When Elon Musk posted those two words in response to a follower’s request for an update to Neuralink, the hive mind of social media and beyond has been atwitter with speculation, anticipation, and trepidation.
Coming soon— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 21, 2019
Neuralink, the San Francisco-based company founded by Musk in 2016, which is looking at, in its own words, “developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers”, which is exactly what it sounds like, to wit, embedding human brains with micro-circuitry to greatly enhance mental and pursuant capabilities.
While the initial application is meant to help disabled persons be able to better use their prosthetic limbs and transplants, as well as perhaps ameliorate the symptoms of certain central-nervous diseases, the final goal is to enhance human brains, upgrade them if you will.
While this won’t give people Jedi powers (that we know of), the technology will greatly expand cognition, co-ordination, and allow them to mentally access external sources such as, you know, the internet, essentially making you your own Google, apps and all.
This would naturally be fantastic news for disabled people in helping them to better function, but the implications go much farther afield. The sheer access to information that an internet in connection in your brain would provide aside, the possibilities to mentally control other electronic and digital devices are endless.
For Neuralink, however, it’s not just fun and an endless loop of cat videos. Musk has been one of the many significant voices advising caution against the emergence of a true Artificial Intelligence, of human design, but independent of human control.
Neuralink is his answer, or at least one of them, to the implied threat of a rise of the machines: enhancing human beings with Cybernetics to take on rogue AI.
Not that AI isn’t already around us, but most of it is limited to either a single, or limited set, of operations. Still, much like the laws of physics govern the universe, algorithms are increasingly setting the template of the human world, from tracking to influencing the food we eat, the news we read, the clothes we wear, the information we believe and even the roads we take. It’s not for nothing that Google’s motto was “Don’t be evil” until its corporate restructuring into Alphabet in 2015, the motto of which now is, “Do the right thing”, which is a bit like going from the Ashokvadana to the Arthashastra, but at least they’re both engaging reads.
It’s not just private companies that are utilizing the technology though, with the governments of several nations also keenly interested in its applications.
The Reddit-powered abilities this will give power-hungry politicians and social media influencers aside, it has even darker uses. Perhaps nowhere else is there more implicit the potentially dangerous ubiquity of AI in state-authority than in China.
In November of last year, Xinhua, China’s state news agency, informed the Chinese public, and the world at large, of some news: it now fields AI anchors, who will “tirelessly” cover all the news all the time, from every corner of the world's most populous country.
The Chinese agency also introduced the Anglosphere to an an English-speaking AI, based on another presenter, who said: “The development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies … I look forward to bringing you brand new news experiences.”
Given that Xinhua is reputed to already be tightly controlled by the Chinese administration, with strictly followed scripts and closely monitored flow of information, one wonders what adding AI to the mix will do.
From plans to implementing a ‘social credit’ policy, wherein citizen movements are tracked around the clock to monitor behavior, with points being awarded or docked for corresponding actions, to embedding schoolchildren’s uniforms with microchips that are meant to keep a check on attendance and locations, working in tandem with facial recognition technology, which is of course, everywhere.
The uniforms, have a host of other features including alerting appropriate authorities if a student falls asleep in class, as well as letting parents monitor what their kids' are buying and even setting spending limits.
More Black Mirror-ish is the tracking technology being embedded into the uniforms with databases being set up to match each uniform to each student's face, with facial-recognition equipment being installed at school entrances that can match a student’s face with the chip embedded in the uniform. This is to prevent students from exchanging uniforms or trying to manipulate the system.
Perhaps it’s a good thing India still has slow internet.