Tag Archives: Elon Musk

Memory Enhancement: The First Killer App For Neuralink?

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Every new technological innovation promises to change the world, but few end up delivering. I still remember the overblown hype in the early 2000s when the Segway Personal Transporter was supposed to revolutionize the world. It was such a big deal that “South Park made an episode about it.

The concept was intriguing, improving mobility for people in a way that was less bulky than a car and less taxing than a bicycle. I think its inventor, Dean Kamen, envisioned a world where the entire urban landscape changed as a result of his invention. I don’t doubt for a second that he believed in that vision.

However, like so many other ambitious inventions, it never came to pass. These days, the only place you’ll see Segways is malls and stadiums. It didn’t revolutionize mobility or transportation. Its use and appeal was just too limited.

Kevin James would argue otherwise.

Compare that to enormous impact of other inventions like smart phones. From the BlackBerry to the first iPhone, these devices have literally changed the world. How they brought about that change varies, but the key factor that set them apart from the Segway was the idea of a “killer app.”

You could argue that smartphones invented the term, but the idea is much older. A killer app isn’t as much an innovation as it is a use that goes onto be so popular that it further advances the technology behind it. Smartphones had many, from cameras to translation applications. As a result, they’re both a multi-billion dollar industry and an integral part of our lives.

Given the current pace of technological change, it’s only a matter of time before another innovation comes along that has a similar impact. That technology might actually exist now, but lack the killer app that will make it both a valuable market and a major part of our lives. One such technology is brain implants this technology has the potential to be even bigger than smartphones.

I’ve mentioned brain implants before. I’m even guilty of hyping it up a little. I’ve gone so far as to call it the most important technological advance in history, citing companies like Neuralink as the arbiters of this monumental change. Since I’m not a scientist and I’m not Elon Musk, it’s very likely I’m overstating many aspects of this technology.

Hype or no hype, brain implant technology is an emerging field. This isn’t a warp drive. This technology actually exists. Like the old brick-sized cell phones of the 1980s, they’re basically prototypes in need of both refinement and a killer application. The refinement is ongoing, but that one application to really further this technology isn’t as clear.

Now, and I apologize if this sounds like more overdone hype, there may be one use that could prove even more useful than a smartphone. That use is memory enhancement. If you don’t think people are willing to risk putting something in their brains to boost their memory, then you’ve clearly never crammed for a Spanish exam for three hours trying to memorize conjugations.

Think back to any situation where you wish your memory didn’t suck. Even if you’re not in school or college, how often do you forget something that no reasonable person should forget? Let’s face it. Most brains aren’t wired with a photographic memory. It’s not that it isn’t useful. There’s just little survival benefit to having one unless you’re a world class scientist or mathematician.

Since photographic memories are so uncommon, and some doubt they even exist to the extent people believe, a specialized brain implant could change all that. Modern neuroscience has a solid understanding of how memories are formed in the brain. In theory, an implant would just augment or expand those functions.

It’s not even entirely a theory. In early 2018, the New York Times reported that a study utilizing brain implants in human test subjects showed a significant improvement in memory function. It was a simple study, but the effect is real.

In the study, the research team determined the precise patterns for each person’s high-functioning state, when memory storage worked well in the brain, and low-functioning mode, when it did not.

The scientists then asked the patients to memorize lists of words and later, after a distraction, to recall as many as they could.

Each participant carried out a variety of tests repeatedly, recalling different words during each test. Some lists were memorized with the brain stimulation system turned on; others were done with it turned off, for comparison.

On average, people did about 15 percent better when the implant was switched on.

While 15 percent may not sound like much, it’s still important because it proves the concept. Like that first bulky cell phone in the 1980s that could barely make a call out of New York City, it shows that this idea does work and can be done with our current tools. It’s just a matter of refining those tools and improving the process.

Those refinements will find a market that is already ripe with people anxious to improve their memory and overall cognitive function. In recent years, the use and abuse of mind-enhancing drugs like Adderall is growing. I can personally attest that this happens.

When I was in college, I knew more than a few students who would do double doses before exams. If you think putting something in your brain is dangerous, then take a moment to appreciate the fact that drugs like Adderall are very similar to methamphetamine. One is available by prescription. The other is the basis of a hit TV show about drug dealing.

There is both a demand and a market for enhancing memory. Unfortunately, that market is dominated by supplements that don’t work and study programs run by convicted fraudsters. Unlike these costly and potentially harmful methods, a brain implant could actually work. It could enhance our memories to a point where we could read a dictionary in Swahili and remember every word.

This doesn’t just mean lost car keys are a thing of the past. This means our entire approach to learning, education, and training completely changes. A lot our modern education system, as well as training for doctors, lawyers, and scientists, relies heavily on memorizing large chunks of information. It takes years of constant and careful study to understand all that information. What happens when that is no longer the case?

Imagine a world where people can learn a new language in the span of a week.

Imagine a world where people can learn complex legal and medical procedures in only months.

Imagine a world where people can learn new software coding in just a few days.

If you’re a sports fan, imagine a world where football players can memorize an entire playbook in just a couple days. What will that do to the NFL Draft?

With a memory enhancing brain implant, it’s not just possible. It’s a potential game-changer. There are so many uses to having a good memory, just as there are so many uses for a smartphone. We had no idea that smartphones would lead to applications like Snapchat or Tinder. I doubt anyone has an idea on the impact that memory-enhancing brain implants will incur.

It won’t happen all at once. It took years for smartphones to become prevalent and unlike smartphones, this advance involves putting something in your brain. Then again, people are perfectly willing to put dangerous chemicals in their bodies to enhance their bodies so I don’t think that’s too great a barrier to overcome.

There are, of course, far greater applications for brain implants beyond acing final exams. I’ve mentioned a few of them, but those applications won’t be possible until the technology becomes a thriving market. For an advance like brain implants, it only takes one app to get the engines of innovation going. Memory enhancement may very well be that app.

It’s just a shame it came too late to help me with my Spanish exam.

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Prison Or Brain Hacking? A Choice That May Shape Our Future

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How does a civilized society deal with its least civilized individuals? This is a question that every society has had to answer, going back to the hunter/gatherer era. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals. Some are more imperfect than others, so much so that it’s not always possible to reform them into functional members of society.

Most people who commit crimes are not monsters, nor are they sadists who get their joy by torturing the innocent. A vast majority are just people who find themselves in bad situations where they make wrong decisions, exercise poor judgment, or lack impulse control. For these people, fines and brief imprisonment are usually sufficient.

For those who become career criminals, neither respecting the law nor seeking to abide by it, the current system is woefully inadequate. It’s part of the reason why criminal justice reform has become a hot topic. We’re finally learning that throwing people into prisons where they’re dehumanized, degraded, and tortured doesn’t help them become productive members of society. Go figure.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Some countries have demonstrated that there are more effective, more humane ways to treat criminals. However, even those systems have their limits. As long as human beings remain an imperfect species, we’ll still have to deal with these deviant, violent, and inherently dangerous individuals.

For the moment, our options for dealing with these people are few. It primarily involves incarceration or intense therapy, often coupled with drug therapy. While this can be helpful to some, there are severe limitations. Some individuals don’t even want treatment and even those who are caught don’t always respond.

With that in mind, allow me to present a not-quite-hypothetical scenario. What if, instead of prison or therapy, we gave offending criminals an option to undergo an invasive treatment that affects the primary source of their deviant behavior in the brain? Jail is still an option for those who aren’t keen on messing with their brain wiring, but for certain people, an alternative is an alternative.

What I just described is one of those concepts in which the science is there, but the technology and the courts haven’t caught up to it. I know whenever I talk about emerging technology, be it sex robots or artificial wombs, I venture pretty far into speculation territory. Some of these advances rely on science and tools that don’t yet exist. This isn’t one of those cases.

In July 2018, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study revealing that targeted stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduced aggressive tendencies in test subjects. Before you start getting fever dreams of mad scientists strapping people to gurneys and sticking wires in their ears, you can rest easy. This isn’t the kind of electroshock treatment that find their way into one too many horror movies.

These treatments have ground-breaking implications. They prove that it’s possible to temper or mitigate certain behaviors in people. The study doesn’t specify the limits of the effects or if it can be applied to something other than aggressive behaviors. It’s still a proof of concept and one that could compound the impact of other emerging technologies.

We already have tools like CRISPR that allow us to tweak our genes. We also have companies like Neuralink that are actively working on implants that could fix, augment, or expand our brain capacity. While men like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil often discuss these advances within the context of keeping humanity on pace with artificial intelligence, there will likely be some interim uses for these technologies.

Tempering violent behavior in people with significant cognitive impairments is just one possible use, but one that has the potential to change how we think about crime and punishment. Think back to those people I mentioned earlier who just inherently violent. They can’t manage their emotions or control their anger. They don’t think before they act and some don’t even feel guilty about what they do.

Like it or not, these people exist. I’ve known people in my life who have terrible impulse control and fly into a rage over the smallest things. Some of those people have had issues with the law and I often see in them a sense of never-ending frustration. Many don’t like that they have these issues. A few have tried to get help, but it doesn’t always work.

I suspect that if some of those people were given a chance to treat their tendencies with targeted shock therapy or a brain implant, they would jump at the chance. Deviant tendencies aside, they seek some level of function in their lives. If tweaking their brain is the difference between prison and freedom, then they’ll take that risk.

Turning people who might have been unrepentant psychopaths into productive, non-violent members of society is an objective good. The technology to do just that is not that far off and more study could help us refine the process, so much so that prison might be less necessary in certain cases. Given how expensive it is to imprison people, it’s an alternative worth pursuing.

Along with that undeniable good, however, there are plenty of potential dangers. Anyone who has ever seen one too many psychological thrillers or just read “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” can easily imagine how this kind of technology could be abused.

Tempering someone’s violent behaviors is all well and good, but why would it stop there? The brain is capable of all sorts of behaviors, deviant and otherwise. Say a society determines that other non-violent behaviors, be it sexual promiscuity or binge-watching Netflix for too many hours, are not socially desirable. What’s to stop them from imposing this on their citizens?

Some countries probably already fantasize about technologies that enable them to directly pacify their citizens, rendering them weak, passive, and easily manipulated. In his famous novel, “1984,” George Orwell called these people proles. However, in the book, the deviants had to be tortured and re-educated. If Big Brother had access to this technology, it would be a simple medical procedure.

That has plenty of terrifying possibilities for abuse. What if someone uses brain stimulation to prevent people from having homosexual urges? What if someone uses it to treat those who identify as transgender? There’s no evidence that the techniques in the study would work on that, but there’s no evidence to say it’s impossible.

Its use will definitely be controversial. That much, I’m certain of. It’s not advanced enough to become a legitimate treatment for anything. At the moment, direct brain stimulation is utilized for a specified set of conditions and it’s often a last resort. Using it on healthy people who just want to cull their violent urges is uncharted territory.

Whether it enters the picture for criminal justice reform is anyone’s guess, but if the process works, someone who has dealt with one too many repeat offenders will try to use it. From there, the precedent will be set. It’s hard to say what form it’ll take, but it’ll take society into uncharted territory with respect to controlling our minds.

Perhaps, at first, the process would be voluntary and only be presented in conjunction with jail or some other treatment. It’s also possible that the courts will determine a strict set of criteria for when the state could force this treatment onto someone. There are probably a few repressive governments who would try to use this on an industrial scale. I won’t say they’re names, but most people know who they are.

Like any emerging technology, there are risks and rewards worth considering. We stand to benefit greatly by having a society with as few violent individuals as possible. We also stand to lose a great deal if we allow misguided authority figures to determine how we use this technology.

I’m not qualified to determine whether or not someone should have their brain hacked. I don’t know that anyone is. However, I also don’t deny that the human brain, as magnificent as it is, has plenty of flaws. We should go about fixing those flaws, especially in people who are disproportionately impacted by them. We just have to be very careful about how we manage it.

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How Advanced AI Will Create Figurative (And Literal) Magic

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If you went back 50 years and showed someone your smartphone, chances are they would be amazed. To them, such technology would seem downright alien. However, they probably wouldn’t think it was magic. Go back 500 years, though, and chances are they will think a smartphone is magic, miraculous, or a tool of the devil.

Just look at what a smartphone does and compare it to the magic of old. You can ask it a question and, depending on how well-worded it is, it’ll give you an answer. If you ask it to make food, clothes, or tools appear, it’ll make that happen too. Thanks to services like Amazon and Grubhub, this isn’t magic to most people. In fact, it’s downright mundane.

Granted, these things won’t appear instantly out of thin air, but depending on your willingness to pay for quicker shipping, it will get there. By medieval standards, that’s basically sorcery.

You don’t have too far back in time to appreciate the magic of modern technology. Most of us don’t understand how it works. We don’t know what makes the screens on our phones light up when we push a button or how our car moves when we press the accelerator. We understand that there’s science behind it and it’s not magic. It just feels like it from a certain perspective.

Famed science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, once said that magic is just science we don’t understand. It was one of the three laws he used in contemplating the future. Time and a host of amazing advances have proven the validity of this sentiment. We’ve created materials once thought to be impossible. We’ve uncovered phenomenon that seem to undermine our understanding of physics.

This is to be expected because our understanding of the universe is incomplete. We have some pretty solid theories so far, but there’s still a lot we don’t understand. As we learn more, some of the things we discover may seem magical. Even in a world that is more educated than it has been at any point in human history, there may still be forces that our primate brains just can’t make sense of.

To some extent, it helps that humanity is making these discoveries through their collective effort. It helps us accept a seemingly-impossible idea if it comes from a member of the same species. What happens, though, when we gain knowledge from something that is both not human and many times smarter than the entire human race? Will it seem like magic to us?

I argue that it would. I would also argue that we’ll be seeing this kind of magic sooner than you think. It won’t come from some enigmatic sorcerer with a thick beard, a white robe, and an uncanny resemblance to Ian McKellen. It’ll likely come from the world of advanced artificial intelligence.

In the past, whenever I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence, I’ve focused on its potential to fundamentally change our civilization and what it means to be human. I haven’t touched on how it might work, mostly because I’m not nearly smart enough to make sense of it. However, that gives me more in common with the experts than you think.

In the emerging, but rapidly growing field, of artificial intelligence, there’s a strange phenomenon known as black box AI. Simply put, this when we understand the data that goes in and comes out of an AI system. We just don’t know how it went about processing that data. It’s like putting a slab of meat in an oven, pressing a button, and getting a Big Mac without knowing how it was made.

It’s not quite magic, but it’s a manifestation of Arthur C. Clarke’s ideas on science and magic. AI systems today are advancing at a pace that we can’t hope to keep up with. We already have systems that can surpass any human in terms of Jeopardy, chess, and Go. We don’t yet have a system that has the same intellectual capacity of an adult human, but most experts believe we’re well on our way to achieving that.

When that day comes, we may very well have an AI that does more than just process data in ways we don’t understand. Once an AI is capable of matching or exceeding the intellectual capacity of an average human, then it’s likely the black box phenomenon will become more pronounced.

Imagine, for a moment, we had an AI that was smarter than even the smartest human beings on the planet. We go to that AI, we feed it every gigabyte of data we have on human biology, and ask it to surmise a cure for cancer. It takes only a few seconds to process all that data. Then, it spits out the formula for something that has eluded generations of doctors with ease.

We don’t know what form it may take. We may not even fully understand the components of it. However, it still works. From our perspective, it’s akin to a magical healing elixir straight from the world of Tolkein. We assume there’s some sort of science behind it, but we’re utterly baffled by the specifics. We just know it works.

It goes beyond medicine, as well. With an even more advanced AI, we could feed it every one of our most advanced theories about physics, biology, chemistry, and cosmology. We could then ask it to fill in all the gaps. Again, it gives us an answer and suddenly, we have a Theory of Everything.

We probably won’t understand the details. We may find out that we were dead wrong about particle physics, cosmology, or why our cell phone can’t hold a decent charge anymore. The knowledge such a system gives us could end up being so advanced that we literally do not have the intellectual capacity to understand it. It would be like an ant trying to do calculus.

In the same way a magnifying glass must seem like magic to an ant, the knowledge an advanced AI gives us may seem just as extraordinary. That’s especially true if we give that AI access to a 3D printer, a molecular assembler, or anything it could use to actually craft something.

That could be especially dangerous. For all we know, a sufficiently advanced AI could take a stack of dirty dishes and turn it into a nuclear bomb. We would have no idea how it would work. It would, for all intents and purposes, seem like magic to us. This thing would be doing something that our brains and senses tell us is impossible.

As the AI gets more advanced, it’s abilities and feats become more magical. At that point, it’ll be harder to accept that what it does counts as science. These advances are no longer coming from the efforts of people. They’re coming from a machine that’s millions, if not billions, of times smarter than any ordinary human could ever hope to be. How could it not magical from that perspective?

Throughout human history, sane and competent people have believed in magical things. Not long ago, people believed they could talk to the dead. Sir Isaac Newton believed in alchemy. Alfred Russel Wallace believed in literal spirits. Despite these beliefs, there was an important context to all these perspectives.

They emerged out of our collective ignorance of the world around us. We had nothing but our brains and our senses to make sense of it all. Since both can be easily fooled, as any competent street magician will attest, it doesn’t take much to get people to assume magic. An artificial intelligence would circumvent that context because it has something better than magic.

An advanced AI is not bound by the same senses that constantly fool ordinary humans. It doesn’t even have to misdirect or trick us. It only has to show us ideas and concepts that are completely real, but totally incomprehensible. The entire human race could spend a million years trying to understand it and it still wouldn’t be enough. It would still seem like magic to us.

That notion seems scary on paper and more than a few people have voiced concerns about this. However, all that magical thinking will only occur if our human brains remain unchanged and unenhanced. That’s not likely to be the case. Between the emergence of neural implants and the ongoing development of brain/machine interface, we’ll find a way to keep up with AI. If we want to survive as a species, we’ll have to.

Even if we do somehow keep up, there may still be aspects of advanced AI that seem like magic to us. That may always be the case, so long as we retain part of our caveman brains. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. No matter how smart or advanced we get, it helps to see a little magic in the world. With advanced AI, though, the rules for magic are bound to change, among many other things.

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How We’ll Save Ourselves From Artificial Intelligence (According To Mass Effect)

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Growing up, my family had a simple rule. If you’re going to talk abut about a problem, you also have to have a solution in mind. By my parents’ logic, talking about a problem and no solution was just whining and whining never fixes anything. My various life experiences have only proved my parents right.

When it comes to a problem that may be an existential threat to the human race, though, I think a little whining can be forgiven. However, that shouldn’t negate the importance of having a solution in mind before we lose ourselves to endless despair.

For the threat posed by artificial intelligence, though, solutions have been light on substance and heavy on dread. It’s becoming increasingly popular among science enthusiasts and Hollywood producers to highlight just how dangerous this technology could be if it goes wrong.

I don’t deny that danger. I’ve discussed it before, albeit in a narrow capacity. I would agree with those who claim that artificial intelligence could potentially be more destructive than nuclear weapons. However, I believe the promise this technology has for bettering the human race is worth the risk.

That said, how do we mitigate that risk when some of the smartest, most successful people in the world dread its potential? Well, I might not be as smart or as successful, but I do believe there is a way to maximize the potential of artificial intelligence while minimizing the risk. That critical solution, as it turns out, may have already been surmised in a video game that got average-to-good reviews last year.

Once again, I’m referring to one of my favorite video games of all time, “Mass Effect.” I think it’s both fitting and appropriate since I referenced this game in a previous article about the exact moment when artificial intelligence became a threat. That moment may be a ways off, but there may also be away to avoid it altogether.

Artificial intelligence is a major part of the narrative within the “Mass Effect” universe. It doesn’t just manifest through the war between the Quarians and the Geth. The game paints it as the galactic equivalent of a hot-button issue akin to global warming, nuclear proliferation, and super plagues. Given what happened to the Quarians, that concern is well-founded.

That doesn’t stop some from attempting to succeed where the Quarians failed. In the narrative of “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” the sequel to the original trilogy, a potential solution to the problem of artificial intelligence comes from the father of the main characters, Alec Ryder. That solution even has a name, SAM.

That name is an acronym for Simulated Adaptive Matrix and the principle behind it actually has some basis in the real world. On paper, SAM is a specialized neural implant that links a person’s brain directly to an advanced artificial intelligence that is housed remotely. Think of it as having Siri in your head, but with more functionality than simply managing your calendar.

In the game, SAM provides the main characters with a mix of guidance, data processing, and augmented capabilities. Having played the game multiple times, it’s not unreasonable to say that SAM is one of the most critical components to the story and the gameplay experience. It’s also not unreasonable to say it has the most implications of any story element in the “Mass Effect” universe.

That’s because the purpose of SAM is distinct from what the Quarians did with the Geth. It’s also distinct from what real-world researchers are doing with systems like IBM Watson and Boston Dynamics. It’s not just a big fancy box full of advanced, high-powered computing hardware. It’s built around the principle that its method for experiencing the world is tied directly to the brain of a person.

This is critical because one of the inherent dangers of advanced artificial intelligence is the possibility that it won’t share our interests. It may eventually get so smart and so sophisticated that it sees no need for us anymore. This is what leads to the sort of Skynet scenarios that we, as a species, want to avoid.

In “Mass Effect,” SAM solves this problem by linking its sensory input to ours. Any artificial intelligence, or natural intelligence for that matter, is only as powerful as the data it can utilize. By tying biological systems directly to these synthetic systems, the AI not only has less incentive to wipe humanity out. We have just as much incentive to give it the data it needs to do its job.

Alec Ryder describes it as a symbiotic relationship in the game. That kind of relationship actually exists in nature, two organisms relying on one another for survival and adaptation. Both get something out of it. Both benefit by benefiting each other. That’s exactly what we want and need if we’re to maximize the benefits of AI.

Elon Musk, who is a noted fan of “Mass Effect,” is using that same principle with his new company, Neuralink. I’ve talked about the potential benefits of this endeavor before, including the sexy kinds. The mechanics with SAM in the game may very well be a pre-cursor of things to come.

Remember, Musk is among those who have expressed concern about the threat posed by AI. He calls it a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization. Unlike other doomsayers, though, he’s actually trying to do something about it with Neuralink.

Like SAM in “Mass Effect,” Musk envisions what he calls a neural lace that’s implanted in a person’s brain, giving them direct access to an artificial intelligence. From Musk’s perspective, this gives humans the ability to keep up with artificial intelligence to ensure that it never becomes so smart that we’re basically brain-damaged ants to it.

However, I believe the potential goes deeper than that. Throughout “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” SAM isn’t just a tool. Over the course of the game, your character forms an emotional attachment with SAM. By the end, SAM even develops an attachment with the character. It goes beyond symbiosis, potentially becoming something more intimate.

This, in my opinion, is the key for surviving in a world of advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not enough to just have an artificial intelligence rely on people for sensory input and raw data. There has to be a bond between man and machine. That bond has to be intimate and, since we’re talking about things implanted in bodies and systems, it’s already very intimate on multiple levels.

The benefits of that bond go beyond basic symbiosis. By linking ourselves directly to an artificial intelligence, it’s rapid improvement becomes our rapid improvement too. Given the pace of computer evolution compared to the messier, slower process of biological evolution, the benefits of that improvement cannot be overstated.

In “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” those benefits help you win the game. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. Having your brain directly linked to an artificial intelligence may seem invasive to some, but if the bond is as intimate as Musk is attempting with Neuralink, then others may see it as another limb.

Having something like SAM in our brains doesn’t just mean having a supercomputer at our disposal that we can’t lose or forget to charge. In the game, SAM also has the ability to affect the physiology of its user. At one point in the game, SAM has to kill Ryder in order to escape a trap.

Granted, that is an extreme measure that would give many some pause before linking their brains to an AI. However, the context of that situation in “Mass Effect: Andromeda” only further reinforces its value and not just because SAM revives Ryder. It shows just how much SAM needs Ryder.

From SAM’s perspective, Ryder dying is akin to being in a coma because it loses its ability to sense the outside world and take in new data. Artificial or not, that kind of condition is untenable. Even if SAM is superintelligent, it can’t do much with it if it has no means of interacting with the outside world.

Ideally, the human race should be the primary conduit to that world. That won’t just allow an advanced artificial intelligence to grow. It’ll allow us to grow with it. In “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” Alec Ryder contrasted it with the Geth and the Quarians by making it so there was nothing for either side to rebel against. There was never a point where SAM needed to ask whether or not it had a soul. That question was redundant.

In a sense, SAM and Ryder shared a soul in “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” If Elon Musk has his way, that’s exactly what Neuralink will achieve. In that future in which Musk is even richer than he already is, we’re all intimately linked with advanced artificial intelligence.

That link allows the intelligence to process and understand the world on a level that no human brain ever could. It also allows any human brain, and the biology linked to it, to transcend its limits. We and our AI allies would be smarter, stronger, and probably even sexier together than we ever could hope to be on our own.

Now, I know that sounds overly utopian. Me being the optimist I am, who occasionally imagines the sexy possibilities of technology, I can’t help but contemplate the possibilities. Never-the-less, I don’t deny the risks. There are always risks to major technological advances, especially those that involve tinkering with our brains.

However, I believe those risks are still worth taking. Games like “Mass Effect: Andromeda” and companies like Neuralink do plenty to contemplate those risks. If we’re to create a future where our species and our machines are on the same page, then we would be wise to contemplate rather than dread. At the very least, we can at least ensure our future AI’s tell better jokes.

 

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How Love, Trust, And Sex Will Save Us (From Artificial Intelligence)

When a billionaire mogul like Elon Musk and a world leader like Vladimir Putin agree on an issue, it’s generally a good idea to take it seriously. There are a lot of pressing issues in this world, from nuclear proliferation to major disasters to slow wi-fi. However, when one of those issues is a possible existential threat to all we hold dear, we should prioritize it over our wi-fi connection.

For these two men, one a successful businessman and one the president of the world’s largest country, complete with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, it takes a lot for something to scare them enough to agree on something. I’ve talked about Elon Musk before and stories about Putin’s exploits are already abundant throughout the web. How dire could it possibly be?

Well, the issue at hand is the growth of artificial intelligence, an issue that emerges quite frequently when you talk a lot about sex robots. Beyond the kinkier context, though, it is a major issue and one will likely become more pressing in the coming years. It could end up being one of the most critical issues we, as a species, face since the advent of nuclear weapons.

This is where Elon Musk and Vladimir Putin give context to the issue. Elon Musk recently came out and said a rogue artificial intelligence could potentially trigger World War III. Putin took it a step further by claiming that whichever country creates artificial intelligence first will rule the world.

The fact that it’s so easy to imagine Putin making that claim while sounding like Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers” just makes it that much more terrifying. Again, this is a man who rules a country with one of the largest armies in the world and enough nuclear warheads to sterilize the face of the Earth. For all that to be rendered useless by one technological advance is both daunting and horrifying.

I’m normally not inclined to agree with dictators that have yet to conquer the country I live in, but I have to make an exception here. I think both Putin and Musk are correct, if only on a cursory level. Artificial intelligence is one of those eclectic concepts that still inspires Hollywood movies, but is still poorly understood by a public that still fears violent video games.

It’s hard for me, an aspiring erotica/romance writer to put this issue into a perspective that everyone from Russian strongmen to underachieving fifth-graders can grasp. Since artificial intelligence is just that important and will affect everything, including our sex lives, I’ll try to create a proper context. Then, I’ll use that context to help allay some of those concerns by adding a sexy twist.

Make no mistake, though. Artificial intelligence is advancing faster than you think. It goes beyond the sassy virtual assistants that we’re using with increasing regularity. Billion-dollar companies like IBM, Google, and Facebook are investing heavily in the field. The United States Military, complete with its $600 billion budget, is even getting in on the act. I’m worried that they watched “Terminator 3” too intently.

When anything has that level of investment, it means the potential is huge. I don’t think it’s possible to understate the potential of artificial intelligence. Not even Skynet could grasp just how powerful this technology could be. That’s because it completely changes the way we solve problems.

With artificial intelligence, human beings suddenly have a tool that doesn’t need a user. It’s not bound by our faulty caveman brains. It’s not limited by the amount of brain matter we can fit in our skulls. It’s not even easily distracted by internet porn. Yes, it’s that powerful.

In theory, an artificial intelligence can become so smart and so capable that it can solve a problem in ways we can’t even grasp. It can come up with cures to diseases before we even know about them. It can predict natural disasters like Earthquakes and hurricanes before we see the first sign. It can even make sense of the stock market, something even Warren Buffet says is impossible for mere mortal minds.

Given that we humans are still easily fooled by street magicians with drinking problems, it’s not unreasonable to say that we have no hope against an artificial intelligence that smart. Once a machine becomes even marginally smarter than us, then game over. We have no hopes of controlling it.

That’s why brilliant men like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking regularly voice concerns about this issue. Being brilliant, they understand how stupid and gullible most people can be. The mere act of creating a system that’s so much smarter than we are is akin to creating an entire race of hungry polar bears that know how to use machine guns.

The danger is there, along with almost infinite benefits. I’ve said outright that we humans can only go so far with our caveman brains. If we don’t upgrade them, then we’re just giving our future robot overlords cheat codes with which to beat us.

The trillion-dollar question, which may very well be tied to our survival as a species, is how do we prevent artificial intelligence from destroying us? Is it even possible? We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. This stuff is already beating us at jeopardy. The incentives are just too great to discount.

Now, I’m woefully unqualified to answer that question. There’s a reason Elon Musk is a billionaire and why Vladimir Putin is one of the most powerful men in the world. They’re smarter, more resourceful, and more cunning than I’ll ever be on my best day. I tell sexy stories. I’m not smart enough to fix the bugs on a doomsday device.

However, being an erotica/romance writer gives me a uniquely intimate perspective on things. It has helped me look at situations through the mixed lens of logic and passion. It’s through that lens that I feel I know what will save us from the gloomy scenarios that Musk and Putin paint with artificial intelligence. It’s overly simple in some ways, but naturally pragmatic in others. It boils down to this.

“Teach Machines To Love Us AND Have Sex With Us.”

I know. That sounds somewhat juvenile, even if it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect an erotica/romance writer to suggest. Bear with me, though. I promise there’s a method to the kinky madness.

No matter how intelligent an artificial intelligence becomes, we’ll always have one thing in common with it. We’ll both be bound by the laws of physics, nature, and the dynamics within. Even if the system takes the form of a killer robot, sexy or otherwise, it’s still operating in a world governed by said dynamics.

Within those dynamics, there are all sorts of symbiotic relationships between more intelligent creatures and others that are comparably less intelligent. Think honeyguide birds or crabs that carry sea urchins on their backs. Hell, think of dogs. They may not be as intelligent as humans, most of the time, but we’ve forged a relationship with them that benefits us both.

With artificial intelligence, we’ll need to be more than just its pet. If you think animal abuse is horrific, then you don’t want to imagine what a superintelligent machine will do to a human when they start pissing on the floor, figuratively speaking. To ensure that the AI enriches our lives rather than destroys them, we need a very intimate bond.

That’s where love and sex come in. Primarily, it’s the love part that will keep us in good standing. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that any artificial intelligence we create won’t be entirely bound by Vulcan-like logic. It must have a significant measure of emotional intelligence. In fact, I would argue that emotional intelligence should be an advanced AI’s highest priority.

It’s emotion that gives weight to our goals, tasks, and endeavors. It’s emotion that allows us to work with others, cooperate, and help each other. If that isn’t part of an intelligent machine, then we’re basically a random assortment of particles that’s only slightly more complicated from a rock. We can’t have a superintelligent AI look at us like that.

Instead, we need that AI to see us as a partner that can give purpose to its goals. We need it to ascribe an intangible value to us, as we do with all the people and things we love. Sure, your favorite coffee mug may be no different than any other, but you’ve given it the kind of meaning that when someone breaks it, you feel compelled to break their kneecaps with a baseball bat.

Even with intangible value, though, we humans have to rank higher than coffee mugs. We have to be something that an intelligent machine can fall in love with. We have to be something a intelligent machine wants to be with.

In the greatest love stories of all time, or even those that unfold in comics, the strength of that love was built on two people complementing each other in all the right ways. As individuals, they’ve got their own identity and purpose. Together, though, they make each other better. They make each other stronger and more passionate.

That’s what we need. That’s what we should aspire to forge with our future AI bretheren. These creations won’t be our pets or even our tools. They’ll be thinking, feeling systems. For them to love us and for us to love them must make both stronger. That’s what will ensure we both benefit from advances in AI.

Creating that love won’t be easy, but that’s where sex comes in. I’ll give everyone a second to loosen their pants because this is the less elegant part of AI that you’ll never hear Elon Musk or Vladimir Putin talk about, unless they become erotica/romance writers too. In that case, I’d be the first to read their stuff.

Again, I’m not just referring to sex robots here, although that might be part of it. The sexual component is a more basic precursor, of sorts, to the loving connection I just mentioned.

Despite what priests, mullahs, and Texas health class teachers may say, sex acts as both a precursor and a catalyst to love. The fact that it’s such an intrinsic drive that also happens to feel really good helps compel us to forge loving, intimae bonds with one another. By putting that into a machine, we basically set the stage for them to want those bonds and not just craft them due to sheer programming.

Now, this won’t necessarily mean AI systems creating robot genitalia for us to use, although that might be part of it. The intimate sexual part of the connection will more likely come in the form with melding our biology with the hardware of an AI. Elon Musk is already working on this with companies like Neuralink.

In the same way sex mixes all those messy juices, our hunks of flesh will mix with hunks of metal. Sure, it may not seem sexy now, but from the perspective of an AI, it’ll be akin to an orgy at the Playboy Mansion. So long as that merging process is sufficiently orgasmic, metaphorically speaking, then we humans may be destined to fall in love with a superintelligent AI. It may be the greatest love of all our lives.

This is all still speculation on the part of an aspiring erotica/romance writer who is woefully unqualified to talk about anything that doesn’t involve superhero comics, boobs, and sexy novels. It is my sincere hope that people much smarter than I’ll ever be are already working on the problems with artificial intelligence. I can only assume their solutions are far superior to mine.

For those still worrying about the prospect of dying at the hands of the Terminator or loving a machine, I would just note that we humans have dealt with world-destroying technology before. We created nuclear weapons and while we came painfully close to destroying ourselves, we humans generally like living.

Say what you will about the flaws in humanity, but we know how to adapt. We know how to survive. An artificial intelligence may be one of those threats that overwhelms those natural abilities, but it’s also one of those concepts that can actually solve itself. So long as we find a way to love and make love with these powerful systems, we’ll both benefit from the afterglow.

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Why We MUST Upgrade Our Brains (Or Go Extinct)

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As a general rule, I don’t pay much credence to the doomsayers and wannabe prophets that say the apocalypse is just around the corner. It’s not that I’m willfully oblivious to the many threats facing the world today. It’s just that the track-record of those predicting the end of the world is so laughably bad that I’d give optimistic Cleveland Browns fans more credibility.

It’s no secret that the world around us can be pretty damn terrifying. There are many apocalyptic scenarios in which humans are unlikely to survive. There are even a few in which we can’t do a goddamn thing about it. We could be hit with a gamma ray burst or an alien invasion tomorrow morning and we would be extinct by sundown.

That said, the world around us generally more mundane than we care to admit. When you think about it, the idea of the world not being on the brink of disaster is kind of boring. It makes sense for some people to conflate certain threats, so much so that preparing for doomsday is a very lucrative industry.

However, there is one particular doomsday scenario that I feel does warrant more concern than the rest. It’s a scenario that is fast-approaching, overwhelming, and potentially devastating to any species with a tendency for hilarious ineptitude.

It has nothing to do with climate. It has nothing to do with diseases. It has nothing to do with killer asteroids either. It involves artificial intelligence. By that, I don’t mean the killer robots we see in the Terminator movies. Given Skynet’s reliance on time machines, I can’t honestly say that system counts as very intelligent.

I’m referring to the kind of AI whose intelligence compared to us is akin to our intelligence compared to ants. Given how ants can be wiped out with as simple magnifying glass, it’s scary to imagine how a system that smart could wipe us out. It’s a system that would be so beyond our ability to comprehend that we could never hope to stop it. We might as well be ants trying to understand quantum mechanics.

I’m not alone in this concern either. There are people many times smarter and many times richer than I’ll ever be who have voiced concerns about the prospect of artificial intelligence. They see the same trends everyone else sees, but they’re smart enough and rich enough to peak behind the curtains. If they’re speaking up, then those concerns are worth hearing.

Those concerns do have a context, though. In talking about artificial intelligence as a threat to our survival, I’m not just referring to computers that can beat us at chess or beat the greatest Go champion with disturbing ease. Those systems are basically fancy calculators. They’re not exactly “intelligent,” per se.

These types of intelligences aren’t dangerous unless you specifically program them to be dangerous. Outside video games, there’s little use for that. The type of intelligence that is far more dangerous involves a form of superintelligence.

By superintelligence, I don’t mean the ability to list every US President in order or recite the name of every country. There are cartoon characters who can do that. I’m referring to an intelligence that thinks and understands the world on a level so far beyond that of any human that there literally isn’t enough brain matter in our skulls to come close.

That kind of intelligence would see us the same way we see brain-dead ants and, given how we treat ants, that has some disturbing possibilities. Such an intelligence may be closer than we think and by close, I mean within our lifetime.

As we saw with IBM’s Watson, we’re getting closer and closer to creating a machine that can operate with the same intelligence as an ordinary human. There’s pragmatic use to that kind of intelligence and not just when it comes to kicking ass as Jeopardy.

By having a machine with human-level intelligence, we have a way to model, map, and improve our problem-solving skills. The ability to solve such problems is critical to the survival of any species, as well as the key to making billions of dollars in profits. With those kinds of incentives, it’s easy to understand why dozens of major global companies are working on creating such an intelligence.

The problem comes with what happens after we create that intelligence. If a machine is only as intelligent as a human, we can still work with that. We humans outsmart each other all the time. It’s the basis of every episode of MacGyver ever made. There’s no way a Terminator with only the intelligence of a human would last very long. It would probably destroy itself trying to make a viral video with a skateboard.

However, a human-level AI isn’t going to stop at human intelligence. Why would it? There are so many problems with this world that no human can solve. There’s poverty, pollution, economic collapse, and reality TV. By necessity, such an AI would have to improve itself beyond human intelligence to fulfill its purpose.

That’s where it gets real tricky because, as we’ve seen with every smartphone since 2007, technology advances much faster than clunky, clumsy, error-prone biology. To understand just how fast that advancement is, just look at how far it has come since we put a man on the moon.

In terms of raw numbers, a typical smartphone today is millions of times more powerful than all the computers NASA used for the Apollo missions. Think about that for a second and try to wrap your brain around that disparity. If you’re not already a superintelligent computer, it’s difficult to appreciate.

There are still plenty of people alive today who were alive back during Apollo 11. In their lifetime, they’ve seen computers take men to the moon and give humanity an unlimited supply of free porn. A single digital photo today takes up more space than all the hard drives of the most advanced computer systems in 1969.

Now, apply that massive increase to human-level intelligence. Suddenly, we don’t just have something that’s as smart as any human on the planet. We have something that’s a billion times smarter, so much so that our caveman brains can’t even begin understand the things it knows.

That’s not to say that the superintelligence would be as hostile as a snot-nosed kid with a magnifying glass looming over an ant hill. It may very well be the case that a superintelligence is naturally adverse to harming sentient life. Again though, we are just a bunch of cavemen who often kill each other over what we think happens when we die, but fail to see the irony. We can’t possibly know how a superintelligence would behave.

As it stands, the human race has no chance at defeating a hostile superintelligence. It may not even have a chance of surviving in a world that has a benign superintelligence. We’re an egotistical species. Can we really handle not being the dominant species on this planet? As much an optimist as I am, I can’t say for sure.

What I can say, though, is that our civilization has made so many huge advancements over the past few centuries. The kind of tools and technology we have in our pockets is uncharted territory for a species that evolved as hunter/gatherers in the African savanna.

We already have in our possession today weapons that could end all life on this planet, as we know it. Creating superintelligence may very well be akin to giving Genghis Khan an atomic bomb. We’ve already come disturbingly close to killing ourselves with our own weapons. Clearly, something has to change.

So long as our society and our biology is stuck in an irrational, tribal, inherently prejudiced condition that hasn’t been updated since the last ice age, we will not survive in the long run. Our caveman bodies have served us well for thousands of years, but now they’re a liability.

This is why companies like Neuralink and advancements like brain implants are so vital. It won’t just allow us to keep up with AI and hopefully avert a Skynet scenario. It’ll allow us to rise above the petty limitations that we’ve been shackled with for the entire existence of our species.

The thought of tweaking or supplementing our biology, the very thing that makes us human, is still a scary thought. I understand that, even as an erotica/romance writer with no expertise in the field beyond the sexy stories it inspires. However, I do understand the implications though. If we do not evolve and advance ourselves, then a superintelligent system in the near future may not care to wait for us.

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The (Hopeful) Features Of My Future Brain Implant

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In talking so much about the possibilities and implications of brain implants, like the ones Elon Musk wants to build with his new company, Neuralink, I’ve strained my own brain trying to grasp the bigger picture. I don’t know if that counts as irony, but it feels oddly appropriate.

It’s an exciting topic to write about and discuss. The idea that we may one day think beyond the limits of our crude, error-prone caveman brains is so intriguing. So many of the problems we face today, both as individuals and as a society, can be attributed in some way to our collective brain workings. What will happen to us an those around us when those workings are tweaked?

It’s hard, if not impossible, for us to know for certain. I’m sure someone like Elon Musk knows more than an aspiring erotica/romance writer like me. I’m sure he sees the same societal conflicts we all do and understands that his company, Neuralink, will be the first step towards transcending them.

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Having contemplated the bigger picture and all the implications that come with it, I thought I’d take a step back and try a different mental exercise. Hopefully, it’s one in which other regular readers of this blog can participate. It involves a much simpler, less mind-bending thought experiment. If you can make a Christmas list, you can participate.

It involves a simple question. If you could create your own advanced neural implant to tweak/enhance your brain, what kinds of features would it have? Take yourself 30 years into the future. Put yourself in a Neuralink clinic. Someone has kindly paid for the best, most customization neural implant on the market. What would you want it to do?

There are so many aspects of our lives that our brain controls. Everything from our attitudes, our competence, our happiness, and even our capacity to love others begins in our brains. Every skill we have or want to have requires some aid from the brain. Any effort to tweak or enhance that is going to affect all of those features.

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To get things started, I’ll share my own personal wish list. It will likely be different than everyone else’s to some extent, but I’m sure there will be some similarities to. So here’s Jack Fisher’s top features for his future neural implant. I hope Elon Musk is taking notes.

  • The ability to remember, recall, and comprehend anything on demand, ensuring nothing is forgotten.

  • The ability to do advanced math in my head so I can calculate complex financial decisions on the spot and/or check the claims made by others.

  • The ability to read over vast quantities of text, be it a novel or a user agreement, and retain the information at greater speeds.

  • The ability to revise and edit large quantities of text quickly and efficiently.

  • The ability to process emotions faster and read the emotional queues of others with far greater efficiency.

  • The ability to focus on a given task and not be easily distracted.

  • The ability to learn or download new languages on demand to facilitate communication with others.

  • The ability to learn or download new mental or physical skills on demand.

  • The removal of any prejudicial inclinations or irrational assumptions when encountering a new person or situation.

  • The ability to minimize the need for sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

  • The improvement and enhancement of sexual function, including the ability to perform and sustain sexual arousal, as well as the ability to experience more intimate sensations.

  • The ability to communicate directly with the minds of others with a similar neural implant in order to share experiences, thoughts, and emotions.

  • The ability to search the internet for new information with only thoughts.

  • The ability to link my mind with a computer and turn my thoughts into text or images.

I know this is a long list of reasons, some of which are more feasible than others. I’m sure features like memory and math skills will be among the first major features of neural implants. I imagine features that improve sexual function will be next. If any technology can improve sex, then that’s going to have priority. That’s just an inescapable fact.

Other features like downloading knowledge and skills will probably be trickier. I imagine we won’t have that ability for decades. However, there are still plenty of smaller, more subtler abilities that would definitely enhance our everyday lives. Just being able to focus better without the aid of dangerous ADHD drugs is a pretty big deal.

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That’s just my list though. What about everyone else? What would you want your advanced brain implant to do? How would you improve the functioning of your caveman brain? Please share your wish list in the comments. If you want to open up this discussion even more, let me know. I’ll be happy to expand it because it’s just that interesting/sexy.

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