Does he run all of his companies this way?


It shouldn’t be smiling, I don’t think.

More information has been released about how Neuralink is run. Hoo boy. As with Twitter, the problems with this company can be traced right back to the boob who owns the company. Let’s start with the nice bits.

In some ways, Neuralink treats animals quite well compared to other research facilities, employees said in interviews, echoing public statements by Musk and other executives. Company leaders have boasted internally of building a “Monkey Disneyland” in the company’s Austin, Texas facility where lab animals can roam, a former employee said. In the company’s early years, Musk told employees he wanted the monkeys at his San Francisco Bay Area operation to live in a “monkey Taj Mahal,” said a former employee who heard the comment. Another former employee recalled Musk saying he disliked using animals for research but wanted to make sure they were “the happiest animals” while alive.

That’s nice. We just have to picture a Disneyland with visitors in cages, subject to botched experimentation and death. Happiest place on Earth!

Then we get the raw numbers.

In all, the company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, following experiments since 2018, according to records reviewed by Reuters and sources with direct knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations. The sources characterized that figure as a rough estimate because the company does not keep precise records on the number of animals tested and killed. Neuralink has also conducted research using rats and mice.

Killing 1500 animals in and of itself is not horrible — any pharmaceutical company or stockyard is going to have bigger numbers than that. But that one comment, “the company does not keep precise records on the number of animals tested and killed”, is damning. How do you not keep precise records? You’ve got lab notebooks, you’ve got invoices from purchasing, you’ve got an animal care facility that has to be tracking food, medication, and housing for all of their animals. Presumably every experiment and every outcome is documented. I keep better track of spiders, which as invertebrates are not as closely regulated (at all!) as vertebrates, than Musk’s company was monitoring their pigs.

It boils down to a top-down corporate culture that was all about cracking the whip and driving employees to work faster, faster, faster. This is bad policy.

But current and former Neuralink employees say the number of animal deaths is higher than it needs to be for reasons related to Musk’s demands to speed research. Through company discussions and documents spanning several years, along with employee interviews, Reuters identified four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that were marred in recent years by human errors. The mistakes weakened the experiments’ research value and required the tests to be repeated, leading to more animals being killed, three of the current and former staffers said. The three people attributed the mistakes to a lack of preparation by a testing staff working in a pressure-cooker environment.

One employee, in a message seen by Reuters, wrote an angry missive earlier this year to colleagues about the need to overhaul how the company organizes animal surgeries to prevent “hack jobs.” The rushed schedule, the employee wrote, resulted in under-prepared and over-stressed staffers scrambling to meet deadlines and making last-minute changes before surgeries, raising risks to the animals.

Musk has pushed hard to accelerate Neuralink’s progress, which depends heavily on animal testing, current and former employees said. Earlier this year, the chief executive sent staffers a news article about Swiss researchers who developed an electrical implant that helped a paralyzed man to walk again. “We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in daily life!” he wrote to staff at 6:37 a.m. Pacific Time on Feb. 8. Ten minutes later, he followed up: “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!”

On several occasions over the years, Musk has told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads in an effort to get them to move faster, according to three sources who repeatedly heard the comment. On one occasion a few years ago, Musk told employees he would trigger a “market failure” at Neuralink unless they made more progress, a comment perceived by some employees as a threat to shut down operations, according to a former staffer who heard his comment.

Then we discover how Neuralink ran afoul of UC Davis’s animal care guidelines. They were sloppy fuck-ups.

The first complaints about the company’s testing involved its initial partnership with University of California, Davis, to conduct the experiments. In February, an animal rights group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, filed a complaint with the USDA accusing the Neuralink-UC Davis project of botching surgeries that killed monkeys and publicly released its findings. The group alleged that surgeons used the wrong surgical glue twice, which led to two monkeys suffering and ultimately dying, while other monkeys had different complications from the implants.

The company has acknowledged it killed six monkeys, on the advice of UC Davis veterinary staff, because of health problems caused by experiments. It called the issue with the glue a “complication” from the use of an “FDA-approved product.” In response to a Reuters inquiry, a UC Davis spokesperson shared a previous public statement defending its research with Neuralink and saying it followed all laws and regulations.

There is no excuse for that. Neurosurgery on animals is a long-established practice. There are clear-cut protocols that you follow — you don’t jump into the knife work without all your materials lined up and ready, sterilized and double-checked. A lot of it is meticulous routine that all of the participants should have familiarity with. The “wrong glue”, and screwing up at least twice…I don’t know how that happens, unless you’re in an inexcusable rush.

On another occasion, staff accidentally implanted Neuralink’s device on the wrong vertebra of two different pigs during two separate surgeries, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter and documents reviewed by Reuters. The incident frustrated several employees who said the mistakes – on two separate occasions – could have easily been avoided by carefully counting the vertebrae before inserting the device.

What? You count. You study up on the morphology of the relevant vertebrae before you dive in with your rongeurs. With adequate preparation, that should never happen, which suggests that they did not prepare adequately. This is a theme in the report — they kept fucking up on simple things that could have been avoided if there were less pressure to rush.

The mistakes leading to unnecessary animal deaths included one instance in 2021, when 25 out of 60 pigs in a study had devices that were the wrong size implanted in their heads, an error that could have been avoided with more preparation, according to a person with knowledge of the situation and company documents and communications reviewed by Reuters.

AAAaaaaarrrrgh. How do you do that? You’ve just bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of a defined genetic line of experimental animals, and 40% of your experimental subjects are promptly trashed by hasty, incorrect use of your materials. How good can the data coming out of this facility be? Can we trust that 35 implants were done correctly, when 25 are trashed by such an egregious error?

But that’s not going to stop Musk. He wants to barrel ahead with testing on humans in six months.

The problems with Neuralink’s testing have raised questions internally about the quality of the resulting data, three current or former employees said. Such problems could potentially delay the company’s bid to start human trials, which Musk has said the company wants to do within the next six months. They also add to a growing list of headaches for Musk, who is facing criticism of his management of Twitter, which he recently acquired for $44 billion. Musk also continues to run electric carmaker Tesla Inc and rocket company SpaceX.

I don’t think he’s going to get permission with these kinds of revelations about the work at Neuralink. If he does, that would warrant an investigation of corruption at the regulatory agency.

But imagine being a prospective candidate for this kind of experimental surgery. Would you trust these hacks to get the correct device into your head, and use the right glue to hold it in place? Don’t worry, though, if you die on the operating table, they’ll just lose track of any records of the surgery, and no one will ever know what happened to you.

Comments

  1. microraptor says

    Even in the worst cyberpunk dystopian series, the evil megacorp actually knows how to correctly stick a cybernetic implant into a person’s brain.

  2. Dunc says

    Musk told employees he wanted the monkeys at his San Francisco Bay Area operation to live in a “monkey Taj Mahal,”

    Ummm… The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum.

    (OK, there’s also a hotel, and there used to be a casino…)

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Heh… On a geeky personal note, I’m working on a cyberpunk-horror RPG campaign setting where the the settings big bad, a multi-trillionaire tech-mogul who revolutionized AI and brain-computer interface (and just so happens to be an avatar of Nyarlathotep), is heavily based on real-life assholes like Musk and Peter Theil. This news item inspires and challenges me to make try to make this character even more evil than their real-life counterparts.

  4. raven says

    Where are the peer reviewed research papers!!!

    You can easily evaluate a biotech company by the number and quality of their peer reviewed research.

    That is what made many scientists very skeptical of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
    There were a lot of claims and no peer reviewed research papers backing them up.

    I just put Neurolink and a few related terms in Google and pubmed NLM and didn’t come up with much. A white paper by Musk explaining all the wonderful things his device will do someday.
    I’m way too busy today to follow up on hunting down peer reviewed papers from Neurolink.
    Maybe there are more, maybe not.

    I also just visited their website.
    A quick scan didn’t turn up a list of peer reviewed papers.
    Usually that is standard for a biotech company website.
    Whatever. Maybe there aren’t any.

  5. Louis says

    Killing 1500 animals in and of itself is not horrible — any pharmaceutical company or stockyard is going to have bigger numbers than that. But that one comment, “the company does not keep precise records on the number of animals tested and killed”, is damning. How do you not keep precise records? You’ve got lab notebooks, you’ve got invoices from purchasing, you’ve got an animal care facility that has to be tracking food, medication, and housing for all of their animals. Presumably every experiment and every outcome is documented.

    Speaking for Big Pharma’s Evil Division (We Want Your Puppies and Children), the use of animals is so prohibitively expensive and highly regulated (and IMO even that is not enough) that this level of cavalier incompetence, were it to be demonstrated in the industry, would result in shut downs and criminal charges being brought. Rightly so.

    What is quite upsetting is the needless destruction of lives, primate lives included (Primate research!? Ask anyone in neurology how tough that is to do), for a billionaire’s vanity project will attract fawning adulation from the usual fanboys and apologists. And so pointless animal slaughter will continue to the cheers of morons.

    Louis

  6. says

    #6: I knew a guy who did primate neuro research. His work used ONE (1) monkey a year on average, and the paperwork was tremendous — he spent more time dealing with administrative paperwork than he did doing experiments.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Akira McKenzie @ 4
    In the Laundryverse, both Britain and North Korea are run by avatars of Nyarlahotep. If there are too many of them in the ground, I imagine they might start to trip each other up as they have zero altruism, even for different avatars of their master. This might make survival easier in your RPG.00
    .
    Musk is not really clever enough to be a credible supervillain. I imagine somone more like Zorin/Christopher Walken, flying an airship and cheerfully massacring his own flunkies once they have served their purpose.
    Jeff Bezos? Naah, having his workers poop in a paper bag is still not evil enough. Koch? Koch!

  8. birgerjohansson says

    If Musk pays the current governor of Texas enough, he might get “volunteers” for the human research straight from death row. Illegal? Naah, what is illegal depends on what judges you have. Imagine if Tr*mp gets elected…

  9. larrylyons says

    Simply put if NeurALink is this bad with its lab animals, why hasn’t it been shut down. This violates I don’t know how many animal care regulations. When I was a grad student studying neuroscience, our lab had two rhesus lab monkeys per year, after which they were retired to a sanctuary. We had extremely strict strict protocols for their treatment, and we were out if any of them were not followed.

    I guess it’s a matter of Money talking in a way. But the treatment of these animals is beyond the pale.

  10. says

    So, to summarize the above comments: Musk’s entire life (so far) has been the opposite of the movie disclaimers “no animals were harmed in the making of this movie”. He has harmed all his workers, his irresponsible ‘self-driving’ label rushing the tesla engineers in their work on that system, neuralink torturing and murdering all those animals, his lies and BS on twitter, it just goes on and on. He is a lying, arrogant, greedy narcissist. But, in today’s world that is what creates ‘success and power’.
    New Topic: http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/david-badash/104226/what-the-hell-sam-justice-alito-slammed-for-making-joke-about-black-children-in-kkk-costumes . as our video shows it is no longer scotus, it is scrotum. And, all those xtian terrorist members of scrotum must recuse themselves from an participation in the xtian terrorist web designer’s bigotry. It’s a clear. conflict of interest.

  11. says

    Dunc: He might have meant the Trump Taj Mahal casino — which would be appropriate given what a crapshoot Husk’s businesses are turning out to be…

  12. wzrd1 says

    Musk’s operations remind me of an old wizard. He operated out of Menlo Park and had engineers by the dozen working the pressure cooker shop on all kinds of things.
    Were he to have been working on biomed, I’m certain his appellation would’ve changed to “the butcher of Menlo Park”.

    Still, I have a volunteer for the first human implant and Mars colony – Elon Musk.
    You know, lead by example.
    I’ll just get my coat…

  13. whywhywhy says

    Back in the 80’s, when I first learned of the existence of Trump, I asked the question: Why would anyone do business with this clown? The best answer I could find (at the local library) was an article comparing real estate deals that he was a part of versus comparable deals where he was not involved. The Trump deals were significantly higher deals. In other words, the answer is greed.
    When I first learned of Musk, I asked a similar question: Where is the evidence that Musk is a genius (at anything)? I have not been able to find this ‘genius’ quality. But the answer of why people think he is a genius is similar: greed and the adulation of money.

  14. billseymour says

    birgerjohansson @10 reminded me of Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series in which, after making it possible to extend life almost indefinitely by transplanting organs from dead people, it wasn’t long before speeding (in a car) became a capital offense.

  15. Dunc says

    Dunc: He might have meant the Trump Taj Mahal casino — which would be appropriate given what a crapshoot Husk’s businesses are turning out to be…

    Hmmm… Embroiled in long-running disputes with the union, repeatedly filed for bankruptcy, fined $10 million for money-laundering violations, dogged by credible allegations of links to organised crime… You might be on to something.

  16. KG says

    I don’t think he’s going to get permission with these kinds of revelations about the work at Neuralink.

    He’ll just move the work to his under-the-volcano lair. The terrestrial one if the Martian one isn’t quite ready yet.

  17. chrislawson says

    You can always tell when a company is trying to cover up serious errors by their choice of language. That emphasis on the glue being “FDA-approved” is pure misdirection. FDA-approved doesn’t mean “approved for any and all purposes.” By their own admission, they used the wrong glue. Which means its FDA status is irrelevant. If someone were to shove an FDA-approved pacemaker up Elon’s backside, it would still be assault.

  18. chrislawson says

    KG–

    No need to leave the planet. The Republicans are currently working to convert Texas, Florida and Alabama into one huge under-the-volcano supervillain lair.

  19. says

    @14 wzrd1, I have read a lot about that ‘wizard’. IIRC, even though he had hundreds of very intelligent, creative workers thinking up and creating all that, he claimed that they were all his ideas and that the others were just bench technicians. Same old fraud as Husk Melon, tRUMP, Bezeros, etc.

  20. microraptor says

    shermanj@23: The difference is that Edison actually did do some of the work inventing stuff. He made most of his money stealing ideas from his rivals and employees, but some of the patents in his name were things he actually invented. He could actually build a working phonograph to show off for reporters while Musk can’t do anything but show off his lack of understanding of how Twitter works and Rump is probably illiterate.

    He was a con artist, a thief, and a rotten person, but he actually had skills. Musk and Rump wish they were him.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    It appears Musk’s neural implants will work about as well as his “self-driving” vehicles – divided by the difference between how well engineers understand cars and how well they understand human brains.

  22. vereverum says

    “…defending its research with Neuralink and saying it followed all laws and regulations.”
    Reminded me of Nuremburg in 1946 where this sort o defense didnt work.

  23. bcw bcw says

    Anecdotal but enough detail to perhaps be true. I know the secretary part is real.
    source:
    https://www.tumblr.com/numberonecatwinner/701567544684855296/elon-wyd
    text:
    numberonecatwinner

    I was an intern at SpaceX years ago, back it when it was a much smaller company — after Elon got hair plugs, but before his cult of personality was in full swing. I have some insight to offer here.

    Back when I was at SpaceX, Elon was basically a child king. He was an important figurehead who provided the company with the money, power, and PR, but he didn’t have the knowledge or (frankly) maturity to handle day-to-day decision making and everyone knew that. He was surrounded by people whose job was, essentially, to manipulate him into making good decisions.

    Managing Elon was a huge part of the company culture. Even I, as a lowly intern, would hear people talking about it openly in meetings. People knew how to present ideas in a way that would resonate with him, they knew how to creatively reinterpret (or ignore) his many insane demands, and they even knew how to “stage manage” parts of the physical office space so that it would appeal to Elon.

    The funniest example of “stage management” I can remember is this dude on the IT security team. He had a script running in a terminal on one of his monitors that would output random garbage, Matrix-style, so that it always looked like he was doing Important Computer Things to anyone who walked by his desk. Second funniest was all the people I saw playing WoW at their desks after ~5pm, who did it in the office just to give the appearance that they were working late.

    People were willing to do that at SpaceX because Elon was giving them the money (and hype) to get into outer space, a mission people cared deeply about. The company also grew with and around Elon. There were layers of management between individual employees and Elon, and those managers were experienced managers of Elon. Again, I cannot stress enough how much of the company culture was oriented around managing this one guy.

    Twitter has neither of those things going for it. There is no company culture or internal structure around the problem of managing Elon Musk, and I think for the first time we’re seeing what happens when people actually take that man seriously and at face value. Worse, they’re doing this little experiment after this man has had decades of success at companies that dedicate significant resources to protecting themselves from him, and he’s too narcissistic to realize it.

    This post is long so I’ll leave you with my favorite Elon story. One day at work, I got an all hands email telling me that it was Elon’s birthday and there was going to be a mandatory surprise party for him in the cafeteria. Presumably Elon also got this email, but whatever. We all marched down into the cafeteria, dimmed the lights, and waited. Elon was led out by his secretary (who he hadn’t fired yet) and made a big show of being fake surprised and touched that we were there. Then they wheeled out the cake.

    OK, so, I want you to imagine the biggest penis cake you’ve ever seen. Like the king of novelty sex cakes. Only it’s frosted white, and the balls have been frosted to look like fire and smoke. This was Elon’s birthday “rocket” cake.

    For as long as I live, I will never forget the look on everyone’s face — in that dark room of mostly-male engineers — when he made a wish and cut into the tip.

  24. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 9

    The main inspiration for making Nyarlathotep into a tech bro comes from this line from Lovecraft:

    And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare.

  25. Rich Woods says

    AAAaaaaarrrrgh. How do you do that? You’ve just bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of a defined genetic line of experimental animals, and 40% of your experimental subjects are promptly trashed by hasty, incorrect use of your materials. How good can the data coming out of this facility be?

    Are we sure that the entire NeurAlink operation isn’t just an elaborate tax write-off constructed for Musk’s personal benefit?

  26. Louis says

    Re: the “money talking” angle. Pfizer (to name one company) are not short of a few quid, and are blessed by purest coincidence with many lobbyists. Accidentally, of course. Altruists to a person. {cough}

    The idea that even Big Charlie Pfizer would get away with what is apparently going on at Elon Vanity HQ is laughable. Bear in mind we are talking about an industry so ethical that illegal human trials are conducted in developing economies to this very day. So they get away with some shit (today in understatement). How Elon and chums are pulling this off in a developed economy is surprising to say the least.

    Louis

  27. says

    I can’t even be bothered to read this when Musk paid $44 billion to buy Twitter in order to enable Nazis and the GOP. His latest effort is a carefully constructed propaganda campaign to hype the “Hunter Biden laptop” story and tar Biden with false charges–and which will be used by Kevin McCarthy (after his namesake) to carry out witch hunt hearings in the House. Musk hired Russian asset Matt Taibbi to write a report about Twitter emails fed him by Musk. While the report does not appear to make false (as opposed to cherry picked) claims, it has been misrepresented by virtually every right winger, including Musk. What does the report actually show? a) That Trump and his administration repeatedly asked Twitter to delete tweets that allegedly violated Twitter’s TOS–this part is never mentioned by the right wingers. b) That the Biden campaign team similarly asked Twitter to delete pictures of Hunter Biden’s dick, which violated the TOS because they were posted without HB’s consent, and they did so–Musk tweeted “If this doesn’t violate the Constitution’s First Amendment, what does?” … of course it doesn’t violate the 1A as neither Twitter nor the Biden campaign are the government, and it wouldn’t violate it even if they were. c) That Twitter struggled with the decision of whether to block the NYPost’s story about “Hunter Biden’s laptop” and decided (most people agree erroneously) to flag the story as dangerous–the right wing has spun this internal Twitter debate as a massive scandal involving Biden and the FBI colluding with Twitter to violate people’s rights–which is complete nonsense.

    Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, tweeted about Musk “He’s not a serious person. He does things for sport that have serious consequences for real people. This is an open, global service. US politics is not much of Twitter. (K-pop might be bigger.) Also, in other places lives are at stake.”

  28. Kagehi says

    Bets that the Elusive Man – I mean Elon – will, once it works well enough, be on the of the first volunteers, so he can save humanity from the Reapers – err.. I mean “inevitable AI invasion”. lol

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply