If the current exponential progress in the most advanced discoveries in neuroscience and AI continues, it is quite likely that by 2025 we shall have the first Transhumans with increased cognitive capabilities thanks to brain implants. Towards the end of this decade, the brain implants will have even more advanced mental capabilities, allowing part of the human’s brain ‘fuse’ wirelessly and continuously with various forms of AI, including the maturing Superintelligence. This will make such people many times more intelligent than an average human, capable of making fast decisions even in a complex situation. This will also have paramount repercussions far beyond the AI field.
As progressively larger part of Transhuman’s cognitive functions are replicated in a digital form, it will start an evolutionary process, similar to the evolution of homo sapiens. The most critical difference between humans and almost all animals is the presence of an extra layer in the brain – called Neocortex. By digitizing brain functions and adding a necessary Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), an additional, artificial digital layer of the brain, which I call Transcortex, will be created. In hardware terms, it could be an electronic device semi-permanently attached to the scull and detached only when a hardware upgrade is needed. In the next few years, its software will include wireless communications and other applications necessary for communicating with a particular brain region, or a brain function, and externally with an advanced AI system, a prototype of the future Superintelligence. Such Transhumans will be able to browse the Internet wirelessly by thought alone and perhaps store some of this information in a small memory store in the Transcortex. By about 2025 we should have the first digitized copy of a particular brain function embedded in a digital circuit and wirelessly connected to an advanced AI system. So, from that point onward, the communication with a maturing Superintelligence will be via an individualized Brain-Computer-Interface (BCI) channel, supported by digital circuits at both ends. It is like we would have a physical Poste Restante box at the Post Office but in this case it will be Transhumans’ digital chip fused wirelessly as a node to the maturing Superintelligence. They will be like any other node connected to such a giant network with its immense memory, processing and decision-making capabilities. These Transhumans may also have some mechanical body parts (like exoskeletons, artificial heart and other organs).
If you find this incredible, then just think about yourself. Most of us are already partly Transhumans. Our smart phones give us enormous extra intelligence, that we could not dream about even 10 years ago. The only difference is that the extra intelligence is currently external. However, there are already thousands of people world-wide that have small implants in their brain that allow them access to some information or open password-protected doors. The most recent example from October 2019 is of a completely paralyzed person wearing an exoskeleton, who started to ‘walk’ using the implants in his brain. The scale of this achievement overshadows anything that has been done in this area so far and opens new possibilities for brain implants. Furthermore, in February 2020, Musk’s company Neuralink announced it is building tiny and flexible ‘threads’ which are ten times thinner than a human hair and can be inserted directly into the brain. They intent to have first human implants ready by the end of 2022.
It is quite likely that the first of these Transhumans will be those at the forefront of the most advanced AI developments, such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos and their top AI developers like Demis Hasabi from Deep Mind. Their role will be similar to what happens today, when the top OpenAI or Google’s Deep Mind developers and managers decide, what functionality their applications will have, how those functions will be executed, and how individual people will be able to use them, which may depend on the users’ access rights.
The implications of such developments for Humanity could be immensely positive but also might have potentially a terrifying, negative effect on the future of the human species. In a positive sense, and that’s what Elon Musk focuses on right now, is curing partially or even totally some mental and brain-related disabilities, such as moto-neuron disease, Alzheimer, or audio-visual impairments. What he is not saying yet, is that there will be nothing to stop these implants to be progressively used to expand human brain capabilities beyond the wildest dreams of AI developers even a few years ago. Most AI specialists expected such developments earliest in the 2030 or 2040. It looks now quite possible that we shall have them by about 2025. In his interview in May 2020, Elon Musk confirmed indirectly his long-term aim: “Even in a benign [AI] scenario we are being left behind. So how do you go along for the ride? If you can’t beat them, join them.” This can be translated into something like, we shall have ‘proper’ Transhumans within a few years’ time and we desperately need them because they may be our best safeguard against a malicious Superintelligence.
Such early Transhumans may already be many times more intelligent and faster in decision-making than the most intelligent purely biological human beings. With immediate access to the entire Google repository they might be able to resolve many problems faster than any current computer. Additionally, Transhumans will have an advantage over a purely digital computer, being a conscious entity with a general knowledge, which most advanced AI system will not have for another few decades. They will be able to use this advantage for the benefit of the human kind and for devising ways of reigning-in purely digital AI and keeping it under human control. However, it all depends on their ethics and their own personal goals. Such people will have immense power but as Sir John Dalberg-Acton said in the mid of 19th century, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It looks that some states, UN, EU, or other existing global legal powers, may have to find very quickly a working solution to this problem, although my feeling is that it will be extremely difficult. Even if we have an international law banning such brain enhancements for achieving superhuman intelligence in this way, it will happen because people with money, power and influence, as well as access to this technology (first of all those developing it) may get such implants anyway. And how about autocratic state leaders?
If we think about benevolent Transhumans, such as potentially Elon Musk, for whom saving Humanity is his absolute top goal, we may have no other option but to trust them and use their, soon to come, immense intellectual power and ultra-fast decision-making for the benefit of Humanity. Ideally, however, as soon as such implants become available, they should only be dispensed by an international licencing authority, which would also monitor their continuous use (that would mean a severe restriction of privacy of such people).
Apart from an international licencing programme such implants might be available for the leaders of international organisations, such as EU, UN, International Court of Justice and of course some top scientists. They might be licenced for a specific duration, e.g. for the time of being in the office, and digitally disabled once they leave the office.
On the other hand, the good news is that this could be our best hope for retaining the control over Superintelligence for much longer, even when it matures. The early Transhumans who may emerge this decade will be a kind of guinea pigs that will give us experience in retaining the ultimate control over Superintelligence. This could be done in the period leading to the Posthumans era, after 2050, where the leaders of the Human Federation, the President, Vice-Presidents and all the World Government ministers may all be working as a Transhumans team, where most decisions would be carried out by such a team based on 2/3 majority. It is this team that would have the ultimate control over Superintelligence, since it will be part of it. We may call them the World Governors. Once their term in the office elapses or is curtailed for some other reasons, they will be recalled by the Human Federation and their brain extension implant will be disconnected from Superintelligence.