Tag Archives: human enhancement

Texting, Sharing Feelings, And How Neuralink Could Revolutionize Both

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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.

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

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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.

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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 Superhero Movies Are Preparing Us For The Future Of Human Enhancement

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As a kid growing up on a healthy diet of superhero comics, video games, and superhero-themed cartoons that were very much ahead of their time on social issues, I often daydreamed about how awesome it would be to have the same powers as my favorite heroes. As an adult, I still daydream every now and then, often when I’m tired, frustrated, or stuck in traffic.

A major component in the overall appeal of the superhero genre is the wish fulfillment fantasy it embodies. Captain America represents the peak of physical conditioning. Iron Man represents the peak of technological know-how. Superman represents the peak of pretty much every possible feat we can imagine, a few of which are even impossible.

It’s a common fantasy of anyone who ever struggled in gym class or couldn’t open a can of pickles. It is, after all, those moments of struggle that remind us of just how limited we are, as humans. Our bodies are remarkable in so many ways, but they’re still frustratingly frail.

That status, however, may very well change. Unlike every other point in the approximately 200,000 year history of the human species, we’re actively working to transcend the limits of evolution through advances in biotechnology, advances in the treatment of disease, and even the integration of cybernetics into our brains and even our genitals.

Some of these advances are closer than others. Chances are that most people alive today won’t live to see the day when they can shape-shift at will like Mystique or fly around like Iron Man in mech suits designed by Elon Musk’s descendants. However, there may be young children alive today who will live long enough to see such wonders.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. There are people out there much smarter than me who believes that the first functionally immortal person is already alive today. They still might be in diapers, but there is a real chance that by the time they’re as old as I am, they’ll live in a world where things like aging, disease, and not being able to run 13 miles in 30 minutes like Captain America is a thing of the past.

A lot has already changed in the time I’ve been alive. I still remember a time when the idea of computers that could fit into your pocket was seen as too futuristic for some people. It was seen as just a fancy gadget from Star Trek. Given that kind of change, it’s hard to imagine what the next several decades holds for the future of humanity.

That’s where superhero media is helping in unexpected ways, though. To some extent, the modern superhero media of today is doing the same thing “Star Trek” did for previous generations. It doesn’t present a fanciful world where big green men can smash monsters or where a sickly young army recruit can be instantly transformed into the ultimate soldier. It offers a tantalizing vision of what the future could be.

It’s a vision that I believe got muddied between the end of the early “Star Trek” era and rise of modern superhero movies that began with “X-men,” “Iron Man,” and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” Within that gap, events like Watergate, the the Vietnam War, and the rise of less optimistic, much more cynical generations made it very difficult to look forward to a better future.

Modern superhero movies have not eliminated that cynicism, but I believe it has helped tempered it. Optimism, as a whole, is actually on the rise. As bad as some recent headlines have been, some being downright disturbing, there is an increasing sense that the future is not all doom and gloom. We still dare to daydream about a better tomorrow.

More recent superhero movies, especially those that began with “Iron Man” and the emergence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aren’t nearly as fanciful as the old Richard Donner “Superman” movies. They’re not as gritty as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies either. In a sense, this health balance has presented audiences with a world that still feels fanciful, but is also full of possibilities.

The idea that we can use science and biotechnology to turn someone who was once weak and sickly into the pinnacle of strength is not just a product of Jack Kirby’s legendary imagination. There are people working on that as I write this. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we may one day enhance ourselves to the same level as Captain America.

Chances are we won’t even stop there. As I noted earlier, the human body has a lot of flaws. Also, thanks to the painfully slow progress of evolution, it hasn’t been upgraded in over 100,000 years. From our biology’s perspective, we’re still cavemen roaming the African Savannah with spears and rocks. Our bodies need upgrades, especially if we’re to become a space-faring species like the ones in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Some of those upgrades will come sooner than others. The end result, though, will be something far greater than even Captain America’s abilities. Some of those abilities seem impossible now. Remember, though, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of computers in our pockets seemed just as impossible.

This is where, I believe, modern superhero movies are doing a much greater service than just entertaining the masses and making billions of dollars for Disney. Through heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and even “Ant Man,” these movies make the case that such enhancements can do more than just fight invading aliens.

These movies can also help make the case that humanity can use these advancements to become better, as a whole. Characters like Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Scott Lang, and Peter Parker all have the opportunities to be both destructive and productive with their enhanced abilities. At times, they even lapse into destructive tendencies, as we saw with Tony in “Iron Man 3.”

In the end, though, these characters use those enhanced abilities to do good for the world. They’re still human and they still have human flaws, which they don’t even try to hide. However, even with these flaws, they still feel inclined to do good, heroic things with their abilities.

That doesn’t just make for a good superhero narrative. It sends the message that we, as a species, can aspire to do so much good with the advances the future brings. There are still plenty of dangers, both with existing technology and with emerging technologies. The essence of the superhero narrative, though, tells us that we can confront those dangers and come out of it better than before.

That’s an important mentality to have as we move into an era where human enhancement is both possible and common. By believing we can use it to pursue the same heroics as the superheroes in movies like “The Avengers,” we give our species the push it needs to advance in a way that brings out the best in us.

There will still be villains along the way, as plenty of superhero movies show. The fact we still root for the heroes, though, helps reveal where our aspirations reside. With these movies effecting an entire generation of young people, I believe modern superhero movies are doing plenty to prepare them for the future of human enhancement.

With the staggering success of “Avengers: Infinity War,” a movie that has raised the bar for superhero movies of all kinds, the impact of superhero media has never been greater. That impact may very well be the key to preparing the next generation for unprecedented advancements in technology, society, and progress. That, to some extent, might end up being the most heroic thing this genre can do.

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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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The (Uncomfortable) Questions We’ll Have To Answer With Human Enhancement

In general, I tend to be optimistic about the future. I know that seems crazy, given our current political climate, but I try to look beyond the petty grievance’s and focus on the bigger picture. By so many measures, the world is getting better. The human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and we’re only getting better.

A great deal of this improvement is due, largely, to our ability to make increasingly amazing tools. As I type this, countless people who are far smarter than I’ll ever be are working on advances that will keep us healthier, make us smarter, and help us transcend our physical and mental limits by orders of magnitude.

This is all exciting stuff. We should all look forward to a future where we never get sick, we never age, and we have the physical and sexual prowess of an Olympic athlete on meth. The aspiring erotica/romance writer in me is giddy with excitement over the sexy possibilities.

Like all advancements, though, there will be a cost. Even the greatest advancements mankind has ever made in science, technology, and sex have come at a cost. It’s just the nature of the chaotic world we live in. Nothing is ever smooth and easy when there are so many chaotic forces that we can’t always make sense of.

That’s why for some of these advancements, such as CRISPR, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, we have to be extra proactive. We’re not just talking about tools that makes it easier to defend ourselves against a hungry lion. These are tools that will fundamentally change what it means to be human.

They’ll take the caveman logic and tribalism that has guided the human race for its entire existence and throw it out the window. They’ll completely rewrite the rules of human nature, crossing lines and redrawing them in ways that even a kinky mind like mine can’t imagine. It won’t just be an overwhelming transition. For some, it’ll be downright traumatic.

Given that there are over seven billion humans on this planet, there will be a lot of moving parts to this transformation. Before we can even think about taking the first steps in that process, we need to ask ourselves some serious, unsexy questions. As much an optimist as I am, I cannot deny the need for caution here.

That’s why I’ll take a step back, keep my pants out, and ask some of these unsexy questions. I understand this won’t exactly get everyone in the mood, but given the rate at which our technology is advancing, we need to be extra proactive. That way, we can get through the hardest parts of the process and get to the sexy parts.


Uncomfortable Question #1: Who (Or What) Gets To Decide How Much We Enhance Ourselves?

This will probably be the most pressing question once the technology becomes refined enough for the commercial market. Most technology goes through a progression. We saw it with the development of cell phones. At first, only business tycoons and drug lords could afford to use them or even have a use for them, to begin with.

That model might have worked for cell phones. It’s not going to work for something like CRISPR or smart blood. That’s because, unlike cell phones, the poorest and the impoverished are the ones most in need of these tools. They’re also the ones that stand to benefit most, in terms of quality of life.

Historically speaking, though, the government has not treated the poor and impoverished very well. Use the same approach with cell phones and the rich and well-connected will be the only ones to benefit. They’ll also further widen the gap, so much so that they might be even less inclined to share.

That’s why the default answer to this question can’t just be the government or rich business interests. I’m not going to pretend to know who the authority will be or how they’ll even go about distributing these advances to people in a fair and just manner. I just know that our current method will not be sufficient.


Uncomfortable Question #2: How Do We Stop Certain Human Enhancements When They Go Wrong?

When your computer freezes, you reboot it. When the sound on your speakers starts making noises, you turn it off. It’s a beautiful, but underrated thing, having an off-switch. I’m sure we’ve all had people in our lives whom we wish had an off-switch. It’s a necessary fail-safe for a chaotic world that we can’t always manage.

Putting an off-switch on dangerous technology, especially something like artificial intelligence, is just common sense. It would’ve made “The Terminator” a lot shorter and a lot less confusing. With other advancements, especially those involving CRISPR and biotechnology, it’s not as easy as just installing an extra switch.

How do you turn off something that literally rewrites our DNA? How do you stop someone who has grown used to having superhuman abilities, by our standards? That’s akin to asking someone to make themselves sick or hack off a limb because the technology has some side-effects. That’s going to be a tough sell.

Again, I am not smart enough to imagine how a fail-safe for that sort of thing would work. It can’t just rely on blind faith, magical thinking, or whatever other tactic that used car salesmen exploit. It has to be in place and up to speed as soon as this technology goes live.


Uncomfortable Question #3: How Independent/Dependent Will Human Enhancement Make Us?

Smartphones, running water, and free internet porn are great. However, they do require infrastructure. People today are at the mercy of whoever pays their cell phone bill, whoever knows the wifi password, and whoever can stop their toilets from overflowing with shit. To some extent, we all depend on certain institutions to keep our lives and our society going.

In a future of enhanced humans, who have been imbued with traits and abilities that way beyond the scope of our current infrastructure, how dependent or independent can they be in the grand scheme of things?

If they rely on a regular injection of nanobots or need to recharge every other day, then they’re going to have to rely on some form of infrastructure. That may help keep enhanced humans from becoming super-powered Biff Tannens, but it will also give a lot of power to whoever or whatever is supplying those resources.

In a sense, it can’t be one or the other. If enhanced humans are too independent, then they have no reason to interact or aid one another. If they’re too dependent on certain resources, then those controlling those resources become too powerful. There needs to be a healthy balance, is what I’m saying. There will be costs, but we have to make sure that the benefits far outweigh those costs.


Uncomfortable Question #4: How Much Of Our Humanity Do We Keep?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. There’s a lot about the human condition we wish we could change or drop altogether. Personally, I would love to never have to go to the dentist, never have to clip my toe nails, and never have to sleep, which is an advancement that’s closer than you think.

Humanity has has a lot of flaws, which is a big part of what drives the development of these tools. However, there are certain parts about humanity that are worth preserving and I’m not just talking about the health benefits of orgasms. Change too much about our bodies, our minds, and everything in between and we cease to become human. At that point, why even care about other humans?

Maintaining a sense of humanity is what will separate enhanced humans from overpriced machines. Our sense of humanity is a big part of what drives us to live, love, explore, and understand. If we lose that, then we’re basically a very smart rock that’s only interested in maintaining its status as a rock.

To really expand our horizons, we need to preserve the best of humanity. Humans do amazing things all the time that reminds us why humanity is worth preserving. When we start enhancing ourselves, we need to save those traits, no matter what we become.


Uncomfortable Question #5: How Will Society Function In A World Of Enhanced Humans?

We’ve built a good chunk of our society around our inherent flaws, as humans. We form tribes to cooperate and survive in ways we can’t do on our own. We seek leaders who are capable of guiding us to functional, stable society. Granted, sometimes those efforts fail miserably, but the goal is the same.

With human enhancement, the rules aren’t just different. They’re obsolete. So much of our society is built around the idea that we’re still a bunch of cavemen with fancier tools that we really don’t have a concept of how we’ll function beyond that context. We have nation states, national identities, and various tribes to which we bind ourselves.

Those are all still products of our inherent drive towards tribalism. That’s still our default setting, as a species. What happens when we start tweaking those settings? Will things like nation states, government, and social circles even exist? When society is made up of a bunch of superhuman beings who can live forever and never need a sick day, how do we even go about functioning?

This is well-beyond my expertise, as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It may be one of those things we can’t contemplate until after some of these advances take hold. At the very least, we need to put this question at the top of our to-do list when that time comes.


Uncomfortable Question #6: How Will Human Enhancement Affect Our Understanding Of Family And Love?

This is probably the most pressing question for me, as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’ve already highlighted some of the flaws in our understanding of love. Once humanity starts enhancing itself, it may either subvert those flaws or render them obsolete. In the process, though, it may create an entirely new class of flaws to deal with.

What happens to a marriage when the people involved live forever and don’t age? That whole “death do us part” suddenly becomes an issue. What happens when having children is essentially uncoupled from romance, through tools like artificial wombs? What will love even feel like once we start enhancing our brains along with our genitals?

Since all love and passion still starts in the brain, which we’re already trying to enhance, any level of human enhancement will necessarily affect love, marriage, and family. Chances are it’ll take on a very different meaning in a world where marriage is less about tax benefits and more about new forms of social dynamics.

Human enhancement will change a lot about our bodies, our minds, and our genitals. It’ll effect so much more, including how we go about love and family. It’s still impossible to grasp since we’re all still stuck with our caveman brains. However, once that changes, this is just one of many issues we should contemplate if we’re to make the future better, sexier, and more passionate.

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A Drug That Eliminates The Need For Sleep (Is Almost Here)

Whenever I talk about the possibilities of human enhancement, sexy and otherwise, I do so with the hope that the benefits outweigh the costs. I understand that all progress comes at a cost. I also understand that it’s impossible to know the full extent of those costs until the genie is out of the bottle and the bottle is destroyed.

Never-the-less, I still think the risks we take with future technology are worth taking. In fact, I would argue we have to take them because our caveman tendencies towards tribalism and our inherent vulnerability to bullshit is a clear indication that our current situation is not working well enough. We, as a species, need to improve if we’re going to function on this confined planet.

Certain enhancements will do a lot more than others. I’ve mentioned emerging tools like smart blood, brain implants, and CRISPR. It’s impossible to overstate the kind of impact those advances will have on the human condition. They will be akin to giving a light sabre to a chimp.

Other enhancements, however, will have a more subtle effect. They’re also likely to happen sooner, despite Elon Musk’s best efforts. That brings me back to sleep and the annoying need to spend a third of our lives doing it. I’ve already asked people to consider how their life would change if they didn’t have to sleep as much. Well, I have a confession to make. That was kind of a loaded question.

That’s because that, as we speak, there are efforts underway to reduce or eliminate our need to sleep. This is not some far-off fantasy out of a “Star Trek” re-run. This is actually happening, courtesy of DARPA, also known as the Defense Department’s officially-sanctioned mad science division.

However, there’s nothing mad about their motivations. DARPA is in the business of developing obscenely-advanced technology to ensure that the United States Military remains the most technologically advanced military on the planet by an obscene margin. Part of that effort involves developing technology that creates soldiers that don’t have to sleep.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s one of the least weird projects they’ve pursued. This is a department that is researching flying submarines for crying out loud. As awesome/crazy as those concepts are, this potential breakthrough in sleep technology could have implications that go far beyond having soldiers that don’t require a nap.

According to Wired, DARPA’s years of mad science has culminated in the development of a spray that users would apply, just like ordinary nasal spray. The spray contains a naturally-occurring brain hormone called Orexin A, which helps keep the brain in a state of alertness without the aid of heavy stimulates or copious amounts of coffee.

It’s somewhat crude in that it’s basically dumping chemicals into the brain and hoping for the best. That approach is not that different from those of other psychoactive drugs, which are fraught with all kinds of danger. Unlike other emerging technologies, though, this one is already happening. From here, it’s just a matter of refinement.

At the moment, the technology is basic and unrefined, but that’s how all technology starts. Just look at the models of old cell phones. That refinement will occur, though. There’s too much potential profit in it. Between truckers, grade-grubbing college students, and marathon gaming, there are a lot of people out there who would gladly pay to not have to sleep.

Depending on how much it costs, I would certainly jump at the chance to not feel so damn tired on a Monday morning. It would also give me more time and energy to write more sexy novels or explore more sexy issues on this blog. When sleep becomes optional and you have a lot of stuff you want to do, this sort of technology suddenly becomes invaluable.

I doubt I’m the only one whose life would invariably change, due to this technology, and I’m not just talking about hardcore night owls. Think about all the people who work demanding, energy-sapping jobs. These jobs don’t just put a huge premium on sleep. They can be downright damaging. Take away the need to sleep and suddenly, these people can have a life again.

That, in many ways, is the biggest implication of this technology. Suddenly, that third of our lives that we spend sleeping suddenly becomes open to us. Human society may vary wildly across time, space, and sexual practices, but they’re all bound by the same limits. People still need to sleep and rest. What happens to those societies when that changes?

It’s impossible to know, but we may find out soon enough. As we’ve seen before with other popular drugs, once a market is established, people build entirely new lifestyles around it. We saw it already with boner pills. This one may end up being even more groundbreaking and it doesn’t require an awkward conversation with your doctor.

While this is sure to enrich drug companies to no end, it’s also the first step in a much larger process of removing the burden of sleep. Other emerging technologies that I’ve mentioned, such as smart blood and brain implants, will take it a step further.

Theoretically, they could both rewire or augment our biology so that we never need sleep in the first place. There would be no need to take a drug. There would be no need to worry about ever being tired. It may even make it so that other people who have to sleep are pitied the same way we pity those who don’t have high-speed internet.

These kinds of advancements will already enhance so much of the human condition, from cognitive function to mental acuity to sexual prowess. Removing sleep from that equation gives those same enhanced humans even more time to flex their enhancements. It’s hard to know what people will do with that kind of time on their hands, but I imagine some of it will inspire a few sexy novels.

A society full of people who never need to sleep is completely unprecedented. Hell, a society where sleep is entirely optional is unprecedented as well. It wasn’t that long ago that society was at the mercy of the night. Even if you weren’t tired back then, you couldn’t do much when it was pitch black outside. Then, electric lighting came along and freed people to do more with their time.

When technology gives people an opportunity to work around the limits of nature, they generally take it. The consequences or implications are rarely clear, but given how little we think things through, I can’t imagine we’ll hesitate to make this technology part of our culture.

Time will tell. Money will be made. Entirely new lifestyles will emerge. It’s amazing to imagine what we’ll do with ourselves when sleep is no longer an issue. I hope it helps me write more sexy novels. I also hope it helps others live a richer life. Whenever it happens, I look forward to the day when beds are just used for sex and showing off fancy linens.

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