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How do you feel about Neuralink?

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・1 min read

The last major update from Neuralink came roughly a year ago, when it shared that it will be using a surgical robot to implant gossamer-thin wires into a person’s brain, connected to an external computer processing unit, and that ultimately it hopes to make the connection wireless between the two for maximum freedom and flexibility.

Neuralink revealed in July 2019 that it had already performed successful tests of its technology on mice and even apes, and that it would be pursuing testing on its first human subjects starting as early as the following year — which is this year, 2020, if you’re keeping track.

👉 TechCrunch: Elon Musk sets update on brain-computer interface company Neuralink for August 28

How do you feel about all of this?


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From a high level, long term perspective, I think this is both exciting and inevitable. I'm personally all about transhumanism (at least under certain interpretations), and this is a pretty cool step.

However from a short term perspective, I'm nervous about this happening under a capitalist system, especially guided by hyper capitalist tech bro Elon Musk, because it basically guarantees that this sort of tech will go first and foremost to the wealthy and already powerful. Let's go full sci-fi for a minute and extrapolate what could happen. Imagining a couple more steps down the capitalist transhumanist path, and sort of thinking big, we could end up with an upper class of near-immortal transhumans and a lower class bound to a mere century of life. You think class mobility is hard now?


Basically Meths from Altered Carbon.


Probably; I haven't seen Altered Carbon, but this is a very old talking point for futurists and transhumanists. In my experience, these sorts of issues tend to lead many people who think about them toward Socialism in the long term.

A closely related topic is post-scarcity economics, a line of thought that wonders how Capitalism, an economic system based fundamentally based on demand and competition for scarce resources, would sustain itself in a future world where ubiquitous automation and ever-increasing efficiency have made scarcity (and probably a huge chunk of jobs) largely a thing of the past.

Essentially the whole book/show asks: what if you had the ability to transfer human consciousness? One of the big knock on effects it suggests is the creation of an ultra-wealthy caste of decadent, hedonistic, morally bankrupt immortals ruling at the top of a capitalist, cyberpunk dystopia. They're called Meths, short for Methusela, the oldest person in the Bible. Really good work that is definitely informed by transhumanism and the points you bring up.

That sounds like an interesting watch(/read). I've definitely heard good things about it, and it's on my list to get to eventually.

This is a tangent, and like, whatever, it's sci-fi, it doesn't have to be super realistic, but IMO there's a problem with the premise of transferring human consciousness. My best guess based on the research I've done on the philosophy and science of mind and consciousness (amateur here, so grains of salt all round, but it's been an area of personal interest for like a decade) is that the "transferring" of consciousness to another body would probably be an illusion, and we'd more likely end up duplicating a consciousness into a new body and destroying the old one. The difference being that the stream of consciousness would not connect; the source person would die from their perspective, and a new person would be created with their memories and such. Same thing that people argue about with Star Trek's transporters.

On post-scarcity: Basically what we do now - we manufacture "work" in the form of tax and insurance corporations, among many many other industries that could be sorted by automation.

Maybe. I'd hope that the answer would be "Capitalism won't survive."


While it's true that the ultimate goal of the company is for people like Elon Musk to upgrade their brains it's also meant to lower the barrier of entry to producing these sorts of products so they'll eventually become affordable to the masses. Tesla started by making super high end luxury cars to establish a supply chain that could produce electric cars with the idea that eventually it would be optimized to a consumer vehicle, which is what we're seeing with the Model 3.

Tim Urban has a great illustration of this strategy

Also all of the initial R&D for Neuralink has focused on medical use cases like neuroprosthetics. Obviously since it's ridiculously expensive it's probably still going to go to rich people who have a medical use case. But Elon has been very upfront about the long term goals of the project and the steps he thinks are necessary to get there, and Elon has a long history of being very upfront about these sorts of things.


Yeah that's all fine for him to talk about, but it's nothing special to Tesla or Musk, it's basically just an illustration of how new technology works in general: it starts expensive and only-for-the-rich and eventually becomes more affordable. I think this model has major problems: it contributes to the continuous upward consolidation of wealth by constantly giving the already-wealthy a head start with new tech, and it typically takes a really long time for tech to become truly universally affordable, i.e. cheap enough for developing markets to take advantage. These problems become exacerbated with a revolutionary technology that starts off very resource intensive and therefore especially expensive, like a lot of the hypothesized transhumanist ideas likely would be, and when they can have such currently unimaginable effects, e.g. kinda-immortality.


Musk is an outlandish freak, I stopped taking him serious since he insisted on "helping out" the Thai cave rescue operation with his submarines and then, when rebuffed, going on to call the leader of the rescue team a pedophile.

Is he going to test this thing on himself first? I would have a bit more respect if the goal was as assistive technology for people with disabilities, but no it's another megalomanic project to further boost his already inflated ego.

He might be a technical genius but he's out of touch with societal realities, I have way more respect for someone like Bill Gates.


I understand your dislike of Musk, however, I think you are not right in your point about your second paragraph.

(now this is what I think about the project, not necessarily what it will be in reality). This technology will be first used on people with disabilities, who will be more okay with trying new, invasive technology because of the possible benefits. As it will become more tested, improved and generally safer and more accepted (the notion of cybers becoming more usual), more people will try it for other benefits - extremely powerful digital personal assistant, possibly augmentations to memory, cognitive functions (I don't want to say improvements, because I expect it to be more of a "outsourcing" of some brain-work, collaboration between brain and computer), maybe even some kind of brain-to-brain communication.
I think this is the path we are on as it is.
And Musk is saying it out loud (actually, he believes it's the way to keep us from becoming obsolete because of AI) - as he is in his different endeavours.
Take SpaceX for example. From the start, he stated he wants to colonize Mars. But he has a plan how to get there, plan that goes through more "normal" phases - making cheap rockets, getting people to ISS,...
It will (I expect) the same with Neuralink - he must make it working business solution, so he will aim it first where it will get broad adoption (helping with disabilities), but that's not his goal, as he clearly states.

I'm not saying if it a right thing to do, I'm not saying Elon Musk is a good person (and for sure he had some weird and disturbing moments), but I believe he puts his money where his mind is and he is not shy about his goals.


He's smart and for sure he has a vision, but what if a device like this REALLY gives the wearer super powers? Then it has the potential to create a sort of uber human, a super race or something ... the choice might then be to either adopt this thing, or become a second rank citizen.

But, I agree that AI and robots might be (will be) coming and are going to pose difficult questions, whether we like it or not - will a large part of humanity become redundant, with most jobs being replaced by AI and robots? It may become inevitable to think about these things.

On the other hand, if we fail to solve the climate crisis then the whole point may be moot - we might not live to see the day when AI and robots become a problem (in other words, which of these two problems, and many others, is more urgent).

Well at least the good thing about Musk is his innovations make us think about some difficult questions.

Yeah, I agree with you - I'm not sure about this being a good thing either and for sure there are many risks involved (enormous split between rich and poor, possibility to invade person thought, manipulation..). We need some regulations regarding this kind of technology, the same way as we need to regulate AI development (as Musk, maybe, tries to do with OpenAI).

Your climate crisis point is also valid, and Musk is working on it as well (with speeding up the transition to electric transportation and renewable energy generation and storage). He's sorta megalomaniac, so he's working on this, also getting people to "backup planet", and also preparing for (possible) future with AGI.
Maybe he ought to work more on the climate crisis, but on the other hand, he's more of a visionary and saving us from environmental disaster is now (or I believe so) more of political and societal change, for which others are more suited.

Yeah, I'm always curious about what new technology he will come with. Always fun to see his moon-shot outlandish ideas (which are then, years later than he proclaimed) at least partly realized.
I'm staying away from his Twitter account though.

(and hey, thanks for the very pleasant exchange of thoughts on this topic! I really love dev.to community <3 )

Hey man, yes I agree, dev.to is an awesome community, thanks too for the interesting discussion ... and I'm in no way meaning to denigrate Musk's achievements, which are impressive - with Tesla and its battery technology he's also leading the way in the green revolution, electric cars are a big part of that.

The only problem with Musk is that he has unrealistic expectations about technology being the holy grail and the solution to any problem in society ... I stopped believing that long ago, I think technology can be part of the solution, but only when used right, if not then it's causing more problems than it solves.

In the end it's all about the choices we make, technology is only a means to an end.


I would have a bit more respect if the goal was as assistive technology for people with disabilities

I listened to an interview of him recently discussing likely uses for this technology the first thing he mentions is how it could potentially help people with disabilities.


Well that's good, that is of course an obvious application of the technology ... I'm not trying to denigrate Musk's achievements, look at what Tesla did to popularize electric cars, that's a good thing.


Cool, but the invasive sensors means it will probably stay relatively limited. Something like Neurosity's Notion (neurosity.co/) seems more viable for mass adoption. Then again, predicting these things is always hard.


Their latest paper is really interesting, I highly recommend it. Of course, as of now, this is a really great improvement of the technology, especially regarding the brain to interface voltage conversion. Of these kind of projects really bring a sci-fi kind of narrative, but we are far from transhumanism. As of now, it's still in its infancy form for disabled people, there is a long road before it becomes a human enhancement.


What I feel about this is that what y'all might be very much unaware of - or maybe not, which would be exciting. Is that the potential of human consciousness is far beyond any of this stuff - 1,000,000 times beyond anything AI can dream of at any time.

Human DNA is evolving and being unlocked as we speak and higher consciousness science is revolutionizing the planet with water technology, DNA technology the likes of which we have never seen.

When you take the entire picture of the world-view that transhumanism comes from - all of it, all of our research, and all of the knowledge developed and pioneered at neuralink - this is all child's play compared to what humans alone are capable of.

I would suggest a more logical approach - before we freak out and merge with AI because we feel humans aren't capable enough to deal with the world, let's maximize human potential first, UNTIL we actually hit a roadblock.

Because we're very far from hitting any roadblocks. It's just a 3D dumbed down attitude, I would say neanderthal, to believe that AI will accelerate our evolution - because all our evolution is in consciousness, not in the material, and not in mind-intelligence. A PC can already do billions of times the calculations you can do - but is it smarter than you? Not it's not, and it won't ever be. It's a linear dimension of intelligence that is extremely narrow and limited - it has no access to the other dimensions either.

It's the same mistake the old AI researchers made - they tried to "upload" themselves into computers and machines to prolong their life, but their base mistake was to believe their life to be tied to their body. When in actuality we are immortal souls incarnating over and over. Now imagine for a moment this is true - regardless of your beliefs - and Imagine my soul going "oh fuck, I just uploaded my limited being into a machine, robbing my soul of most of its capabilities and blocking evolution until that machine breaks down in a few hundred years from now" - while other souls incarnate over and over and become ascended masters in the same time, who are able to bend time and space and fly around with ETs through the universes... until they have mercy and pull the plug on you because they see the error of your ways 😂😂

What a primary mistake to make! That's why, before you try to improve yourself, try to find out who you are. Otherwise your attempts at improving a system you do not understand will end badly - as we all know from software projects.... ever tried to use guesswork and random changes to improve a system without understanding the system? How successful was that? 😂

Funny stuff. Musk AI is the same, unless some of his critics are right and he's actually just trying to mind control everyone with these things.


So we have COVID-19, people protesting over various problems in all parts of the world, nazis raising in EU and Nort America, India getting also nationalistic and such... And somehow we think technology will be there for a long time and we might get transhuman? If, in 10 years we have food and PC I will be happy let alone someone pocking my brains


I doubt that invasive technology will become widespread, but I think they might eventually find a non-invasive way to stimulate brain so that you can consume the internet faster. My question is, how much faster should we consume all the influx of information, all the garbage of the internet, all the misleading and commercially biased news, and all the social media, all the advertising? At which point should we stop and say, "we already developed a short attention span and disconnected from our inner selves enough, we don't need another way of consuming information faster, we need to calm the heck down"?

I think that this trend probably needs to exhaust itself by getting more and more absurd before it dies. Then, maybe, eventually we will look at this technology and see how it can actually benefit us. Maybe we can stimulate the brain regions that are responsible for well-being - for equanimity and peacefulness, for increased neuroplasticity, etc. Obviously, making a technology like that is not the best thing commercially, because it may turn you away from consumerism, but maybe eventually that wouldn't be as big of a priority as in a modern day world.


As someone who formally studied neuroscience, I'm excited yet nervous. The brain is the world's most complicated machine. Neuralink alludes to its function as being a 2nd/3rd brain of sorts. Will see, tall claims. Neurosity , like somebody else mentioned is doing something similar and less invasive.


I came to say basically what Ken has already said, but this did stir some very scattered thoughts.

If you've read Sapiens and can adopt the same optimism as the author, then you're probably ready for this. I know I am. Imagining a world with drastically reduced mental illnesses as an aside to this project is quite wonderful. Imagining a world where everyone's dials are set to the same defaults is unfortunate. I'm unable to imagine a world that binary, so I'm generally optimistic.

15 years ago I had a friend who was so upset by the movie A.I. because it implied that cloning and other advancements were playing God. It, too, is a really old conversation bridging ethics and religion and other topics. I always wondered why Christians believe we were all created in the image of the Creator but struggle to come to terms with the idea that we could be destined to become the Creator ourselves. I'm curious what people of other faiths think about it, but I never think to ask.


I hope the day will come where we can save ourself to a secure drive, basically all the memory and so on, kindof a cloud whenever new data comes in it gets backed up and when the day come that the body dies the drive gets activated and put in a robot.


Am a big fan of Elon Musk but I strongly feel that with Neuralink he's focusing his genius like brain on the not so impactful technology especially in the medical field. If feel if Neuralink was centered around the field of medicine it would have a bigger impact on people's lives cause as we have seen in the recent months, it's only our medical field that is still lagging way behind in terms of technology evolution and innovation.


I am excited about this......but it's all scare me......like I feel sometimes it's against what a human being is really is........I mean taking the first step to automation like these.....are scary........I mean in sometime we may control things with our mind...and the next moment our brain are connected to VR devices totally


Bond villain answer: it's inevitable


It's exciting to see the possibilities of the next 5 years materializing in things like Neuralink and 5G. Elon Musk may be driving towards AI, however this technology could spark the future generation of assistive when we lose our fine dexterity control and our eyesights deteriorate.


I think that this transhumanist circle is sort of a modern masonry/cargo cult for Silicon Valley futurologists. I can see no future for this kind of things.


It's a bit scary....

But I LOVE it for fixing medical issues. People with disabilities could have their life completely changed with this thing. That is AWESOME


Hope one day this lets me use my phone even though my fingers wet. This would be the next giant leap for humanity.