Technological innovation is progressing at an accelerated pace. The intelligence that can be held in the palm of our hand is now so great that it is becoming intimidating. Before long machines will, without doubt, be more intelligent than humans and some argue they already are. When we hear things like this we sometimes wonder if we could stop this technological train that we are on and just say enough is enough. Yet if we did we would not have some incredible inventions that are just on the horizon. One of the most impressive of these is that we may be able to help blind people see again.
Elon Musk has warned the world about the dangers of artificial intelligence. A man that seems to be more like a bad Bond villain than the genius sidekick helping 007 is now actually warning us of evils that lay on the horizon, maybe we should listen. He says that in each present moment we are witnessing the lowest amount of reliance on technology ever again and that it will only continue to increase. If you take that as a given, he argues, there will come a point where technology is in control.
It makes sense too. If you think about how the brain works it is essentially many neurons firing in an incredibly complicated way. It is a complex machine. Today we can’t create a machine that is as complicated as the brain but we soon will. Technological experts argue that within ten years we will have a device that costs less than $1000 that has all the computing power of a human brain. Ten years further than that and we will have a device that costs less than $1000 and has all the computing power of every brain in the world. This is the rate of technology expansion we are dealing with. The reason is that technology will slowly become self-correcting.
If technology can become self-correcting, will it still have a use for us? This may sound like a science fiction movie and at the present moment, it is just science fiction. However, there is a very real and scary argument that we are actually creating the species that will wipe us out. Elon Musk has actually said that AI is far more dangerous than nukes and that the people doing work on AI have no idea the snowball that they have started rolling down the hill. At some point it leaves their control, it may already have.
It is a scary thought but we can’t stop progress. To stop progress is to accept the imperfect world we live in. To many that may sound ok, we have a good life and we are happy so let’s get off the train here. However, there is still needless suffering in the world and technology may be the answer to solving it. The poor and hungry are an example of the unfair distribution of wealth in the world. Artificial intelligence can create a solution that tells you the best place to donate money to ensure you are making the greatest impact for your dollar.
Technology could also return sight to the blind. A new solution is in prototype mode but has already got people very excited. Those who were once able to see but are now blind usually have damaged their eyes or optic nerves but the visual cortex itself in the brain is often fine. This means if the optic nerves can be bypassed we could allow them to see. At the moment the technology has been used by sending electronic pulses to the visual cortex. This is able to show the shapes of individual letters. In the tests, the subjects were able to tell the letter sent 80% of the time. This is just the beginning but it doesn’t take the imagination to leap too far ahead to see that this could be the first step of returning sight to those who have been made blind.
Technology is a powerful tool that we must progress in order to solve the world’s problems. We just have to be careful about how we do it.