Blog: Combatting Technological Singularity with Augmentative BCIs
Technology seems to be accelerating faster than ever before. Voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa are now handling an estimated 40 percent of all searches. Real-time facial recognition is becoming more common, particularly in public spaces and retail. An increasing amount of chatbots are dealing with online customer inquiries and complaints. With this field growing at such an astonishing rate, it’s safe to say that artificial intelligence (AI) is practically everywhere, however, sometimes you may not even realize it.
Although AI’s vast presence is certainly helpful to us and our economy (as of right now), it is questionable if AI will continue to positively impact the world. Some believe that advanced AI systems will significantly benefit us, while others think it will lead to our downfall. In fact, tech experts like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have warned us of its approach, stating that it may dominate us or even destroy us in a few decades.
The Path to Singularity
Currently, AI seems far from dominating us, so how exactly will it get to such a stage?
Well, AI can currently learn how to beat humans at chess in just a few hours. It can also learn faster than almost any human can, and process and analyze millions of data in minutes, an amount that’s impossible to us.
By 2020, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will be able to simulate the complete human brain. However, at this time we will still not be finished reverse engineering the human brain and understanding how it works.
By 2029, all regions of the brain will be reverse-engineered and modeled. This means that humans will have the software needed to simulate the entire human brain’s abilities including emotional intelligence. They may then combine this with existing machines which are already superior to us. With this, machines would have human knowledge and the ability to store large amounts of data. Furthermore, data exchange between these machines will be done much faster than the human language.
Fast forward to 2045 and AI’s intelligence will have expanded by a billion fold. That will result in a technological singularity. The technological singularity is the moment when AI overtakes human intelligence. Any point beyond that would be really hard to imagine since throughout our entire history we have been the head species. So, this leaves us wondering what will happen when something more intelligent than us is introduced to the world. Speaking to Wait But Why, Elon Musk expresses what he believes will occur:
“We’re going to have the choice of either being left behind and being effectively useless or like a pet — you know, like a house cat or something — or eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI.” — Elon Musk
So far the most notable way to be symbiotic and merged with AI is though brains computer interfaces (BCIs).
Where BCIs Are at Right Now
If you didn’t know, BCIs are a non-muscular form of communication that acquire, analyze and translate brain signals into an external output device. However, scientists have recently been using BCIs to do more than just that. For instance, scientists are attempting to use BCIs to potentially input sensory information directly into the brain.
Unfortunately, we aren’t at the stage yet, but we are at the stage where a computer can send signals to certain nerves through a cochlear implant, providing people with profound hearing loss the ability to hear. We are able to do this by placing an external device outside of the skull to pick up sound, filter it to digital code, and feed it to the internal receiver via radio frequencies. From there the internal receiver will distribute the signal to the electrodes along the array which have been placed inside the cochlea. Those electrodes will then send tiny electrical charges that will directly stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged portions of the ear. This nerve will carry these signals to the brain, which will interpret the signals as sound.
Another example is deep brain stimulation devices which are able to send electrical signals directly into the brain. However, these signals are not true nerve signals yet. This device can be used to alleviate symptoms Parkinson’s sufferers face. This is done using a number of small electrodes that are surgically inserted into the brain and connected by wires that attach to an external control box. When activated, the electrodes pass an electrical current through a certain region of the brain which reduces the severity of Parkinsonian tremors. Even though BCIs are such a new technology, this field is growing fast and is continuing to show huge potential.
From Assistive to Augmentative
Although we aren’t yet at the stage where sensory information can be fed directly into the brain, Elon Musk plans to do this with his next big venture, Neuralink.
Neuralink’s ultimate goal is to enhance humans with BCIs so that organic life doesn’t get surpassed by synthetic life during or near the technological singularity.
If Neuralink succeeds, it will be a BCI capable of not only receiving signals from the brain but also transmitting signals to the brain. It would essentially be an integrated “digital tertiary layer” that could give us machine learning capabilities, the ability to share full sensory and emotional experiences online, increased memory storage, and even telepathic-type communication! At some point, Neural Lace might even enable us to upload and download content directly from a computer to augment our consciousness — just like how Neo learned kung-fu in the Matrix. It’s obvious that Neuralink will be capable of more than just the basic uses of BCIs.
Neuralink hopes to do this by connecting the digital world to the human neocortex through the use of neural lace.
Neural lace is an ultra-thin mesh that lays on top of the brain and forms a collection of electrodes able to monitor neural activity. It ultimately creates an interface between the brain and an external device.
To insert neural lace, a millimeters-thin needle containing the rolled up mesh is injected via the arterial system or through the skull. Once the mesh gets to the brain, it will spread out onto the brain. Over time, the mesh will be accepted as part of the brain.
Overall, Neuralink may steer us away from a possible future where AI rules the world. Now, you may be thinking that these kind of technologies are obscure or eccentric, but we shouldn’t dismiss an idea on strangeness alone. After all, self-driving cars were considered science fiction a decade and a half ago, and now they share our roads.
- The technological singularity is the moment when AI overtakes human intelligence. This is predicted to occur by 2045.
- Neuralink’s ultimate goal is to enhance humans with BCIs so that organic life doesn’t get surpassed by synthetic life during or near the technological singularity.
- Neuralink will use neural lace to not only receiving signals from the brain but also transmitting signals to the brain.
- Neural lace is an ultra-thin mesh that lays on top of the brain and forms a collection of electrodes able to monitor neural activity.
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