There is a longstanding debate among artificial intelligence experts and futurists: When, not if, AI emerges on the scene, will it help humanity or destroy it? The scenario has played out through innumerable iterations in popular culture, the most popular being The Terminator series. Steven Spielberg, riffing on the film Stanley Kubrick was going to direct before his death, presented the counterpoint, espousing a benevolent vision of AI in A.I. Then there are more nuanced, ambiguous iterations, like the recent Ex Machina.
New advances in algorithmic artificial intelligence, deep learning software, automation, and nanotechnology have made it abundantly clear that Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity may also be not an if, but when. In fact, responding to Kurzweil’s prediction of a cloud-based neocortex in the 2030s, entrepreneur Bryan Johnson of Braintree said, “Oh, I think it will happen before that.”
Johnson’s more recent aspirations involve merging artificial intelligence with humans, a pursuit many would argue is already occurring on a vast scale when it comes to our use of smartphone technology and search engines. Johnson thinks it will soon advance far beyond that.
Citing “neuroprosthetics” like cochlear implants, Johnson envisions BCI (brain-computer interface), a synergistic relationship between the central nervous system and external computing devices. Johnson’s newest theoretical prototype is something called a “neural lace,” which is a mesh that creates a wireless BCI inside the brain that releases certain chemicals as needed by the end user.
A brain-computer interface, in the context of advanced transhumanism and taken to its logical conclusion, is AI/human hybrids.
Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan, who actually just finished running for president, put it more bluntly in an email interview with the Anti-Media. “This idea that we would create an AI on Planet Earth smarter than human beings is asinine. There’s no reason to do that unless we want to slit our own throats,” Zoltan says. “But to use brain implants, neural devices, or EEG headsets to directly connect to a superior artificial intelligence—yes, that is something that I implicitly endorse. We need to become one with the intelligence we create; we need to remain an intrinsic part of it. We must become the machine by merging directly with it—and that’s what a direct interface between human brains and AI should be.”
“When we flick on that ‘on’ switch of the first AI that will be superior to us, we must insist we go along with it for the ride—that we are sitting in the driver’s seat. We can do this. It will take a Manhattan-sized project to make sure we cross all our ‘t’s, but we can do it. We should insist the smartest of us tap directly into AI before it fully launches.
“I see it like the sci-fi movie Contact, where the best contenders to meet an alien species compete for who is the most worthy to be the first one to do it—to represent the human race to another species. I think in the case of launching the first true AI smarter than human beings, we should form an international consortium that will pick the best 12 humans on Planet Earth, and via neural interface, merge them directly with that AI so we can know the best of the human race is with it—is hopefully leading it.”
Are humans irrevocably evolving toward a deeply entwined, existential relationship with artificial intelligence? Many of us could find out in our lifetimes. If Kurzweil, Johnson, Istvan, and more controversial transhumanists like Peter Thiel are correct, those who find out may be able to live indefinitely as AI-human hybrids…if such a life proves satisfying.