Elon Musk has bold visions for the future of humanity. His inventions include the Tesla electric car, Space X Starship, and Starlink– space-based internet. But when he unveiled the latest developments of his Neuralink – a wireless implant into the brain that could someday let human brains directly interface with digital devices, my skin crawled with goosebumps.
I went back to my early 2016 drafts of Heart Wood – to Amisha’s future world (2070-2090) in which everyone has a “Nib” implanted at birth behind their ear– a miniscule micro-chip that eliminates all need for external electronic devices. It would be like having a continual “Siri,” “Alexa,” or “Google” active in your head, clouding or overriding your personal thoughts, providing you with information and giving directions in anticipation of what you might or should want. With less need for other humans, eye contact and physical touch would wither from disuse.
Amisha was a young child when she was retrofitted with the new, mandatory Nib…
“Amisha hardly remembered the time of silence, before her parents took her to the tall building, the line of other little children, the sharp stab in her neck, the prickles that grew behind her ear beneath her skin, and the new voice she began to hear.” (Heart Wood)
I pondered what to call my imaginary implant. “Chip” was too predictable. My friend Mark Jokerst helped me come up with the word “Nib” (Neural Implant Bot Sensor). I like that “Nib” also had a brief appearance in the late 1800s as the nib of Eliza’s fountain pen – both communication devices, two centuries apart.
Musk describes his Neuralink as like a Fit Bit in the skull with tiny wires that connect the brain to computers/phone via Bluetooth. To insert, an advanced robot surgically implants the Neuralink (0.9” wide/0.3” tall) and its 1,024 miniscule electrodes into the brain matter. Its battery life lasts all day; you charge it at night. Like your Tesla.
“Amisha nodded to the rain pelting the bedroom window and, with a right-flick of her eyes, queried her Nib: Didn’t it already rain twice this year? Last rain: April 14, 2075. Four point six inches of precip in one hour temporarily raised the Bay five inches. Seawall was moved back two feet. Your closest umbrella stand is corner of Grove and . . . Amisha halted her Nib feed with a left-flick of her eyes.”
Musk is serious about his invention, predicting it will enable people with spinal cord injuries to control their prosthetic limbs. He goes on to say that future applications will cure blindness, seizures, depression, and other mental health conditions. Eventually, he speculates, you’ll be able to record, replay, and upload your memories. Neuralink may one day upload and download thoughts. People with implants would be capable of telepathy—not just sending and receiving words, but actual concepts and images. “The future’s going to be weird,” Musk said.
“Menting” in Heart Wood is a version of telepathy. Like mental texting.
“Orion!” she called from the bathroom. Of course, he was still gaming. She sent him a mental message but got no response to her ment. Breathe in . . . out . . . in . . . out. She left Orion an urgent ment to contact her. –I.P. hours in thirty minutes, reminded her Nib. A pedi.cab is passing in eight minutes. Amisha dropped a handful of general purpose Pharm.food packages into her aquamarine crocheted bag for her midday food, then checked her route for shootings and outbursts and decided it was safe enough to walk. She needed to clear her head from last night’s dream.”
How close is the Neuralink to reality? With great fanfare, Musk held press conferences on August 28, 2020 to show off the Neuralink implanted into normal-acting pigs, and on April 12, 2021, showing a monkey playing video games with its Neuralink-enhanced brain. Links to these are below.
As new technologies like Neuralink infuse into our future, I see bioethical red flags being raised regarding privacy invasion, consent, and misapplication by military, political, commercial, and government interests.
But I have an additional concern: that something essential to being human will be lost.
As Amisha grew up, she modified her Nib’s voice:
” …first upgraded as girlfriend Talia, then briefly Jordan, until she got tired of hearing a man’s voice. Eventually she installed a nameless voice, programmed to be both competent and comforting to her. Over the last few months, however, she had detected something new, a murmur so faint she thought at first it was static from her Nib. Now and then, a word would break through, then just as quickly be covered over by a wave of Nib drivel. Something was weaving through her dreams at night like a root tip seeking water, seeking her. She’d wake up shivering.”
It’s our inner voice that we stand to lose – the source of intuition, nudges, insights, and the unique expression of our spirit.
Technology will integrate deeper into our daily lives: A.I. leads us to our destinations, Google searches distract us down rabbit holes, podcasts fill our quiet moments, and every click adds to our profile. These probably won’t change. For me, the question is how do we keep our inner voice alive and vibrant?
I wrote Heart Wood in part as a reminder that beneath all the technology, we have our unique, still, small, voice. The small oak desk is a metaphor for what connects us to a deeper, more universal, earth-based wisdom. We can ignore it or pile our “stuff” on top of it, but when we finally sit quietly with no distractions, our inner voice can be heard.
I feel this is one of the most important things we can share with our children: to make time every day for the bliss of boredom. Just sit quietly, perhaps out in nature. Notice what you see and hear around you. Maybe close your eyes. And as Shima’a said to the future…
Listen to the Silence
Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future
Winner of the National Indie Excellence Awards for Visionary Fiction.
2021 Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award’s Montaigne Medal for the most thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.
Finalist – Self Publishing Review and RECOMMENDED by the US Review of Books
Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!), here on Amazon, and in Nevada County, California, at JJ Jacksons, Reflections Skin Oasis, SPD, and of course, Harmony Books and The Book Seller.
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To read more about Elon Musk’s NEURALINK:
- https://neuralink.com/ (Musk’s website)
- https://mashable.com/article/elon-musk-neuralink-pig (Mashable 8.28.20
- https://www.wired.com/story/neuralink-is-impressive-tech-wrapped-in-musk-hype/ (Wired 9.4.20
- https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/technologyinvesting/elon-musk-says-his-start-up-neuralink-has-wired-up-a-monkey-to-play-video-games-using-its-mind/ar-BB1dhqDd (MSN 2/1/2021)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsCul1sp4hQ (Monkey playing MindPong 4.8.21)
- https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/elon-musk-says-neuralink-could-start-planting-computer-chips-in-humans-brains-within-the-year/ar-BB1dk7BH (MSN 4.12.21)