This Summer Elon Musk demonstrated the first working model of Neuralink – a technological device that promises to merge human and artificial intelligence.
The South African-born technology guru has warned that once AI achieves true ‘general intelligence’ that equals our own, its first act will be to create a new and more advanced intelligence that will be far superior to us.
Once that happens, he warns, we will be become endangered and irrelevant in the same way that humans drove other primates to the margins.
Musk said: "When a species of primate, homo sapiens, became much smarter than other primates, it pushed all the other ones into a very small habitat… So there are very few mountain gorillas and orangutans and chimpanzees, [and] monkeys in general."
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But cyber security expert Jason Lau warns that we shouldn’t rush to hotwire our brains, because once hackers learn how to access the Neuralink technology they could cause problems we couldn’t even begin to understand.
Mr Lau, Chief Information Security Officer for Crypto, says that hackers could rob wealthy individuals by controlling their thoughts, hijack elections or even – in a nightmare scenario – turn masses of people into drone armies.
Writing for Forbes, he said: “Autopilot software features in cars have already resulted in deaths; imagine what a hacked army of sentient beings could do.”
Professor Sophie Scott, a leading neuroscientist and Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow at University College London, questions if we even need to stick wires in our brains to expand our minds.
“AI is useful and powerful, she tells the Daily Star, but there are tricks the human brain pulls all the time that mean our brains are not just powerful AI machines.
"For example", she says, "if I take a photo of the BT tower it always looks much smaller in the photo, relative to its surroundings, than it does ‘in real life.’
“Our visual system makes the more interesting things seem larger. So AI is great for pattern recognition but that’s not the only thing our brains do.”
She is sceptical, too, of the idea that having access to vast amounts of computer memory will somehow make humans smarter.
“There is no known limit to human memory capacity,” she says, and points out that the first human who had the idea of making a mark on a stick to record how many cattle they had was already outsourcing their memory.
Our memories no longer just live in our brains, Professor Scott says, but in books, computers, and on all manner of recording devices.
The idea that computer interfaces might make the human race telepathic – enabling us to share our thoughts via the internet – is a bit of a long shot.
Sophie says: “Which thoughts would be shared? There is an argument that says our conscious thoughts are more like reports on what our brain has just done, and most of what our brain is doing we are not aware of.
“And where are the thoughts?” Professor Scott adds. “They’re distributed over wide networks in the brain.
Where Neuralink might have a value, she predicts, is in expanding the capabilities on people who have suffered strokes and other neurological problems that have left them paralysed.
However the problem is that brains don’t work like machines. And increasingly, it looks as if machines will never look like brains.
The “early adopters” that sign up for Neuralink might be sorely disappointed.
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