Thwarting Human Limitation
On September 6th, 2018, Joe Rogan hosted a podcast/YouTube video called "Joe Rogan Experience #1169 - Elon Musk". It quickly rocketed past 5 million views and upon writing this it's wrapping up on my 2nd monitor.
The video is, quite simply, awe-inspiring. In the 2 hours and 37 minutes that this video is composed of, Joe Rogan did an absolutely masterful job of conducting the conversation and composing the questioning to allow Elon Musk to flow naturally from thought to thought and give an insight to a man who's mind is simply on another level.
Amazing too, was the effortless calm that Elon Musk portrayed despite the fact that three major companies hinder on this one man's personality in all things PR. One slip of the tongue from the inventor of PayPal (Musk) that registers as bad enough could potentially bankrupt Space X, Tesla and the Boring Company. After all, this isn't American politics: You can't confess to public sexual assault and become president regardless where real money and business is concerned. The stakes are high.
Despite that, there are a few particularly interesting ideas that Musk expanded on that he had only hinted at before. The most exciting one to me, is the idea and subsequent development of the aptly-named "Neuralink".
By any measure, human progress in the past century is an astonishing feat. We've progressed from horse and carriage to literal rocketships, and now we're bordering on the emergence of real-life transport drones that require no license, no expertise and are as easy to fly from A to B as a video game.
But none of this compares to the fact that we are now all carrying around an infathomably convenient encyclopedia of limitless information in our pockets, all day, every day. Our grandparents could only dream of such privilege in their youth. So why do we seem to be getting stupider with each passing day as a species?
It's not the ability to attain information. That's easier than ever before. It's partially due to the majority of time on human interface devices (phones) being spent on social media - a fact that will be borne out shortly by Apple's new "screen time" feature that I'm sure will be collecting a harrowing amount of data sure to embarass the western civilisation into realising that the vast majority of us are, whether we like to believe it or not, wasting our time on our phone. But more importantly it's because it is harder to learn, remember and retain information than to while away the hours playing Candy Crush.
These days, those of us who have are careful enough to record information we may need in the future struggle with finding a convenient, secure way to store it. Many of us screenshot information we might know we'll need in the future. We save notes of current passwords and forget whether we saved them in DropBox, iCloud, the Notes app, Google Docs, OneDrive or, heaven forbid, on the single notepad that might be lingering around some millenials' parents house collecting dust with a dried up ball-point pen perched on top of it. Remind me; how do I use this again?
More than anything, our human limitation to education, sense and sensibility comes (in my opinion) largely from having too much information on hand at all times. In the back of our minds we believe that there's no fact we can't uncover. No curiousity that can't be instantly sated with a quick Google search or Alexa question. This is a power that no generation before ours has experienced. As a result, as so often happens, absolute power has lead to absolute complacency - and despite having all the worlds answers and glorious, wonderous, unlimited knowledge at our finger tips: we stopped wondering. Curiousity has seemingly died a horrid death amongst the majority of people. We're too busy "Living our best life" and expressing "My Truth" to worry about the troublesome ordeal of improving as a society or uncovering actual truths about the universe to evolve.
But here's the thing: Homosapiens’ actually are smart. Our brains are far more powerful, at this stage, than computers' for most tasks that can't be programmed into algorhythmic calculations. For example: Human's can still recognize faces infinitely quicker in real life and more accurately than a computer, provided the environment doesn’t perfectly suit a computers’ advantage. Human's can sense, somehow, a person's (or animals’) behaviour and mood, and can quickly ascertain what has caused it. Our primal instincts intake, process and distribute information from, and to, our nervous system and musculoskeletal structure at an incredible pace.
Yet computers can calculate mathematical equations that human's could never mentally compute, and they can do it instantaneously. They can maintain cycles of calculations over huge quantities of data and mathematical equations for an indefinite length whereas the human brain needs to rest every couple of hours. In short: computers and human's complement eachothers abilities. This may change with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) - and who knows what will happen if limitations of AI/ML are broken - but we're not quite there yet (although we can't be far off given how much the AI buzz word is thrown around these days).
Still - there's no denying the human mind is an incredibly powerful machine when calculating the sheer raw data and computations happening per second sub-conciously to allow us to interpret information using all 5 senses (that we know of) and develop an outcome accordingly. But being able to consciously intake information and be able to recall and distribute that information at a moments notice is something that human beings will never be able to do on a useful level when compared to a search engine. At least, not from an biologically evolving standpoint. Without some form of technological assistance, we simply don't have the bandwidth through our frontal lobe.
At the moment, we're limited by how fast the internet on our phones is and how cleverly we can Google Search (the 4th language) the answers. But what if we had instant access to the entire internet with just our cognitive thought and processes? What if we had no limitation on long-term storage, and instead could access any form of any available data instantly, whenever we wanted? Taking this a step further - what if we were able to access absolutely unquantifiable amounts of raw processing power in the form of giant server farms that were solely dedicated to enhancing your speed of thought and cognitive abilities using an unlimited, untapped amount of information available on the internet? Basically: What if we had the internet in our heads, and no limit on how to use it?
This is the idea behind "Neuralink". At least, I think that's where the idea is going. It's a new company hinted at in 2016, further teased by Elon Musk in 2017 and now finally a real company with real goals (owned by Mr. Musk of course) in 2018, starting with mitigation of the effects of cognitively degradating diseases. And it's fucking incredible. Of course we're decades, if not a century, off the above idea coming into fruition - and my primary source of frustration in the world is that I'll most likely be dead before I get to experience a lot of what I can see coming around the corner not long after I'm buried - but it's a very real possibility that a few of us fortunate people will get to experience some form of cognitive enhancement hitherto unknown within our lifetime. The rest of us will at least get to read about it when it happens. And for this I am most thankful.
Neuralink is only in it's infancy, and is seeking the best and brightest amongst us to tackle this project. And that fact, if nothing else, provides sanctity to my soul and regenerates my faith in humanity and hope in a world where everything else seems more dismal by the day.