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Machine-meshed super-humans remain stuff of fantasy

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A bold vision by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk to mesh human brains with artificial intelligence remains more science fiction than reality.

Even as Musk claimed his Neuralink startup had enabled a monkey to control a computer with its brain, experts were quick to dampen expectations for a futuristic scenario from “The Matrix” films, based on people with cybernetic implants.

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Musk this week revealed his Neuralink startup is making progress on its brain-computer interface effort, and said the company hopes to begin testing on people next year.

Musk, founder of the automaker Tesla and the private space firm SpaceX, has long contended that a neural lace meshing minds with machines is vital if humans are to avoid being outpaced by artificial intelligence.

“This has a very good purpose, which is to cure important diseases and ultimately to help secure humanity’s future as a civilization relative to AI,” Musk said.

He disclosed that a Neuralink implant was successfully tested in a monkey in a California university lab.

“A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain, just FYI,” Musk said, surprising the Neuralink president during a question-and-answer session.

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Experts remained cautious about his vision of merging minds with super-powered computing.

Musk’s description “is really an aspirational vision for something very far down the line,” said University of Southern California assistant professor of biology sciences Andrew Hires.

“It is unclear if we will ever get to that stage.”

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Neuralink unveiled a tiny sensor with hair-thin strands that could be implanted in a brain through a small incision by a robot built for the high-precision task.

“Ultimately, we can do a full brain-machine interface,” Musk said.

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“Achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”

For now, the goal is to let a person with the implants control a smartphone with thought, but the technology could eventually extend to other devices such as robotic arms, he said.

An early focus is using the technology to address brain diseases and paralysis, but the longer aim is to make implants so safe, reliable and easy that they could be options for people seeking to enhance their brains with computing power, according to the Neuralink team.

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“It is not like Neuralink will suddenly have this incredible neural lace and it will start taking over people’s brains,” Musk quipped.

“It will take a long time, and you will see it coming.”

Musk said the goal was to make adding the brain-enhancing implants as easy a procedure as laser eye surgery.

– Mystery of the mind –

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AFP/File / Brendan Smialowski
Experts remain skeptical of the claims from Elon Musk, who is seeking an interface that help people enhance their brain power with computers
David Schneider, a professor at the center for neural science at New York University, was among those who saw barriers.

A major limitation is that an array of regions of the brain are engaged for handling tasks, while implants target one part at a time.

“A the end of the day, everything we do, regardless of how simple it might seem, is a distributed brain function,” Schneider said.

While technology has improved for reading information coming out of brains, it isn’t up to snuff when it comes to sending it back to all the necessary parts simultaneously, according to researchers.

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“They were humble enough to admit their main targets were motor areas,” Ramana Vinjamuri, an engineering professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, said of Neuralink.

“I was happy they stopped there instead of claiming we are going to read your minds, your thoughts, your memories — if they had done that I would have been laughing out loud.”

– Brain defenses –

Another challenge is that a brain implant triggers the body’s defenses, which treat it as alien material to be rejected.

“Say Neuralink puts it in a person tomorrow, will the interface hold up after one year and still keep giving the same signals it did day one?” Vinjamuri said.

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And regulatory approval would typically require long-term testing in animals.

Neuralink could seek an “investigational device” exemption to try implants in a few patients impaired by spinal cord injuries or strokes.

“I don’t know that I want to meld my brain with AI, nor do I think do many of us,” said Schneider.

His hope is that Neuralink innovations could restore sight, or cure paralysis.

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For now, Musk is bringing energy and private investment to a brain implant area that researchers have been working on for decades with government funding.

“We need fantastical thinkers, but we also need capital and the bravery to invest lots of capital in refining these technologies,” Hires said.


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‘He’ll be remembered for his patriotism’: Twitter is loving Adam Schiff’s declaration that we can’t ‘just wait’ to hold Trump accountable

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This Tuesday morning, House Democrats held a press conference to announce abuse of power and obstruction of Congress articles of impeachment against President Trump. Closing out the presser, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff argued that time is of the essence when it comes to holding Trump accountable.

"The argument 'why don't you just wait' amounts to this: Why don't you just let him cheat in one more election?" Schiff said.

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Here’s why Democrats only focused on two Trump crimes in articles of impeachment

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MSNBC's Claire McCaskill explained why House Democrats narrowed the focus to just two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

The former Missouri senator believes that limiting the scope of the impeachment trial will help Democrats make a stronger case, because the narrative of Trump's wrongdoing will be easier for the public to understand.

"They're doing the 'KISS' principal -- keep it simple, stupid," McCaskill said. "A lot of Americans have tuned this out, and the moment they will tune in again will probably be at the Senate trial in January."

"I believe we'll have a partisan vote on the articles in the House, and a trial with the chief justice of the Supreme Court in the Senate chamber, that's when folks will tune in," she added. "And at that moment it is important that the House managers to have a very simple story to tell, and that is why we're leaving (special counsel Robert) Mueller on the side, bribery on the side, all of that on the side, and they're just focusing on these two simple concepts that the president abused his power by using his office for political gain, and withholding aide from an ally they desperately needed to fight a war with Russia."

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IMPEACHMENT: House announces two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump

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At 9:07 AM ET Speaker Nancy Pelosi began a press conference to announce the House will draft and vote upon this week Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump. Those articles are abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Calling it a “solemn day,” the Speaker thanked the six committee chairs who have been engaged in the impeachment inquiry, and gave special thanks to the late Chairman Elijah Cummings.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler dsaid Trump “endangers” the Constitution and American democracy.

“Today the House Committee is introducing two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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