The development of artificial intelligence involves huge inherent risks, as anyone who has seen a few science fiction movies could probably tell you. Despite understanding this, however, tech tycoons are recklessly pushing to develop dystopian brain-implanted cyborg technologies as they see a chance to profit — and that the potential for things to go wrong, while enormous, is more likely to negatively impact the lives of random customers and the general population rather than their own bottom lines or personal well-being.
Less than three years ago Elon Musk, the celebrity billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, was calling artificial intelligence “our biggest existential threat,” comparing its development to “summoning the demon.” He appears to be changing his tune somewhat drastically, however, as he announced the launch of a new company this week called Neuralink, which will work on something Musk calls “neural lace” that will use brain-implanted electrodes in humans to create a “brain-computer interface.” Now, Musk says, the “existential risk is too high not to” dedicate his time to Neuralink.
Musk seems to see himself as some kind of superhero bent on saving humanity, or at least would like others to see him that way, and some do. In a nauseatingly fawning nearly 8,000 word profile of Musk and other A.I. pushers in Vanity Fair this week, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd calls Musk a “a hyper-logical, risk-loving industrialist” who is “insanely obsessed with work.”
Others, however, are less enthusiastic about Musk and the risks involved in his line of work. His various companies have been funded with billions of dollars in government subsidies, and for all the media attention they get, actually appear to be questionable business ventures. Most of the coverage of Musk’s Neuralink announcement so far has been the kind of uncritical fluff that characterizes the tech press, though Mashable more accurately — even if only jokingly — described it as “Musk’s plan to go full super villain and play with your brain,” and it has also been criticized for its potential for “hurting average Americans.”
Yet for all his talk about the dangers of A.I., Musk is now threatening to create a whole new set of ethical quandaries as his cyborg “neural lace” brain-chipping plan looks to redefine what “human intelligence” and “artificial intelligence” even mean to begin with. And he is not alone.
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering who has long been making science-fiction predictions, recently reiterated his view that brain implants will make humans “funnier” and “sexier” and that “by the 2030s, we will connect our neocortex, the part of our brain where we do our thinking, to the cloud.” Facebook’s “Building 8” development division, meanwhile, is reportedly working on another form of “brain computer interface” that the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, apparently believes will one day technologically enable people to communicate telepathically.
Musk says that by “having some sort of merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence,” human beings may be able to survive the development of artificial intelligence that would otherwise make us obsolete. Yet he and others that are using their limited human intelligence to plan this merger of humanity with machines could very well bring about this human obsolescence, creating the runaway robot apocalypse they claim to be trying to avoid simply by blurring the line between people and computers to begin with.
Artificial intelligence could “potentially be more dangerous than nukes,” Musk warned us in 2014. Yet now he wants to take something this dangerous and to not only use it extensively, but to physically implant it inside of our bodies and brains — presumably either through surgery or something along the lines of blood-borne A.I. “nanobots.”
Musk says we’re already merging with A.I. by using smartphones. When he personally volunteers to get brain-chipped, though, perhaps his claims of well-meaning benevolence can be fairly evaluated. Until then, the posturing and pandering to the public’s legitimate fears of A.I. from promoters like Musk should be viewed with the skepticism generally afforded to door-to-door salesmen of products nobody needs.
As a pitch man, Elon Musk is quite slick (to the point, one might venture, of being truly slimy). Hopefully, though, his dream of healthy people getting surgically implanted with brain chips is naturally repulsive enough, and people have enough common sense and capacity to think for themselves, that they won’t be sold on giving that up to a computer simply for the sake of buying into the latest Silicon Valley marketing gimmick.