Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X, presented Neuralink, an enhanced BMI(Brain-Machine Interface) device, as an effective defensive measure against A.I. turning into actual ‘Skynet’ from the movie terminator on March, 2017.
It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just, it’s definitely gonna be outside of human control.
Musk said on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’, a podcast hosted by Joe Rogan, counting A.I. as one of the biggest futuristic threat we can face. What worries Mr. Musk is that the few of those who possess the technology may be tempted to use it against other human beings for their own interests, and the result will be catastrophic.
“I like to just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence,” he told CNBC. To keep his word, Musk founded Neuralink corp. developing invasive brain-machine interface technology, with Max Hodak, executive of Neuralink corporation, and others in 2016 and publicized in 2017.
By directly connecting human brains and digital machines, humans can merge with A.I then transcend previous intellectual capabilities. This would ensure a wide range of roles for humans in advanced society instead of depending solely on A.I. Neuralink seeks to achieve this goal by implanting an electronic chip underneath the skull. Elon Musk refers to this new technology, as an escape route for the dystopian future with a bunch of robots shooting to kill us. Along the way, the company is expecting to use this technology also in a therapeutic way. Theoretically, by stimulating a specific region of the brain, it can cure brain disorders such as blindness, spinal cord injuries and mental disabilities. However, he clearly pointed out the ultimate goal of the whole project saying, “After solving a bunch of brain related diseases there is the mitigation of the existential threat of AI,” he added “This is the point of it.”
What makes ‘Neuralink’ so special?
Elon Musk’s neuralink is based on pre-existing BMI(Brain Machine Interface) technology but “better”. There are two kinds of BMI tech. One is non-invasive style which attaches ‘brain wave collecting electrodes’ on the surface of a scalp. This method has its limits according to Musk, because collecting brainwaves in a roundabout way increases a possibility for the distortion of collected data.
The other is an invasive style BMI, which Neuralink corp selected, and it seeks to gather brain signals directly from the brain. By this radical method of connecting brain and machines, it will decrease the potential of data distortion and also enables more precise neuro-prosthetic control of electrical devices due to a denser range of captured brainwaves.
How does ‘Neuralink’ work?
However, to pierce through an actual brain without harmful damages and implanting microchip inside the skull is challenging. Neuralink seeks to resolve this problem with their custom made threads, robots, and electronics.
“Threads” are extremely-thin (4 to 6 μm and 20μm in length) flexible polyimide gold film trace, thinner than a hair(17 μm), and it contains 32 independent electrodes each. 48 to 96 threads each form an array of a polyimide film chip, which amounts to 3,072 of electrodes in total. Each of the electrodes transfers the electrophysiological information they have collected inside the brain and signals to the transmitter.
To successfully stitch the threads, Neuralink corp. developed a specifically designed robot solely to insert the threads in the least invasive manner. The robot enables flexible threads to be inserted inside the brain targeting not to irritate any blood vessels called vasculature dispersed throughout brain’s region.
Especially for the insertion without drawbacks, a nano-size of the needle is used to successfully stitch the thread and releases it rapidly. The needle used for the surgical process is much smaller than that of the size of a penny.
‘Digital Psychokinesis’ device
Custom electronics invented by Neuralink plays a significant role in assessing brain waves and amplifying the information for transmission to outer digital machines. The electronics are composed of an Application Specific Integrated Circuit(ASIC), which helps to convert collected brain wave signals into digital data in order to let people directly manipulate outer digital machines with only by their thoughts.
The latest revision prototype of neuralink device was experimented on a male Long-Evans rat, and the company stated the procedure went through in accordance with the National Research Council’s Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and were approved by the Neuralink Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. And the company’s response for the new device was “successfully managed.”
Elon Musk in his presentation, said the human trials will begin at the end of this year. While the trial will target patients who have brain malfunctions, commercialization of the neuralink seems to be “a long road”, said President Max Hodak of Neuralink in an interview. Also Mr. Musk stated that the company “wants to make it safe enough to turn the implantation surgery into an elective procedure, like Lasik.”
It’s not going to be like suddenly Neuralink will have this incredible new interface and take over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and you’ll see it coming.
The main concerns Elon Musk points out on neuralink are related to its technological imperfection such as its possibility to damage brain tissues or short life-time of threads after implantation. He promises only the good results from the technology. Which can be said as, curing various brain orders which were considered as incurable, and most of all, avoiding existential threat of the Artificial Intelligence.
On the other hand, there are those who are more concerned about the completion of the technology rather than its incomplete usage. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek on his lecture given at University of Winnipeg on 18 April 2019 titled "Thinking the Human", Zizek discusses Elon Musk’s work on “Neuralink” and gives further critique on “Post-Humanism”.
Zizek does not agree with the optimistic view that through direct link between man and machine, humanity will become “god-like global space of shared awareness”, which is called a ‘Singularity’. Instead, he proposes “a risky hypothesis” that Singularity might not result oneself to become greater, which means turning into unified-self through digital machines, but would delete a distinction which distinguishes oneself from the other, resulting complete elimination of individuality.
Through wired brains, “our thoughts will be directly socialized” without any mediation. He says, “clumsy mediation such as language” often becomes an obstacle for perfect communication. Then he draws on Hegel saying, “Be careful if something appears to you as obstacle to perfection.” He continues, “Quite often, what appears as an obstacle is really what gives rise to perfection.”
Neuralink enables people to communicate directly without any distraction derived from converting thoughts into language. This may seem like perfect communication. However, to Zizek who considers obstacle as a necessary component for the rise towards perfection, direct socialization of one’s thoughts hinders progression for the actual perfection. Thus, results a regression in any kind of development.
This theory of Zizek can also be substituted in case of individuals. Individuality can be achieved through “alienation” and “failures” he says. By undergoing through various failures in attempt to communicate with the others, our perfect individuality arises and this is only possible because we are all alienated from each other. Direct link erases alienation and enables complete socialization of the self. If the sorting line which makes one as an individual disappears, achieving full individuality would become impossible with the disappearance of chances to fail.
“The problem is not my thoughts are shared in some common space,” Zizek adds, the problem is “Your thoughts are shared and you are not even aware of it.” Mentioning about the real danger he says, “the danger is that you will still think you are a free individual.”