Geopolitical Impact of Elon Musk’s AI “Neuralink”

August 29, 2019 (Gunnar Ulson – NEO) – Elon Musk has recently unveiled during a launching event technology he hopes will link the human mind to computers and eventually, link humans with artificial intelligence.

The technology can be used to help restore function for victims of brain diseases but can also eventually be used in the future as a form of human enhancement.

Forbes would report in a recent article that:

Artificially intelligent brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) may soon become more than fantasy as Musk announced plans to go to human trials with Neuralink by the end of 2020, aiming to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence” and to give people “better access to their brain information in order to repair broken brain circuits,” according to the presentation.

Technology linking the human mind to computers, especially the leveraging of artificial intelligence would be a force multiplier for individuals, businesses, nations and beyond. Its impact on business, society, and politics might be as significant as the emergence and adaptation of computers and the Internet. Some predict it will be many times more significant. 

The company Musk helped co-found, Neuralink, has a working prototype of technology known as a “brain-machine interface” (BMI) and hopes to begin human trials as early as next year.

While Neuralink is not the only company by far working on this technology, Musk’s energy and approach has attracted attention not only to the company itself, but to the concepts and goals the company is pursing.

Potentially “Disruptive” Technology 

This is not the first time Elon Musk has endeavored toward goals that will, if successful, undoubtedly shift or “disrupt” global trends. His electric car company, Tesla, has shaken up the auto industry, prompting entrenched corporate monopolies who sat on electric car technology for decades to finally begin serious efforts to produce and sell electric vehicles.

His aerospace venture, SpaceX, has challenged equally entrenched aerospace corporations who have for decades overcharged corporations and governments for access to space all while impeding human spaceflight.

Both ventures have become the target of coordinated campaigns to undermine Musk’s success and defend the entrenched interests threatened by the swift progress his ventures are making into previously lethargic, exclusive industries. A common theme of these attacks are claims that Musk’s goals are “impossible.”

Industry “insiders” had – for example – claimed attempts by SpaceX to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 launch system under its own power was “not possible,” a 2014 Aviation Week article would report. As of the time of this writing, SpaceX has recovered first stage rockets 44 times and re-flown them 24 times. At least one SpaceX Dragon spacecraft used to resupply the International Space Station has been flown 3 times. 

Thus, as far-fetched and as much as what Neuralink’s goals may seem merely science fiction, considering Musk’s track record, these goals should not only be taken somewhat seriously, government and business leaders as well as policymakers around the world should begin preparing for a world where such goals are realized and become mainstream.

AI: Impending Paradigm Shift

It is easy to dismiss yet-to-be mainstream technology and its implications, yet as history has repeatedly proven, those who come late in adopting and adapting to paradigm-shifting technology can at best expect to lose their competitive edge upon the global stage, and at worse, suffer at the hands and mercy of those who do adopt, adapt to and monopolize such technology.

A sobering example is nuclear weapons. The US monopoly over nuclear power saw atomic bombs dropped not once but twice on the civilian population of Japan in 1945. Until the US monopoly was decisively challenged and disrupted, Washington considered using nuclear weapons again in Korea, against China and even during the Vietnam War.

Artificial intelligence, and the prospect of merging with it as Musk has alluded to during his recent presentation, presents another potential inflection point. Those who find themselves on the wrong side of it stand to lose out significantly.

This has not been lost on various centers of global power.

The Washington DC-based Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has recently rolled out its Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative.

The initiative seeks to bring together technology experts, policymakers and the media to explore the impact AI will have on all aspects of security from more indirect threats to infrastructure, the flow of information and economics, to AI deployed directly on the battlefield in the form of autonomous weapon systems.

CNAS’ early November 2017 Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit included Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. (Google), Andrew Moore of Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Dario Amodei of OpenAI and Dr. Kathleen Fisher of Tufts University’s computer science department.

Together in a series of talks and sessions, the summit discussed the current state of AI, the potential benefits and threats the technology presents and the best way to remain competitive as other nations adopt and develop the technology further.

More recently CNAS would discuss the US President’s “Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.”

Russian media would report regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s understanding of the significance of leading in thesphere of AI that:

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Regarding Beijing’s view on AI, Chinese media would report that:

China unveiled a national artificial intelligence (AI) development plan on Thursday, aiming to build an AI technologically world-leading domestic industry by 2030. 

Released by the State Council, the plan formulates the key strategy for the development of China’s AI industry.

Musk’s Neuralink represents a private business wading into BMIs and eventually linking the human mind to AI, a technology nations around the globe are already racing to adopt, adapt to and dominate. In many ways, Musk’s involvement with Neuralink represents his own personal contribution toward trying to maintain a balance as AI rolls out, as his involvement with OpenAI indicated.

BMIs and AI are individually “scary” enough to many, and when used together even more so. But as history has also proven, technology cannot be indefinitely delayed nor can it be “uninvented.” BMIs like Neuralink’s prototype unveiled recently and the mainstream devices it is poised to lead to, are wake up calls to individuals, businesses and governments around the world to prepare for a future where human intelligence and longevity may drastically increase and the balance of power throughout human society may drastically shift.

We are faced with a choice of waiting to see what the winner of the AI race does with the monopoly it seizes over the rest of humanity, or ensuring a balance of power between individuals, corporations and nations is maintained to prevent the AI equivalent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from ever coming to pass.

This cannot be done by hiding from this technology. It can only be done by embracing it and ensuring it is in our collective hands, rather than in the hands of the few.

Gunnar Ulson, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.