He may be daring enough to propose colonizing a barren planet with potentially little or no water, but ask him about the future of artificial intelligence, and Elon Musk may just end up losing his. In a startling contradiction to Silicon Valley elites Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, Elon Musk is one of the fewer scientific geniuses who are of the opinion that artificial intelligence will eventually bring over the apocalypse. Musk’s fears aren’t generally of the doomsaying sort, although they have sometimes been known to be. But mostly, they are valid concerns expressed regarding the hypercompetitiveness of technology and the possibility of artificial intelligence one day outrunning humans in terms of their efficiency and usefulness. There are a number of reasons why that would probably never happen, but that has never stopped our beloved visionary from stocking up for the AI apocalypse.
Elon Musk is not one to deny progressivism, he would certainly never discourage from the development of a new and revolutionary technology that could potentially forward our civilization by a few thousand years, but his conflicted opinions on artificial intelligence have caused him to take a variety of measures, from the reasonable to the downright bizarre, to prevent a possible robotic takeover of mankind.
“Just as any other scientific discovery that has threatened to revolutionize the way we live, artificial intelligence has met with its fair share of skepticism. The concerns projected by Elon Musk are genuine, though it is our belief that we can work through these hindrances over time if we so choose.”- Ilya Kirillov, CEO, InData Labs
In 2015, for example, Musk made a hefty $10 million donation to the Future of Life Institute, hoping to facilitate research aimed at keeping artificial intelligence beneficial to humans. The goal here is not to hinder or obstruct current development in the field, but rather to make sure that research into the future of machine intelligence take into concern the valid safety concerns and work in a way so as to make sure they are not counterproductive to humanity. While this is a complicated move for a visionary billionaire who is more than just another AI-hater, it is concrete evidence of Elon Musk’s complicated and often distinguished opinions on the advent of machine learning, something that he has revisited time and again in his career. Musk also helped raise a billion dollars in donations for the non-profit research company OpenAI, which is aimed at fostering the development of artificial intelligence research and development, but in a way that is beneficial to humans.
Indeed, Musk believes that the concerns raised by the growth of robot intelligence as a trendsetter is best addressed by artificial intelligence itself. He wants us to push boundaries, but with caution. Satiate our curiosity, but without consequence. In fact, just earlier this year, Elon Musk, along with Stephen Hawking and 20,000 other experts, signed an open letter cautioning against the use of machine learning in warfare, warning that an artificial intelligence arms race could be just as mutually destructive as a nuclear one. The purpose of this letter was to protest against the development of autonomous weapons in warfare, which could prove more dangerous than any other form of weaponry, chemical, biological, nuclear or otherwise, known to man.
“The proposed idea of a neural network connecting human beings to the internet is indeed an interesting one. As an organization that helps inventors reach out to companies each day, we are very happy to see Silicon Valley come up with something so futuristic and mind-bending.” – Nicole Lininger, InventHelp
Musk has tried his luck with more than just one potential solution for the AI apocalypse, but none have been as hair-raising as his most recent endeavor, which is an attempt to merge human intelligence with its artificial counterpart in an effort to create the perfect brain, one that can outsmart both humans and robots, without causing humans to lose relevance.
Electroencephalography is a technology as old as the 1970s, one with roots dug deep into medicine and bioscience. It is the means by which brain waves recorded via sensors placed on the scalp are used to control and operate machinery. The technology has so far been used with great success in allowing patients with full body paralysis to communicate yes-or-no responses using a brain computer interface, as well as those with disabilities to control augmented limbs simply with the power of their mind.
“In theory, the idea of merging with machines is a way to ensure the continuance of our consciousness, probably at the risk of leaving behind the biological trappings of our species as it is today. The biggest question around this will be about timelines – in the course of dozens of interviews, we are yet to meet any neuroscientists who have openly or enthusiastically pursued the concept of enhancement. As of today, researchers in the field are concerned mostly with helping the paralyzed, the blind and the disabled. Whether the field wakes up and unites in an effort to bring enhancement to light in the coming 15 years or so… that’s a question I can’t yet answer, but that sea of change will have to involve more voices and efforts than those of Musk and Bryan Johnson alone.” – Daniel Faggella, TechEmergence
And now, Elon Musk wants to apply a highly advanced version of the same technology to develop a “whole-brain interface” that augments directly into the brain and enhances the perceptive powers of the brain using artificial intelligence. His new startup, known simply as Neuralink, aims at creating a link between the human brain and the internet, one that allows it to control lifeless objects as well as communicate with other human beings with nothing but thought waves. The technology will work by implanting neural laces into the brain itself, allowing it to communicate directly via thought waves, instead of the more primitive approach of speech or writing.
Of course, the technology is not without its constraints. Our current knowledge of the functioning of the human brain is very limited, making a project like this virtually impossible at current times. There is also the legal, ethical and medical implications of having to engage in critical brain surgery to implant these laces, without a preeminent medical basis. To Elon Musk, however, the technology is a far better alternative to the premeditated obsolescence of all mankind, something he believes is rather imminent with the current rate at which artificial intelligence research is progressing.
“Six weeks after first learning about the company, I’m convinced that it somehow manages to eclipse Tesla and SpaceX in both the boldness of its engineering undertaking and the grandeur of its mission. The other two companies aim to redefine what future humans will do—Neuralink wants to redefine what future humans will be.” – Tim Urban, Wait But Why
To anyone with even an iota of common sense, implanting the brain with robotic intelligence is a bad idea. But we here are talking about people who like to push the boundaries of common sense for a living. Elon Musk says that his vision of Neuralink will take at least a decade to realize. Here is hoping that when it does, it doesn’t present itself as an even bigger ethical question than the advent of AI itself.