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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Mind over Musk: Keeping new tech on a short leash

Elon Musk warns about the dangers of artificial intelligence, but his new invention may be proof that, without proper restrictions, we are on our way to becoming the AI that we fear.

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Elon Musk presents Neuralink technology in 2020.

We are living in an era of rapid technological growth, the dawn of remarkable innovation. As much as he is disliked, it would be disingenuous to deny that Elon Musk is, in many ways, a trailblazer. But seeing what his most recent invention is capable of gives rise to an unsettling thought: Many years from today, it is likely Musk will be viewed not as a pinnacle of progress, but as a man whose dangerous pursuits eventually serve as the impetus for our collective decay.

In 2016, Musk founded Neuralink, a neurotechnological company that aims to “create a generalized brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs,” and aid those with limited motor function due to disorders like paralysis and Parkinson’s. For this, I commend him. Just last month, Musk said Neuralink implanted its first brain chip in a human subject during a preliminary clinical trial.

The implant in question processes neural signals and sends the information to the Neuralink app which enables remote access of computers or other electronic devices with your brain. From here, the chip “decodes the data stream into actions and intents” — a person can operate a computer or smartphone by simply thinking.

While Neuralink’s current mission may appear well intentioned, this new technology is capable of more than just medical marvels. The company itself has alluded to other potential uses of its technology such as connecting with loved ones, browsing the web or even playing games using only one’s thoughts. These are all seemingly harmless and innocent things, yet the thought that all this can take place without even having to lift a finger seems absurd and frankly, sinister.

However, there are some who advocate for more caution due to the adverse effects that these devices can have on our minds. Tristan Harris, a former Google employee and founder of the Center for Humane Technology, has warned us to consider the damaging effects of present-day technology on our attention spans before blindly subscribing to a high-tech future. 

When we realize our average weekly screen time is way too high, we know it’s time for us to force ourselves away from our gadgets. In some way or another, we impose certain restrictions to help us limit our interaction with our devices, such as monitoring apps or scheduling screen time. Similarly, there must be restrictions in place when dealing with new technology that has potentially far greater dangers. Self-restrictions are not enough for an implant that could virtually grant us superpowers. If a device could grant us the ability to order Panda Express with just our thoughts, there’s no saying what lies in the prospects of this technology in the hands of those whose motives lie far beyond the scope of instant food delivery.

We are not only living in an era of rapid technological growth, but we are also surviving an era of political polarization and international conflict, an age in which new developments like Musk’s brain chips hold the power to make or break a society that is becoming increasingly fragile. We love convenience and we have an ongoing desire for instant gratification, but how much are we willing to sacrifice for it? New tech has made our lives easier, but that has come at the cost of us becoming over-reliant on it. For this reason, there needs to be tech legislation and enforced safeguarding so we can reap the medical benefits of Musk’s new technology without sacrificing ourselves in the process.