This week, Elon Musk – a giant of the tech industry – unveiled plans for a neurological implant. This implant – when inserted into the brain – will directly link humans with technology. Developed by Musk’s company, Neuralink, the implant is initially aimed at making medical advances, for which the projected benefits are brilliant – but it should be approached with an air of caution. This ostensible initial goal is an evident first step towards increased integration between humans and technology. According to Musk, this technology will eventually lead to humans entertaining “a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
When I first read of this apparently cutting-edge step for mankind, my stomach turned, and my palms began to sweat. Ever since watching The Doctor battle the Cybermen in an episode of Doctor Who, I have been terrified of Artificial Intelligence, or more specifically, the emergence of a new species, some sort of amalgamation of human and robot. This recent revelation does nothing to calm my inherent sense of dread at the idea.
Speaking to some colleagues at work about the issue, I was adamant in my assertion that “no matter what, I will not be having a computer implanted in my brain.” And I won’t. The human brain is already an advanced computer. Unlike our fellow creatures in the animal kingdom, we have developed bipedalism, have established around 6,500 languages and, ironically, it is the human brain that has developed such monumental feats in technology. It is astonishing that, despite already housing a unique and powerful computer in our skulls, that humans appear to be striving for more. Our brains are not phones to be upgraded.
It would appear that in the realm of technology, we are attempting to run before we can walk. The Internet has been around for just over two decades, Facebook and other social media networks for just over fifteen years, and smartphones for even less time. There are ample challenges facing us at the moment, swirling around all three of these particular advances. Cyber-attacks are on the rise, social media remains relatively unregulated, and people are becoming increasingly dependent upon their smartphones. There has not been allowance deliberately put aside for the improvement and implementation of proper infrastructure surrounding the interaction of mankind with technology: we continue to navigate across unknown territory.
Although the insertion of intelligence-enhancing computers into the human brain is a question on the horizon, that horizon is not so distant. If word on the street rings true, then these devices could eventually be a sort of genetic engineering, set up to improve human IQ or memory function. With a wireless connection to another device, users would perhaps be able to use their brains to reply to emails, upload images to social media, or instantly access information, merely through thought. Gone would be the days of University Challenge when brain implants would afford the contestants an instantaneous answer to every question.
Musk claims that these advances will combat the “existential threat” of advances in Artificial Intelligence emerging as more enhanced than human intelligence. However, I can’t seem to separate the two. Evolution took millions of years to occur, yet some members of humankind appear to think they can out-master the forces of nature. The speed at which these advances are taking place is astounding; perhaps it’s time to slow down and appreciate what we have already. Personally, I am quite happy with a phone that sits in my palm rather than my cranium.