Iain Banks was a popular Scottish author who sadly died of cancer in 2013. He was named in Time’s 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945, with his books having been adapted for theatre, television, and film. Even after his death, the ideas of the future that he devised in his science fiction novels are still inspiring the world’s leading minds in the development of artificial intelligence.
Banks most popular sci-fi novels and short stories are based on a world called The Culture, a post-scarcity society where goods can be created with little human labour, causing them to become cheap and even freely available. This sounds like a Utopian idea, and whilst it could be possible for AI to make this a possibility in the future, it is another of the author’s ideas that the world’s most famous tech tycoon is now attempting to replicate.
One of Elon Musk’s lesser known ventures is Neuralink, which aims to make Banks’ idea of neural lace technology a reality. In Banks’ Culture series, it is represented as a form of brain-computer interface (BCI) that is embedded into young people and grows with them. It has the capacity to store the sentience of a human being, and can therefore store it after one’s death.
This is a completely new kind of technology, and very little has been released about the work of the company. It is clear that Neuralink aims to build a whole-brain BCI — an instrumental step in creating a new race of what we would often think of as cyborgs. Musk believes that this could quell the fear of artificial intelligence surpassing that of humans.
Neuralink is still in its experimental stages, but it is not the only company working on the BCI imagined by Iain Banks.
The John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Howard County, Maryland has already made prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by human thought. The lab has even created a new kind of tech called targeted sensory reinnervation (TSR), which affords those using the machinery the sense of touch through artificial limbs.
Musk’s vision of a whole-brain BCI appears to be in its elementary stages. Nevertheless, the fact that basic and tapered versions of the technology already exist means that there is no telling what the future holds for this technology and the impact it could have on the world.