WHY ELON MUSK’S LEAST KNOWN COMPANY WILL PROBABLY HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON HUMANITY
Visionary or villain, whatever your view, Elon Musk is difficult to ignore. And, tempting as it might be for many, you probably shouldn’t. Particularly if you are interested in social change and where we are going as humanity.
Not only does Musk clearly have an eye for the “think-big-future” stuff, but has access, unparalleled in human history, to the necessary technology and resources to make things happen. What he – and others like him – says does matter. What sounds like science fiction today, might quickly become reality; if not tomorrow or the day after, at least within our lifetime or those of our children.
Despite the furor, in the long-term, the impact of Musk’s takeover of Twitter looks positively mundane in comparison to the potential of his least known company – Neuralink – to influence the way we think, feel and act. Indeed, to even change the very experience of being human. And the good thing is that on its website, Neuralink is admirably clear, transparent and concise about who it is and what it wants to achieve.
Neuralink aims to build a brain-computer interface (BCI), which will allow people to interact with a computer or mobile by merely thinking about it. BCIs are not entirely new, but the scope of Neuralink’s ambitions dwarf anything that has gone before. By implanting electrodes into the brain, the aim is to “read” and decode the electrical signals and transmit them, via Bluetooth, to an App.
While the initial laudable goal is to help people who are paralyzed to interact with the world, the longer-term vision is to create devices and implants so that “the general population would want to have them” (www.neuralink.com/applications). In other words, to move from a palliative approach to a designer “must-have” approach. You can see how it might catch on once your neighbour has one!
Think about it: through a thought connected to an app, the potential to interact with and manipulate physical objects in the world. I mean really think about it, because a lot of highly talented people are working on this stuff right now as you read this.
As the company cheerily notes on its website, “… the potential applications of this technology are limitless”. And, this is not mere hyperbole, for indeed the technology could take us places we cannot even begin to imagine.
Turn-on your heating at home remotely just by thinking about it? Somewhat useful, I guess.
Automatically spread on social media the latest thought you’ve just had (in fact, why not just live-stream them 24 hours a-day)? Not so good.
Launch an attack of armed machines on a neighboring country? Damn-right terrifying.
And, of course, device connectivity tends to be two-way. So, the outside world will also be able to send life-enhancing, uplifting and positive thoughts and skills directly into our brains. Fantastic. Until someone, something, some group or some government decides it wants to directly transmit less beneficial and wholesome thoughts and suggestions directly into your brain. Let your imagination fill in the possibilities and implications here.
But this is not really about Elon Musk at all. Or at least not about him in particular. In fact it’s not even about neuralink, because Artificial Intelligence – also related to our understanding of the brain in many ways – will have an equally big impact.
It’s about us, individually and collectively. Some people love the future possibilities of humanity. Others are terrified. And many simply despair that this is where we are investing the best efforts of humanity while there are so many urgent and pressing problems.
But these kind of technologies are coming, whether we are ready or not, and whether it is through Elon Musk or someone else.
Are we ready?
For those who are interested in social change, do we even really understand them? Do we even begin to understand just how profoundly they will affect us – or our children – whether in 10, 20 or 100 years? In fact, do we even understand how our brains experience and make sense of the world even now?
If we want to engage in shaping the future rather than let a small group of others decide for us, we need to seriously up our game. Because things are changing fast. Perhaps much faster than we realise. We need to be able to think about things differently. Not just have somewhat better “new thoughts”, but to literally think in new and creative ways. To understand that more-of- the-same, incremental approaches are simply not going to cut it.
And what can we use to do this? Why, our brains – the very thing Neuralink is setting its sights upon. Seems we all agree on one thing at least.
Two recommended books to explore some of these things further are:
· Life 3:0: Being Human In the Age Of Artificial Intelligence, Max Tegmark.
· Being You: A New Science of Consciousness, Anil Seth