The dreams of today’s visionaries are ultimately quite poor. That of the fusion of humans with machines does not escape observation. What portrait do we paint of the man of the future? When we avoid the bionic man, we invoke a cyborg who has become invulnerable because he would have hybridized his anatomy and his physiology with the dematerialized resources offered by cybernetics.
For a long time, technologies have conspired to reduce or even eliminate what remains of passivity in the human being – in other words: the fact for him of having to receive life as a gift, the obligation to endure the sufferings of the disease, the humiliation of aging and, finally, the inevitability of death. They claim to put an end to finitude, as the philosophers say, and we gradually get used to their supposedly saving prophecies.
A visionary ?
Elon Musk embodies the accomplished visionary these days. Not only because he works in favor of the colonization of space which would allow us to abandon our planet which has become unlivable. Not only because he intends to give cars an autonomy that would deliver us from that of human drivers, unfortunately too human. Not only because he intends to seize algorithms capable of organizing a planetary public space. All of this would already justify identifying the ambitions of the billionaire with the obsessions of transhumanism.
But the multiplication of announcements surrounding SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter would remain in scattered order if the Neuralink project did not explore what should be the matrix, namely: the possibility of communicating directly with computers by thought. From the start-up Neuralink, Musk expects a lot and with him, all the fanatics of “integral thinking” as was named the ultimate innovation, in the famous Report said NBIC (Nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science and cognitive sciences) commissioned by the US government to identify, in the early 2000s, the “futuribles” generated by the convergence of technologies.
Integral thought, that is to say the prospect of coupling the brain with the resources provided by the Internet or, more precisely: the possibility of controlling by thought alone any device functioning as an information system, for example a factory , an automobile, a social network or… a human being. Neuralink is a company intended to produce brain-machine interfaces, thanks to implants such as electronic chips.
The objective is not small and it mobilizes a lot of research around the world. France can be proud of the work of Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, who founded Clinatec in Grenoble to design biomedical devices capable, in particular, of giving quadriplegics the possibility of acting on their immediate environment, thanks to interfacing their brain’s synaptic circuits with machines. But what characterizes Neuralink, which declares that it is also working in this direction, is the desire to very quickly achieve a so to speak metaphysical objective: to establish the conditions for direct communication of thought with computers, thereby contributing to a dematerialization in phase with the transhumanist ambition to put an end to the resistance of the body.
We often incriminate the technological excess of our time by denouncing its uncontrollable Prometheanism. High-tech engineers are sometimes accused of playing sorcerer’s apprentices, when they are not the new demiurges. But have we exactly identified what underlies this incrimination? Neuralink’s project helps to do that.
To understand this, a brief detour will be useful: philosophers know how to unveil the foundation of the ambition to make themselves gods which inhabits the makers of systems, those metaphysicians who would like to eliminate human finitude by revealing it as an illusion that a totalizing knowledge would dissipate. Immanuel Kant summed up their error by criticizing what has since been called Saint Anselm (11th century) “ontological argument”that is to say the reasoning which intends to prove the existence of God by maintaining that the concept of a perfect being necessarily possesses among its attributes the very fact of existing.
Kant’s critique concluded quite simply: from the concept, one can never deduce reality; from what one thinks of a thing, were it perfect, it cannot result that it exists. From there, criticism could well extend to any metaphysical undertaking when it yields to the illusion of being able to attain absolute knowledge.
After this digression, how not to return to the technological project from which Elon Musk proceeds, who would like to entrust to cognitive activity alone the power to produce all reality? This is the ontological argument implemented by research on brain-machine interfaces and, more obviously, by those that claim to “augment” reality through virtual technologies.
There is no doubt that the metaverse will soon invoke the anteriority of metaphysical speculations to attest that technology contributes to bringing metaphysics to the world! The same dream of omnipotence animates the philosopher aiming for absolute Knowledge and the engineer of today flirting with the fantasy of immortality, even if the trajectory from one to the other inclines to depreciate more and more plus the symbolic dimension of the human to which philosophy remains attached.