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Elon Musk: Employees Will Need High Bandwidth Brains to Compete with Robots

Artificial intelligence. No, I'm not talking about the know-it-all in the office who actually doesn't know anything.

I'm talking about computers that can do our jobs better and faster than we can! And Tesla/Space X CEO Elon Musk thinks human employees will need some sort of "high-bandwidth interface to the brain" in order to stay relevant in the artificially-intelligent workplace of the future.

If we humans can't upgrade our brains somehow, HR could morph into AIR and human employees will become irrelevant. Irrelevant, I assume, means unemployed. We will then spend our days floating around aimlessly like the human characters in Wall-E, and presumably living off a guaranteed universal income because we having nothing better to do.

Here's what Mr. Musk told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai, according to CNBC:

"Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.

The technologists proposal would see a new layer of a brain able to access information quickly and tap into artificial intelligence. It's not the first time Musk has spoken about the need for humans to evolve, but it's a constant theme of his talks on how society can deal with the disruptive threat of AI.

Mr. Musk has been talking about the rise of AI in the workforce for some time, and I can understand where this line of thinking is probably going: We can double the number of transistors on a chip every five years, so why can't we do the same with our brains?

Because neuroscience. Scientists are nowhere near being able to add an input to the brain that's anywhere near useful for what Mr Musk envisions. Scientists are able to implant electrodes to stop seizures and Parkinson's symptoms, and they can add electrode arrays (e.g., small wires that can stimulate neurons in the brain) that allow the blind to have some rudimentary vision. These are wonderful scientific developments, but even these experiments are not able yet to produce, for example, high-resolution vision. Still, such successes are a far cry from being able to create thought symbiosis with artificial intelligence. There's a long way to go for scientists to even understand how thoughts and memories are processed in our brains, much less how to add wires and electrodes to manipulate the process. There is no USB port in the brain.**

On a basic employment level, meanwhile, how would employment law change to make it okay for employers of the future to turn down job candidates who haven't had their brain "layering" re-done? Glimpse the interview questions of the future:

Hiring manager: Have you had a high-bandwidth interface to the brain installed? Are you AI-enabled?

Job candidate: No, I haven't. Should we just end the interview right here?

Maybe, maybe not. I appreciate futuristic thinkers like Mr. Musk; the world needs visionaries who force us to think about things in new ways. But there's a wide gulf between technology and the human brain that cannot be easily bridged with cables, switches, inputs and the like. We humans are much more complicated in some ways than any technology could ever be, because our brains are complex, emotional places that we've only scratched the surface in understanding.

It's easy to sell the human brain short in the face of AI advancements, but we can find a good balance between AI and the human workforce if we try. We can think about it while we watch Wall-E.

** I put this question to my Ph.D. neuroscientist spouse who studies brain development, and this is his answer.


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