Don’t It Always Seem To Go…

We are heading toward a truly mind boggling future. It won’t happen abruptly, but like the frog that is placed in a pot on the stove it will happen before we are aware of what is happening. I am talking about the increasing connectivity that will evolve into technologically enabled telepathy.

We have demonstrated in the past that anything that we can imagine we can build. What is more important, not only can we build it, but there is no effective way to prevent it from being developed. Furthermore, the speed with which we can develop new technology is accelerating at an exponential rate.

This has the potential for unprecedented good but at the same time it has almost as great a potential for unbelievable evil. We can only hope that the quality of communication increases such that empathy tips the scales in favor of good outcomes. The challenge we may find ourselves facing is how do we deal with people that are empathy impaired? And furthermore, who hasn’t found themselves overwhelmed by the suffering of others to the extent that they withdraw? Empathy is for a time suspended in a kind of self defense mechanism.

This leads to another concern. When we are so interconnected that we can communicate with potentially everyone else how will we keep from being overwhelmed by the enormity of the stream of information flowing to and from and through us. Will we be aware, as individuals, of the larger issues that the collective mind is contemplating or will we only be aware of the issues that are being considered locally?

We don’t understand how our brains organize the billions of neurons that comprise them into an organized whole that embodies a sense of self. How can we possibly conceive of the meta-self that will arise from the swarm mind that will be enabled by direct Brain Machine Interface?

And this doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that with computers in the mix as mental prostheses, we may find ourselves facing the brave new world of non-human emergent artificial general intelligence. Will we control it or will it control us? Or, more likely, will we merge with it to become an even more powerful meta-intelligence?

These sound like the crazed ravings of a science fiction obsessed nerd but the fact is if we don’t think about these issues now, we will find ourselves waking up to the emergent reality. As much as we can’t put the Geni of the internet back in the bottle, we won’t be able to put the Geni of high bandwidth human machine interfaces back into the bottle either. We need to have these conversations now while we can still steer the outcome in a favorable direction.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Future’s So Bright We’ll Have to Wear Shades

We live in exciting times. Earlier tonight I was sitting on the couch with my iPhone laying on the tray in front of me. I was watching a YouTube video. I was listening to the audio through a pair of Bluetooth headphones so that I wouldn’t disturb my wife. All of a sudden I remembered the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where Frank Poole and Dave Bowman were eating and they each had a pad that was displaying video.

We are living the science fiction stories of our youth. And it’s happening because engineers are taking them not as fantasies but as specifications. They are using them to fuel the engines of creation that our modern consumer society has become.

One person that is working these miracles of engineering is Elon Musk. He has figured out how to take a vision for a future product and distill it into steps that can be achieved with technology just beyond our grasp. As he pulls together the team of innovative entrepreneurs to realize his vision he uses the returns from the initial product to fund the evolution of it into the original product he envisioned.

He has done that with Tesla and SpaceX and is embarking on a new venture to do the same type of thing with a company called Neuralink. Neuralink is out to develop the brain machine interface that will turn us all into omnipotent geniuses.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m ready to sign up tomorrow if he had the product built and ready to go. Unfortunately, there is a long development road ahead. The first beneficiaries of Neuralink’s technology will be people profoundly handicapped by such conditions as a stroke or a spinal chord injury. This will start a positive feedback loop where the more we are able to enhance the mind machine interface, the better we will understand how the brain really works and the better we understand how the brain works, the better we’ll be able to make the interface.

Eventually we will merge, first with the machines that will have become our mental appliances, and eventually with each other. When there is no room for misunderstanding in the interface, we will have a practically infallible channel for communication.

No, I’m not that naive. We will figure out some way to have misunderstandings. Or perhaps they will be disagreements more than misunderstandings. The important thing is that they will be on a much higher level of shared understanding than our mere verbal and body language can communicate.

That, in a nutshell, is my hope for the future of the technology that Neuralink is working on even as I write this. I hope they get it right. The future is bright if they do, and a nightmare if they stumble. I am the eternal optimist. I have faith that they will get it right. Mostly.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.