Eccentric in the good sense of the wordbusinessman, playboy, philanthropist Ilon Musk is known around the world. It was he who decided to bring mankind into space, colonize Mars, abandon one-time missiles. He decided to make the world cleaner by transplanting us from cars with ICE to self-driving cars. While these enterprises are unfolding, he is not idle. He conceived Neuralink, which will help us become new people. Without borders and without weaknesses, as it should be in the new world (Ilona Mask).
Document the mask crazy ideas likeAlways, Tim Urban volunteered with WaitButWhy (he wrote about artificial intelligence, colonization of Mars and SpaceX). We present one of the best works of modern popular science journalism. Further from the first person.
Part 1: The Colossus of Man
Part 2: The Brain
Part 3: Flying over the nest of neurons
Part 4: Neurocomputer Interfaces
Part 5: The Neuralink Task
Part 6: The Age of Wizards
Part 7: The Great Merger
I had a telephone conversation last month.
Well, maybe it wasn’t all right and the words weren’t quite like that. But after I learned that Ilon Mask decided to create a new company, I began to understand that he could conceive of his plans in this way.
When I wrote about Tesla and SpaceX, I found out thatto fully understand the activities of some companies can only be closer and more distant, inside and out. From the inside - technical problems faced by engineers, from the outside - existential problems faced by our kind. From the inside - to see the world, how it is now, outside - to see a big story of how we have reached this point and what the distant future can be.
New enterprise Ilona - Neuralink - not onlythe same thing, six weeks after the first acquaintance with the company, I am convinced that it somehow manages to outshine Tesla and SpaceX, both in the courage of engineering undertakings and in the greatness of its mission. Two other companies seek to redefine what the people of the future will do. Neuralink seeks to override who the people of the future will be.
The dizzying span of Neuralink's missioncombined with a maze of incredible complexity of the human brain is very difficult to comprehend. But when I thought about it, when I spent enough time zooming in and away, I realized that this was the coolest thing I saw. I think I took a time machine, went to the future and came back to tell you: guys, this is even weirder than we thought.
But before I take you into my cartime to show that found, we need to sit in a magnifying machine. Because, as I understand it, the plan for a “foil cap”, or a wizard's hat, Ilona Mask is difficult to understand right away.
So get ready to forget everything that your brain knows about yourself and your future, fall on the sofa and drive into the wormhole.
Part 1. Colossus of Man
600 million years ago, nobody did anything at all.
The problem is that no one had any nerves. Without nerves you cannot move or think, process all kinds of information. It remains just to exist a little bit and wait until you die.
But then the jellyfish appeared.
These jellyfish were the first animals to realize that nerves were necessary to understand what they were, and they got the first nervous system - a network of nerves.
The nervous network of jellyfish allowed them to collect importantinformation about the world around us - for example, where objects are, where predators are, where food is - and to transmit this information, like through a large social network, to all parts of the body. The ability to receive and process information meant that jellyfish could actually react to changes in their environment in order to increase the chances of a quality life, rather than squander aimlessly in the hope of the best.
A little later, a new animal appeared that had an even cooler idea.
Flat worm found out what could be donemuch more if someone in the nervous system was responsible for everything — like the boss of the nervous system. This boss lived in the head of a flatworm and ran the whole nervous system of the body so that it would transmit all the new information directly to him. So instead of organizing itself into a network form, the flatworm's nervous system collapsed into a central channel of nerves that sent information back and forth between the boss and everything else:
The flatworm's boss channel system was the world's first central nervous system, and the boss in the flatworm's head was the world's first brain.
The idea of a boss in the nervous system was quickly picked up by everyone else, and soon thousands of species appeared on Earth with brains.
Time passed, and the animals of Earth began to invent complex and new systems of the body, so the bosses became more and more busy.
A little later, the mammals arrived. For these millennials of the animal kingdom, life was already difficult. Yes, their hearts had to beat, and their lungs breathed, but the mammals wanted more than just to survive - they got complicated feelings, such as love, anger and fear.
For the brain of reptiles, which stillhad to deal only with reptiles and other creatures simpler, mammals were just ... something more. Therefore, the mammals have a second boss, who began to work in tandem with the brain of reptiles and took care of all these new needs. This is how the world's first limbic system appeared.
Over the next 100 million years, the life of mammals became more and more complex and intense, and one day two bosses found a new resident in his office.
What initially seemed like a random baby,In fact, it was an early version of the neocortex, and although at first he spoke very little, along with the advent of primates, and then the big monkeys and the first hominids, this new boss grew from a baby to a boy, and then a teenager with his own idea of how work.
The ideas of the new boss were very useful, and under his leadership the hominids learned how to create tools, hunting strategies and cooperation with other hominids.
Over the next several million yearsThe new boss grew older and wiser, and his ideas were constantly improving. He understood how to get rid of nudity. He understood how to control the fire. He learned to make spears.
But his worst trick was thinking. He turned the head of each person into a small world-in-itself, making people the first animals that can comprehend complex thoughts, reason and come to decisions, make long-term plans.
And then, about 100,000 years ago, there was a breakthrough.
The human brain has evolved to the point where it beganto understand that the sound "stone" was not a stone in itself, and it could be used as a symbol of a stone - by this sound the stone was meant. The first man invented the language.
Very soon words appeared for all sorts of things, and by 50,000 BC, people were already communicating in a complete, complex language with each other.
Neocortex turned people into magicians. Not only did he make the human head a wonderful inner ocean of complex thoughts, his last breakthrough found a way to translate these thoughts into a symbolic set of sounds and send them to vibrate through the air into the heads of other people who could decode these sounds and absorb their own ideas ocean of thoughts. The human neocortex has been thinking about things for a long time - and now, finally, he had someone to discuss them with.
A party of the neocortex gathered. The neocortexes — well, for the time being, the neocortex — shared with each other everything they could: stories from the past, funny jokes, opinions formed, plans for the future.
But the most useful was to share everything that I learned. If one person learned by trial and error, that a certain kind of berries turns life for 48 hours into complete diarrhea, he could use his tongue to tell about his difficult life lesson to the rest of his tribe. Tribal members can use language to pass this lesson to their children, and their children to their children. Instead of different people repeating the same mistake from time to time, one of them can say “do not eat these berries”, and his wisdom will pierce space and time, protecting everyone from bad experiences.
The same thing happens when one personwill come up with some new tricky trick. One extraordinarily intelligent hunter, a lover of observing the constellations of stars and the annual migration patterns of flocks of wild animals, could share a system he developed that uses the night sky to determine exactly how many days are left before the flock returns. And although some hunters could come to the creation of such a system on their own, if you pass it from mouth to mouth, all future hunters in the tribe will be able to use the ingenious discovery of their ancestor. And in the future this discovery will be the first starting point in the body of knowledge of a hunter.
Let's say this knowledge spread will makethe hunting season is more efficient and will give the tribe members more time to work on their weapons, which will allow one brilliant hunter to find a way to create lighter and stronger copies that can be cast more accurately over several generations. In the same way, from now on every hunter of the future and the present in the tribe will hunt with a more effective spear.
The language allows the best insights of the most intelligent.people passed on through generations, accumulating into the small collective turret of the knowledge of the tribe - the “greatest hits” among the best moments of the inspiration of their ancestors. Each new generation will receive this turret built in their heads as a starting point for life, and it will lead them to even steeper discoveries based on the knowledge of their ancestors. The wisdom of the tribe will grow and spread. Language is the difference between this:
The main improvement of the trajectory occurs in tworeasons. Each generation can learn much more new when everyone is talking to each other, comparing notes and combining their individual knowledge (therefore, in the second graph, the blue bars are much higher). And each generation can successfully transfer a high percentage of its knowledge to the next generation, so knowledge is better preserved over time.
Divided knowledge becomes like greatcollective collaboration between generations. Through hundreds of generations, what began with the professional advice about a particular berry and how best to avoid it will become a complex system of growing long rows with bushes of pleasant for the stomach berries and their annual collection. The initial glimpse of genius regarding the migration of wild animals will turn into a system for raising domestic sheep. Innovation with a spear will pass through hundreds of changes over tens of thousands of years and become a bow and arrow.
Language gives a group of people a collective mind,far beyond the individual human intellect and allows each person to benefit from the collective mind, as if he himself had invented it all. We consider the bow and arrow of primitive technology, but if Einstein is to grow in the forest without any knowledge and order him to make the best hunting device he can do, he will not even give you a bow and arrow. Only a collective human movement can handle it.
Ability to talk to each other alsoallowed people to create complex social structures that, along with advanced technologies such as farming and the domestication of animals, eventually led to the fact that the tribes began to settle in permanent places and merge into organized super tribes. When this happened, the tower of the accumulated knowledge of each tribe turned into a super tower. Mass cooperation improved the quality of life for all, and by 10 000 BC the first cities had been formed.
According to Wikipedia, there is a so-calledMetcalf's law, according to which "the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users connected to the system." And it is illustrated with this little chart of old phones.
And the same idea applies to people. Two people can lead one conversation. Three people can create four unique chat groups. Five people - 26 conversations. Twenty people - 1,048,554.
Thus, city members not only extractbenefiting from a huge knowledge tower as a foundation, but based on Metcalf's law, the number of possible conversations soars to an unprecedented amount of diversity. More talk meant the emergence of new ideas that are facing each other, new discoveries and the take-off of innovation.
Soon, people took over agriculture, it freed many people, and they thought about other things to do. After that there was another giant breakthrough: the letter.
Historians believe that people began to writeall sorts of things about 5-6 thousand years ago. Up to this point, the collective tower of knowledge was stored only in the network of people's memories and was transmitted exclusively from mouth to mouth. This system worked in small tribes, but when a much larger amount of knowledge appeared that was shared by large groups of people, only the memories could not support all this, and most of them disappeared.
If language allows people to send thoughts fromfrom one brain to another, writing allows them to place thoughts on physical objects, such as a stone, where they can live forever. When people began to write on thin sheets of parchment or paper, huge areas of knowledge that would require a week to pass from mouth to mouth could be squeezed into a book or scroll and taken into hand. The tower of people's collective knowledge now lived in physical form, neatly organized on the shelves of city libraries and universities.
These shelves have become the great instruction of mankind.for everything. They led mankind to new inventions and discoveries, and they, in turn, turned into new books on the shelves, as if a great instruction was finishing itself. This guide has taught us the complexities of commerce and currency, shipbuilding and architecture, medicine and astronomy. Each generation began life with a higher forest of knowledge and technology than the previous one, and progress continued to accelerate.
But painstakingly written books were consideredtreasures and access to them was only among the high elites (in the middle of the 15th century there were only 30,000 books in all of Europe). And then another breakthrough happened: the printing press.
In the 15th century, the bearded Johann Gutenberg inventedA way to create multiple identical copies of a single book is faster and cheaper than ever. (Or, more precisely, when Gutenberg was born, humanity has already figured out the first 95% of how to invent a printing press, and Gutenberg, with this knowledge at the starting point, invented the last 5%). (And Gutenberg did not invent the printing press, the Chinese made it several centuries earlier. A good confirmation that everything that is usually considered to be produced somewhere not in China was most likely invented in China). That's how he worked.
Not the most impressive retreat on Gutenberg
To prepare for this retreat, I foundA video explaining how the Gutenberg machine works, and was surprised that I was not impressed. I always thought that Gutenberg created some ingenious machine, but it turned out that he just made a bunch of stamps with letters and punctuation and manually placed them on the page of the book, then put ink on them and pressed a sheet of paper on these letters. It was one page of the book. While all the letters he had arranged for this page, he made several copies. Then he manually shifted the print to the next page for ages and made a new bunch of copies. His first project consisted of 180 copies of the Bible, which took two years for him and his workers to create.
And in this is the merit of Gutenberg? In a bunch of stamps? I think I could reach it with my mind. It is not entirely clear why it took humanity 5000 years to figure out how to create sets of hand-stamps. I think the point is not that I am not impressed with Gutenberg - I am neutral with respect to Gutenberg, he is fine - I am simply not impressed with everyone else.
In any case, no matter how disappointingmachine Gutenberg, he made a huge breakthrough for the ability of mankind to disseminate information. Over the next centuries, printing technology improved rapidly, and the number of pages that a machine could print per hour was about 25 at the time of Gutenberg, but by the beginning of the 19th century it was already 2,400.
Mass production of books allowed informationspread like wildfire, and as books became increasingly available, they ceased to be the privilege of the elite — millions gained access to books, and the literacy rate soared. Thoughts of one person could reach millions of people. The era of mass communication has begun.
The avalanche of books allowed knowledge to go beyond the boundaries, because the regional knowledge towers in the world finally merged into one wide-spread tower that even pierced the stratosphere.
The better we are able to communicate in a massscale, the more our species functions as a single organism, with the tower of collective knowledge of humanity in the form of a brain, and each individual human brain - in the form of a nerve or muscle fiber in the body. With the era of mass communication, the collective human organism began to grow - the Colossus of Man.
By placing all the collective knowledge of a person into the brain, the Colossus of Man began to invent things that no single person could invent on his own - things that would have seemed absurd science fiction to people several generations before.
All this has turned our bullock carts intohigh-speed locomotives, and our horses in shiny metal cars. This turned our candles into light bulbs and letters into telephone calls, and factory workers into factory cars. Sent us to heaven and space. It made us reconsider the meaning of “mass communication” by giving us radio and television, opening the world, when everyone can instantly reach up to a billion people.
If the main motivation of a person isthe transfer of genes, which makes the species grow and multiply, the power of macroeconomics made the basis for the motivation of the Colossus of Man to create value, and therefore to invent new and better technologies. Whenever this happens, new things can be reinvented more and better.
And around the middle of the 20th century, the Colossus of Man began to work on his most ambitious project.
Colossus long ago realized that the best way to createvalue is to create machines that create value. Machines are better than people doing many things, generating a stream of new resources that can be channeled into creating value. Perhaps more importantly, machine labor has freed up huge portions of the time and energy of people — that is, portions of the Colossus itself — so that they can be diverted to innovation. He has already outsourced the work of our hands to machines in factories and the work of our feet to machines to drive. The same has to be done with the strength of our brain - what if somehow to outsource the work of the brain itself?
The first digital computers appeared in the 1940s.
One type of computer for mental workthere was a job of storing information — they were memory machines. But we already knew how to convey our memories with the help of books, as well as what is better to use cars for movement than horses and our own legs. Computers have simply become an outsourced memory upgrade.
Information processing was completely differenthistory - the type of mental labor, which we have not yet learned how to carry out by other forces. The human colossus always did the calculations on its own. Computers have changed this.
Factory cars allowed us to give awayoutsourcing physical processes - we put the material, the machines physically process it and spit out the result. Computers could do the same with information processing. The software was like a factory information processing machine.
These new machines for storage, organization andInformation processing proved to be extremely helpful. Computers began to play a central role in the daily activities of companies and governments. By the end of the 1980s, it became the norm among individuals to have their own brain aide.
And then there was another jump.
In the early 1990s, we taught millions of lonely machine brains to communicate with each other. They formed a worldwide computer network, and a new giant was born - Colossus Computer.
The Colossus of Computer and the great net that he formed became like a seaman's spinach for the Colossus of Man.
If individual human brains arenerves and muscle fibers, the Internet gave the giant its first full-fledged nervous system. Each of its nodes was connected to all other nodes, and information could pass through the system at the speed of light. This made the Colossus of Man a quicker and more flexible thinker.
The Internet allowed billions of people instantly,free and easy access to the whole tower of knowledge of mankind (which by now has already crossed the moon). This made the Colossus of Man more intelligent and quickly learning.
And if individual computers served as brain extensions for individuals, companies, or governments, the Computer Colossus was an brain expansion for the entire Colossus of Man.
With its first real nervous system,an improved brain and a new powerful tool, Colossus of Man brought invention to a whole new level - and noting how useful his new computer friend was, he concentrated a lot of effort on improving computer technologies.
He learned how to make computers faster and cheaper. Internet has become fast and wireless. Computer chips became smaller and smaller until everyone had a powerful computer in their pocket.
Every innovation was like a new spinach truck for the Colossus of Man.
But today the Colossus of Man laid eyes onsomething more than just more spinach. Computers have changed the rules of the game, allowing humanity to outsource a lot of brain-related tasks and to function better as a separate organism. But there is one thing that working brain computers do not yet know how to do. Think.
Computers can compute, organize andrun complex software - software that can even learn by itself. But they cannot think like people can. The Colossus of Man knows that everything he built gave rise to his ability to reason creatively and independently, and he knows that the ultimate tool for expanding the brain will be one that can really, truly, think. He has no idea what will happen when the Computer Colossus starts thinking independently - when one day he opens his eyes and becomes a real colossus - but with his main goal - to create value and bring technology to the limit - Colossus of Man set out to find out.
* * *
To this we will return. First we need to learn to do something.
As we discussed earlier, knowledge is arranged astree. If you try to recognize a twig or a leaflet with a theme, before you have a solid base in the form of a tree trunk - understanding inside your head, you will fail. The branches and leaves will have nothing to attach, so they will just fall out of your head.
We have determined that Ilon Mask wants to buildwe will not remember the magic hat for the brain (perhaps, the “foil cap” - the scope is not the same), and it is necessary to understand why he wants to do this in order to understand Neuralink - and to understand what our future may be.
But none of this will have bigmeaning, until we plunge into a truly breathtaking concept of what kind of magic hat it is, what it will wear and how we get there from where we are now.
The basis for this discussion will be to understandwhat neurocomputer interfaces are (NCI, or, as they are no longer called, the brain-machine interface), how they work, and at what stage these technologies are developed today.
Finally, the NKI themselves are onlya big branch - but not a tree trunk. To understand how NCIs actually work and what it is in general, we need to understand the brain. How the brain works is our tree trunk.
Therefore, we will start with the brain, it will prepare us forstudying NCI, they will teach us how to create a magic hat, and all this will smoothly turn into a great conversation about the future. Why Mask magic hat? Why will it become an essential element of our future? By the time we get to the end, everything will fall into place.
Part 1: The Colossus of Man
Part 2: The Brain
Part 3: Flying over the nest of neurons
Part 4: Neurocomputer Interfaces
Part 5: The Neuralink Task
Part 6: The Age of Wizards
Part 7: The Great Merger