• neil

Day 67 (23 May): Wire me up Alfie!

Yesterday I had a good whinge about arm-chair complainers. Oddly such complaining is frequently directed not at mediocre politicians but at people who are investing money, intelligence, time and genius into making the world a better place.

Bill Gates springs to mind. A man whose foundation[1] is having a massively beneficial effect on world health - far beyond what had been achieved by governments or any other bodies before; a man who is largely responsible for saving tens of millions of lives [2].

Perhaps less obviously, and a touch more controversially, I would maintain that another such person is Elon Musk. Of course he is eccentric and yes, he has given his child a ridiculous name. To which I propose a resounding 'So What?'

Look at what he has achieved.

This is a man who realised people would not give up personal mobility in the name of the environment so, against all the odds, he introduced the world to the electric car and single-handedly put the entire auto industry on the back foot. He has given so much heartburn to car and oil executives he could make another fortune selling own brand antacids.

And he hasn't stopped there.

He is also the single most important individual in space exploration, the man whose company 'Space X' routinely returns rocket boosters back to earth with pinpoint accuracy and then reuses them - something NASA had never achieved. It is not one of the old established giants like Boeing taking astronauts into space at the end of this month but Space X. And it is Space X which is working flat out to get us to Mars.

Yes, I am fully aware that many people will trot out the old complaint that he would do better to eliminate poverty or solve world hunger - but mankind needs big goals and big adventures to lift our collective eyes above our navels. He's doing his bit for the environment with the cars and his promotion of solar power!

Musk isn't getting his money from finance or law. This is a man who is manufacturing useful products that people want. This is a man who is doing real work providing important tools.

Although he says screwy things from time to time he is a man with a titanium track record and someone to be taken seriously.

So when this morning I caught a podcast of him talking of developments made by his company Neuralink [3], I was fascinated.

The interviewer prompted and encouraged him, rather than trying to trip him up, which allowed Mr. M to speak and me to learn.

He was talking about the devices the company is developing to augment the human brain.

Of course we already have devices that augment the human brain; we call them computers and smart phones. And invasive deep brain stimulation is already being used to help Parkinson's disease patients, something which has fundamentally changed many peoples' lives for the better.

The first Neuralink produced device should be implanted in a person within a year. It will be about the size of a smartwatch and will be inserted through the skull, at which point it will sit flush with the top of the head and electrodes will be inserted into the brain itself. The initial objective is to progress to stopping epilepsy, fixing stroke damage or compensating for Alzheimer’s memory loss. Later Musk hopes that it will be possible to restore eyesight to people who have lost optic nerve function or return lost limb movement through a neural shunt. Pretty amazing and totally A Good Thing.

Eventually, of course, Musk being Musk, he will be headed in the direction of the real ‘turbo charged' version. AI symbiosis. As he points out in the podcast - “it's optional’ - but it will totally change the way we interface with each other. Musk says:

“Don’t worry - its not going to sneak up on you - its going to take a while."

He thinks “a while “ is about ten years with whole brain interfaces connected to an AI extension of yourself in around twenty five years. As I just mentionned, we already have computer extensions of ourselves and we already put whole ghosts of ourselves on the internet. This 'just' means that one day more of what we are could be in the cloud than in our bodies. The future device could offer the possibility of communicating without words, without sounds; right now the brain spends a lot power compressing complex concepts into noises, with consequent information loss; the person being addressed then has to unpack the words (noises) to reveal the concept, with further information loss.

Failure to communicate! Interpretation of tone, social mores et al also impact the integrity of the message. All very worrying for me as the writer of this blog as I rely on you concentrating on the words without realising there is no message. But I am somewhat reassured as he thinks conversation will be kept ‘for sentimental reasons’ in the same way we enjoy campfires without relying on them for heating or cooking. And, of course, if you want to speak a different language during that conversation you can just down load the appropriate programme.

Musk's biggest motivation in creating Neuralink is the belief that when general AI arrives we won’t be playing catch up. We won’t be playing at all. AI will consider communication with us as interesting as we find conversation with trees. AI is getting better and better and even in a benign scenario we are not along for the ride; we are just too dumb. So his attitude is that if you can’t beat them your only chance is to join them.

This cannot be dismissed as airy-fairy lunacy. Not when it comes from the man who has such a proven track record of coming up with the goods and overcoming the naysayers and the disbelievers.

I for one am intrigued and half way onboard. It is not increased levels of intelligence which present us with a problem but present levels of stupidity.

I do however have a few questions:

  • Will I be able to afford it?

  • Will I be able not to afford it? I don't want to be the only dummy in the village.

  • Alfie latched on very quickly and is three hundred places further up the queue for the module. Will she seek vengeance?

  • If I'm the first person I know to get it will everybody expect me to do their tax returns?

  • If I gain super intelligence will I still be interested in sex? Because, the more you think about it the dumber and messier it seems.

  • What are the other questions I should be asking if only I had super intelligence?

Keep exercising your brains this weekend!



[1] EMBO Report on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Foundation

[2] Guardian article [3] 2019 paper from Neuralink Neuralink launch video


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