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Human AI Symbioses

Neuralink is on the way to create the ultimate brain computer interface to establish a symbioses of humans with Artificial Intelligence. Image credit: Neuralink

I listened to an interview to Elon Musk, watch the clip, where he was asked about his new venture, Neuralink, objective.

The journalists asked if he was aiming at implanting a chip in our brain that would enable the transfer of knowledge to from the brain.

Elon Musk said yes, but he was smiling at the same time. To me it was clear that he did not believe the assertion that one could download a brain on a computer nor do the reverse, upload content in a brain. But I guess, that would be a catchy idea to the lay public.

Indeed the brain is soft and hard at the same time (if you like the parallel with a computer and its software). You cannot take just the soft part nor you can download on the brain the soft part. To download knowledge in a brain you would need to change the hardware, its dendrites and synapses AND the molecules they contain plus the ones that circulate outside of the cells. It is their ensemble that makes the brain what it is.

You can influence the way the brain works (we are already doing that both using drugs and electrical/magnetic stimulation) and for sure in the next decades as we will understand more about the brain we will be able to increase the influence. In the long term we might even be able to design a better brain (assuming we can define what we mean by that) brain by tweaking the genome (I do not see this technically feasible in the first part of this century) but I am quite certain that the download of knowledge on a brain is out of the question.

What I really liked about the interview was the idea of Elon Musk that the real objective was the creation of a symbioses between the brain and the cyberspace, making it possible to complement the brain intelligence with the artificial intelligence we can develop in the cyberspace. Even more important, he said that such a symbioses is the only answer we can have to the ever growing intelligence of machines. If we want to avoid the risk of being overwhelmed by that artificial intelligence we need to enter into a symbioses with machines.

This is an idea and a goal that the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative shares (read the second White Paper just published) and that is expressed in several application domains, from industry to health care from research to education.

It is also something that can be achieved in small incremental steps, the first of which, I bet, will leverage on augmented reality. The future might see (in a few cases) the use of implanted chips but not on the brain, rather on our senses to make artificial intelligence seamless (although mediated by the senses).

I might even go as far as seeing a future where drugs and chips may be used in combination to foster synesthesia, as an example implant a chip to stimulate the hearing nerve termination with sounds coding information and having a drug to foster a synesthesia in the brain so that the visual cortex of the brain, rather than the auditory area of the brain processes those sounds into images. We are in a fuzzy area between science and science fiction but I can live with this. At least, in principle, this would be feasible.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.