Reimagining Descartes: Musk realises The Matrix, but do we want it…?

On the 29th August, Elon Musk unveiled his first foray into neuro-technology with Neurolink, the company he founded that successfully embedded a chip into pigs’ brains. And while the technology and it’s potential applications are a breakthrough of innovation, the ethical case for foraging in the human brain is much less clear cut.  Like a 21st century reimagining of Descarte’s ghost in the machine, Musk is asking us to redefine how we perceive reality. The question is no longer can we, but should we…? 

Musk is a master at arguing his case. Two months ago I stumbled across a Joe Rogan experience episode, where musk described Neurolink and its quest to embed a computer chip into the brain.  It was one of the most intriguing presentations that I have seen in a very long time.  Arguably one of the greatest minds of our time, Musk demonstrated a technology that most of us would have believed to be 50 to 100 years away.

Like many of you, I grew up in the ’80s, and 90’s watching movies like Back to the Future, The Matrix, and Beyond 2000.  While I don’t see too many flying cars and we have yet to set foot on Mars, the pace on technological innovation has been phenomenal. More recently, the series, Altered Carbon, posited that the possibility of moving your mind from one body to another. At the time, I thought cool story, bro, a sentiment that now seems incredibly shortsighted, given what Musk has achieved with Neurolink.

It is the stuff of dreams, which is exactly what Musk was looking to tap into when he asked engineers, programmers, and brain scientists to make contact.

The first releases of this chip would look at restoring the brain function of people who might be paralyzed, impacted by a stroke, or felled by Alzheimer’s Disease. Potentially only two to three years away, this is a massive breakthrough, yet this technology is just warming up.  In the following years, we could expect to see memory recordings and replays, writing an email in a thought of a few seconds, or even reading each other’s mind. Imagine how many marriages this would make or break!  According to Musk, in just ten years’ time, we could be looking at a backup and restore of the brain.  Let that sink in for a moment. Musk has just told us that those crazy movies, where we jumped from one body to another, are possible. 

Fast forward 20 to 30 years, he tells us of the truly Cartesian possibility of a consciousness cloud, a place where we can exist in a virtual state forever. Six months ago if you had said to me that this was going to be possible I would have asked what weed you were smoking. And yet, here we are. In August, we saw the actual technology demonstrated, with the world’s fourth-richest man asking the world’s best minds in to come and work on it.

As blown away as we are by this incredible meeting of technology and the creative mind, we need to also think about what it means. Just because people have the capability of going on forever, should they? Economically, it’s a no brainer. As well as Neurolink and its vast army of experts, not to mention those manufacturing, marketing, distributing, and selling the product, let’s consider other opportunities across the value chain.

Massive data storageData centers are just at the cusp of what we would be looking at
Increased HDD/StorageManufacturers such as Western Digital, Dell, Verbatim, EMC
PowerWhere on earth are we going to get that limitless energy from to run all this forever?  Watch out for fusion power!
Ongoing fundsThis will be tricky on how your virtual self can continue to supply funds back to the real world, watch out air tasker.

With these points above, this is just the start really, and I am sure new industries will start to sprout up as a result.

Ethically, however, the picture is not so clear. The challenges of what we are suddenly talking about and the morality of life eternal are enormous.  One thing that immediately springs to mind is how governments will regulate it. Should they allow clones, people becoming surrogates for others, and thus, a system that sees the very wealthy live forever in the bodies of the abundantly less wealthy? I suppose one could argue that medicine has effectively been doing this for years, but without the human sacrifices.

To get onto this bandwagon is exceptionally tricky but not impossible. The main reason is that Neurolink is private.  Musk made it quite clear he didn’t need the cash he was just looking for great talent.  The question then arises where it will go when investors have a stake, through companies like Google/Alphabet, or Amazon.  Google/Alphabet is one of the biggest companies on the planet when it comes to R&D, and we recently saw claims that it has achieved quantum computing, Not to mention those crazy robot videos by Boston Robotics and AI such as that shown in the AlphaGo documentary.  All of these technologies will surely complement and enhance what Musk is doing now. The party we are going to see over the next 30 years, will make the last 200 look like your local RSL on Christmas day. 

You’re an investor. Ask yourself what you will do.

18th September 2020

At the time of writing this:-

Amazon is at – $3,401 USD

Alphabet – $1,644 USD