Infectious: New accusation against Elon Musk's Neuralink
With Neuralink, Elon Musk dreams of an interface between computers and the human brain, but the company has repeatedly faced serious accusations.
Elon Musk's brain-computer interface company Neuralink is being targeted by the US Department of Transportation. Neuralink apparently transported contaminated implants that were dangerous to humans without adequate security.
Currently, the company is still testing its technology with monkeys. But in the next few months, Musk hopes to implant the interface in a human brain for the first time.
Accusations against Neuralink: Infectious implants
In a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the animal protection group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, made up of doctors, says it has obtained explosive records. They indicated that Neuralink was negligent in 2019 with brain implants that were contaminated with infectious pathogens.
The implants were removed from the monkeys' brains, according to the letter, and may have been contaminated with viruses such as herpes B and antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Klebsiella.
A USDOT spokesperson told The Verge, "We are conducting an investigation to ensure that Neuralink is in full compliance with federal regulations and keeping their workers and the public safe from potentially dangerous pathogens."
Animal rights activists claim the materials were not properly sealed or transported due to a lack of proper safety training for Neuralink employees.
Incriminating emails to Neuralink
CNBC reviewed emails provided by the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) because of the allegations. UC Davis assisted Neuralink in conducting experiments on monkeys between 2017 and 2020.
In March 2019, a UC Davis employee, whose name has been redacted, wrote that transportation of Neuralink devices must be performed by a trained hazardous materials officer.
"Since the hardware components of the explanted neural device are not sealed and it was not disinfected prior to leaving the Primate Center, this presents a hazard for anyone potentially coming in contact with the device," he writes.
In another case, an employee wrote in April 2019 that three devices that had been removed from test subjects arrived in an "open box with no secondary container."
The animal welfare group that filed the complaint opposes the use of animal testing in medical research and has raised concerns about Neuralink in the past. Neuralink declined to comment, according to U.S. media.
Neuralink could help patients
Neuralink is one of many companies in the growing brain-computer interface (BCI) industry. In the distant future, these devices might enable much better virtual reality. Brain interfaces are already being used in VR as assistive hardware.
The interface decodes brain signals and translates them into commands for external devices. After training, patients can move a cursor, tap on a keyboard, and access smart-home devices using only their minds.
In a podcast with AI researcher Lex Fridmann, Musk even claims that Neuralink could cure neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, and spinal cord injuries. The videos in which a monkey plays the computer game "Pong" via mind control are sensational.