Other advocates believe that life extension is a more achievable goal in the short term, with immortality awaiting further research breakthroughs. The absence of aging would provide humans with biological immortality, but not invulnerability to death by disease or physical trauma ; although mind uploading could solve that if it proved possible.
Whether the process of internal endoimmortality is delivered within the upcoming years depends chiefly on research and in neuron research in the case of endoimmortality through an immortalized cell line in the former view and perhaps is an awaited goal in the latter case. In religious contexts, immortality is often stated to be one of the promises of God or other deities to human beings who show goodness or else follow divine law.
What form an unending human life would take, or whether an immaterial soul exists and possesses immortality, has been a major point of focus of religion , as well as the subject of speculation and debate. Life extension technologies promise a path to complete rejuvenation. Cryonics holds out the hope that the dead can be revived in the future, following sufficient medical advancements. While, as shown with creatures such as hydra and planarian worms , it is indeed possible for a creature to be biologically immortal , it is not known if it is possible for humans. Mind uploading is the transference of brain states from a human brain to an alternative medium providing similar functionality.
Assuming the process to be possible and repeatable, this would provide immortality to the computation of the original brain, as predicted by futurists such as Ray Kurzweil. The "soul" itself has different meanings and is not used in the same way in different religions and different denominations of a religion. For example, various branches of Christianity have disagreeing views on the soul's immortality and its relation to the body. Alchemists strive to solve the mystery of immortality with the Philosopher's Stone and elixir of life.
They believe through the application of alchemical processes, the physical body can be maintained through Infinity, not dying by any natural diseases, only finding an end through physical destruction of the body. Theoretically if one could stay out of Harm's Way one could live forever. Physical immortality is a state of life that allows a person to avoid death and maintain conscious thought. It can mean the unending existence of a person from a physical source other than organic life, such as a computer. Active pursuit of physical immortality can either be based on scientific trends, such as cryonics , digital immortality , breakthroughs in rejuvenation or predictions of an impending technological singularity , or because of a spiritual belief, such as those held by Rastafarians or Rebirthers.
There are three main causes of death: aging , disease and physical trauma. Aubrey de Grey , a leading researcher in the field,  defines aging as "a collection of cumulative changes to the molecular and cellular structure of an adult organism , which result in essential metabolic processes, but which also, once they progress far enough, increasingly disrupt metabolism, resulting in pathology and death.
Eliminating aging would require finding a solution to each of these causes, a program de Grey calls engineered negligible senescence. There is also a huge body of knowledge indicating that change is characterized by the loss of molecular fidelity. Disease is theoretically surmountable via technology. In short, it is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism, something the body shouldn't typically have to deal with its natural make up.
The mechanisms by which other diseases do damage are becoming better understood. Sophisticated methods of detecting diseases early are being developed. Preventative medicine is becoming better understood. Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's may soon be curable with the use of stem cells. Breakthroughs in cell biology and telomere research are leading to treatments for cancer. Vaccines are being researched for AIDS and tuberculosis. Genes associated with type 1 diabetes and certain types of cancer have been discovered, allowing for new therapies to be developed.
Artificial devices attached directly to the nervous system may restore sight to the blind. Drugs are being developed to treat a myriad of other diseases and ailments. Physical trauma would remain as a threat to perpetual physical life, as an otherwise immortal person would still be subject to unforeseen accidents or catastrophes. The speed and quality of paramedic response remains a determining factor in surviving severe trauma. Being the seat of consciousness , the brain cannot be risked to trauma if a continuous physical life is to be maintained.
This aversion to trauma risk to the brain would naturally result in significant behavioral changes that would render physical immortality undesirable for some people. Organisms otherwise unaffected by these causes of death would still face the problem of obtaining sustenance whether from currently available agricultural processes or from hypothetical future technological processes in the face of changing availability of suitable resources as environmental conditions change.
After avoiding aging, disease, and trauma, you could still starve to death. If there is no limitation on the degree of gradual mitigation of risk then it is possible that the cumulative probability of death over an infinite horizon is less than certainty , even when the risk of fatal trauma in any finite period is greater than zero. Mathematically, this is an aspect of achieving " actuarial escape velocity ". Biological immortality is an absence of aging. Specifically it is the absence of a sustained increase in rate of mortality as a function of chronological age.
A cell or organism that does not experience aging, or ceases to age at some point, is biologically immortal. Biologists have chosen the word "immortal" to designate cells that are not limited by the Hayflick limit , where cells no longer divide because of DNA damage or shortened telomeres.
The first and still most widely used immortal cell line is HeLa , developed from cells taken from the malignant cervical tumor of Henrietta Lacks without her consent in Prior to the work of Leonard Hayflick , there was the erroneous belief fostered by Alexis Carrel that all normal somatic cells are immortal. By preventing cells from reaching senescence one can achieve biological immortality; telomeres, a "cap" at the end of DNA, are thought to be the cause of cell aging. Every time a cell divides the telomere becomes a bit shorter; when it is finally worn down, the cell is unable to split and dies.
Telomerase is an enzyme which rebuilds the telomeres in stem cells and cancer cells, allowing them to replicate an infinite number of times. On the other hand, scientists hope to be able to grow organs with the help of stem cells, allowing organ transplants without the risk of rejection, another step in extending human life expectancy. These technologies are the subject of ongoing research, and are not yet realized.
Life defined as biologically immortal is still susceptible to causes of death besides aging, including disease and trauma, as defined above. Notable immortal species include:. As the existence of biologically immortal species demonstrates, there is no thermodynamic necessity for senescence: a defining feature of life is that it takes in free energy from the environment and unloads its entropy as waste. Living systems can even build themselves up from seed, and routinely repair themselves.
Aging is therefore presumed to be a byproduct of evolution , but why mortality should be selected for remains a subject of research and debate. Programmed cell death and the telomere "end replication problem" are found even in the earliest and simplest of organisms. Some scientists believe that boosting the amount or proportion of telomerase in the body, a naturally forming enzyme that helps maintain the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes , could prevent cells from dying and so may ultimately lead to extended, healthier lifespans.
In normal circumstances, without the presence of telomerase, if a cell divides repeatedly, at some point all the progeny will reach their Hayflick limit. With the presence of telomerase, each dividing cell can replace the lost bit of DNA , and any single cell can then divide unbounded. While this unbounded growth property has excited many researchers, caution is warranted in exploiting this property, as exactly this same unbounded growth is a crucial step in enabling cancerous growth.
If an organism can replicate its body cells faster, then it would theoretically stop aging. Embryonic stem cells express telomerase, which allows them to divide repeatedly and form the individual. In adults, telomerase is highly expressed in cells that need to divide regularly e. Technological immortality is the prospect for much longer life spans made possible by scientific advances in a variety of fields: nanotechnology, emergency room procedures, genetics, biological engineering , regenerative medicine , microbiology , and others.
Contemporary life spans in the advanced industrial societies are already markedly longer than those of the past because of better nutrition, availability of health care, standard of living and bio-medical scientific advances. Technological immortality predicts further progress for the same reasons over the near term. An important aspect of current scientific thinking about immortality is that some combination of human cloning , cryonics or nanotechnology will play an essential role in extreme life extension. Robert Freitas , a nanorobotics theorist, suggests tiny medical nanorobots could be created to go through human bloodstreams, find dangerous things like cancer cells and bacteria, and destroy them.
This supports the theory that we will be able to continually create biological or synthetic replacement parts to replace damaged or dying ones. Future advances in nanomedicine could give rise to life extension through the repair of many processes thought to be responsible for aging. Eric Drexler , one of the founders of nanotechnology , postulated cell repair devices, including ones operating within cells and utilizing as yet hypothetical biological machines , in his book Engines of Creation.
Raymond Kurzweil , a futurist and transhumanist , stated in his book The Singularity Is Near that he believes that advanced medical nanorobotics could completely remedy the effects of aging by Hibbs suggested that certain repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it would, in theory, be possible to as Feynman put it " swallow the doctor ". Cryonics , the practice of preserving organisms either intact specimens or only their brains for possible future revival by storing them at cryogenic temperatures where metabolism and decay are almost completely stopped, can be used to 'pause' for those who believe that life extension technologies will not develop sufficiently within their lifetime.
Ideally, cryonics would allow clinically dead people to be brought back in the future after cures to the patients' diseases have been discovered and aging is reversible. Modern cryonics procedures use a process called vitrification which creates a glass-like state rather than freezing as the body is brought to low temperatures. This process reduces the risk of ice crystals damaging the cell-structure, which would be especially detrimental to cell structures in the brain, as their minute adjustment evokes the individual's mind.
One idea that has been advanced involves uploading an individual's habits and memories via direct mind-computer interface. The individual's memory may be loaded to a computer or to a new organic body. Extropian futurists like Moravec and Kurzweil have proposed that, thanks to exponentially growing computing power, it will someday be possible to upload human consciousness onto a computer system, and exist indefinitely in a virtual environment. This could be accomplished via advanced cybernetics, where computer hardware would initially be installed in the brain to help sort memory or accelerate thought processes.
Components would be added gradually until the person's entire brain functions were handled by artificial devices, avoiding sharp transitions that would lead to issues of identity , thus running the risk of the person to be declared dead and thus not be a legitimate owner of his or her property. After this point, the human body could be treated as an optional accessory and the program implementing the person could be transferred to any sufficiently powerful computer.
Another possible mechanism for mind upload is to perform a detailed scan of an individual's original, organic brain and simulate the entire structure in a computer. What level of detail such scans and simulations would need to achieve to emulate awareness, and whether the scanning process would destroy the brain, is still to be determined.
An uploaded mind would only be a copy of the original mind, and not the conscious mind of the living entity associated in such a transfer. Without a simultaneous upload of consciousness, the original living entity remains mortal, thus not achieving true immortality. Whatever the route to mind upload, persons in this state could then be considered essentially immortal, short of loss or traumatic destruction of the machines that maintained them.
Transforming a human into a cyborg can include brain implants or extracting a human processing unit and placing it in a robotic life-support system. Even replacing biological organs with robotic ones could increase life span e. Some people believe that such modifications would make one impervious to aging and disease and theoretically immortal unless killed or destroyed.
As late as , the editorial staff of the Syntopicon found in their compilation of the Great Books of the Western World , that "The philosophical issue concerning immortality cannot be separated from issues concerning the existence and nature of man's soul. Immortality in ancient Greek religion originally always included an eternal union of body and soul as can be seen in Homer , Hesiod , and various other ancient texts.
The soul was considered to have an eternal existence in Hades, but without the body the soul was considered dead. Although almost everybody had nothing to look forward to but an eternal existence as a disembodied dead soul, a number of men and women were considered to have gained physical immortality and been brought to live forever in either Elysium , the Islands of the Blessed , heaven, the ocean or literally right under the ground.
Some were considered to have died and been resurrected before they achieved physical immortality. Asclepius was killed by Zeus only to be resurrected and transformed into a major deity. In some versions of the Trojan War myth, Achilles , after being killed, was snatched from his funeral pyre by his divine mother Thetis, resurrected, and brought to an immortal existence in either Leuce , the Elysian plains, or the Islands of the Blessed. Memnon , who was killed by Achilles, seems to have received a similar fate. Alcmene , Castor , Heracles , and Melicertes were also among the figures sometimes considered to have been resurrected to physical immortality.
According to Herodotus' Histories , the 7th century BC sage Aristeas of Proconnesus was first found dead, after which his body disappeared from a locked room. Later he was found not only to have been resurrected but to have gained immortality. The philosophical idea of an immortal soul was a belief first appearing with either Pherecydes or the Orphics , and most importantly advocated by Plato and his followers. This, however, never became the general norm in Hellenistic thought. As may be witnessed even into the Christian era, not least by the complaints of various philosophers over popular beliefs, many or perhaps most traditional Greeks maintained the conviction that certain individuals were resurrected from the dead and made physically immortal and that others could only look forward to an existence as disembodied and dead, though everlasting, souls.
The parallel between these traditional beliefs and the later resurrection of Jesus was not lost on the early Christians, as Justin Martyr argued: "when we say Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Zeus.
After going through a bunch of different movements and directions and speeds, a computer takes the data from the electrodes and synthesizes it into a general understanding of which firing patterns correspond to which movement intentions on an X-Y axis. And this actually works. Another quadriplegic woman flew an F fighter jet in a simulation, and a monkey recently used his mind to ride around in a wheelchair.
And why stop with arms? Brazilian BMI pioneer Miguel Nicolelis and his team built an entire exoskeleton that allowed a paralyzed man to make the opening kick of the World Cup. In one video I saw, a woman with numbed fingers tried to light a match, and it was almost impossible for her to do it, despite having no other disabilities. And the beginning of this video shows the physical struggles of a man with a perfectly functional motor cortex but impaired proprioception. So for something like a bionic arm to really feel like an arm, and to really be useful, it needs to be able to send sensory information back in.
Stimulating neurons is even harder than recording them. As researcher Flip Sabes explained to me:. You can compare it to the planets in the Solar System. You can watch the planets move around and record their movements. It turns out that if you reward a monkey with a succulent sip of orange juice when a single neuron fires, eventually the monkey will learn to make the neuron fire on demand.
The neuron could then act as another kind of remote control. This means that normal motor cortex commands are only one possibility as a control mechanism. At first, this would seem odd to the patient—but eventually the brain can learn to treat that signal as a new sense of touch. In these developments are the seeds of other future breakthrough technologies—like brain-to-brain communication. Nicolelis created an experiment where the motor cortex of one rat in Brazil was wired, via the internet, to the motor cortex of another rat in the US. The rat in Brazil was presented with two transparent boxes, each with a lever attached to it, and inside one of the boxes would be a treat.
To attempt to get the treat, the rat would press the lever of the box that held the treat. The Brazil rat had the key knowledge—but the way the experiment worked, the rats only received treats when the US rat pressed the correct lever. If he pulled the wrong one, neither would.
The amazing thing is that over time, the rats got better at this and began to work together, almost like a single nervous system—even though neither had any idea the other rat existed. This has even worked, crudely, in people. Two people, in separate buildings, worked together to play a video game. One could see the game, the other had the controller.
Early BMI type 2: Artificial ears and eyes. There are a couple reasons giving sound to the deaf and sight to the blind is among the more manageable BMI categories. The first is that like the motor cortex, the sensory cortices are parts of the brain we tend to understand pretty well, partly because they too tend to be well-mapped. And while the motor cortex stuff was mostly about recording neurons to get information out of the brain, artificial senses go the other way— stimulation of neurons to send information in.
On the ears side of things, recent decades have seen the development of the groundbreaking cochlear implant. What we think of as sound is actually patterns of vibrations in the air molecules around your head. This causes those nerves to fire a pattern of action potentials that send the code into your auditory cortex for processing. When vibrations enter the fluid in the cochlea, it causes thousands of tiny hairs lining the cochlea to vibrate, and the cells those hairs are attached to transform the mechanical energy of the vibrations into electrical signals that then excite the auditory nerve.
The cochlea also sorts the incoming sound by frequency.
A cochlear implant is a little computer that has a microphone coming out of one end which sits on the ear and a wire coming out of the other that connects to an array of electrodes that line the cochlea. So sound comes into the microphone the little hook on top of the ear , and goes into the brown thing, which processes the sound to filter out the less useful frequencies.
The electrodes filter the impulses by frequency just like the cochlea and stimulate the auditory nerve just like the hairs on the cochlea do. This is what it looks like from the outside:. In other words, an artificial ear, performing the same sound-to-impulses-to-auditory-nerve function the ear does. Check out what sound sounds like to someone with the implant. Not great.
Most cochlear implants have about Like this baby, whose reaction to hearing for the first time is cute. Blindness is often the result of a retinal disease. When this is the case, a retinal implant can perform a similar function for sight as a cochlear implant does for hearing though less directly. It performs the normal duties of the eye and hands things off to nerves in the form of electrical impulses, just like the eye does. A more complicated interface than the cochlear implant, the first retinal implant was approved by the FDA in —the Argus II implant, made by Second Sight.
The retinal implant looks like this: The retinal implant has 60 sensors. The retina has around a million neurons. But seeing vague edges and shapes and patterns of light and dark sure beats seeing nothing at all. Dating back to the late s, deep brain stimulation is yet another crude tool that is also still pretty life-changing for a lot of people.
What happens here is one or two electrode wires, usually with four separate electrode sites , are inserted into the brain, often ending up somewhere in the limbic system. Then a little pacemaker computer is implanted in the upper chest and wired to the electrodes. Like this unpleasant man: The electrodes can then give a little zap when called for, which can do a variety of important things.
It looks like this:. He decides that some specific change in the world will increase the likelihood of humanity having the best possible future. He knows that large-scale world change happens quickest when the whole world—the Human Colossus—is working on it. So when Elon builds a company, its core initial strategy is usually to create the match that will ignite the industry and get the Human Colossus working on the cause. This, in turn, Elon believes, will lead to developments that will change the world in the way that increases the likelihood of humanity having the best possible future.
But you have to look at his companies from a zoomed-out perspective to see all of this. If you look at history, this makes sense—behind each of the greatest revolutions in human progress is an engineering breakthrough. A match. And when I started trying to figure out what Neuralink was all about, I knew those were the variables I needed to fill in.
As I understood it, a whole-brain interface was what a brain-machine interface would be in an ideal world—a super-advanced concept where essentially all the neurons in your brain are able to communicate seamlessly with the outside world. Paul told me his field was called neuromorphic, where the goal is to design transistor circuits based on principles of brain architecture. DJ Seo , who while at UC Berkeley in his mids designed a cutting-edge new BMI concept called neural dust —tiny ultrasound sensors that could provide a new way to record brain activity.
When it comes to neuroscience, Elon has the least technical knowledge on the team—but he also started SpaceX without very much technical knowledge and quickly became a certifiable rocket science expert by reading and by asking questions of the experts on the team. I asked Elon about how he brought this team together. Because it was such a cross-disciplinary area, he looked for cross-disciplinary experts. And you can see that in those bios—everyone brings their own unique crossover combination to a group that together has the rare ability to think as a single mega-expert.
Elon also wanted to find people who were totally on board with the zoomed-out mission—who were more focused on industrial results than producing white papers. Not an easy group to assemble. But there they were, sitting around the table looking at me, as it hit me 40 seconds in that I should have done a lot more research before coming here. They took the hint and dumbed it down about four notches, and as the discussion went on, I started to wrap my head around things. Throughout the next few weeks, I met with each of the remaining Neuralink team members as well, each time playing the role of the dumbest person in the room.
In these meetings, I focused on trying to form a comprehensive picture of the challenges at hand and what the road to a wizard hat might look like. I really wanted to understand these two boxes:. The first one was easy. The business side of Neuralink is a brain-machine interface development company. We are aiming to bring something to market that helps with certain severe brain injuries stroke, cancer lesion, congenital in about four years.
The second box was a lot hazier. It seems obvious to us today that using steam engine technology to harness the power of fire was the thing that had to happen to ignite the Industrial Revolution. But if you talked to someone in about it, they would have had a lot less clarity—on exactly which hurdles they were trying to get past, what kinds of innovations would allow them to leap over those hurdles, or how long any of this would take. The starting place for a discussion about innovation is a discussion about hurdles—what are you even trying to innovate past?
Pew recently conducted a survey asking Americans about which future biotechnologies give them the shits the most. It turns out BMIs worry Americans even more than gene editing: To a scientist, to think about changing the fundamental nature of life—creating viruses, eugenics, etc. History supports this prediction. People were super timid about Lasik eye surgery when it first became a thing—20 years ago, 20, people a year had the procedure done. Then everyone got used to it and now 2,, people a year get laser eye surgery.
Similar story with pacemakers. And defibrillators. And organ transplants—which people at first considered a freakish Frankenstein-esque concept. Brain implants will probably be the same story. Flip weighed in on this topic too:. Being able to read it out is an engineering problem. Which then, ironically, will teach us about the brain. As Flip points out:. Then this scientific progress can lead to more engineering progress. The engineering and the science are gonna ratchet each other up here.
Tesla and SpaceX are both stepping on some very big toes like the auto industry, the oil and gas industry, and the military-industrial complex. But two challenges stand out as the largest—challenges that, if conquered, may be impactful enough to trigger all the other hurdles to fall and totally change the trajectory of our future. There have never been more than a couple hundred electrodes in a human brain at once. When it comes to vision, that equals a super low-res image.
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When it comes to motor, that limits the possibilities to simple commands with little control. Early computers had a similar problem. Then in came the integrated circuit—the computer chip. Until the 90s, electrodes for BMIs were all made by hand. Then we started figuring out how to manufacture those little electrode multielectrode arrays using conventional semiconductor technologies. Currently, we seem to be somewhere in between. Ian Stevenson and Konrad Kording published a paper that looked at the maximum number of neurons that could be simultaneously recorded at various points throughout the last 50 years in any animal , and put the results on this graph: Once that happens, a million neurons will follow.
This is a major topic at Neuralink. On top of being both a major barrier to entry and a major safety issue, invasive brain surgery is expensive and in limited supply. Making BMIs high-bandwidth alone would be a huge deal, as would developing a way to non-invasively implant devices. But doing both would start a revolution. Neuralink plans to work on devices that will be wireless.
But that brings a lot of new challenges with it. Which means the implant also has to take care of things like signal amplification, analog-to-digital conversion, and data compression on its own. Oh and it needs to be powered inductively. Another big one—biocompatibility. Delicate electronics tend to not do well inside a jello ball. And the human body tends to not like having foreign objects in it. But the brain interfaces of the future are intended to last forever without any problems. This means that the device will likely need to be hermetically sealed and robust enough to survive decades of the oozing and shifting of the neurons around it.
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So further miniaturization is another dramatic innovation to add to the list. And just say all of this comes together perfectly—a high-bandwidth, long-lasting, biocompatible, bidirectional communicative, non-invasively-implanted device. Now we can speak back and forth with a million neurons at once! But I bet the telephone and the car and the moon landing would have seemed like insurmountable technological challenges to people a few decades earlier.
Just like I bet this—. And yet, there it is in your pocket. People always underestimate the Human Colossus. That shift is what the Neuralink team will try to figure out. Other teams are working on it too, and some cool ideas are being developed:. A team at the University of Illinois is developing an interface made of silk: Silk can be rolled up into a thin bundle and inserted into the brain relatively non-invasively.
There, it would theoretically spread out around the brain and melt into the contours like shrink wrap. On the silk would be flexible silicon transistor arrays. In his TEDx Talk , Hong Yeo demonstrated an electrode array printed on his skin, like a temporary tattoo, and researchers say this kind of technique could potentially be used on the brain: Another group is working on a kind of nano-scale, electrode-lined neural mesh so tiny it can be injected into the brain with a syringe: For scale—that red tube on the right is the tip of a syringe. Extreme Tech has a nice graphic illustrating the concept:.
Other non-invasive techniques involve going in through veins and arteries. A second DARPA project aims to fit a million electrodes into a device the size of two nickels stacked. Another idea being worked on is transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS , in which a magnetic coil outside the head can create electrical pulses inside the brain. Right nearby, above the pia, would be a 3mm-sized device that could communicate with the dust sensors via ultrasound.
This is another example of the innovation benefits that come from an interdisciplinary team. And you can easily see the multi-field influence in how it works: Others are working on even more out-there ideas, like optogenetics where you inject a virus that attaches to a brain cell, causing it to thereafter be stimulated by light or even using carbon nanotubes —a million of which could be bundled together and sent to the brain via the bloodstream. Developments will begin to happen rapidly. Brain interface bandwidth will get better and better as the procedures to implant them become simpler and cheaper.
Public interest will pick up. And when public interest picks up, the Human Colossus notices an opportunity—and then the rate of development skyrockets. I tried to get the Neuralink team to talk about with me. I wanted to know what life was going to be like once this all became a thing. I also focused a large portion of my talks with Elon on the far future possibilities and had other helpful discussions with Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist friend of mine who works on BMIs and thinks a lot about the long-term outlook.
He recommended I talk to Ramez Naam, writer of the popular Nexus Trilogy , a series all about the future of BMIs, and also someone with a hard tech background that includes 19 software-related patents. So I had a chat with Ramez to round out the picture and ask him the remaining questions I had about everything. And I came out of all of it utterly blown away. Which got me thinking about the concept of how many years one would need to go into the future such that the ensuing shock from the level of progress would kill you.
Ever since the Human Colossus was born, our world has had a weird property to it—it gets more magical as time goes on. And because advancement begets more rapid advancement, the trend is that as time passes, the DPUs get shorter. For George Washington, a DPU was a couple hundred years, which is outrageously short in the scheme of human history. But we now live in a time where things are moving so fast that we might experience one or even multiple DPUs in our lifetime.
Anyway, I think about DPUs a lot and I always wonder what it would feel like to go forward in a time machine and experience what George would experience coming here. What kind of future could blow my mind so hard that it would kill me? I think I might finally have a descriptive picture of a piece of our shocking future. Let me paint it for you. The budding industry of brain-machine interfaces is the seed of a revolution that will change just about everything. Then came electricity and the pace picked up. Then phones became cordless. Then mobile. Computers went from being devices for work and games to windows into a digital world we all became a part of.
Then phones and computers merged into an everything device that brought the magic out of our homes and put it into our hands. And on our wrists. The magic is heading into our brains. A whole-brain interface would give your brain the ability to communicate wirelessly with the cloud, with computers, and with the brains of anyone with a similar interface in their head.
This flow of information between your brain and the outside world would be so effortless, it would feel similar to the thinking that goes on in your head today. The first meaning gets at the idea of physical brain parts. We discussed three layers of brain parts—the brain stem run by the frog , the limbic system run by the monkey , and the cortex run by the rational thinker. The wizard hat interface, then, would be our tertiary layer—a new physical brain part to complement the other two.
We already have a digital tertiary layer in a sense, in that you have your computer or your phone or your applications. You can ask a question via Google and get an answer instantly. You can access any book or any music. With a spreadsheet, you can do incredible calculations. If you had an Empire State building filled with people—even if they had calculators, let alone if they had to do it with a pencil and paper—one person with a laptop could outdo the Empire State Building filled with people with calculators.
You can video chat with someone in freaking Timbuktu for free. You can record as much video with sound as you want, take a zillion pictures, have them tagged with who they are and when it took place. You can broadcast communications through social media to millions of people simultaneously for free. We feel like humans who use devices to do things. Digital you is fully you—as much as in-person you is you—right? The difference is the medium. We use these devices every time we talk to each other in person. It goes:. Then we built upon that with another leap, inventing a second layer of devices, with its own medium, allowing us to talk long distance:.
All of these things are simply tools to move thoughts from brain to brain—so who cares if the tool is held in your hand, your throat, or your eye sockets? The digital age has made us a dual entity—a physical creature who interacts with its physical environment using its biological parts and a digital creature whose digital devices—whose digital parts —allow it to interact with the digital world.
And when you think of it like that, you realize how obvious it is to want to upgrade the medium that connects us to that world. This is the change Elon believes is actually happening when the magic goes into our brains:. The thing that would change is the interface—having a high-bandwidth interface to your digital enhancements. And in fact, output has gone backwards. It used to be, in your most frequent form, output would be ten-finger typing. We should be able to improve that by many orders of magnitude with a direct neural interface.
A whole-brain interface is that upgrade. It changes us from creatures whose primary and secondary layers live inside their heads and whose tertiary layer lives in their pocket, in their hand, or on their desk—. A wizard hat makes your brain into the device, allowing your thoughts to go straight from your head into the digital world. But in a wizard hat world, it would look more like this:. If information were a milkshake, bandwidth would be the width of the straw.
Today, the bandwidth-of-communication graph looks something like this:. So computers can suck up the milkshake through a giant pipe, a human thinking would be using a large, pleasant-to-use straw, while language would be a frustratingly tiny coffee stirrer straw and typing let alone texting would be like trying to drink a milkshake through a syringe needle—you might be able to get a drop out once a minute.
Moran Cerf has gathered data on the actual bandwidth of different parts of the nervous system and on this graph, he compares them to equivalent bandwidths in the computer world:. There are a bunch of concepts in your head that then your brain has to try to compress into this incredibly low data rate called speech or typing. And this is very lossy as well. This makes sense—nuance is like a high-resolution thought , which makes the file simply too big to transfer quickly through a coffee straw.
The coffee straw gives you two bad options when it comes to nuance: take a lot of time saying a lot of words to really depict the nuanced thought or imagery you want to convey to me, or save time by using succinct language—but inevitably fail to transfer over the nuance. Compounding the effect is the fact that language itself is a low-resolution medium. A word is simply an approximation of a thought—buckets that a whole category of similar-but-distinct thoughts can all be shoved into. But compared to the richness and uniqueness of the ideas in our heads, and the large-bandwidth straw our internal thoughts flow through, all human-to-human communication is very lossy.
Thinking about the phenomenon of communication as what it is—brains trying to share things with each other—you see the history of communication not as this:. It really may be that the second major era of communication—the ,year Era of Indirect Communication—is in its very last moments. We might be living on the line that divides timeline sections. And because indirect communication requires third-party body parts or digital parts, the end of Era 2 may be looked back upon as the era of physical devices.
In an era where your brain is the device, there will be no need to carry anything around. One thing to keep in mind as we think about all of this is that none of it will take you by surprise. But there are thousands of people currently walking around with electrodes in their brain, like those with cochlear implants, retinal implants, and deep brain implants—all benefiting from early BMIs. The next few steps on the staircase will continue to focus on restoring lost function in different parts of the body—the first people to have their lives transformed by digital brain technology will be the disabled.
It could help with people who are quadriplegics or paraplegics by providing a neural shunt from the motor cortex down to where the muscles are activated. And as interface bandwidth improves, disabilities that hinder millions today will start to drop like flies. The concepts of complete blindness and deafness—whether centered in the sensory organs or in the brain 31 —are already on the way out. And with enough time, perfect vision or hearing will be restorable.
Advanced BMIs could help restore that bridge or serve as a new one. While this is happening, BMIs will begin to emerge that people without disabilities want. The very early adopters will probably be pretty rich. But so were the early cell phone adopters. As mobile phones got cheaper, and better, they went from new and fancy and futuristic to ubiquitous. As we go down the same road with brain interfaces, things are going to get really cool. The timeline is uncertain, including the order in which the below developments may become a reality. But some version of a lot of this stuff probably will happen, at some point, and a lot of it could be in your lifetime.
Looking at all the predictions I heard, they seemed to fall into two broad categories: communication capabilities and internal enhancements. Like many future categories of brain interface possibility, motor communication will start with restoration applications for the disabled, and as those development efforts continually advance the possibilities, the technology will begin to be used to create augmentation applications for the non-disabled as well. The same technologies that will allow a quadriplegic to use their thoughts as a remote control to move a bionic limb can let anyone use their thoughts as a remote control…to move anything.
But in the Wizard Era, lots of things will be built that way. Your car or whatever people use for transportation at that point will pull up to your house and your mind will open the car door. People will play the piano with their thoughts. And do building construction. And steer vehicles. When you watch a movie, your head is buzzing with thoughts—but do you have a compressed spoken word dialogue going on in your head? Thought conversations will be like that.
If I were to communicate a concept to you, you would essentially engage in consensual telepathy. Even weirder is the concept of a group thinking together. This is what a group brainstorm could look like in the Wizard Era. This group could have been in four different countries while this was happening—with no external devices in sight.
Ramez has written about the effect group thinking might have on the world:. That type of communication would have a huge impact on the pace of innovation, as scientists and engineers could work more fluidly together. The idea of collaboration today is supposed to be two or more brains working together to come up with things none of them could have on their own. He assured me they would not. You can also think with a computer.
Not just to issue a command, but to actually brainstorm something with a computer. You and a computer could strategize something together. You could compose a piece of music together. One concern that comes up when people hear about thought communication in particular is a potential loss of individuality. Would this make us one great hive mind with each individual brain as just another bee?
Almost across the board, the experts I talked to believed it would be the opposite. We could act as one in a collaboration when it served us, but technology has thus far enhanced human individuality. Think of how much easier it is for people today to express their individuality and customize life to themselves than it was 50 or or years ago. It would take a lot of words for you to even have an approximation of what that bouquet of flowers looks like. How much faster could a team of engineers or architects or designers plan out a new bridge or a new building or a new dress if they could beam the vision in their head onto a screen and others could adjust it with their minds, versus sketching things out—which not only takes far longer, but probably is inevitably lossy?
How many symphonies could Mozart have written if he had been able to think the music in his head onto the page? How many Mozarts are out there right now who never learned how to play instruments well enough to get their talent out? I watched this delightful animated short movie the other day, and below the video the creator, Felix Colgrave, said the video took him two years. How much of that time was spent dreaming up the art versus painstakingly getting it from his head into the software?
Emotions are the quintessential example of a concept that words are poorly-equipped to accurately describe. Obvious implications for a future of heightened empathy. But emotional communication could also be used for things like entertainment, where a movie, say, could also project out to the audience—directly into their limbic systems—certain feelings it wants the audience to feel as they watch.
This is already what the film score does—another hack—and now it could be done directly. The only two cameras that can be hooked up to the projector in your head—your visual cortex—are your two eyes. The only sensory surface that you can feel is your skin. The only thing that lets you experience taste is your tongue. In the future, sensory organs will be only one set of inputs into your senses—and compared to what our senses will have access to, not a very exciting one.
Currently, the only speaker your ear inputs can play out of is your auditory cortex. Only you can see what your eye cameras capture and only you can feel what touches your skin—because only you have access to the particular cortices those inputs are wired to.
With a wizard hat, it would be a breeze for your brain to beam those input signals out of your head. This will open up all kinds of amazing possibilities. No problem—just think out to him to request a brain connection. When he accepts, connect your retina feed to his visual cortex. He asks for the other senses to get the full picture, so you connect those too and now he hears the waterfall in the distance and feels the breeze and smells the trees and jumps when a bug lands on your arm.
You two share the equivalent of a five-minute discussion about the scene—your favorite parts, which other places it reminds you of, etc.
- Managing patient expectations!
- NPR’s Book Concierge.
- There is a good chance that you are the “friend” that everyone finds insufferable on Facebook.
He says he has to get back to what he was working on, so he cuts off the sense connections except for vision, which he reduces to a little picture-in-picture window on the side of his visual field so he can check out more of the hike from time to time. A surgeon could control a machine scalpel with her motor cortex instead of holding one in her hand, and she could receive sensory input from that scalpel so that it would feel like an 11th finger to her.
So it would be as if one of her fingers was a scalpel and she could do the surgery without holding any tools, giving her much finer control over her incisions. An inexperienced surgeon performing a tough operation could bring a couple of her mentors into the scene as she operates to watch her work through her eyes and think instructions or advice to her.
There would be no more need for screens of course—because you could just make a virtual screen appear in your visual cortex. Or jump into a VR movie with all your senses. The ability to record sensory input means you can also record your memories, or share them—since a memory in the first place is just a not-so-accurate playback of previous sensory input. Or you could play them back as live experiences. In other words, that Black Mirror episode will probably actually happen. An NBA player could send out a livestream invitation to his fans before a game, which would let them see and hear through his eyes and ears while he plays.
Those who miss it could jump into the recording later. Needless to say, the porn industry will thrive in the digital brain world. Right now, you can go on YouTube and watch a first-hand account of almost anything, for free. The days of fancy experiences being limited to rich people will be long over. I like this idea and think it would be closer to the current NFL than it seems at first. But the other component of being a great athlete—the physical body itself—would now be artificial. The NFL could make all of the artificial playing bodies identical—this would be a cool way to see whose skills were actually best—or they could insist that artificial body matches in every way the biological body of the athlete, to mimic as closely as possible how the game would go if players used their biological bodies like in the old days.
Either way, if this rule change happened, you can imagine how crazy it would seem to people that players used to have their actual, fragile brains on the field. I could go on. The communication possibilities in a wizard hat world, especially when you combine them with each other, are endless—and damn fun to think about. First Name. Last Name.
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