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Elon Musk thinks humans need to become cyborgs or risk irrelevance

Human beings are in danger of being eclipsed by artificial intelligence and need to evolve the ability to communicate directly with machines or risk irrelevance, Elon Musk said in a typically heartwarming speech from everyone’s favorite billionaire technologist.

“Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,” Musk told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai, where he also launched Tesla in the United Arab Emirates, according to CNBC. “It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”

To be sure, the idea of human-computer symbiosis is not a new idea. Fifty-seven years ago, psychologist and computer science pioneer J.C.R. Licklider wrote expansively on the theory of “cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers.” His prescient vision helped influence a generation of scientists and engineers.

“The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly,” Licklider wrote in his seminal 1960 work Man-Computer Symbiosis, “and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”

Today, the idea of human-machine symbiosis conjures up images of military technology like the F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System, or maybe something more relatable like the Oculus Rift. (Coincidentally, Musk made his comments on the day the new Ghost in the Shell trailer came out. The movie, based on the popular manga and anime, envisions a future where human brains are replaced with cybernetic parts.)

Musk’s use of “bandwidth,” though, is most intriguing because you can apply it to future human brain-machine user experiences. Musk explained that machines communicate in “a trillion bits per second” and humans, who mainly communicate by typing on a smartphone, are limited to just 10 bits per second. “Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem,” he said.

In Musk’s mind, the human mind needs to evolve to be able to access information quickly and tap into artificial intelligence. How do we do this exactly? Not sure, but don’t worry because Musk is probably working on a cool solution. (Fingers crossed it’s not those uncomfortable-looking Borg suits from Star Trek.)

He contextualized his comments by noting how human drivers are increasingly at risk of being replaced by autonomous cars. Self-driving vehicles are great for safety, he said. “But there are many people whose jobs are to drive. In fact I think it might be the single largest employer of people … Driving in various forms. So we need to figure out new roles for what do those people do, but it will be very disruptive and very quick.”

If this kind of equal-parts-intriguing-and-terrifying digression by Musk sounds familiar, you may remember a couple of months ago when the Tesla and SpaceX boss postulated that there was a billion-in-one chance that we are actually living in our base reality instead of a Matrix-style computer simulation. This guy must be a blast at dinner parties.


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