Tech on human beings needs Authentic Intelligence

This video grab made from the online Neuralink livestream shows a drawing of the steps of the implantation of a Neuralink device seen during a presentation on August 28, 2020. Photo: AFP

This video grab made from the online Neuralink livestream shows a drawing of the steps of the implantation of a Neuralink device seen during a presentation on August 28, 2020. Photo: AFP

Published Feb 6, 2024


In between the noise, Elon Musk has been leading a team that has managed to plant wires on a human brain.

The wireless brain-computer interface (BCI) developed by one of Musk’s companies, Neuralink, seeks to evaluate the safety of the implant and surgical robot and assess the initial functionality of the BCI for enabling people with quadriplegia and difficulty of movement to control external devices with their thoughts. If they succeed, in the near future, human beings will have the ability to issue commands to computers via their thoughts.

Elon Musk standing next to the surgical robot during his Neuralink presentation on August 28, 2020. Photo: AFP (screen grab)

In simple terms, this means that one day, our brains will carry out functions that were executed by keyboards and computer mouses. Our thoughts will enable us to make phone calls and we could even open doors just by thinking about it.

Although this might occur in the distant future, we need to reflect on the developments now. It raises many questions that ought to be answered before we discover negative consequences that often come with innovation. At the same time, the research at Neuralink offers us an opportunity to allow innovation to transform lives.

When Musk was presenting the first Telepathy (as it’s known by the Neuralink team) he also mentioned that it could also cure blindness at some point.

Some are concerned about such technological advancements and there’s an interest to throw a rule book. Should we, therefore, allow regulators to stand in the way of health innovations due to fear of unintended consequences? How should we handle innovations that have a direct impact on human lives?

There are no easy answers to the questions. Our experience with innovation tells us that we need to strike a balance that can allow progress while enabling necessary guardrails. Are we not at a point where there’s a need for us to create innovation zones or safety spaces to carry our research that could have an impact on human lives? There’s a difference between deploying an Uber solution that challenges traffic and transport regulations and deploying a technology solution that is embedded in a human body.

The consequences of implementing solutions on non-human physical infrastructure and humans may require a different approach to implement technology solutions. We know it’s possible for innovations to yield negative outcomes and the interruptions on human lives have been minimal. We are getting to a point where such human interruptions may be greater.

As a society, there’s a need to be ready for the Neuralink-type innovations. There’s a need for new interventions that will enable progress while safeguarding lives. We don’t have such interventions yet. Failure to create them may lead to disastrous consequences. Future innovations will require new rules of engagement. We need them before we are surprised by an unstoppable tsunami of human beings embedded with wires.

To solve this one, we will need Authentic Intelligence instead of Artificial Intelligence. Human beings with brains will need to sit down and think deeply about how human beings could be impacted by technological advancements in their bodies. At the same time, they will have to consider the benefits for those whose lives are limited by lack of solutions to their challenges.

Such a group of human beings would need more than just health professionals. They would need ethicists, technologists and sociologists to map out a charter that will guide us as we move innovation beyond just physical objects to human beings. The sooner we act on this one, the better our better and safer our lives will be in the age of tech that is beginning to merge with human beings.

Wesley Diphoko writes about the impact of technology on society. You can follow him on X: @WesleyDiphoko.