Brain science is the new rocket science, according to Bryan Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of neuro-technology company, Kernel.
In this session he discussed why expanding human intelligence should be the main focus and priority of our times and the challenges that come with breaking new ground on understanding the brain.
Johnson compared neuroscience to genetics, where tools can edit the genome, read, write and sequence it, with this toolset expansion leading to an explosion of questions and imagination.
“Assuming we all want a pleasant future,” he said, “reading and writing neural code is the single highest value thing.”
With emerging tech creating increased complexity in society, can we survive to be happy and relevant? Johnson claims the thing that needs most attention is the brain, as it represents everything we are and everything we aspire to be. However, he feels that it’s a bit of a blind spot and that humans are at risk of falling behind the game.
Since shifting his profession from fintech, he has realised we know very little about the brain, which is incredibly complex and challenging.
“I would like to build tools for the brain that enable us to ask anything,” he continued, citing questions like whether we do brain-to-brain communication, we could expand imagination by 100 fold, perfect and delete memories.
According to Johnson, the current debate over AI as an existential threat is misprioritised. “If we look at the history of the human race and how good it is at predicting tech, we get an F,” he added.
“We almost never get right what tech will be used for. I think it’s clear that humans do pose a threat to society – Exhibit A, all of human history.”
A hurdle he has had to overcome is the total lack of social proof that evolving our cognition is something people should care about, talk about, invest in or explore, with 99% of investors having no idea whether to care about it at all.
However, he believes that working on the brain may have benefits to everything we do, describing it as the “biggest revolution in the history of the human race”.
But what if people misuse it? “Yes, they will, people always misuse technology. The question that is more relevant is ‘is working on cognitive evolution a question of luxury or necessity?’”
Johnson has come to the conclusion that he is in fact cognitively impaired: “We think we see the world very clearly but we actually don’t – we’re trapped in a box and we can’t see outside of it.”
He described neural science as “like Jenga”, with no easy entry points. While he’s never been happier since his career shift from fintech, he has found it hard to socialise ideas as people don’t seem to understand them or explore them mentally.
“I don’t think we can predict future,” he concluded, “the most important thing is to acknowledge that and expand our cognitive abilities. Then, everything in existence changes – the brain is the master of all tools.”