When he is not dating supermodels in Australia, Elon Musk keeps busy thinking about interplanetary travel and figuring out how to merge our neurons with computers. Last month, he started yet another new venture called Neuralink. The Musk-funded enterprise will investigate how to implant what is called a neural lace into human brains to help us communicate faster. In his announcement about the formation of Nerualink, Musk said humans need to merge with machines or risk becoming irrelevant.
The problem, as Musk sees it, is that the brain can take in a lot of information at once. Eyesight is nothing more than a “high bandwidth visual interface” to him. But communicating with others is maddeningly slow for someone like Musk. Texting happens at the rate of about 10 bytes a second — one one millionth of what a computer is capable of.
“There are a bunch of concepts in your head that then your brain has to try to compress into this incredibly low data rate called speech or typing,” Musk told Wait But Why last week. “If you have two brain interfaces, you could actually do an uncompressed direct conceptual communication with another person.”
Nueralink plans on making “micron-sized devices” to achieve his goal of human to machine interfacing. Since speech is essentially a compressed version of the thoughts running through a person’s head, Musk’s plan would allow people to communicate those ideas directly with others.
“If I were to communicate a concept to you, you would essentially engage in consensual telepathy. You wouldn’t need to verbalize unless you want to add a little flair to the conversation or something … But the conversation would be conceptual interaction on a level that’s difficult to conceive of right now.” Well, difficult for us to conceive of. For Musk it’s just another day, another stupendously awesome idea that will alter the course of human history.
Yesterday, Musk posted an interesting Tweet in response to a inquiry from one his 8 million followers in the Elonosphere:
That is the aspiration: to avoid AI becoming other.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2017
For those who may not be up on old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Skynet was the fictional artificial intelligence system featured in the Terminator movies. It viewed human beings as threats, much like HAL, the computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Skynet was programmed to eliminate any and all threats, whether from humans or other AI systems.
Musk’s use of the word “other” is alluringly ambiguous. Othering is the process by which humans justify doing horrific things to other humans. All it takes is labeling someone an immigrant, a Muslim, or a Mexican to make excluding them from a dominant group permissible. Othering allowed Jim Crow laws to flourish in the South. It permitted the Nazis to engage in mass exterminations of Jews and Gypsies. It made America comfortable with internment camps for people of Japanese descent during World War II.
Perhaps Musk is slyly suggesting that artificial intelligence could easily classify human beings as “others” who should be confined or eliminated? Musk is scheduled to make a presentation at a TED Talk in Canada on April 28. Perhaps he will share more insights on how the convergence between biology and binary technology will proceed at that time.