Responsible Intelligent Systems


The limits of a neural lace

Elon Musk is a great entrepreneur, visionair and environmentalist. But that does not imply that we should take all his ideas very seriously. And now I am not even referring to his belief in the thesis that we are likely to live in the matrix. I am talking about his new company that is going to build a neural lace. In itself nothing is much wrong with building a neural lace; for instance, locked-in persons are expected to benefit from it. But what seems to be wrong, are the expectations about what we could do with such a neural lace. One of the promises seems to be the ability to down and upload thoughts to the brain. Depending on what that means exactly, that is either common practice already or flat-out ridiculous. Let me try an argument.

We already have a way to upload thoughts to the brain. It is called ‘reading’. And we already have a way to download thoughts from the brain, it is called ‘writing’. The problem now is that Musk and friends suggest that uploading and downloading thoughts to and from the brain with a neural lace, would be quite different. But it is not. The patterns of zeros and ones that would come out of a neural lace are not fundamentally different from the scribbles written on paper by a person whose language one does not know. We might be able to figure out that the zeros and ones mean something. Like we might figure out what the scribbles of the man writing a language unknown to us mean. But once we do, we have nothing more than an alternative way of communicating with the laced person. And that does not change anything fundamental. Would we be able to ‘download the mind’ and maybe ‘upload it to another body’? Of course not. That is, not in a sense that is any different from the mind of the writer of a book being uploaded to the bodies of his or her readers.

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