Is Elon Musk Turning Primates Into Cyborgs? Inside the Disturbing Neuralink Monkey Deaths

Bianca Piazza - Author

Sep. 22 2023, Published 9:19 a.m. ET

Photo illustration by Jonathan Raa combining an image of Elon Musk with the Neuralink logo
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Elon Musk previously claimed that experiments and surgeries conducted for his brain chip biotech startup, Neuralink, did not lead to monkey deaths.
  • Public veterinary records contradict Musk's September 2023 statements.
  • An animal rights and responsible medicine nonprofit sent letters to the SEC urging for an investigation into Musk's claims about Neuralink's animal testing.
  • The FDA approved Neuralink's in-human clinical trial application in May 2023.
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Controversial multi-billionaire Elon Musk is in the news yet again. No, the story isn't about the Tesla CEO's softball team of children, or his clear dedication to dismantling a once-successful social media platform, or his whiney, unwarranted hatred for the word "cisgender." This time, Musk's sci-fi-esque biotech startup, Neuralink, is under fire for animal cruelty.

Owned and co-founded by Musk, Neuralink is essentially a brain chip company (apparently humanity doesn't over-rely on technology as it is). Its general mission is admittedly admirable, as Neuralink strives to "create a generalized brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs today and unlock human potential tomorrow." In a perfect world, the futuristic implant would grant individuals with paralysis and visual impairments more freedom and control over their lives.

Unfortunately, Neuralink's questionable use of research monkeys is under fire, as Musk's previous claims about its primate deaths are being investigated. Let's discuss the dirty details, including potential securities fraud.

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Close-up photo of group of Japanese macaques in the snow
Source: Getty Images

Elon Musk's experimental Neuralink monkey testing allegedly lead to deaths.

As detailed by a Sept. 20, 2023 Wired article titled "The Gruesome Story of How Neuralink’s Monkeys Actually Died," Musk claimed that monkeys who died during trials were terminally ill.

His claims were made in a Sept. 10 response tweet (or an X post): "No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant. First our early implants, to minimize risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal monkeys (close to death already)."

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It turns out the startup's past monkey demonstrations — including one showcasing a 9-year-old macaque learning to play Atari's iconic video game Pong, per The Independent — were hiding something sinister (though it's obvious that the innocent primates should be roaming forests and munching on fleshy fruit, not gaming).

Animal rights group and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) smelled something fishy, however, and decided to look into Musk's too-good-to-be-true words. Per Wired, PCRM sent letters to "top officials" at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Sept. 20, urging that a thorough investigation into Musk's claims be conducted. Veterinary records allegedly contradict Musk's claims, showing that skull implant procedure complications led to primate deaths.

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"Public records obtained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine through a lawsuit reveal that, while three monkeys were used by Neuralink in terminal experiments in which they did not recover from surgery, 12 previously healthy animals were euthanized by Neuralink as a direct result of problems with the company’s implant," a news release posted by PCRM reads.

"Musk is misleading investors about the safety and marketability of the company’s device," the release continues.

Public records from the University of California, Davis, revealed that monkeys who endured chip implant procedures "experienced chronic infections, paralysis, swelling in the brain, loss of coordination and balance, and depression."

Said records — which were obtained and reviewed by both PCRM and Wired — also mentioned bloody diarrhea and partial paralysis regarding electrode implant complications.

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In the midst of an experimental 2019 surgery that tested implant "survivability," a device piece "broke off." Of course, the procedure was completed and grim complications emerged. The poor creature, deemed "Animal 20," was euthanized in 2020. Another monkey, "Animal 15," was euthanized after disturbing implant complications drastically altered her behavior. Uncontrollable shaking at the mere sight of lab workers and brain bleeding were just two results of her surgery.

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Particularly upsetting tidbits concerning "Animal 15" involve her "[picking and pulling] at her implant until it bled" and "[lying] at the foot of her cage and [spending] time holding hands with her roommate," per Wired.

It's worth noting that killing animals after experiments is standard practice, as per the Humane Society of the United States. Not to mention, the USDA has found that animal testing is not an accurate indicator of a medicine's human safety, as about 92 percent of drugs that are successfully tested on animals do not make it to market for humans, as noted by Sentient Media. Though Neuralink is not a drug, it's just as likely that the startup's animal tests were unnecessary.

According to Wired, if the SEC bites, this would be at least the third federal investigation into Neuralink’s animal testing.

(On a positive note, check out PCRM's inspiring Victory Spotlight page, which highlights its "accomplishments for animals, people, and the planet.")

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Neuralink will begin human trials for its upcoming study, Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface (PRIME).

The horrors continue! If vile experimental monkey surgeries akin to sci-fi nightmare films like The Skin I Live In (2011) and Upgrade (2018) don't turn you off (though they absolutely should), perhaps the use of human subjects will change your tune.

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration previously rejected Neuralink’s 2022 in-human clinical trial application; per Reuters, it later approved the application in May 2023.

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The agency initially told Neuralink that it had "dozens of issues" to correct and revise before conducting human trials. Safety concerns involving the implant's lithium battery, potential wire migration in the brain, and a seamless removal process posed the biggest questions.

The first Neuralink human trials are imminent. In September 2023, the startup announced its upcoming six-year study, which will focus on empowering people with paralysis to control a computer keyboard or cursor with their minds via a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Per USA Today, the N1 Implant possesses "64 ultra-thin flexible connected threads upon which are 1,024 electrodes that record neural activity."

We have no intentions of spreading conspiracy theories, but we just know Edward Snowden is somberly shaking his head right now.

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