Elon Musk is never shy to share his concerns about artificial intelligence. In August 2014, he tweeted that the technology was “potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Speaking to students from MIT a few months later, Musk expanded on that view, calling AI “our biggest existential threat.”
But Musk talks the talk and walks it. By December 2015 he co-founded the non-profit research company OpenAI in an effort to democratize AI development and advance the technology to humanity’s best benefit. “If you have a button that could do bad things to the world, you don’t want to give it to everyone,” he told Wired.
This week, in a conversation at Recode’s annual Code Conference, Musk shared the tentative idea for something called a “neural lace,” which he imagines could mitigate the risk of humanity becoming something of a pet to superintelligence.
“The solution that seems maybe the best one is to have an AI layer,” he said. “So think, if you have your limbic system, your cortex, and then a digital layer – sort of a third layer, above the cortex – that could work well and symbiotically with you. Just as your cortex works symbiotically with your limbic system, this digital layer would work symbiotically with the rest of you.”
In short, this neural layer would enhance our input-output capabilities, or our ability to process and communicate information. “We’re already cyborgs,” Musk said, echoing the argument that devices like our phones and systems like the Internet grant us superhuman powers in real time. “But the constraint is input-output,” he continued. “We’re I/O bound – particularly output bound.”
Although we’re capable of sensing and integrating tons of input data, we can’t churn out information to the same degree. We can only type and talk so quickly. The neural lace would, in theory, allow us to connect and communicate digitally to overcome our biological limitations.
Musk skirted around the question of whether neural laces would be surgically inserted or bred into the human species, but he did suggest that direct interface with our cortical neurons was necessary, and that this could perhaps be achieved through our veins and arteries that provide paths to our neurons.
Musk didn’t say he was working on neural laces yet, but he did insist that it be done.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t do it, then I think I should do it.”