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From brain implants to super-intelligent humans: are we becoming homo ex machina?

Most people are familiar with the deluge of artificial intelligence (AI) apps that seem designed to make us more efficient and creative. We have apps that accept text prompts and generate art, and the controversial ChatGPT, which raises serious questions about originality, misinformation, and plagiarism.

Despite these concerns, AI is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and intrusive. It’s the latest technology that will do that change our lives irreversibly.

Internet and smartphones were other examples. But unlike those technologies, many philosophers and scientists think that AI could one day reach (or even go beyond) human “thinking.” This capability, coupled with our increasing reliance on AI, is at the root of a concept called futurism “technological singularity.”

This term has been around for a while popularized by the American science fiction writer Vernor Vinge several decades ago.

Today, the “singularity” refers to a hypothetical point in time when the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) – that is, AI with human-level capabilities – is becoming so advanced that it will irreversibly change human civilization.

It would mark the dawn of our machine inseparability. From that moment on we will not be able to live without it without ceasing to function as human beings. But when the singularity comes, will we notice it?

Brain implants as the first phase

To understand why this isn’t the stuff of fairytales, all we have to do is look at the recent advances in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). BCIs are a natural beginning of the singularity in the eyes of many futurists, fusing mind and machine in a way that no other technology has yet been able to do.

Elon Musk’s company neural link is request permission from the US Food and Drug Administration to initiate human trials for its BCI technology. This involves implanting neural connectors into volunteers’ brains so they can communicate instructions by thinking them.

Neuralink hopes to help people with spinal cord injuries walk and the blind to see again. But in addition to these goals, there are other ambitions.

Musk has long said he believes brain implants will allow this telepathic communicationand lead to the co-evolution of man and machine. He argues that unless we use such technology to augment our intellect, we risk being wiped out by super-intelligent AI.

Musk is understandably not for everyone technical expertise. But he’s not the only one predicting massive growth in AI’s capabilities. Surveys show AI researchers overwhelmingly agree AI will achieve human-level thinking within this century. What they disagree on is whether or not this implies awareness, or whether it necessarily means that AI will harm us once it reaches this level.

Another BCI technology company, Synccreated a minimally invasive implant that allowed a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to send emails and surf the Internet with his thoughts.

A patient demonstrates the capabilities of Synchron’s interface.

Synchron CEO Tom Oxley believes brain implants could eventually go beyond prosthetic rehabilitation and completely change the way people communicate. Speak with one TED audiencehe said that maybe one day users could “throw out” their emotions, allowing others to feel what they feel, and “then the brain’s full potential would be unlocked.”

Early successes in BCIs could be regarded as the first stages of a tumble to the postulated singularity, where man and machine become one. This doesn’t have to mean that machines become “conscious” or control us. But integration itself, and our ensuing dependence on it, could change us irrevocably.

It is also worth noting that the startup funding for Synchron partly from DARPAthe research and development division of the United States Department of Defense that helped gift the world the Internet. It’s probably wise to worry about where DARPA puts its investment funds.

Would AGI be friend or foe?

According to Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and former Google innovation engineer, humans with AI-enhanced minds could be thrown onto the highway of evolution — blazing fast forward with no speed limits.

In his 2012 book How to Create a Mind Kurzweil theorizes the neocortex — the part of the brain thought to be responsible for “higher functions” such as sensory perception, emotion, and cognition — is a hierarchical system of pattern recognizers that, if replicated in a machine, could lead to artificial superintelligence.

He predicts that the singularity will be with us by 2045and thinks it can bring about a world of super-intelligent people, perhaps even the Nietzschean “Ubermensch”: one who transcends all worldly limitations to realize their full potential.

But not everyone sees AGI as a good thing. The late, great theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that superintelligent AI could result in the apocalypse. In 2014, Hawking told the BBC

the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. […] It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, would be unable to compete and would become obsolete.

However, Hawking was in favor for BCIs.


Stephen Hawking “speaked” using a computer and speech synthesizer. A patient of ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s disease and motor neuron disease), he lost his voice during a tracheostomy in 1985. Photo: Creative Commons

Connected in a hive mind

Another idea related to the singularity is that of the AI-enabled “hive mind”. Merriam Webster defines a hive mind if

the collective mental activity expressed in the complex, coordinated behavior of a colony of social insects (such as bees or ants) considered to be similar to a single mind controlling the behavior of an individual organism.

A theory has been developed around this phenomenon by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, called Integrated Information Theory (IT). It suggests that we are all moving towards an amalgamation of all minds and all data.

Philosopher Philip Goff explains the implications of Tononi’s concept well in his book Galileo’s mistake:

IIT predicts that if the growth of Internet-based connectivity ever led to the amount of integrated information in society exceeding the amount of integrated information in a human brain, not only would society become aware, but the human brain would become ‘ included’ in that higher. form of consciousness. Brains would no longer be conscious in their own right and would instead become mere cogs in the mega-conscious entity that is society, including its internet-based connectivity.

It is worth noting that there is little evidence that such a thing could ever come to fruition. But the theory raises important ideas about not only the rapid acceleration of technology (not to mention how quantum computing could propel it), but also the nature of consciousness itself.

Hypothetically, one might imagine that if a hive were created, it would mean the end of individuality and the institutions that rely on it, including democracy.

The final frontier is between our ears

Recently OpenAI (the company that developed ChatGPT) has released a blog post reaffirming its commitment to achieving AGI. Others will no doubt follow.

Our lives are algorithmically directed in ways that we often cannot discern and therefore cannot avoid. Many features of a technological singularity promise amazing improvements in our lives, but it is concerning that these AIs are the product of private industry.

They are virtually unregulated and largely dependent on the whims of impulsive “technopreneurs”. more money than most of us combined. Regardless of whether we consider them crazy, naive, or visionary, we have a right to know (and be able to refute) their plans.

If we can rely on recent decades, when it comes to new technologies, we will all have to deal with them.

This article has been republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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