How Elon Musk and Neuralink are speeding up Human evolution. But you already knew about this concept, because I told you so!
If you could have a computer chip installed into your head... would you?
Here are some interesting facts:
1.7 million Americans have prosthetic limbs, many including ‘smart’ chips.
92% of Americans have a 'smart' device of some kind.
64% of all humans on the planet have internet access.
Right now, that computer chip is a mere 6 inches from your head at any given time, so you might as well just drop it in your cranium, right?
What could go wrong?
Elon, the man who really can just go by his first name at this point, has once again propelled humanity into uncharted territories. Successfully leading a team of brilliant minds, he achieved the seemingly impossible – implanting a computer microchip into a human brain.
The goal: assist in aiding those with neurological impairments such as paralysis, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other debilitating diseases, recover mobility and freedom. And that’s just the short-term goal.
Ultimately, Elon wants his devices to ‘enhance’ human ability, a term known as transhumanism, a direct symbiosis of human intelligence and artificial intelligence.
There’s a long way to go before he can prove the concept, but still… Damn, the idea is thrilling.
But look, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t start off by saying “I told you so!”
In my award-winning novel, The MindSet Chronicles • Book One: The Deletion, genius, bad boy Peter Eriksson invents tiny, implantable devices which, when placed in the brain, bring sight and hearing back to those who were previously impaired.
But our provocative protagonist doesn’t stop there. Once he determines that he is able to actually link the devices wirelessly, billions sign up for the procedure in a mad dash to join the MindSet Collective.
Telepathically linked, the goal was for humanity to unite in a way never thought possible through a theory known as “Crowd Wisdom.” The idea that while individuals may not make good decisions, the amalgam of all choices would always steer in the direction of positive outcomes.
Spoiler… it doesn’t work out that way. But more on that later. Or just get the book now and see how close my idea is to Elon’s.
Neuralink aims to enhance cognitive functions, perhaps even boosting memory or even brain processing speeds – if that’s even possible. And by introducing the seamless integration of mind and machine, mankind continues to fight back against any notion of our extinction.
We’ve sent machines into bomb situations. We’ve sent robots into disaster zones. We’ve had drones enter enemy territory and fight for us. We’ve even sent smart devices into space to collect comet samples and change the course of a potentially world-killing asteroid!
And while all of these advances have helped to improve and prolong our lives, for the first time in the history of life on this planet, we have taken the wheel and begun to enhance our bodies, thus speeding up our own evolution.
Upside? Quality of life for millions who suffer.
Downside? Where do I start?
In The Deletion, the risks of connecting minds come to the fore quickly and with a danger never envisioned by MindSet’s brilliant inventor; can a mass of people, who face a global challenge actually rally together... or are the collective fears of the group enough to spin everyone out into madness?
Let’s not forget too that privacy, security, personal information, and even thoughts themselves could easily be ‘hacked’ by one or more people looking to capitalize on this new technology.
Imagine the side effects alone of having others’ thoughts, memories, or feelings swirling in your own head. There’s enough crap going on right now in my head, I for sure don’t need any more!
And let’s not forget the lessons we learned from The Borg – a man/machine race of cyborgs in the Star Trek universe hell-bent on gobbling up worlds and adding survivors to their collective.
In The Deletion, I flirt with a kind of Borg origin story, which gets even more complicated in Book 2: The Spill.
Where Elon’s goal and my novel meet is in the never-ending question, “Can we do this?” Where our stories differ is in the execution. Peter Eriksson wants to unite humanity in a benevolent act of hope.
I think Elon loves playing with toys and making money. Not to mention he’s doubtlessly trying to preserve his own brain function so he can implant his brain in a machine and live forever.
You know... that old chestnut.
But even if Elon has a grander notion – and helping people live better lives is pretty grand – I’m not certain he’s always making the potential risks that may come from it top of mind.
Any time something new enters our awareness, there seem to be three possible reactions:
1. Early adoption
2. Wait for it to be proven then go for it
3. Fear it
In the Human/Machine integration scenario, the first consideration should not be the software, but the ‘wet-ware’; humans themselves.
We’re a fickle, funky bunch of people. We’re still figuring out how to all get along (and not doing a very good job of it). With technology such as this, forget about boundaries, defining ethical and moral implications, or even questioning if doing this is smart!
In The Deletion, the governments of the world act too slowly to stop the spread of MindSet, opting only to insist that no government employee receive the implants. But soon nearly 4 billion people are linked to the Collective without regulation. Eriksson’s answer to this? “Let humans regulate themselves!”
Remember how I mentioned that “Crowd Wisdom” was a failure? Yeah. Just keep that in mind.
Perhaps a kind of breaker switch would be needed for the devices. Maybe a set of mental filters that the user could engage when the information gets to be too much.
In The Deletion, the devices’ main processor – a core computer server known simply as Central – helps to regulate the flow of information and allow the user’s own brain patterns to activate various data filters. The main idea here is to keep the subject from going insane from information overload, a condition discussed in the second book of the series, known as a spill.
Look, I know we’re just getting started with this tech, but I’ve looked into the future with my own book and seen what can happen with technology like this. At some point someone will figure out a way to connect people with these devices and then all bets are off.
Fearing AI has never been something I’ve seen as necessary. My concerns have always come from our inability to understand or control ourselves in the face of technological advancement.
In an earlier blog post called Bridging Realities: Exploring the Dream-like Experience of AI, I touch on the idea that humans should not fear AI taking us over, but instead we need to be concerned that we will all one day succumb to its hypnotic charms.
Back to Star Trek for a second. In the TNG episode "The Game", a crew member brings a device onto the ship - a game that he picked up while on shore leave. The user puts the device on his head and is instantly connected to an interactive sight and sound experience.
Unbeknownst to the crew, the device is actually a mind-control, hypnotizing agent created by an enemy to subdue them all and take over the ship. Say what you want about Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek, but that show saw our future much more clearly than most of us.
When an integrated device, connected to AI can entertain us, think for us, tell us what we want to hear and work for us, it’s quite likely we will fall into a fugue state of catatonic paralysis, consistently numbed by the soft freedom of bliss we all crave. In that earlier blog post i related this concern and pointed out that it was the enemy outside that was going to do it to us - but we would walk willingly toward it.
Either that or The Terminator is real and we’re all screwed. Potato, Potahtoe.
Until Elon’s ultimate goal of connecting us all to the interwebs is achieved, we’re all going to have to go about our lives as ‘the disconnected’… relying on communication the old-fashioned way… through social media, newsfeeds, texting, Slack, email, streaming services, and whatever Tik Tok is now.
Truth is, we’ve never not been connected, we just found a way to speed it all up. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s cheating, yes, but from a progress standpoint it was all inevitable. The question remains... what becomes of a mind-connected society willing to sacrifice safety, security and privacy in favor of a perpetual escape from the harshness of reality?