How Does A.I. Intersect with the Future of the Brain-Computer Interface?
The BCI is the device after the mobile phone.
This is going to be a somewhat speculative Op-Ed about the intersection of AI and, fundamentally, humanity.
The Internet Is Ready for a New Paradigm
The mobile phone was a revolution. The first iPhone came out in the summer of 2007. More than 15 years later, many onlookers believe that the next device is actually augmenting A.I. with our brain, that is a brain-computer interface.
As artificial intelligence rapidly matures, for human beings it’s the BCI where humanity can best keep up with AI, and represents a paradigm shift for human cognition in the 21st century.
This isn’t a Neuralink story, though Elon Musk famously suggested that people need to internalize A.I. to keep up with it somehow. Back in the day, Apple assembled a secret working group to develop the iPhone, and Facebook famously failed in its Building 8 group.
New use of new hardware capabilities will make possible new kinds of artificial intelligence that were previously not possible. See the (LinkedIn) Poll here. We might need decades to arrive at the last and most important one that enables us to fully internalize artificial intelligence.
Ambient computing (robotics, logistics, IoT, 6G, Universal language translation, VR/AR, smart devices)
Various iterations of the BCI
New types of software and AI apps will integrate and evolve as our hardware evolves.
If you enjoy my articles here you might enjoy a new Newsletter I’m starting around Quantum computing, innovation and genomics called Quantum Foundry.
My Prediction to Lead the BCI Revolution is ByteDance
The company that I think is the favorite to lead the BCI revolution is actually China’s ByteDance, the maker of TikTok, who have in recent years integrated their consumer-AI with E-commerce and advertising at scale in a way that no other company has come close to doing. Just as ByteDance acquired Pico to stay relevant in VR and the supposed Metaverse, China will put more money into BCI research than America is likely capable of doing.
People wrongly assume that Elon Musk’s Neuralink is the best BCI startup out there in 2022, but that simply isn’t true. Max Hodak, the cofounder who left Neuralink in 2021 under mysterious circumstances, has become involved in at least two different rival companies since his departure.
First Movers vs. Neuralink
Last year, Hodak secured $47 million in funding for a brain interface venture called Science Corp. Now he’s personally invested in another Neuralink rival, Synchron, according to a blog post he published on Friday. Elon Musk’s bulldozer approach to results simply isn’t working with high churn at Neuralink.
Finally we don’t know how hard stealth startups are hitting the brain-computer interface intersection of the artificial intelligence problem in China. We can easily assume ByteDance is seriously looking at it, since it represents a bigger opportunity than the Metaverse and Web3 combined in terms of real total addressable market (TAM) at scale for the future of consumerism.
A functional BCI would replace elements of what we do with our smart phones today. The intersection of AI in such devices would be literally endless. The advertising, consumer-app and AI leaders of today are likely to be the leaders of such a paradigm shift from mobile phones to the BCI. If we extrapolate the future, that’s most likely to be z company like Apple, ByteDance, Google or one that is already strong at the intersection of hardware and AI like Amazon, Nvidia or Samsung.
This is because BCI startups will be eaten up just like startups in Quantum computing, Deep learning Autonomous Driving and other segments of emerging AI that could be relevant to the future of consumer products.
The Race to Consumer BCI is the Only Real AI Race that Matters
The device that replaces the smartphone, whether it’s in VR or a BCI, or some ambient computing version of all of these layers, is the most important technology race where AI is highly implicated, since it will be such a lucrative market for the dominant companies, just as smart phones, cloud computing and advertising are today.
A BCI would be more personal than Alexa, more intimate than Google Home and certainly easier to use, more convenient and faster than tapping smart phones with our thumbs and fingers. A functional consumer grade BCI enables universal language translation and thought-to-text nearly instantaneously.
The BCI Will Enable Functional Thought Control in Ambient IoT Computing of Everything
We know in the future we’ll control AI, devices, robots, smart homes and everything else with our minds, we just don’t know when.
Building 8 was that division where Facebook worked on some of its outlandish ideas, like a system that would allow users to type using their thoughts, modular smartphones, and ultimately a video-calling device that would eventually become the Portal. Just a few years later, those devices and projects don’t sound so outlandish any longer.
Neuralink, Synchron, BrainCo, Kernel, Emotiv, ScienceCorp, MindMaze, NeuroSky, NeuroPro - are just a few of the names working on the BCI at present. This number will explode as AI becomes more sophisticated and BigTech begins to invest more aggressively in a race to the next device that will disrupt smartphones. Some believe it’s a holy grail of technology that simply won’t ever arrive, just as some believe the Metaverse was dead in the water before it was even imagined. We’ll have to find out the truth in the future.
(Plus a lot of companies in Stealth Mode both globally and specifically in China)
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Synchron vs. Neuralink
For one, instead of implanting a chip in your brain via your skull like Musk’s venture, Synchron accesses the organ via blood vessels and leaves electrodes in the “walls of the vasculature rather than penetrating into the sensitive bulk tissue of the brain,” Hodak writes.
The company has also already begun human trials for its device. It even announced in December that the tech allowed a man with ALS to tweet the word “hello world.” So technically Synchron is ahead of Neuralink in human trials and is less invasive.
BCIs Will Complement Smart City Infrastructure and Organization
It’s not clear how invasive a BCI of the future will be, or how much the first few iterations will really augment humans with AI. What we do know is that BCIs will enable people to interact with A.I. in a much more intimate, practical and productive way. Those jobs where AI-human hybrid work will be a thing will be much easier with BCI type technology (think most white collar jobs by 2045).
Since China is the leader in the 4th industrial revolution, they have the most incentives to perfect BCI technology that augments people with A.I. for economic, social harmony (think social credit systems) and technological advantages. At this stage the way people use biotechnology, genomics and AI augmentation to alter and improve upon their humanity won’t’ be new, it will just be normal.
It will also usher in an era where human beings will be so immersed in digital transformation, they themselves will have internalized more AI, just as a prehistorical person would be shocked we use glasses to see better.
A.I. in the Era of Ambient Computing and Functional BCIs
Obviously artificial intelligence will be implicated in hundreds of thousands of applications of how this will unfold in the smart city of the future and devices so intimate to us they will be with us likely from birth.
For those of us who love the internet so much we wish we could be uploaded into cyberspace, the BCI will be a more intimate and superior user experience than smartphones, VR, AR glasses or anything quite so technologically prehistoric.
When we imagine a future of speaking with our personalized AI assistant, asking our robot for some help or whatever the case may be, it will all be conducted not in apps, but by accessing them via our brain-computer interface (BCI).
For those of you who didn’t grow up with the internet or mobile phones, you may not live to see this. However for artificial intelligence R&D, it will be an incredible sector to follow.
Connecting Your Brain to A.I. Will Be Big Business
The race to the BCI represents clearly one of the most important hardware improvements with software integration possible, our very humanity.
This will change how we learn, communicate, deal with languages, formulate plans and collaborate. In short, it will impact everything. AI will be the central nervous system of how this will be enabled. BCIs will be the crowning “digital transformation” of the 21st century. They will also become very very profitable.
What is a Brain Computer Interface?
Like with so many technologies, early research in BCIs involved DARPA. There comes a point however when BigTech and China disrupt even the most specialized national research.
BCIs were once envisioned to help disabled people and they will, but their main unique value proposition will be to augment the normal capacity of humans and help them do more productive work.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) acquire brain signals, analyze them and translate them into commands that are relayed to output devices that carry out desired actions. BCIs do not use normal neuromuscular output pathways. With the artificial intelligence of the future, this is only roughly likely how they will work. BCIs will go through many stages as AI evolves with quantum computing, supercomputers and more defined capabilities.
Neuralink supposedly uses flexible “threads,” which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces. These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to “Elon Musk & Neuralink.”
BCIs Will Complicate How People “Merge” With Artificial Intelligence
Elon Musk has also been warning about the problems of BCIs that could be used in military programs that would essentially and quite literally weaponize A.I. We have to assume here that BCIs manifest themselves well before any supposed AGI becomes possible. Humans have the destructive capabilities to destroy themselves and the species with BCIs controlling military robots, well before any threat of superhuman AI that’s independent of human control.
As 2022 is teaching us BigTech has the financial resources to easily acquire any industry it deems relevant to the future, as we have seen with gaming IP this year with Microsoft and Sony, one important element of the supposed leisure Metaverse. The same will occur, rapid consolidation with emerging companies and talent related to EVs, robotics, AVs, LiDAR, health tech, computer vision, quantum computing and of course BCI and AI startups themselves.
An Internet of Layered Worlds - the Omniverse
While companies like Meta presumably waste their riches in pipe dreams like the VR-worlds Metaverse, other companies that are a bit more intelligent will spend their $Billions on developing a BCI product that has the potential over time to disrupt the smartphone as we know it today.
Those companies will also be the leaders in artificial intelligence and understand the tremendous opportunity of AI at the intersection of the brain-computer interface and they will be the leading “transhumanistic” and post-singularity companies of tomorrow.
It is more than 50% likely that the leading company of BCIs does not yet exist today in 2022. However companies such as Apple, Nvidia, Google, ByteDance, Microsoft or even Amazon, Meta, Alibaba or Tencent would be somewhat capable of going after this. The Chinese Community Party (CCP) is the most likely entity in the world that would be able to accelerate the R&D necessary for a functional BCI through a corporate entity such as ByteDance in the 2030s or 2040s.
The real-world implications of artificial intelligence embodied at the human interface could be called the most important device in human history, a kind of master key to how humans will augment themselves with A.I. I believe that the BCI is such a device. If an amateur futurist like myself imagines this, I’m sure a good part of the world has figured this out already.
The Metaverse or Web3 are nearly likes jokes (or memes) in comparison to the importance of the intersection of A.I. and a BCI on humanity’s future.
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