Elon Musk Wants Neuralink Applicants to Make 'Cyberpunk Come True'

Neuralink applicants could help humans gain leverage over the rise of AI.
Brad Bergan

Elon Musk is actively hiring cyber talent at Neuralink — for both the Bay Area in San Francisco and the company's Austin, Texas location — to make "cyberpunk come true," according to a Sunday Twitter thread.

However, applicants had better check their discomfort about building AI symbiosis in the human brain at the door, because the billionaire CEO takes his work very seriously. And, considering how AI and digital immersion are taking an increasingly central role in the digital ecosystem, he's not wrong.

In the Twitter thread, the company's CEO asked his followers to "please consider working at Neuralink," and laid out a generic play-by-play for the novel technology's eventual rollout.

Elon Musk wants to make 'cyberpunk come true'

Neuralink CEO Elon Musk said the company's short-term goal will involve brain and spinal injuries. When the company first debuted Neuralink last August, Musk emphasized the device's intended use was to be both affordable and help the greatest number of people.

"I think it's going to blow your mind," Musk said at the time.

In its early stages, Neuralink will help people suffering from several common injuries and disabilities, including memory loss, blindness, addiction, anxiety, depression, brain damage, and more — all with a coin-sized computer implanted inside our skulls, roughly 0.15 inches (4 mm) from the brain's surface.

Neuralink's 'neurosurgical robot' could install AI device in one hour

One of the immediate challenges Neuralink faced involved the size of the implant. An earlier version of the device had several parts, "including a piece that had to sit behind your ear," and "wouldn't look totally normal," said Musk during the August debut.

The new device is a probe with more than 3,000 electrodes attached to flexible threads even thinner than a human hair. Every electrode can monitor 1,000 brain neurons at once — in addition to reading or writing data across 1,024 channels — which means it can read neural activity while also stimulating the brain.

With the help of a "neurosurgical robot," installation could happen in roughly an hour — inserting 192 electrodes per minute into the brain. "You want the surgery to be as automated as possible and the only way you can achieve the level of precision that's needed is with an advanced robot," said Musk.

Dual-Neuralink system could bypass spinal injury

As of writing, Musk's Neuralink device can already predict the position of joints while limbs are moving — which means it may be capable of affecting human locomotion.

This is especially significant because — if one Neuralink device is implanted on either side of a person with a damaged or broken spinal column — the system could effectively bypass paralytic conditions by providing an alternate digital route for the brain to communicate with the spine.

However, Musk's ultimate goal for Neuralink is to inaugurate the age of "super-human cognition" — where the proverbial mountain of calculating power enabled by machine-learning analytics is combined with the (as yet) unparalleled creativity of the human mind.

Leveraging AI could disenfranchise large portions of working people

While this sounds utopian, Elon Musk's ostensible motivations for enhancing human cognitive powers come from a place of deep concern. The last decade has seen an unprecedented surge of devices using AI. Obviously, this is great for seamless consumer experience and scientific advances, but it could also put humans without the financial means to distance themselves from an automated economy in peril.

"[T]here's a risk of a race to the bottom, where we create economies that disenfranchise individuals or impact large portions of the working population," said co-author of "The Human Cloud" Matthew Coatney, in Bizjournals.

Neuralink device could give humans leverage over AI

In short, the billionaire entrepreneur is worried AI may someday have too much computational leverage over the human race — and touts Neuralink as a way for humans to gain powers superior to the current state of human cognition.

The idea, according to a 2019 Neuralink paper published in IEEE, is to "mix both the intelligences and achieve a symbiosis between human and AI," and thereby increase human cognitive and perceptual capacities to even the odds.

In a symbiotic relationship with AI, new human powers could include superhuman vision, accessing real-time playback of recent events, or even downloading your brain into a computer, for safe-keeping.

Cyberpunk highlights need for AI symbiosis to thrive in economic environments

However, Neuralink faces serious challenges before it can claim an AI-human symbiosis. "There's a problem with getting electrical signals out of the brain, and that is that they're very small," said Assistant Professor Andrew Hiles at the University of California, to Business Insider.

A world where humans live and work in direct, neurological symbiosis with AI via Elon Musk's Neuralink device is difficult to imagine, but the genre of cyberpunk — which boldly points to the commodification of everything in a dystopic future — aptly shows the differences cybernetic and AI enhancements offer.

We may already live in a cyberpunk future

In some ways, we already live in a cyberpunk future — constantly saturated with useless or misleading information in the guise of personal meaning that more often than not isn't helpful. The ability to scale up our processing power would allow us to sift through the slush of social media noise and groundless arguments, and discern a higher-resolution awareness of one's situation at a fraction of the effort — revealing new economic and financial opportunities that an organic brain would take years (or easily, lifetimes) to uncover.

"Feels weird helping make (hopefully good version of) Cyberpunk come true," tweeted Elon Musk, in reply to himself. "If you've worked on advanced wearables, phones or robots, those skills are needed," added Musk in a subsequent tweet.

You don't have to live in a cyberpunk dystopia to understand that computer-enhanced cognition is power. But in the genre, the right implants at the right time helps characters of even least means identify valuable insight on their economic reality, and leverage it faster than those who prefer a plain brain. With this in mind, it's not hard to understand why Elon Musk likes the game "Cyberpunk 2077," since — at least in the game — there's no such thing as upward mobility without computer-enhanced cognition.

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