Category Archives: Neuralink

Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.

For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.

I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.

That skill is drawing.

Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.

Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.

For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.

As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.

However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.

The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.

Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.

I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.

With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.

Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?

We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.

Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Neuralink, technology

Why We Should Treat Our Data As (Valuable) Property

Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.

I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.

Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.

As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.

Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.

The growing value of this data raises some important questions.

Who exactly owns this data?

How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?

Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?

Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?

What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?

These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.

At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.

Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.

However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.

Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.

It’s a difficult question to resolve. It only gets more difficult when you consider laws like the “right to be forgotten.” Many joke that the internet never forgets, but it’s no laughing matter. Peoples’ lives can be ruined, sometimes through no fault of their own. Peoples’ private photos have been hacked and shared without their permission.

In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.

Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.

However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.

Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.

I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.

It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.

While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.

This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, politics, technology

Why Starlink Is The Next Step In The Evolution Of The Internet

Say what you will about Elon Musk. Believe me, a lot can be said about a Tony Stark wannabe whose wealth is on par with Jeff Bezos. Not all of it is flattering, either. I know I’ve expressed a strong appreciation for him in the past. I genuinely believe some of the technology he’s working on will change the world.

I don’t deny that he can be eccentric.

I also don’t deny he says dumb things, often on Twitter.

The man has his faults, but thinking small isn’t one of them. You don’t get to be as rich or successful as Elon Musk by being careful. You also don’t create world-changing technology by being short-sighted. Love him or hate him, Musk has changed the world. He’ll likely change it even more in the coming years.

Some of those changes are years away. A product like Neuralink is probably not going to become mainstream in this decade. However, there is one that’s likely to change the world a lot sooner. In fact, it’s already up and running to some extent. It’s just in the beta phase. Some people can already use it and it’s already proving its worth.

That technology is called Starlink and I believe this will change the internet in a profound way.

Now, you can be forgiven for not keeping up with all of Elon Musk’s elaborate ventures. This one isn’t quite as sexy as brain implants or rockets, but it’s every bit as groundbreaking. If you value internet speeds that don’t suck or lag, then it should be of great interest.

In essence, Starlink is the name and brand of a new satellite-based internet service provider that Musk is creating through his other ambitious venture, SpaceX. The goal is simple on paper, but resource intensive. Instead of the messy network of ground-based hardware that most providers use to deliver the internet to hour homes and businesses, Starlink will deliver it from space.

It’s actually not a new idea or product, for that matter. Satellite based internet service has been around for years. In terms of speeds and utility, though, it just sucks. At most, you’d be lucky to get speeds on par with old school 3G wireless. For some people, that’s better than nothing. For most, it’s not nearly enough to maximize the full power of the internet.

Starlink is hoping to change that. Instead of expensive satellites with high latency and limited bandwidth, these new brand of low-Earth satellites promise to deliver on speeds at or greater than the best 4G internet providers.

On top of that, you don’t need the same elaborate infrastructure and or cell towers to deliver it. You just need a constellation of satellites, a receiver no larger than a pizza box, and a clear view of the sky. If you have all that, you can get the full breadth of the internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the desert or at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s there for you to access.

Make no mistake. That’s a big deal for the 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access. Whether due to lack of infrastructure or funds, it’s just not an option for them. It’s not just underdeveloped third-world countries either. Even here in America, there are large swaths of the country that have little to no reliable internet access.

It’s a big factor in the ongoing divide between rural and urban areas. If you live in a small rural community full of good, honest, hard-working people, they’re still going to struggle if they don’t have reliable internet. They’ll struggle economically, socially, and financially. To date, the efforts to expand the internet to their communities has been lackluster at best.

I can personally attest how bad it is. A few years back, I drove through a very rural part of West Virginia. For a good chunk of that drive, there was pretty much no reliable internet, be it Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage. The people there didn’t hide their frustration and I certainly sympathized with them.

There are many reasons for this, not all of which is because of how awful cable companies can be. A bit part of that has to do with the tools we use to access the internet. As good as they are for urban areas, they don’t work on a global level. It’s one thing to wire a big, advanced city like New York with fiber optics. It’s quite another to wire an entire planet.

Starlink promises to change that. These satellites aren’t bound by those logistics. They just orbit overhead without us even realizing it. They’re small and easy to mass produce. They can be taken out of orbit easily and replaced with better models. In principle, they could easily deliver the same high level gigabit speeds that are currently at the top of the market.

In terms of opening the internet to the rest of the world, that’s a big deal.

In terms of disrupting the market for delivering the internet, that’s an even bigger deal.

That’s because, to date, the world wide web has struggled to be truly world-wide. When nearly half the world can’t access it, then you can’t truly call it a global network. With Starlink, the internet can become truly global. People in rural India can have access to the same internet speeds as people in downtown Los Angeles. That promises to open up the world up in ways we can’t predict.

It’ll also provide some badly needed competition to internet delivery. For most people in America, you don’t have much choice when it comes to internet service. Cable companies basically have a monopoly on the whole enterprise, which is a big reason why it’s so expensive compared to other countries. Starlink will be the first real competition they’ve had in years for many areas.

I don’t doubt those companies will complain, whine, and lobby, but they’re not going to stop something like Starlink. They’re also not going to muscle out someone like Elon Musk. You don’t become the world’s richest person by being a push-over. Musk has already made clear that Starlink is a big part of his business model for the future.

At the moment, Starlink is still in beta, but Musk himself proves the technology works. He even used it to send a tweet. There are people right now who are testing it and they can confirm its speeds are way better than the crappy DSL internet of yesteryear. Many others have also expressed a keen interest in buying into this service.

At the moment, it’s still expensive. It costs $99 a month to access Starlink and it also costs $500 to buy the necessary antenna to receive it. However, that’s not a whole lot more than what I pay for internet in a month. Once it’s refined, that cost will come down.

Remember, there are over 3 billion people in the world without internet who have no options to access it. Starlink could be their only option and it could be a damn good one. It could be the key to the rest of the world becoming truly connected. That has big implications for society, commerce, and governments. Some countries are already making Starlink illegal for its people to access. Don’t expect that to stop it, though.

The promise of fast, reliable internet at all corners of the globe is too enticing for too many people. It will both connect the world and make Elon Musk even richer. However, for a man who connected the world and pissed off cable companies, I’d say he’ll have earned it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, technology

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law: Is Government Next?

It’s inevitable. As technology advances, certain industries are going to become obsolete. That’s why the horse-and-buggy industry is incredibly limited. It’s also why companies don’t make typewriters or LaserDisk movies anymore. Once better tech becomes available, an industry either adapts or disappears. Just ask Blockbuster.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that an industry is becoming obsolete. Again, just ask Blockbuster. As soon as something better, easier, and more convenient comes along, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over. However, it’s when things aren’t quite as obvious where more dramatic changes occur.

In terms of dramatic change, few things have the potential to generate more than artificial intelligence. I’ve highlighted that many times before, but a lot of that potential depends on advances that haven’t happened yet. They’re still likely to happen at some point, which may or may not be in my lifetime. They’re just not there yet.

That said, AI doesn’t have to become advanced on the level of Skynet or Hal 9000 to impact and/or disrupt major industries. The AI technology we have now is already having an impact. It may only be a narrow form of AI, which is AI that’s focused on performing a specific task, like playing chess. Its potential is still immense and some fields are feeling it more than others.

One industry that might feel it first is law. Now, at the risk of inspiring one too many lawyer jokes, I’m going to try and keep things general here. I’m also going to try and fit in some personal experience. I know some lawyers personally. I’ve been in law offices and I’ve seen how they work. You don’t have to be that much a visionary to understand how AI could change this industry entirely.

Recently, TechNews did a story on how artificial intelligence is learning basic legal operations and learning it quite well. Given the massive amounts of data and technicalities included in American law, a narrow AI is ideally suited to handle such tasks. However, I don’t think the piece fully grasps the implications.

TechNews: Lawyers Beware: Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law – And Doing Frighteningly Well

AI or artificial intelligence is starting to find its footing in the legal field. The world is now on the brink of revolution in legal profession spearheaded with the extensive use of AI in the entire industry, specifically by the in-house lawyers.

Just like how email greatly changed the way people conduct their business on a daily basis, AI is also expected to become an ever-present force and an invaluable assistant to almost all lawyers.

But the million-dollar question now is, what does the future look like for AI as far as the legal industry is concerned? A much bigger question is, will AI soon replace real life lawyers?

These are not unreasonable questions. What will happen to the current legal industry if much of the legal grunt-work can be handled by an AI? What will happen to the industry when it’s no longer necessary to have a huge team of overpaid lawyers to conduct competent legal operations?

As someone who has been in his share of law offices, I can make a few educated guesses. I can easily imagine firms shrinking their office space, but expanding their operations. Most of the legal offices I’ve gone to dedicate 80 percent of their office space to storing documents and secure research material. Very little is left or necessary for the actual people doing the work.

The recent pandemic has only revealed that plenty of this work can be done form home or remotely. Some legal proceedings are even unfolding through Zoom calls, albeit with mixed results. It’s a step in that it undermines and disrupts the traditional model for handling the law. It also raises a much larger question that the TechNews article didn’t ask.

Once AI learns the law, then is learning government next?

It’s a natural progression. Governments make and administer laws. An AI that specializes in the law would also have to learn government, as well. A narrow AI might be able to process the general bureaucracy of a government, but what happens when those systems become more advanced?

I’m not just talking about a scenario where an AI becomes the government, which I’ve already speculated on. An AI that has perfect expertise in both law and government operations could have many less obvious effects. Inefficiencies that often go unnoticed in a bureaucracy are suddenly harder to overlook. Inconsistencies that rarely get fixed, due to that bureaucracy, can finally be remedied.

In theory, a sufficiently advanced AI, which need not be as intelligent as a human, could do more than just document legal and government proceedings. It could formulate new laws and policies on its own. Some may seem outrageous from a basic non-lawyer human perspective, but make perfect sense within a functioning legal system or government.

It may still seem like just another tool for lawyers to stay organized, but I think it could be more than that. If an AI makes both legal and government systems more efficient, then what will that mean for those in government? Would politicians be better able to implement their agenda if they have tools like AI at their disposal? Would that necessarily be a good thing?

This is where things get both tricky and political. No matter how confident you are in your political persuasions, the party you favor will not always be in power.

It may seem like politics is trending a certain way, but those trends change quickly. People who think their party is strong now can’t imagine a time when they’ll lose that strength. It happens regularly in any democracy.

Like it or not, your party will one day be out of power. When that happens, do you want the other party having a more efficient means of implementing their policies?

I’m sure everyone’s answer to that question will vary. What no one is certain of is how we’ll keep up with ever-improving AI systems, regardless of what industry they’re in. It’s one thing for a system to make it easier to stream movies or keep track of groceries. It’s quite another when it becomes intimately involved with our laws and our government.

The TechNews article expressed some concern, but only with respect to how it affects the current law industry. I believe AI, even if it’s focused only on law, will have a far larger impact. That’s not to say that AI will render law firms and governments obsolete.

If ever there was one domain in which foresight is critical, it’s this. Some industries can and should become obsolete. Others, like how we govern our society, need a more careful approach. We simply cannot afford our laws and our government to end up like Blockbuster.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, human nature, Neuralink, politics, technology

Streaming Music Into The Brain With Neuralink: Why I Want To Try It

Say what you want about Elon Musk. He’s an eccentric billionaire. There’s a lot to say and not all of it is good. Whatever you think of him, though, you can’t deny he has some big, bold ideas. You don’t become a billionaire tech icon without plenty of those.

I’ve talked about some of his bolder ideas before, namely the potential impact of Neuralink and brain/machine interfaces. I still contend those ideas are still as bold as ever. It’s just a lot harder to explore and contemplate them when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

Despite the grim circumstances clouding our world now, Musk still finds a way to drop a new idea into the mix. This one is actually related to Neuralink and the world of brain augmentations. While this effort is still ongoing and very early, he did imply that the neural implants that this company would offer might have another feature that hasn’t been highlighted. Specifically, it’ll allow you to stream music directly into your brain.

It wasn’t treated as groundbreaking. In fact, this topic came about during a Twitter conversation between Musk and an engineer of all things. Usually, Twitter conversations are about as productive as arguing with a creationist, but on rare occasions, something beautiful emerges. I say this is one of them.

Digital Trends: Elon Musk says Neuralink chip will let you stream music into your brain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s brain interface company, Neuralink, wants to let you stream music directly into your brain.

Musk recently said that Neuralink’s brain chip technology would allow people to stream music into their brains effortlessly. Musk confirmed the feature on July 19 over an exchange with a Twitter user who asked: “If we implement Neuralink – can we listen to music directly from our chips? Great feature.” Musk replied with a simple, “yes.”

Now, regardless of what you think of Musk’s claim or the technical feasibility of actually streaming music into the brain, I want to make one thing clear. I hope to leave no amgibuity.

I want to try this.

I really want to experience this at some point.

I love music as much as the next person, but my cumulative experience with headphones, stereo systems, and ear buds has been mixed at best. The idea of bypassing that entirely and streaming my favorite songs directly into my brain just has so much appeal and not just from a practical aspect.

Music can a powerful influence. That’s not just an opinion. There’s real science behind it. I’ve certainly experienced that. There are songs on my playlist that can affect my mood, my focus, and my emotional state. Those effects can be pretty diverse. That should be a given. You’re not going to react to a Metallica song the same way you react to a Taylor Swift song.

It’s a testament to how impactful music can be. Now, there might be a way to stream it directly into our brains? Sign me up!

It’s not an incredibly radical idea, when you break it down. In a sense, the music and all its powerful influences goes to your brain already. It’s just indirect. First, it has to go through your ear and then your ear has to process the sound and then the interpretations of those sounds has to go to various parts of your brain. Neuralink is just offering a more direct path.

Imagine hearing something that makes no sound.

Imagine experiencing the emotions and excitement of music in a unique and intimate way.

It may not be the most groundbreaking use of neural implants, but I still want to try it. If being stuck in lockdown has taught us anything these past few months, it’s that we need a diverse range of experiences. There’s only so much we can get from binge-watching Netflix, playing video games, and Zoom chatting family members.

We need those experiences to enrich our lives. We have no idea what kind of state the world will be in by the time this technology is refined. Who knows what kinds of experiences we’ll pursue? Hopefully, I’m around to stream my favorite playlist directly into my brain. It might not be the most profound use of this technology, but it will definitely rock.

1 Comment

Filed under futurism, Neuralink, Sexy Future, technology

Jack’s World: In Defense Of Terminator Geniysis

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s an effort on my part to argue that “Terminator Genysis” was a better movie than people remember. I know many may not agree. I’m willing to take that chance. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, Jack's World, Neuralink, technology, YouTube

Jack’s World: Why Neuralink Might Be The Most Important Venture Of All Time

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. You may recognize the title from an article I wrote years ago in the before times when pandemics were still the subject of bad sci-fi movies. I miss those times too.

The news surrounding Neuralink is still of great interest to me. I still think it’s one of the most important technological advancements of the century. This video simply offers another general overview of why this technology is so important. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Jack's World, Neuralink, technology, YouTube

Selling (And Exploiting) Human Enhancement: An Ominous Lesson From “Superior Iron Man”

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_251b2rz5uxz4s4sssw0skg04c_640

How much would you be willing to pay for perfect health, perfect beauty, and a greater capacity to enjoy life as you see fit? This is not a rhetorical question. I would even argue that it’s an increasingly relevant question. In the coming years, answering it might even become more urgent.

I’ve talked about the prospects of human enhancement through emerging technology before. From its impact on our concept of beauty to how our society will function, there are many impacts to consider. Some of those impacts are already manifesting before our eyes. Just last year, the first genetically modified babies were born in China. Like it or not, this is happening.

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits, risks, and upheavals that human enhancement will have on our species and our world. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen as this technology matures or how societies, economies, and governments will react to it. Even so, it’s worth contemplating. It’s even worth imagining elaborate scenarios in fictional worlds.

While plenty of noteworthy stories have imagined such scenarios, some more dystopian than others, there’s one in particular I’d like to single out. It’s not entirely dystopian, but it does offer some distressing lessons about the larger economics of human enhancement. It also helps that those lessons come through a forgotten, but criminally underrated Iron Man comic.

Given the rapid rise of Iron Man’s star power over the past decade, his character is uniquely qualified to explore these difficult questions surrounding technology and how we use it. He is, at his core, a visionary who uses technology to solve problems, save lives, and occasionally fight invading aliens. In the series, “Superior Iron Man,” he takes that vision several steps further and cross many lines along the way.

While there are some convoluted circumstances surrounding this series, the ideas it explores are profound, even by the standards of superhero comics. You don’t need to know the specifics of those circumstances. They involve forces like magic and inversion spells, which are far too complicated to explain to those who haven’t followed Marvel comics for more than two decades.

The only detail anyone needs to know about “Superior Iron Man” is that the Tony Stark in this story is not the same lovable character that helped make Robert Downy Jr. one of the most lovable stars in Hollywood. This version of Tony is less bound by concepts of heroism, selflessness, and sobriety. That’s not to say he’s evil, but he’s definitely no hero.

Within this ethically bankrupt state, Tony embarks on a new initiative that’s as selfish as it is lucrative. It revolves around Extremis, an exotic cocktail of nanotechnology and biotechnology that effectively rewrites the blueprint of the entire human body into something better, stronger, and more robust. In essence, it is the ultimate tool for human enhancement.

While the initial version of Extremis was lethal to most people who used it, Tony creates a more commercialized version in “Superior Iron Man” that gives everyone a chance to enjoy its benefits. He calls it Extremis 3.0 and people can access it through a simple smartphone app. With it, people can achieve what Tony describes as physical perfection.

Everyone can be perfectly healthy.

Everyone can be young and beautiful.

Everyone can be functionally immortal.

It sounds like a miracle drug and by every measure, it is. This isn’t some Dr. Oz wannabe pitching vitamins that do nothing other than give you false hope. This technology actually works. With it, Tony gives the entire city of San Francisco a chance to experience the fruits of human enhancement.

Understandably, once people get a taste of what Extremis 3.0 has to offer, they love it. They also take full advantage of it. At one point in the story, Pepper Potts says it’s turning the streets of San Francisco into a non-stop parade of debauchery and self-indulgence. Tony does not see this as a bad thing. If anything, it perfectly complements his plans and his renewed appetite for self-indulgence.

This is where “Superior Iron Man” attempts to answer that question about putting a price on physical perfection. Writer Tom Taylor, alongside artist Yildiray Çinar, doesn’t hide from the disturbing parts of that answer. By the end of the first issue, Tony puts a literal price on that perfection. Needless to say, it causes plenty of conflict and it escalates quickly.

When he initially released Extremis 3.0 onto San Francisco, he gives ordinary people a taste of what it’s like to be as fit as Captain America, as beautiful as Emma Frost, and as physically endowed as Thor. It’s not a drug that just attempts to match that feeling. It physically changes their bodies and their capacity for using them. That taste, however, was just a free sample. To keep enjoying it, they must pay $99 a day.

It’s crude trick right out of the playbook of subscription apps. People get a free trial period that’s just long enough to get them hooked. Then, before they even realize they have to pay anything, they get hit with a paywall. It’s a cruel bait-and-switch, but this isn’t just another streaming video service. This is physical perfection and unlimited self-indulgence. Is $99 a day really that unreasonable?

It certainly rubs plenty of people the wrong way, including many of Tony’s long-time friends and allies. Both Daredevil and Pepper Potts turn against him for such devious tactic. It also has some noticeable effects on the people who use it. By the end of the first issue, a stark class divide emerges between those who can afford Extremis 3.0 and those who can’t.

Naturally, it causes crime and conflict among the residents of San Francisco. Tony, now both feared and beloved by these people, takes it upon himself to manage it. He gains power, wealth, status, and an endless supply of eager party guests for whenever he seeks to indulge. It’s a perfect cocktail of recklessness and irresponsibility.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, which ended too soon, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture that “Superior Iron Man” presented. If you take away the iconic characters and the superhero themes, you get a story about a selfish business tycoon who has sole possession of the ultimate biotech product.

The goal isn’t to heal the sick, ease suffering, or evolve the human species. The goal is simply to make a lot of money, feed an inflated ego, and indulge in every conceivable vice without consequences. It’s a worst-case scenario for liberals and conservatives, alike. At the same time, it makes a compelling case that our current system can’t handle the impacts of large-scale human enhancement.

That doesn’t mean it can’t succeed in our current system. The size of the current biotech industry is already measured in the hundreds of billions. Overpriced drugs are nothing new, either. Just this past year, the FDA approved a drug called Zolgensma, which costs $425,000 a year for five years to treat a rare genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy.

By comparison, Extremis 3.0 is a bargain with far greater value. Even at $99 a day, the yearly cost of enjoying that physical perfection amounts to around $36,500 a year. That still takes up a good chunk of the average income for most Americans, but considering all the benefits of having a perfect body, is it still a bargain?

For anyone who has overpaid for inflated medical expenses, I suspect they would gladly pay that high price for Extremis 3.0. Tony Stark banked on that in “Superior Iron Man” and he was right. People did pay and it was very lucrative for him. The population of the San Francisco Bay Area in which he unleashed Extremis 3.0 is around 4.6 million. At $99 a day, that’s a potential annual revenue of $167 billion.

In terms of business ranking, that would put Tony’s venture in the top 20 in terms of largest companies by revenue. If he were to unleash Extremis on the entire United States, the potential annual revenue would be near $11.8 trillion. That’s a little more than half of the entire US economy.

Imagine one company, let alone one person, having that much money and influence over a population. Tony was already a billionaire before “Superior Iron Man,” but Extremis 3.0 rewarded him with more than just money. Tony, being the sole provider, held a great deal of power and influence over San Francisco. As is often the case in superhero stories, that power goes to his head.

That story plays out in the real world just as often. In some cases, it brings out the worst in people. For a product like Extremis 3.0, which provides human enhancement into a simple commercial package that anyone can access through an app, the potential for abuse is much worse.

Beyond the greed it would inspire and the recklessness it fosters, it would also widen and solidify a gap in society that might be impossible to close. The wealth gap is in the non-superhero world is already egregious. Adding something like Extremis 3.0 to the mix would only make it immeasurably worse.

More than a few people has expressed concern about the prospects of such an enormous societal divide. “Superior Iron Man” showed just how bad it could get and how quickly it could escalate. While the series only managed to explore this conflict to a point before it got canceled, Tom Taylor did enough to get a powerful point across.

In a world where human enhancement is real and commercially available, how do we go about distributing it among a population? Should we put a price on it? How high should that price be? Who should be in control of it?

Worst case scenario.

Superior Iron Man” never got a chance to explore the answers, but these are questions that will become increasingly relevant as advances in biotechnology accelerate. We may not be close to having a product like Extremis 3.0 and it’s uncertain whether we’ll even develop something like it in the next few decades.

Even if we do, “Superior Iron Man” made one thing clear. We, as a species and a society, are not ready for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Neuralink, Sexy Future, superhero comics

Texting, Sharing Feelings, And How Neuralink Could Revolutionize Both

mind-melds-e1509130881625

A while back, I speculated that memory enhancement might be the first “killer app” for brain implants. At the time, I thought my logic was solid. Every emerging technology needs that one lucrative use that makes it more than just a gimmick. Killer apps are what helped make smartphones more prevalent than toilets in some parts of the world. I believe brain implants will follow a similar path through companies like Neuralink.

I still believe that memory enhancement will be one of those functions that helps turn brain implants into a multi-billion-dollar industry and Elon Musk is likely to secure a share of those billions. However, after listening to the announcement that Musk gave earlier this year about the future of Neuralink, I’d like to revise my speculation a bit.

What Musk presented was plenty intriguing. Neuralink isn’t some wide-eyed fantasy endeavor conjured by an eccentric billionaire. It’s a real company seeking to develop real products that’ll create a whole new market. Some of those early products are already taking shape.

Right now, the goal is simple. Before humans can link their brains to a simulated world on par with “The Matrix,” they first have to develop a means of interfacing with a basic computer. That kind of technology is not fanciful science fiction. We’ve already successfully inserted brain implants into monkeys, which they’ve used to interface with computers.

At this point, linking a brain to a computer isn’t that great a feat, which is why Musk noted that the first prototypes were being developed to assist quadriplegics. They have much more to gain by being able to interact with a computer. The same can’t be said for most people. Why would they undergo invasive brain surgery just so they could send text messages without typing them?

This is where I believe there’s some untapped potential that Neuralink is in a perfect position to realize. It might even be more feasible in the near-term than memory enhancement, as both a product and a killer app. It’s the kind of function that wouldn’t just convince people to let someone stick electrodes into their brains. It could revolutionize how people communicate with one another.

To understand the extent of that potential, take a moment to look at the last five text messages you sent through your smartphone. It doesn’t matter who you sent them to or why. Just take a step back and consider the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of communication.

In terms of strengths, it’s simple and consistent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a poor speaker or have anxiety issues. As long as you can type out the words and the receiver can read them, you can convey a message that instantly travels from one side of the planet to another. As a communications tool, it’s quite revolutionary, especially when you consider how difficult it was to send messages in the past.

At the same time, it has some major limitations. Texting is so impersonal. Even with the benefit of emojis, it’s still just text on a screen. It can’t convey a sense of nuance or subtext. There’s no undertone to decipher or facial cues to note. While this can make the message more objective, it also makes it feel cold and unemotional. It’s part of why breaking up with someone via text is so taboo.

With those limitations in mind, imagine having the ability to convey a feeling to go along with a text message. Instead of an emoji, you included the emotional context of that message. Maybe you were angry, upset, offended, or elated. It doesn’t have to be too complex. It just has to give a dramatic weight to the emotion.

You send that message knowing the person on the other end could experience it too. They don’t have to read the words and surmise your feelings. They know because they get to experience them too. They feel what you felt when you sent that message. They feel it in a way that no amount of facial cues or subtext can adequately convey.

When you text someone you love them, they can feel your love.

When you text someone you’re angry, they can feel the extent of your anger.

When you text someone you’re seriously depressed, they know it’s not a joke.

This sort of insight is unprecedented. It’s also a function that companies like Neuralink can make a reality and market it as a revolutionary form of communication. It wouldn’t require that we completely abandon our current methods of communication. People would still need their smartphones and computers. This would just be a way of augmenting those tools.

Once a brain implant can link up to a smartphone, then there’s suddenly a new communications channel the likes of which we’ve never had. That channel need not be restricted to moving a cursor or typing out letters on a screen. These commands are simply brain signals coded by implants and transmitted to a device that can make sense of them. Our feelings are just a different kind of signal.

Modern neuroscience already has a comprehensive understanding of where emotions come from. A brain implant could simply take signals from those parts of our brain, code them in a way our smartphone can interpret, and package them in a way that can be transmitted and received by another user.

It’s not telepathy. It’s not complex thought or ideas, either. These are the kinds of feelings and emotions that almost everyone experiences in some form or another. Our natural empathy may allow us to relate to one another as a social species, but we’ve never been able to truly share our feelings in a way that others can experience.

I know the idea of sharing feelings has gained a corny connotation, but I think a part of that has to do with how inefficient our current system is. Even before smartphones and texting, our age-old traditions of talking to one another, deciphering tone, and reading body language has left us with plenty of room for improvement.

It doesn’t matter how empathetic or understanding you are. At the end of the day, when someone shares their feelings, you’re still guessing the details and trying to mirror them within your brain. While that has taken us far as a species, in terms of forming social bonds and coordinating as a group, brain implants could take it to another level.

Once we can transmit our feelings with the same ease we do with a text message, then that takes us into uncharted territory. Armed with this tool, we wouldn’t just be able to communicate over vast distances. We’d be able to convey genuine, intimate feelings. Our brains are already wired to form strong social bonds with others. This technology would effectively supercharge it.

It certainly wouldn’t stop with just two people sending a text message with a happiness emotion attached to it. Once emotions can be transmitted like a text message, then there’s no reason they can’t be shared the same way we share everything else on social media. While some may recoil at the idea of sharing something so intimate, trend is already ongoing. Sharing feelings on a mass scale would just accelerate that trend.

The impact this will have on people is difficult to determine. Like I said before, this is uncharted territory. We’ve never had the ability to both know and share the intimate feelings of other people. Would that make us more empathetic? Would that make us more loving? I’ve argued before that it likely will, but I also don’t deny that some may handle it worse than others.

Whatever form Neuralink’s products take, there’s no denying the potential of this technology. There are still technical and engineering challenges, but that has never scared off Elon Musk or ambiguous billionaires like him. Human beings already have an innate need to connect with one another. Smartphones, texting, and every other communications tool we’ve ever created reflect that desire.

The market for those tools is already strong. The market for something that can communicate on a more intimate level will likely be even stronger. Even if the ultimate goal of Neuralink is to help humanity interact with an advanced artificial Intelligence, a good first step would be to help improve our ability to interact with one another.

1 Comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Neuralink, psychology, technology

Neuralink Event: Updates, Insights, And (Big) Implications

finalmente-sapremo-neuralink-progetto-segreto-elon-musk-v3-388343

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Neuralink. There’s a good reason for that. Even though Elon Musk announced the formation of the company back in 2017, there hasn’t been much news, aside from a few cryptic teases. That didn’t stop me from proclaiming it be one of the most important venture of all time and I still stand by that proclamation.

Finally, on July 16, 2019, we got some news from Neuralink that attracted major press coverage. Musk, in an event that was live-streamed, offered some tantalizing details on the state of the company’s research into advanced brain implants. He didn’t announce that they’d perfected it. However, he did make clear that this is not some crazy idea he just scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

The presentation was lengthy and I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m nowhere near as smart, articulate, or successful as Elon Musk. Very few individuals on this planet are. If for no other reason, watch this event to affirm that he’s serious about merging human brains and machines.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here a few key points:

  • The first use of this technology will be to treat brain disorders
  • The company has over $150 million and almost 100 employees
  • It has made significant strides in crafting advanced electrodes that can be implanted in a human brain
  • The current prototype utilizes chips that can process brain signals
  • The prototypes have proven functional with rats and monkeys

These insights are intriguing, but they’re not going to change the world overnight. It’s not like we’ll be able to order our own brain implants from Amazon by the end of the year. This technology is still in its infancy. We’ve only recently developed computer hardware that can communicate with brain cells. We’re a long way off from functioning on the level of the Borg.

What Musk laid out wasn’t just a vision. He offered specifics, citing where we are with the technology and who will initially benefit. It makes sense for those with brain disorders to act as the first beneficiaries. Aside from the difficulty of convincing most people to have something put into their brains, these implants could be invaluable at helping quadriplegics improve their lives.

It’s not an impossible feat, having brains interact directly with machines. It has been successfully done with monkeys. It’s just a matter of testing, refinement, and improvement. Like cell phones and Lasik surgery, which I’ve had done, the technology will improve once it has a foundation to build on.

Now, we got a glimpse of that foundation and there’s plenty of reasons for excitement. While nobody can predict the future, especially not as well as someone like Elon Musk, there are some major implications for the near and distant future.

Just controlling a computer with your brain is not the endgame of this technology. Musk stated clearly in the event that the ultimate goal is to create an intimate, symbiotic relationship between humans and advanced artificial intelligence. He sees it as a necessary relationship if we’re to minimize the existential threat posed by AI.

Before we get to that goal, though, it’s almost a given that this technology will find other uses and markets. One market that wasn’t mentioned in the presentation, but could prove very lucrative, is gaming.

As much as video game technology has advanced since the early days of Nintendo, the controls haven’t evolved much. We still need a keyboard or a controller to interact with the system. As someone whose reflexes were rarely fast enough while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, I can appreciate those limitations more than most.

Imagine an interface where moving a character or a cursor required only your thoughts. Suddenly, you’re no longer restricted to button sequences and analog sticks. The controls only limited by your brain’s ability to give the necessary commands. Whether you’re playing an old Mario game or Grand Theft Auto V, you guide everything along with your thoughts.

Considering the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, the incentives for innovation are strong. If a brain interface offers novelty or advantages for gaming, then Neuralink is in a position to reap the benefits.

Those same benefits extend beyond the gaming industry. While it may take a while for an implant to process the complex controls of a video game, it might not take as long to create one with the ability to give wielders more direct control of their smartphone. Some may recoil at the thought of being that connected with their smartphone, but the benefits may be too good to pass up.

I can easily imagine an interface that not only helps people type messages faster, but provides better security than passwords, fingerprints, or facial recognition. Hackers might be able to crack a password, but brain signals would pose a far more daunting challenge.

This kind of interface also opens the door to a more intimate forms of communication. It’s one thing to just send texts and emails with our phones. What if we could send codes through brain implants that actually convey feelings and emotions? Instead of emojis, we could just send a coded message from one implant to another that conveys anything from happiness to shock to sarcasm.

That level of communication wouldn’t just be groundbreaking. It would change the way human beings interact. Again, it would be somewhat rudimentary at first, but with refinement, it could open entirely new channels for those who take advantage of this technology.

These are just some of the possibilities. The implications for the distant future are big, but the possibilities for the near future are just as tantalizing. Right now, the near-term goal revolves around helping brains interact with computers. At the moment, those computers are not advanced AIs. When that time comes, though, we’ll at least have a channel for that interaction.

These are exciting times, indeed. This is not just some eccentric billionaire’s crazy vision. This is really happening. There have been many technological advances that have changed our lives, but this technology may ultimately change much more than that.

7 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Neuralink, Sexy Future