Elon Musk joined the parade in 2017 with a company called Neuralink that is, according to Elon, “aiming to bring something to market that helps with certain severe brain injuries (stroke, cancer lesion, congenital) in about four years.” But as Tim Urban, the author of the Wait But Why blog, who was given extensive access to the Neuralink team, explains, “When Elon builds a company, its core initial strategy is usually to create the match that will ignite the industry and get the Human Colossus working on the cause.” Proving that a profitable, self-sustaining business can be created in an untried area is a way to get everyone else piling onto the new opportunity. That is, like Bryan Johnson, Elon’s vision is not just to build a company, but to build a new industry.
In the case of Neuralink, that new industry is a generalized brain-machine interface that would allow humans and computers to interoperate far more efficiently. “You’re already digitally superhuman,” Elon notes, referring to the augmentation that our digital devices already give to us. But, he notes, our interfaces to those devices are painfully slow—typing on keyboards or even speaking aloud. “We should be able to improve that by many orders of magnitude with a direct neural interface.”
These technologies raise questions and fears as profound as any in the world of artificial intelligence. Like other tools of enormous power, they may come into common use through a tumultuous, violent adolescence. Yet I suspect that in the end, we will find ways to use them to make ourselves live longer, happier, more fulfilled lives.
AI is not some kind of radical discontinuity. AI is not the machine from the future that is hostile to human values and will put us all out of work. AI is the next step in the spread and usefulness of knowledge, which is the true source of the wealth of nations. We should not fear it. We should put it to work, intentionally and thoughtfully, in ways that create more value for society than they disrupt. It is already being used to enhance, not replace, human intelligence.
“We’ve already seen chess evolve to a new kind of game where young champions like Magnus Carlsen have adopted styles of play that take advantage of AI chess engines,” notes Bryan Johnson. “With early examples of un-enhanced humans and drones dancing together, it is already obvious that humans and AIs will be able to form a dizzying variety of combinations to create new kinds of art, science, wealth, and meaning.”
Like Elon Musk, Bryan Johnson is convinced that we must use neurotech to directly enhance human intelligence (HI) to make even more effective use of AI. “To truly realize the potential of HI+AI,” he says, “we need to increase the capacity of people to take in, process, and use information, by orders of magnitude.” But even without direct enhancement of human intelligence in the way that Bryan envisions, entrepreneurs are already building on the power of humans augmented by AI.