In case you missed it, Elon Musk is rather concerned about the fate of humanity, given the extreme advancements being made in artificial intelligence (AI). Ultimately, he fears that our AI will, one day, overtake us. When this happens, he claims that humans will likely become second class citizens (or slaves, or something even worse).
Now, reports have surfaced which assert that he is backing a brain-computer interface venture that was founded to allow humans to keep up with the advancements made in machines. The interface is intended to work by augmenting that which makes us human: our brains.
The find comes from The Wall Street Journal. According to them, the company – which is called Neuralink – is still in the earliest stages of development. To that end, it has no public presence at all.
For a meaningful partial brain interface, I think we’re roughly four or five years away. -Elon Musk
What we do know is that its ultimate goal is to create a device (or possibly a series of devices) that can be implanted in the human brain. These will serve a multitude of purposes — the final end being to help humans merge with our software and keep pace with artificial intelligences so we don't get left in the dust.
Initially, these enhancements will likely assist in smaller ways, such as helping us improve our memories by creating additional, removable storage components.
Notably, this is not the first that we have heard of Musk working on such a device. Previously, he mentioned a device called the "neural lace." He explained how he imagined it would work at the 2016 Code Conference, which you can see below:
The Race to Beat AI
Unsurprisingly, Musk isn't the only one worried about AI. In a video posted by Big Think, Michael Vassar, the chief science officer of MetaMed Research, stated that AI will likely kill us all (literally): "If greater-than-human artificial general intelligence is invented without due caution, it is all but certain that the human species will be extinct in very short order." Essentially, he is warning that an unchecked AI could eradicate humanity in the future.
Similarly, Stephen Hawking famously stated that AI is one of the biggest threats to humanity: "The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded."
To that end, Musk isn't the only person working to ensure that humanity can keep up with AI. Braintree founder Bryan Johnson is investing $100 million to make a neuroprosthesis to unlock the power of the human brain and, ultimately, make our neural code programmable.
Johnson outlines the purpose of his work, stating that it's all about co-evolution:
Our connection with our new creations of intelligence is limited by screens, keyboards, gestural interfaces, and voice commands — constrained input/output modalities. We have very little access to our own brains, limiting our ability to co-evolve with silicon-based machines in powerful ways.
He is working to change this and ensure that we have a seamless interface with our technologies (and our AI).
Johnson is clear that his company, Kernel, will begin by researching the brain and figuring out exactly how it works. This research, Johnson states, is the first step in helping humans achieve permanent equality with machines.
Of course, such technologies will do a lot more than just allow humans to interface with machines. Neuroprostheses could also repair our cognitive abilities – which will allow us to combat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's, and other conditions that destroy our brains...and our lives.
This is just the beginning.
Such advancements could allow us to merge with machines, yes, but they can also allow us to literally program our neural code, which would allow us to transform ourselves in ways that we can't even imagine. In short, we could program ourselves into the people that we want to be. As Johnson states, "Our biology and genetics have become increasingly programmable; our neural code is next in line."
It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it is based on remarkable scientific work.
In short, the devices under development work by replicating the way that our brain cells communicate with one another. The tech envisioned is based on 15 years of academic research that was funded by the NIH and DARPA. So get ready. Human superintelligence is only a matter of time.
Disclosure: Bryan Johnson is an investor in Futurism; he does not hold a seat on our editorial board or have any editorial review privileges.