Learning a language instantaneously or living another person’s life is usually a matter for science fiction, but according to Bryan Johnson, CEO of Kernel, over the next few decades, this is likely to become science fact through the use of sophisticated brain-computer interfaces.
In a keynote a few weeks ago at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Johnson described the work his company hopes to achieve. His aims are extremely high. By using chips he hopes we will be able to fend off degenerative diseases and manage mental health, as well as build a fairer society where skills and knowledge can be accessed by everyone, not just the privileged few. Or at least everyone with one of these chips.
In the keynote, he described how the rise of AI is putting humans at risk and how we need to be able to rise to the challenges that technology and the changing world might throw our way. And his solution is to understand our brains better and learn how to improve them.
“The key to becoming that adaptable is building this baseline tool of technologies and cognitively intervening. So in short, a revolution on the scale of something we've never seen is coming. It is gonna be on our front doorsteps in 15 to 20 years,” said Johnson in the keynote.
The idea of having an implant in your brain might be scary, but such instruments are already in use. Cochlear implants have helped people with severe hearing problems to get a sense of sound for decades and Deep Brain Stimulation implants have been used successfully to treat conditions like Parkinson’s.
Johnson focused mostly on why he wants to do this, but it's more important to look at the how. The difference between current implants and what Johnson is envisioning is how they work. The current implants are in a way blunt instruments that get the job done. Despite the impressive discoveries of neuroscience in the last century, especially in the last decade, we can barely understand the language of brains let alone edit it.
Johnson is aware of this, but he’s not demotivated. “Neurotech and neuroscience are incredibly hard. It's capital intensive, we haven't made critical breakthroughs of the scientific understanding, and our toolset is not that great,” he said in a previous talk.
“I'm doing this because I think that unlocking the brain and learning how to read and write our neural code is the single most consequential and exciting adventure in the history of the human race.”
Johnson might be onto something with this, or brain chips becoming a reality might turn out closer to nuclear fusion, which is always 20 years away.