The Dark Side of the Technological Development

Technological Development

Technological development should never be at the expense of living beings, animals, or humans. Or at least that’s what morality and ethics dictate. But we all know reality differs greatly from the ideal. In 2016, Elon Musk and Max Hodak founded Neuralink Corporation, a neurotechnology company concerned with the development of implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCI). In 2022, the medical device company was under U.S. federal investigation for potential welfare violations. While it makes sense to a certain extent that such devices need to be tested on living creatures before making them available for human use, they should never result in needless suffering and deaths.

The Federal Probe

Elon Musk’s medical device company, Neuralink, is facing a federal investigation by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General over potential animal welfare violations in its animal testing. The investigation is based on violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the company’s rushed animal testing procedures that have resulted in unnecessary animal suffering and deaths, as stated by current and former employees of Neuralink. Although many companies use animals for experiments, some employees feel that the number of animal deaths at Neuralink is higher than it needs to be for any technological development due to the pressure from Musk to accelerate the company’s progress. The company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys, since 2018, following experiments. Musk’s impatience with the company’s slow progress has grown as the company has missed deadlines to win regulatory approval to start clinical trials in humans. The case is still open.

The FDA Is Not Happy

The FDA has approved a significant number of neuromodulation devices, including those treating Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, no company has received final FDA approval to market a BCI brain implant. According to a report by Reuters, the agency rejected Neuralink’s application to conduct human trials of its BCI device in early 2022, citing dozens of concerns about the safety of the device. The FDA raised concerns about the safety of the rechargeable lithium batteries, saying the company needed to do animal testing to show the battery was unlikely to malfunction and damage brain tissue. Additionally, the potential migration of the implant’s tiny wires into the brain raised alarms, as it could cause inflammation, rupturing of blood vessels, and impair brain function. The FDA went on to question whether the device could be removed from people’s brains without causing damage.

Final Thoughts

I’m all for technological development for the sake of human longevity. And as selfish as this may sound, I support ethical animal testing, with the operative word here being ethical. Our natural curiosity and desire to live long and prosper is admirable, but is it our right to do so at the expense of other living beings with whom we are supposed to share the planet? Don’t you think we’ve gone far enough in the wrong direction? And while I know it is a work of fiction, have we learned nothing from Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror”? The future the series depicts is probably decades away but it should be a cautionary tale, not a goal.

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