One of the most exciting and frightening outcomes of technological advancement is the potential to merge our minds with machines. If achieved, this would profoundly boost our cognitive capabilities. More importantly, however, it could be a revolution in human identity, emotion, spirituality, and self-awareness.

Brain-machine interface technology is already being developed by pioneers and researchers around the globe. It’s still early and today’s tech is fairly rudimentary, but it’s a fast-moving field, and some believe it will advance faster than generally expected. Futurist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by the 2030s we will be able to connect our brains to the internet via nanobots that will “provide full-immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system, provide direct brain-to-brain communication over the internet, and otherwise greatly expand human intelligence.” Even if the advances are less dramatic, however, they’ll have significant implications.

How might this technology affect human consciousness? What about its implications on our sentience, self-awareness, or subjective experience of our illusion of self?

Consciousness can be hard to define, but a holistic definition often encompasses many of our most fundamental capacities, such as wakefulness, self-awareness, meta-cognition, and sense of agency. Beyond that, consciousness represents a spectrum of awareness, as seen across various species of animals. Even humans experience different levels of existential awareness.

From psychedelics to meditation, there are many tools we already use to alter and heighten our conscious experience, both temporarily and permanently. These tools have been said to contribute to a richer life, with the potential to bring experiences of beauty, love, inner peace, and transcendence. Relatively non-invasive, these tools show us what a seemingly minor imbalance of neurochemistry and conscious internal effort can do to the subjective experience of being human.

Taking this into account, what implications might emerging brain-machine interface technologies have on the “self”?

The Tools for Self-Transcendence

At the basic level, we are currently seeing the rise of “consciousness hackers” using techniques like non-invasive brain stimulation through EEG, nutrition, virtual reality, and ecstatic experiences to create environments for heightened consciousness and self-awareness. In Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal explore this trillion-dollar altered-states economy and how innovators and thought leaders are “harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition.” Beyond enhanced productivity, these altered states expose our inner potential and give us a glimpse of a greater state of being. AI & Machines – Learn More

Human Beings Cybernetics And Society
The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

Norbert Wiener

This is one of the fundamental documents of our time, a period epitomized by the concepts of ‘information’ and ‘communications’. Norbert Wiener, a child prodigy and a great mathematician, coined the term ‘cybernetics’ to characterize a very general science of ‘control and communication in the animal and machine’.

It brought together ideas from engineering, the study of the nervous system and statistical mechanics (e.g. entropy). From these he developed concepts that have become pervasive through science (especially biology and computing) and common parlance: ‘information’, ‘message’, feedback’ and ‘control’. He wrote, ‘The thought of every age is reflected in its technique…If the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are the age of clocks, and the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constitute the age of steam engines, the present time is the age of communication and control.’

In this volume Norbert Wiener spells out his theories for the general reader and reflects on the social issues raised by the dramatically increasing role of science and technology in the new age – the age in which we are now deeply and problematically embroiled. 

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Elon Musk has stated his multi billion-dollar crusade to stop ai space travel

Elon Musk has stated his opinion that AI could lead to the extinction of humanity, and it’s one of the reasons he’s working hard to make us a multi-planetary species. Stephen Hawking was incredibly clear as well: true AI could be the “worst thing” for humanity.

And yet, every country and major company is racing to build AI systems.

Small wonder: Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that the nation that leads in AI will be the ruler of the world. And China is investing heavily in winning the race.

I was in Moscow recently to speak at Skolkovo Robotics Forum. One of the highlights: a visit to Russia’s top cybernetics institute, the National University of Science and Technology, or MISiS.

I asked two of its leaders about AI, its dangers, and — of course — one of the tasks we might use AI for: self-driving cars. Read More