If you could give your brain a performance boost, would you? Mastermind Elon Musk’s latest venture, Neuralink, aims to augment our minds by implanting chips into our brains that allow us to directly interface with machines.
It’s equal parts amazing and terrifying.
Linking our brains with machines is not a new idea, but it has never been so within reach. Musk has a way of making the implausible, plausible, and has a track record of bringing incredible ideas to life. One might wonder if he himself is already operating with an augmented brain…after all, he is a “walk the walk” type of entrepreneur (the kind who builds rockets so he himself can die on Mars). In an ideal world, Musk’s Neuralink would mean incredible advancement for the human race; we can treat brain diseases and people can be smarter, kinder, happier, with augmented brains that allow them to learn and process faster. But as we all know, we live in a far-from-ideal existence, and it is more likely that these interfaces will do something far more harmful to society: create a human-computer super-race.
You see, Musk is a humanitarian second, entrepreneur first. These brain-computer interfaces will not be free. So unless a computer chip that augments human intelligence is less expensive than last year’s iPhone, what we can expect to see is the wealthy getting smarter/better/faster/stronger and the less well-off staying exactly where they are. This creates a socioeconomic divide the likes of which we haven’t seen since the medieval times, when education was reserved for royalty and everyone else left to figure things out with their limited resources. The internet has made learning accessible to the masses – but an augmented human brain could theoretically learn 2x, 3x, 10x the speed of your standard issue bio brain. So even if everyone on the planet has access to the same resources online, the 1% with fancy machine-learning brains will be able to consume it at a much faster rate.
This turns information itself into a commodity. Intelligence becomes quantifiable. The divide between the rich and the poor exceeds any Robin Hood’s capabilities, because you can’t simply download intelligence to a regular old brain. The entirety of humanity will enter a race for intelligence, and we will forgo more and more of our humanity to augment ourselves to be able to be a little bit better than our neighbors, just a little bit more, more, more. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left second-class citizens, unable to keep up with our augmented counterparts who are zettabytes of learning ahead of us. In our attempt to not be left behind in the singularity, we will leave our old definition of “human” behind, and those who remain human will be severely disadvantaged.
Some believe that Elon Musk’s brain-computer interfaces will save us from the singularity, but at the end of the day, the singularity will still come. Machines will eventually equal and surpass human computational capability. The only question is, will those machines be us?
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