuralink, which is in the back wave, wants to shoot the front wave on the beach. There is no shortcut, so it can only work overtime to speed up the iteration frequency.
Under this kind of corporate atmosphere, many animals are in danger of life, and a large part of it is due to human factors, not the experiment itself.
Before the macaque demonstrated the brain-computer function, Neuralink's first live display was actually a pig. At that time, it was only a "brain wave" displayed to the outside world.
It is also this seemingly relatively simple setting. In an experiment in 2021, 25 of more than 60 piglets were implanted with brain-computer devices of the wrong size, which caused their eventual death.
A similar situation also occurred when the staff implanted the Neuralink device in the wrong vertebrae of two piglets.
In this regard, Neuralink's veterinarian Sam Baker suggested euthanasia to end their suffering.
▲ Yolanda eating melon and Bluebelle basking in the sun Picture from: Neuralink
It seems that in the Neuralink team, animal experiments are a fairly easy to deploy and implement testing method. In order to improve the efficiency of research and development, under the driving force of coming up with sufficiently disruptive products, animal experiments have become an extremely routine method.
However, both Neuralink executives and Musk have emphasized in public that surgery and animal experiments are the final testing options in the brain-computer development process, and should be avoided until the equipment is confirmed to be effective.
Brain-computer devices are usually associated with "exploring" the silicon-carbon junction, and are entrusted with the task of immortality, but at this stage, especially in in vivo experiments, there should be less exploration and more certainty.
Neuralink was under federal investigation, and the first thing it contacted was the actions of those big technology companies that did evil in science fiction movies. But looking back, it was a human error or a process error, and it appeared in such a cutting-edge industry as the brain computer, which is a bit ironic.
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