Flirting With Technology

There is something incredibly peaceful and satisfying about contemplating things that are far in time and space – I’m talking about the cold beauty of the universe, remote galaxies, mysteries of science, origin of matter; but also with respect to time, for example how life must have been at the time of the dinosaurs, and how it will look like 50 years from now.

I do believe we find peace in these thoughts because we extricate ourselves from a very chaotic and conflictual present – political frenzy, economic recession, pandemic fears, overpopulation, you name it. There is some measure of peace in escaping from reality.

I have been listening recently to a bunch of podcasts about AI and scientific developments. While we are not seeing many true scientific breakthroughs of late (nothing comparable to the discovery and harnessing of electricity for example), there is however one development that seems incredibly disruptive to me, and that’s Neuralink.

Founded by Elon Musk, Neuralink is attempting to integrate robotics with the human brain – effectively adding a “chip”, or rather an “implant”, that would allow the brain to interface with human-made technology.

There are multiple reasons for doing that – the main one, and the stated goal of Neuralink, is to help people with neurological disorders. Someone with dementia, Alzheimer, or paralysis, could potentially recover complete functionality with such device.

That is not something entirely new – brain stimulation, called neurostimulation more generally, is already actively used to help people with chronic pain, dementia or mobility issues. For example, you can put some electrodes under the skin and send electric impulses to modulate neurological activity, and by doing that you can disrupt pain patterns. You are not curing or healing anything, per se, but you are improving the quality of life of a patient.

The Neuralink approach, however, is a lot different – their goal is to re-map the brain and create “tech” bridges between parts of the brain that have been interrupted, for example, or stimulate areas where our memories are stored, and that we can no longer tap (e.g. due to dementia).

From that perspective, there is nothing strange or unethical about such device – it’s fixing a health problem. There is however a huge lot more that Neuralink can do, and that’s where things become more complicated.

By introducing human tech in the brain, Neuralink could technically connect the brain via Bluetooth to any device. This would have wild implications: we could stream the internet with our brain and instantaneously read books, check the weather, learn songs or skills. Even more so, we could communicate via Bluetooth: there would be no need to talk anymore, because you could communicate much more clearly and efficiently with your mind.

The human brain is made of two parts: the lizard brain, which controls basic functions and desires (fight or flight response), and the wizard brain, which is the rational and thinking part of the brain. Neuralink would add a third and much more powerful layer to the brain, which would effectively transform a person in a super human.

Also, being connected to AI would allow us to save or record our memory. That is not quite the same as being immortal, but our consciousness would basically be archived in the cloud – it would be accessible, and it could be shared. You could literally “live” parts of someone else’s life. And when you die, a lot more of your life would be stored and preserved.

At the moment, if you die, some of your life still goes on through pictures, videos or posts that you shared on the internet. With Neuralink, a lot more of you could be recorded and preserved.

According to Musk, this is just 5 or 10 years away. He expects people to really want it, and first movers will have a huge economic advantage (they will be able to accelerate their life enormously, and be much more resourceful than the common human being). People will probably scramble to borrow money to get the implant, assuming it will be very expensive.

What I found most interesting is the rationale as to why he thinks we need a brain/AI interface. It’s not just a matter of becoming superhuman.

He is greatly concerned about AI – something that could develop self-awareness and harness incredible power, to the point that it could become a threat to humanity (part of the reason why he thinks we need to become an interplanetary species).

Being able to communicate with AI, and bridge that gap – effectively becoming part human and part AI – is in his opinion critical to our survival as a species, to make us more able to control and understand AI.

We already are cyborgs – you can argue that your smartphone is always with you and you are constantly connected anyway. A direct connection straight to the brain would just be faster, more efficient and more helpful.

Obviously, such a device opens all sort of questions – can it be hacked? Can someone else control my mind through it? Can someone steal my memories? Would there be such thing as privacy anymore?

Stay tuned, this is the future unfolding and we are not paying enough attention.

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