How “Brain Implants” Could Change the World

Brain implants: they’re coming.

They might not be as scary as full blown artificial intelligence… networked computers that know more than we can and start making decisions on their own… but mind-machine interfaces like Elon Musk’s Neuralink will open up a new gulf between those who use them and those who don’t.

The question is whose way of thinking will win.

On one side there are the idealists… dreamers and visionaries of all kinds, who think the future will be better because we’ll be further along chasing down… or just chasing after… utopia.

For these people there’s no progress without a picture of paradise in our heads, and a dedication to making our lives ever more perfectly represent it.

On the other side are the realists… those who are most suspicious and skeptical of big ideas and the people who try to use them to change what’s baked into the cake of everyday life.

For realists, reality is always telling us what’s most important… what constraints apply to who we are and what we’re doing. Without taking stock of our limitations first, our dreams, they say, will become delusions… dangerous in their dazzling power, which all too readily makes us hate the given world.

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Idealists jacked into powerful AI and augmented reality software will want to use them the same way they want to use the internet, as a perfect tool to make everyone dream their dreams.

Realists won’t do that. They’re more likely to use neuralinks to repair or balance out parts of life and the world that have been thrown out of whack in the disconnect between big dreams and harsh circumstances.

Because the idealists were so naive about the internet as a master tool for world togetherness, technology has already given idealism a bad name. Even the most imaginative climate scientists and technologists can’t figure out how to achieve their goals in reality.

So much of the populism spreading across the West today is the kind that will impose political limits on augmented idealist elites that sync up with what populists see as natural and moral limits on human ambition.

But that same impulse will lead many everyday realists to resist the development and use of tools like Musk’s… even as more of them begin to give in to the inexorable force of technological adoption. Realists aren’t like the Amish, after all, whose refusal to advance beyond a certain year some time in the 1800s is more of an idealistic constraint than a reality-based one.

Realists, in other words, are going to use mind-melding machines too. And they’re going to get drawn into fights with idealists who do the same.

A fight over how we use our robots is coming. Those who want to make our robots into collective dream machines will do battle with those who want to ensure we rule over our robots while reality rules over us all.

Whose side are you on?