The moon landing was supposed to be our greatest triumph, Homo sapiens having made the giant leap from living in cave systems to conquering the solar system, but as Norman Mailer wrote presciently at the time: “Space travel proposed a future world of brains attached to wires.” The macho author knew machine intelligence had won, and boxing matches, bullfights and other human struggles were crude pantomimes compared to a space odyssey. Even Mailer’s ample intelligence and elephantine ego, however, couldn’t have known how right he was.
He further wrote:
He had no intimations of what was to come, and that was conceivably worse than any sentiment of dread, for a sense of the future, no matter how melancholy, was preferable to none–it spoke of some sense of the continuation in the projects of one’s life. He was adrift. If he tried to conceive of a likely perspective in the decade before him, he saw not one structure to society but two: if the social world did not break down into revolutions and counterrevolutions, into police and military rules of order with sabotage, guerrilla war and enclaves of resistance, if none of this occurred, then there certainly would be a society of reason, but its reason would be the logic of the computer. In that society, legally accepted drugs would become necessary for accelerated cerebration, there would be inchings toward nuclear installation, a monotony of architectures, a pollution of nature which would arouse technologies of decontamination odious as deodorants, and transplanted hearts monitored like spaceships–the patients might be obliged to live in a compound reminiscent of a Mission Control Center where technicians could monitor on consoles the beatings of a thousand transplanted hearts. But in the society of computer-logic, the atmosphere would obviously be plastic, air-conditioned, sealed in bubble-domes below the smog, a prelude to living on space stations. People would die in such societies like fish expiring on a vinyl floor.•
Okay, fish on a vinyl floor may be melodramatic, but Elon Musk and others wants to go much further than accelerating cerebration via pills, aiming, with Neuralink, to implant electrodes in our brains in order to link us directly to the cloud. Musk thinks “we need brain-computers to avoid becoming ‘house cats’ to artificial intelligence.”
Hmm, that’s an odd way to add it all up. Becoming a computer (to a good degree) in order to avert the dominance of computers is sort of like killing yourself to prevent death.
It’s very possible that tomorrow’s challenges may require such drastic measures for our species, but let’s not pretend we’re maintaining humanity when we’re drastically altering it.
Depending on who you ask, the human story generally goes like this. First, we discovered fire and developed oral language. We turned oral language into writing, and eventually we found a way to turn it into mechanised printing. After a few centuries, we happened upon this thing called electricity, which gave rise to telephones, radios, TVs and eventually personal computers, smart phones – and ultimately the Juicero.
Over time, phones lost their cords, computers shrunk in size and we figured out ways to make them exponentially more powerful and portable enough to fit in pockets. Eventually, we created virtual realities, and melded our sensate reality with an augmented one.
But if Neuralink were to achieve its goal, it’s hard to predict how this story plays out. The result would be a “whole-brain interface” so complete, frictionless, bio-compatible and powerful that it would feel to users like just another part of their cerebral cortex, limbic and central nervous systems.
A whole-brain interface would give your brain the ability to communicate wirelessly with the cloud, with computers, and with the brains of anyone who has a similar interface in their head. This flow of information between your brain and the outside world would be so easy it would feel the same as your thoughts do right now.
But if that sounds extraordinary, so are the potential problems.•