Elon Musk has been all over the AI headlines this week, much more than usual. The news of his Neuralink backing has taken the AI community by storm, and pretty much every publication has been all over it like dog poop on a Roomba. Musk’s solution to the threat of superintelligence, neural lacing, sounds perhaps even more terrifying than being obliterated by AI. So, I figure, it’s time we learned about what it is.
Basically, a neural lace merges machine learning with human intelligence. Musk’s concept for the use of neural lace is the use of a small brain implant that lets the user directly harness the computing power of their brain. The device would be injected into the jugular vein, from where it “would travel to the brain and unfold into a mesh of electric connections that connect directly to the neurons” (Inverse).
So what’s the point?
Well, at a superficial level, you could do without your smartphone and keyboard. Rather than texting a friend, you’d just think of what you wanted to say and the message would be sent… to their brain. You could calculate maths equations in a matter of seconds, order food just by thinking about it… Google stuff within your own mind.
Let’s gloss over the fact that I don’t want to order cake every time I think about it (I do have some self-discipline), and look at how this tech could help protect us from superintelligent AI overlords.
Neural lacing would cause us to become those superintelligent AI overlords. They would not exist independently from us, but be a part of us. The human being could evolve (or transcend, depending on your view of it) into a much better version of itself. We would, more intelligently, be able to compute the consequences of our actions as a species to ascertain the path our societies would follow. Collectively, we would have the capacity to perform risk analysis on, say, whether electing a right-wing, crazy, racist, sexual predator is a good idea or not, and be able to cast our democratic vote in a more informed way.
Work, Ethics, and Creativity
Once neural lacing provides us with the opportunity to make decisions direct from our minds, sitting at a computer writing an article on a Saturday afternoon may be unnecessary; launching a legal battle that has a low probability of winning could be ruled out.
Heck, we could even foresee the consequences of cheating on our tax returns or cheating on our spouse with crystal clarity. Indeed, those tax returns may be unnecessary in the first place, and the cost-benefit analysis of infidelity (if there is such a thing in a posthuman age) could be ascertained before any harm is done.
Without all these energy-wasting areas of life to deal with, we would be free to create great works of art, write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, develop new forms of music previously inexpressible. If, of course, our computer-enhanced minds deem the activity desirable.
In theory, therefore, neural lacing could make us perfect. Better than human.
Of course, our initial response to such a prospect is to baulk; to run screaming from this dystopian vision of our future. And that isn’t an unnatural response. In fact, taking all of the above into consideration, what on Earth is Elon Musk thinking?
I don’t really know the answer, but I can postulate.
Our human bodies are feeble. We are susceptible to an endless range of errors, from disease to accident, and more in between. Our species acts illogically, irrationally, selfishly, sometimes with complete evil. We know that our fallibility will be our demise. Like a reverse Midas, humans destroy everything we touch. We are a disease upon the planet in ways that are so utterly disgusting that, when you think about it, it’s hard not to conclude that Earth would be better off without us.
Yes, yes, I know we are not totally bad. Some of us are beautiful people who care deeply about others, about the planet, about being good. But by and large, we are scum.
By this argument, it’s certainly time for an upgrade. And now neural lacing technology is, as Musk predicts, within our sights in under five years, it’s time to seriously consider a human reboot. Perhaps becoming true cyborgs is the brave new world we, and the planet itself, needs.
It’s a tough one. No one wants to let go of being human. What of love, of the joys of raising children, planting a beautiful garden, and watching it grow? Would all of these tender aspects of human good be sapped from our bionic bodies? If we prove that there is no soul, just neural networks woven like lace into an implant we have created, the idea of spirituality dies.
What, exactly, is the ‘greater good’ here?
If Musk wants to save us from artificial superintelligence by merging us with it, isn’t this a bit of a counterintuitive way of going about it?
But then again, if the eradication of the human race is going to happen anyway, what other choice do we have? Should we go gently into that good night by extinction… or by evolution?