October 16, 2023
Normally I write these blog posts because of exciting news in the field of AI. Unfotrunately this time this is not the case. This news about Neuralink genuinely makes me nervous about our future.
Elon Musk is known for his ambitious and visionary projects, such as electric cars (Tesla), reusable rockets (SpaceX), and even helped found OpenAI (ChatGPT). But one of his most controversial and secretive ventures is Neuralink, a company that aims to create a direct link between the human brain and artificial intelligence (AI).
Neuralink's goal is to implant tiny electrodes into the brain that can read and write neural signals, allowing people to control computers, smartphones, and other devices with their thoughts. The company claims that this technology could also help treat various neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression, and paralysis.
But how realistic and safe is this idea? And what are the ethical and social implications of merging our minds with machines?
The challenges of brain-computer interfaces
Neuralink is not the first company to explore the possibility of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). For decades, researchers have been developing devices that can record brain activity and use it to control prosthetic limbs, robotic arms, or computer cursors. Some of these devices are invasive, meaning they require surgery to implant electrodes into the brain. Others are non-invasive, meaning they use sensors attached to the scalp or the skin.
However, current BCIs have many limitations. They are often bulky, expensive, unreliable, and require extensive training and calibration. They can only access a small fraction of the brain's neurons, which are the cells that communicate with each other using electrical impulses. And they pose significant risks of infection, inflammation, bleeding, and damage to the brain tissue.
Neuralink claims to overcome these challenges by developing a new type of BCI that is wireless, battery-powered, and minimally invasive. The company says it has created a device called the N1 Link that consists of a tiny chip with 1,024 electrodes that can be inserted into the brain through a small hole in the skull. The chip connects to a wearable device behind the ear that communicates with a smartphone app via Bluetooth.
The company says it has tested the N1 Link in pigs and monkeys and plans to start human trials soon. It also says it has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct its first tests on humans. However, Neuralink has not published any peer-reviewed papers or data to support its claims. And many experts are skeptical about the feasibility and safety of its technology.
The ethical and social implications of neural implants
Even if Neuralink succeeds in creating a safe and effective BCI, there are still many ethical and social questions that need to be addressed. For example:
Who will have access to this technology? Will it be affordable and available to everyone? Or will it create a new divide between the rich and the poor?
How will this technology affect our privacy? Will it be possible for hackers, governments, or corporations to access or manipulate our thoughts or memories?
How will this technology affect our identity? Will it change our sense of self or our relationship with others? Will it enhance or diminish our human dignity?
How will this technology affect our society? Will it create new opportunities or new challenges for education, work, entertainment, or politics? Will it foster cooperation or competition among people?
How will this technology affect our future? Will it help us solve global problems or create new ones? Will it enable us to coexist with AI or make us dependent on it?
These are some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves before we decide whether we want to connect our brains to computers. Neuralink may offer some potential benefits for humanity, but it also poses some serious risks and challenges. We need to be careful not to let our curiosity or excitement blind us from the possible consequences of this technology. As Elon musk himself said:
"The existential risk is too high not to."