Elon Musk’s neural lace project: AI defense, or AI surrender?
There’s a fairly obvious contradiction contained in Elon Musk’s strategy for protecting us from becoming slaves to artificial intelligence.
He’s certain that the way to avoid becoming AI’s “house cats,” as he’s fond of putting it, is to inject an artificial intelligence mesh — a “neural lace” — that would mold itself to the brain, creating a hard-wired connection between biological neurons and digital computers. (Musk’s partners say more details on the project will be released early next week.) [Note: The update has been put off until the week of April 10.]
Forgive me for thinking that this seems more of a surrender to the AI threat than a defense against it. I’m reminded of the famous line from the old comic strip Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us.
Musk is essentially proposing to resist AI’s imposition on human independence by accelerating AI’s imposition on human intelligence. If the AI threat involves machines becoming so smart that they take over human control, what’s to keep them from taking over the neural lace? And “house cats” hysteria aside, isn’t the risk of becoming more cyborgian than we already are the AI threat we should really be worried about anyway?
That one of the best-known technologists of our time would propose developing more technology to solve a problem created by technology isn’t surprising. This is the technologist’s answer to pretty much everything. The most egregious example is geoengineering. We can fix the catastrophe technology has inflicted on the natural order of the planet, we’re told, by further applying our technological genius to repair the natural order of the planet.
Again, forgive me, but I have my doubts. The application of every powerful technology creates unintended consequences. Global warming and artificial intelligence are two of the most consequential examples of that fundamental rule. I’ll take Elon Musk’s (and Bill Gates’, and Stephen Hawkings’) word for it that artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to the future of humankind. I’ll take the word of the scientific community that global warming poses an equally decisive threat.
A question, then, for the technologists: Have you ever considered the possibility of applying less technology?
Originally published on The Question Concerning Technology, April 5, 2017.