Experts crictise Elon Musk’s Neuralink over transparency after billionaire says first brain implant works


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Elon Musk should be more transparent about Neuralink and its clinical trial, experts told Forbes.

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Key Takeaways
  • “What truly puzzles me about this is not the technology itself but the way of communicating scientific news,” said Marcello Ienca, a professor of ethics of AI and neuroscience at Technical University of Munich, who stressed information about Neuralink and its work is being disseminated “through casual social media updates” rather than traditional outlets for science like peer reviewed publications, public repositories or even simple pre-prints.
  • It “seems to sidestep the established protocols that underpin scientific integrity,” Ienca said, preventing experts from evaluating or understanding “the full scope and impact” of any claimed advances.
  • “A tweet is not exactly a peer-reviewed scientific report,” said L. Syd M Johnson, an ethicist at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities, adding that Musk’s brief update gave few details on the patient’s recovery, what degree of control they have over the mouse or whether “mouse” actually meant the onscreen cursor.
  • Most clinical trials are also registered in the public database for the sake of transparency, accountability and the benefit of science, said Laura Cabrera, a neuroethicist at Pennsylvania State University’s Rock Ethics Institute, who called for the creation of “more rigorous ways” to hold companies operating in the space accountable, transparent and to make them follow similar reporting standards to federally funded trials.
  • While it isn’t illegal for Neuralink to not have registered its clinical trial, Ienca said not doing so “violates fundamental ethical guidelines for biomedical research”—notably the Declaration of Helsinki, a cornerstone statement of ethical principles for medical research involving humans—adding that Neuralink hasn’t communicated setting up any internal ethics board or establishing its own code of ethics and has not engaged in any major activities from policy organizations working in the space like the OECD.
  • Neuralink did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment.
Crucial Quote

Ienca accused Neuralink of endangering the entire field of neurotechnology over its opacity and failure to outline its position on important ethical and social issues related to its work while charging ahead with human research. “If you decide to play with fire in a house, you increase the risk threshold not only of yourself but of the whole house,” he said. “My fear is that Neuralink’s disregard for the ethical aspects of their technology may cause a backfire effect for the entire neurotechnology community.” Ienca warned the potential backlash could slow down the development of a technological innovation that could help millions of people with neuropsychiatric disorders and mental illness, many of whom cannot be cured or even treated effectively with current technology. Given the stakes, “we cannot afford a “Cambridge Analytica” scandal involving the human brain,” Ienca said.

News Peg

Neuralink secured permission in September to recruit patients to test its implantable brain device’s ability to help people with paralysis regain lost functions by controlling computers with their thoughts. Musk announced the first patient had received the implant in January and last week said they appeared to have made a full recovery and could move a mouse around a screen “just by thinking.” The Tesla billionaire delivered both updates through informal posts on X, the social media platform Musk controversially acquired as Twitter in 2022.

Musk has teased that Neuralink’s first products will include “Telepathy,” which would allow users to control a phone or computer “just by thinking,” as well as features that could restore sight to blind people. Musk has also been open on his long term aims for Neuralink and hopes the technology will be used more widely to enhance memory and elevate intelligence and ultimately acting as a foil to the risks of artificial intelligence. The company has been criticized over its use of animals in experiments and questions have been raised over the independence of a regulatory board governing its animal research. The company has denied any wrongdoing and stressed it is “committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible.”


In line with other experts Forbes spoke to, Columbia neurobiologist Rafael Yuste said the announcement of Neuralink’s progress is “not news.” It is only reported as such because “a company associated with Elon Musk” is doing it,” he said, pointing to decades of research and numerous other companies operating in the neurotech field. Yuste said he had “zero concerns” over Neuralink’s latest experiment. It involves a medical device that “has to be approved by the FDA” and “the data collected are protected with HIPAA,” he explained, referring to the series of federal laws governing protected health information. “I welcome anyone who wants to develop medical devices to help patients,” he said. Cabrera expressed a similar sentiment and said it’s unlikely we will need new rights to govern the medical uses of neurotechnology as these should already be well covered by existing regulation.

What To Watch For

While medical uses of neurotechnology may be well covered by existing regulation, Yuste warned “commercial neurotechnology is completely unregulated.” The growing sector—which includes non-implantable tech like external sensors—raises a host of social, legal and ethical questions surrounding privacy, access and freedom of thought, demands a framework of rights to govern neurotechnology and protect human rights from potential abuse or misuse from it (Yuste and others call this framework “neurorights”). The use, and potential exploitation, of the vast amounts of brain data generated from implants and sensors is of particular concern, experts warned. Neuralink stands out as a neurotech company that such considerations could apply to, although this would still be a long way in the future.


“Neuralink is the only neurotechnology company, to my knowledge, that has publicly confessed that their long-term goal is the development of implantable neurotechnology for human enhancement,” Ienca said. In principle, Ienca said there’s nothing wrong with enhancement—tools that augment or add brain functions like memory or vision for healthy individuals and go beyond natural capabilities—but warned there’s a real risk of creating a “stratified society divided not just by wealth or opportunity, but by cognitive and sensory capabilities.” Johnson, on the other hand, said enhancement “would not change anything.” The wealthy would “have the same advantages and power” as they do now.

What We Don’t Know

Experts told Forbes it is unclear what will happen to Neuralink’s human subjects once the clinical trial for the brain implant is over. “When the clinical trial is over, are they on their own?,” Johnson asked, pointing to the many risks involved with the kind of surgery to place an implant, the possibility the device or performance could degrade over time and the fact that some may simply lose access to their implant once the trial is over.

Chief Critic

“Musk’s talk about helping disabled people – giving full body functionality to tetraplegics – is disingenuous and harmful,” Johnson said, asking whether disabled people even want brain implants or to control smartphones with their thoughts. “It fundamentally says that disabled persons are broken and need to be fixed with invasive brain implants,” Johnson said, noting that there is “so much that societies could be doing right now, but are not doing, to improve mobility, and access to jobs and education and decent places to live for disabled persons.”

Forbes Valuation

We estimate Musk to be worth $207 billion. Musk’s fortune makes him the world’s second richest person, behind French luxury goods giant Bernard Arnault and ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, worth $229.6 billion and $195.7 billion, respectively.

This article was first published on and all figures are in USD.

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