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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.

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“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.

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.

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

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.

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– Mystery of the mind –

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.

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“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.

“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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.

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“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.

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.

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“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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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Trump insists ‘our economy is sooo strong’ — then blames ‘lamestream media’ if it tanks

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President Donald Trump continued laying the groundwork to convince his supporters the looming recession was caused by the media, not his economic policies.

Trump and his White House aides have called into question economic data showing a recession on the horizon, saying the economy was fundamentally strong, while also suggesting a downturn was caused by his political enemies to undermine his re-election chances.

"The Fake News LameStream Media is doing everything possible the 'create' a U.S. recession," Trump tweeted, "even though the numbers & facts are working totally in the opposite direction. They would be willing to hurt many people, but that doesn’t matter to them. Our Economy is sooo strong, sorry!"

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GOP donors are ‘rattled’ by bad economic signs and are searching for a Trump primary challenger: Former GOP senator

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Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told the Washington Post on Wednesday that he's received calls from several nervous Republican donors who fear a slowing or shrinking economy will doom the GOP in 2020 -- and they're looking to find a primary challenger for President Donald Trump.

Although Flake declined to name the donors, he did say that they believe the GOP stands no chance of winning in 2020 if the economy sputters, especially since Trump's divisive leadership style has permanently alienated so many Americans.

"They are wondering, if the economy isn’t stellar next year, how is the party going to win?" Flake said. "By the president offending more people?"

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2020 Election

Ocasio-Cortez says the electoral college system is a racist scam

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"Many votes here as you can see," Ocasio-Cortez said, showing a vast empty landscape. "Very efficient way to choose leadership of the country."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez injected humor into her commentary on the Electoral College, which she posted on Instagram Monday night, but her message was serious: the 232-year-old system which allowed Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump to win their elections with less support from voters than their Democratic opponents, gives precedence to white people's votes over those of people of color.

The progressive New York Democrat narrated a video taken from a car driving through a stretch of an empty desert road, showing no houses, cars, people, or businesses—saying the image illustrated why the Electoral College should be abolished in favor of of a "one person, one vote" system.

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