Spearheading the technological utopia of tomorrow: is Elon Musk the right man for the job?
4 February 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Image courtesy of Skafeto.com
With Elon Musk’s near-constant presence in our news cycle, from the recent release of his Neuralink proposal and his battle with Jeff Bezos for financial supremacy, it is worth looking into the man spearheading some of the biggest technological advances of our time. Martian colonies sound cool enough as a concept and we could certainly see some benefit for humanity with Neuralink's medical benefits, yet it is Musk’s character, his views and questionable intentions, that make these otherwise appealing innovative projects dangerous.
It is best to start with the more clear-cut issue, which is, in my opinion, the Mars colony Musk aims to establish with his company SpaceX. Listening to the German film director Werner Herzog speak on this issue is illuminating: to him, the idea of humans establishing a Mars colony is “an obscenity” that shows humans as “locusts”; I’m sure even the most dedicated space-faring enthusiasts would agree that our planet is in dire straits ecologically speaking. How can we in good faith call this an advancement for humanity? The universe's biggest pest, humanity is happy to destroy its planet and flee to another with no change in the hubris we would carry there with us. Of course, the idea is not to completely abandon Earth for Mars, even in Musk’s wildest dreams this is unrealistic, but it sets a dangerous precedent for how we should deal with the climate crisis when our galaxy is seen as a safety net and a way out.
Delving deeper into the rabbit hole that is Musk’s mind uncovers more bizarre proposals that sound like sequels to dystopian stories, making us the inhabitants of the once-great Carcosa in his mind. One such proposal is that his planned colony on Mars would not adhere to international law. Whilst I am under no illusions that current international arrangements are the apex of human capabilities for governing ourselves as fairly and freely as possible, I struggle to imagine a future in which Mr Musk is the leviathan that will uncover what these are. Far better than even having something from earthly law as a basis he claims that ‘disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith’. This would be a concerningly vague statement of intent even from the titans of historical political struggles, with their years of study and experience in attempting to find a supreme organisation for human life.
However, coming from Musk, an unimaginably wealthy perpetual teenager, who once tweeted that America can and ‘will coup whoever we want’ to obtain raw materials and other financial benefits, this statement reads like nothing more than a bold lie. Who on this colony would be able to compete with Musk’s sheer mass of capital and influence if he were to have established a human colony on another planet through his own private company? The answer is no one. Not since the rule of divine monarchs has one man been imbued with such unfettered power over other humans lives, as Musk would have over his settlers.
One of his most recent forays into the world of the future has been through investing in his Neuralink project, which involves a tiny probe being implanted into the human brain and being connected with over 3000 electrodes. But unlike the irredeemably megalomaniacal Mars colony, there are some great upsides to this technology: it poses a potential cure for dementia, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. This innovative technology's ability to alleviate the terrible suffering that us frail and mortal humans can't escape is everything that science and technology should strive for.
Yet, in typical Bond villain fashion, this is not Musk’s primary goal for the technology. No, this would not allow him to fashion himself into the colossus of the future. He aims to create an era of “superhuman cognition”, to make sure we are not destroyed by the singularity. While the possibility of using technology to enhance our cognitive abilities is appealing, I can't help but fear the dystopic dangers of such innovations.
As Slavoj Zizek put it, this technology ‘represents unlimited possibilities for new forms of control’. It is no great leap in logic to fear that if a private company is able to change how you learn, they would also be able to influence what you learn. The beauty of human learning comes from its multiplicity and its chance for the feeling of adventure in all students, not from its efficiency. And with careless Elon Musk behind this project, we would be right to fear the worst.
Musk's projects will undoubtedly have important ramifications for humanity and we need to watch these developments closely– we can't exactly trust the intentions of the man behind them. Herzog sees Musk's plans as plans for a 'technological utopia', and as with the fascist ‘social utopias’ of the 20th century, Herzog argues, the course of history will bring this new vision of utopia to an end when it fails to fulfil its altruistic promises.