Elon Musk wants to upgrade humans by linking our brains to computers. Is he out of his mind?

Circumstances are making it hard to see what’s in the little plastic cylinder molecular biologist Meow-Ludo Meow-Meow is waving in his hand, with – somewhat ironically given his moniker – the air of an exuberant puppy. For starters we’re on Skype and his room in Sydney’s inner west is dimly lit. Then there’s his vaping smoke wafting over everything.

“That,” says Meow-Meow, with a triumphant rattle of the tube as the mist clears, “is an Opal card for going on public transport.”

“But I’ve got to get it implanted first.”

Meow-Meow, Bachelor of Molecular Genetics, former Science Party candidate and co-founder of Sydney’s Biofoundry is a grinder, someone embedded deep in the Mad Max-esque world of biohacking for whom putting Sydney’s equivalent of the Myki under your skin is just one more step on the road to transhumanism.

“The rules say it remains the property of CityRail,” says Meow, fingering the chip in a bottle. “I’m worried they could confiscate it now. But if it’s under my skin, good f—ing luck to them.”

Meow-Meow already has a chip in his thumb that can open a door and tell his smart phone it’s him, but there’s a new venture in the world of implants that makes Meow’s invisible hardware seem tame, and it’s brought to you by that entrepreneur with a habit of making mad science real. In March the Wall Street Journal breathlessly announced that Elon Musk, billionaire purveyor of Tesla cars and Powerwall batteries, and whose SpaceX outfit recently brought Mars colonisation closer with the first ever launch of a “re-usable” rocket, was hiring for a new company.

Neuralink will build a brain computer interface (BCI) or “neural lace” that will eventually “upload thoughts” to the internet but, along the way, deftly heal those with epilepsy, Parkinson’s and depression, and restore function to people with stroke and brain injury for good measure. Neural lace, says Musk, will add a digital layer to the brain that can wirelessly beam data from our noggins to connected devices and the cloud.

Anyone else would be accused of overreach, but Musk’s track record commands a certain respect, and the job descriptions on his Neuralink website are sufficiently techno-opaque to suggest a very advanced team. So it’s not unicorn-chasing to wonder why Musk thinks it’s a good idea to re-engineer our grey matter and, for that matter, just how the finished product will work.

The back story is that Musk sides with the transhumanist sentiment that, to steal futurist Ray Kurzweil’s book title, “the singularity is near”. That’s the point where AI starts teaching itself, prompting an exponential leap in machine smarts that will make humans look, in Meow’s words, “like the Amish”, and in Musk’s parlance, like “house cats”.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Here’s what Musk said in Tim Urban’s epic April blog post on Neuralink: “A house cat’s a good outcome, by the way. “AI is obviously going to surpass human intelligence by a lot …There’s some risk at that point that … the AI goes rogue.”

Neural lace will, according to Musk, head off AI armageddon by plugging us into evolving machine intelligence and keeping us ahead of the game.

Read the full feature in the Sydney Morning Herald here