Bring on the future: Elon Musk and neural link tech

Imagine a phone rings, but the only person who can hear it is you. A transparent image of the caller pops into your vision, and with a mere thought, you answer it. The phone call ends and you decide you want a coffee – a map pops up in front of you with an arrow highlighting the way to the nearest Starbucks.

As you walk, you glance over at an artistic statue mounted on the sidewalk. With the crystal blue sky behind it and the way the sunlight is reflecting over it, the image before you is picture perfect.

Once again, with a simple thought, you capture the image.

While walking, you upload the photo to Instagram; much like the phone call, the app appears in your line of sight, transparent so you can see where you’re walking.

“Nature and creation working in a perfect symbiotic relationship to form such a beautiful picture.” The caption types out as you think it. #artandculture #hometownproud #nofilter.

The idea of a symbiotic relationship with human and AI through neural technology has been a common theme in futuristic science fiction movies and literature for many years now. Rather than having physical computers and devices in front of us to take calls, scroll through social media, or navigate an onscreen GPS, it can appear in our line of sight as an augmented reality, controlled seemingly by our thoughts.

According to Elon Musk, this idea may no longer be so far-fetched.

Last week, Mr. Musk announced the creation of a company, called Neuralink, aimed at creating a neural interface allowing the human mind to connect directly with computers – and eventually artificial intelligence – to create that symbiotic relationship

In 2016, Mr. Musk publicly spoke about interest in neural lace technology at the Code Conference hosted by Vox Media. He explained the technology, if properly used, could allow humans to achieve symbiosis with machines as well as prevent them from becoming a “house cat” to artificial intelligence. This could be done because of the AI layer.

On Monday, Futurism.com wrote about the Musk announcement, suggesting if the technology is feasible, it could lead to the complete elimination of smartphones within the next decade.

As it stands right now, it seems difficult to imagine a near-future without smart devices. Companies are working hard at making them more efficient and effective, integrating more features and apps to allow us to use these devices for everything – daily planners, alarms, communication, news, cameras, health and fitness tracking, payment and so on.

But if there is a viable replacement, would these items be necessary? Likely not.

Neural lace technology, at this time though, still seems almost too far-fetched to be a reality in such a short time.

Personally, I wouldn’t even say it’s the technology itself that seems so unbelievable, but rather the ability to use it safely and put it in mass production with all possible side-effects, failures, and glitches sorted and ready for public use. Especially if the prediction is it will be so widespread that smartphones will already be fading into the history books.

There are just so many possible things that could go wrong with this technology. For starters, artificial intelligence is still being fine-tuned. In general, most modern AI’s exist simply as search-and-command-driven intelligences. They act upon verbal direction, typically pulling from search engines online for their answers or utilising information already existing within the device to carry out what the user is asking.

Essentially, it sounds as if this is the way the AI would function in a neural lace as well, however, unlike a smartphone, which is a computer the AI is already built into as a part of, a brain is still quite different. It would need a complete understanding of all the neural links within the specific user’s brain, identify the correct visual and audible responses to be able to create  augmented reality – especially without causing any kind of damage to the brain or neural pathways.

And what about technical difficulties? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but based on my limited understanding, some kind of computing device would have to be implanted into a person to allow for a neural lace.

In just 10 years, would we really have been able to foolproof the device so there could be no kind of failure that would physically impact the user’s brain?

I have no doubt with all the technological advances we’ve been able to make in the past century, and how much more quickly they’re occurring now, these ideas once deemed fictional are a genuine possibility. But there is still a fear of creating too much, too fast.

Ultimately, this is just a ‘wait and see’ type of game. We can discuss all we like, but until the technology is actually created and tested, we really have no clue what this will actually look like.

As excited as I am to see things from science fiction I’ve loved and adored actually come to life, the caution many of these tales brought along with the technology springs to life as well. Is it possible we are going too far? Do we even need this kind of augmented reality as part of our everyday lives? Would it merely serve to create an even greater disconnect from the world around us than our obsession with social media and smart devices already do?

These are questions needing to be answered before it ever becomes any kind of mainstream option.

But for now? This is so damn cool.

This column appeared in the April 5, 2017 edition of the Orangeville Citizen.

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