Human-centric AI news and analysis

Elon Musk claims his brain chip can stimulate your pleasure center

Neuralink‘s mission has never quite been clear. We know it’s working on a chip designed to be surgically inserted into the human skull called a brain-computer interface (BCI), but exactly what and who it’s for remains a bit of a mystery.

As best we can tell based on what’s been revealed so far, it’s shaping up to be a terrifying hormone hijacker capable of potentially giving you forced mental orgasms or making you fall in love.

Musk originally said the goal of Neuralink was to produce a BCI so that humans wouldn’t lose their competitive edge to AI. The big idea here is that keyboards and other peripherals aren’t as efficient as a direct thought-to-action interface. So, with a BCI, you could simply think something such as “I want to watch Tiger King” and your phone would just start playing Tiger King on Netflix.

For some reason Musk thinks this is going to help us out if a general AI (a superintelligence) rises up against us.

But the path to jamming spikes in people’s skulls in order to assume control of at least some of their natural motor functions is a bit different than, say, getting permission to build a tunnel under Las Vegas – same concept, different authorities.

That’s probably why Neuralink quickly pivoted to medicine. Musk and company currently claim Neuralink will eventually “solve a lot of brain/spine injuries” and treat mental illnesses and cognitive disorders. He’s claimed it’ll do everything from “solve” autism (autism isn’t a disease or illness, it can’t be cured or solved) to stimulate the brain’s pleasure center.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that humanity’s collective understanding of the human brain and its operations is nowhere near deep enough to support the kind of targeted control Neuralink‘s proposing is even possible… this sounds terrifying.

[Read: Facebook’s brain computer interface will be the instrument of society’s collapse]

In the above tweets, Musk’s proposing conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can be cured through a device that, so far, appears to targeted at the general public. These are incredibly narrow use-cases.

Cognitive disorders such as OCD and diseases such as ALS are “boutique” conditions, meaning they don’t manifest, attack, or respond to treatment the same among affected individuals. In other words: no two people experience these afflictions the same. It’s ridiculous to assume that a device capable of treating either of these two conditions in individuals would also be marketed towards neurologically typical people as well.

Where it gets scary is the idea of an invasive gadget that can potentially control your brain’s hormone receptors sharing a design with a chip designed to communicate with an external source. This feels dangerous.

Any “chip” with physical access to any part of the human brain capable of triggering a dopamine, serotonin, or oxytocin response, for example, would be the mental equivalent of making heroin as readily available as tap water and then assuming nobody would get hurt.

Since we know the BCI won’t be a quantum-computing brain chip (because those don’t exist), it’ll operate using classical binary data constraints, and that means it could potentially be hacked either physically or remotely. And, since it’s invasive, we can also assume that you can’t simply “disconnect” it if a bad actor gains control. Yikes!

To sum up: Elon Musk and Neuralink are designing an invasive brain chip that, according to Musk, will give a computer access to your nervous system, hormone receptors, and other core neurological functions. And they’re hiring engineers with experience building smart phones to help. Let’s hope the world’s collective governments do a better job of regulating this than they have his Autopilot and Full Self Driving features for Tesla automobiles.

The good news here is that, like most of Musk’s pie-in-the-sky endeavors, what he’s promising with Neuralink and what the technological reality of our world says he’ll actually deliver are two completely different things.

  • SpaceX still hasn’t made progress in dealing with deep space radiation, despite Musk’s claims it would be ready for a mission to Mars by 2020.
  • Tesla is no closer to level four or five autonomous driving than BMW or Waymo, despite Musk’s claims he’d have one million robotaxis on the road by the end of 2020.
  • The Boring Company did not in fact revolutionize mass transit by the year 2020 but instead, after years of development, unveiled a regular underground tunnel.

We’re not expecting much out of Neuralink unless it’s ready to either commit to building an invasive medical device aimed at neurology patients, or a non-invasive consumer device. Either way, we should all have more information soon. Musk and Neuralink have a “progress update” scheduled for 28 August.

Published July 22, 2020 — 19:38 UTC