Featured Article : Tesla Robotaxi In August

Following a fall in Tesla EV sales and profits, Tesla boss Elon Musk has announced that he’ll be unveiling a ‘Robotaxi’ on August 8 this year.

May Swap Lower Cost EV For Robotaxi 

Reports initially indicated that Mr Musk’s Tesla company would be abandoning its plans to build a lower-cost EV (the Model 2) in favour of building the ‘robotaxi’ instead using the same small EV platform that was designed to power the lower-cost EV. However, Mr Musk took to his ‘X’ platform to quash that rumour.

What Is A ‘Robotaxi’? 

The robotaxi will be an autonomous ride-hailing service but it’s not yet clear if it will resemble a typical car or a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals.

Promised Years Ago 

A Tesla car with autonomous capabilities was first promised back in 2016 as a way for Tesla owners to make an income from their cars as part of a ride-sharing network. At the time, the idea was that owners could add their car “to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app” enabling them to make money from the car while they’re “at work or on vacation” thereby “significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost.” 

In 2017 and 2019 the ‘robotaxi’ idea – autonomous cars as part of a ride-sharing network – was floated again. Musk then said a couple of years later that a robotaxi with no steering wheel or pedals would enter the market by 2024.

Markets Pleased 

Mr Musk’s announcement that the robotaxi will be unveiled on August 8 initially pleased the markets with Tesla (TSLA) stock closing up nearly 5 per cent shortly after.

Automated Driving Features Anyway 

Teslas already have a driver-assistance system called ‘Autopilot’ as standard, anyway. However, for an extra $12,000, owners can buy a “full self-driving,” or FSD feature. However, this does not yet enable full autonomous driving capabilities but instead adds some automated driving features.

What Makes Tesla Uniquely Able To Introduce A Robotaxi? 

In addition to the original plan for owners to be able to add their car to the Tesla ride-sharing network, and the FSD feature, other factors that make Musk’s Tesla (perhaps uniquely) able to make a robotaxi include:

– Data Collection at scale. Tesla vehicles on the road today are equipped with a suite of sensors that collect vast amounts of data on real-world driving conditions (2.5 million miles of self-driving data from customers every day). Tesla uses this data to continuously improve its Autopilot and FSD algorithms through machine learning. This crowdsourced data collection model is unique to Tesla and is a critical component of its strategy to achieve full automation.

– Vertical integration. Tesla’s vertical integration strategy encompasses the manufacturing of its own batteries, software development, and vehicle production. This control over the entire supply chain and development process allows for rapid iteration and deployment of new technologies, which is essential for the development of an autonomous robotaxi.

– Energy efficiency and operational cost. Tesla’s electric vehicles are known for their energy efficiency, which can significantly reduce the operational cost of running a robotaxi service. Lower costs could make Tesla’s robotaxi service more competitive against traditional ride-sharing services and personal car ownership.

– Innovative battery technology. Tesla’s continuous innovation in battery technology, aiming for higher energy density, longer lifespan, and lower costs, will be critical for the economic viability and sustainability of a robotaxi fleet.

– Telsla’s brand image and consumer trust. Tesla’s brand is strongly associated with innovation in electric vehicles and autonomy. This existing consumer trust and interest could, therefore, encourage quicker adoption of its robotaxi service.

What About Regulation?

Although Tesla has experience in navigating the regulatory landscape for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, one of the significant challenges of getting an autonomous robotaxi service on the road is likely to be whether Tesla can successfully navigate the regulatory hurdles.

Another challenge that Tesla may be faced with to get robotaxi on the road could be of a technical nature, i.e. having to add more enhanced sensors, cameras, and other equipment to enable it to achieve full autonomy.

Hype Vs Reality? 

Other more sceptical commentators have seen Musk’s announcement as perhaps just a tactic to boost share prices and keep investors focused on the future of his company by dangling a new product (and one that’s been dangled before a few times). It’s also been suggested (e.g. by Adam Crisafulli of Vital Knowledge) that it’s a case of Tesla perhaps trying to distract from the poor current EV market conditions, and that the hype may not live up to the reality.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With the EV market going through a bit of a slump and with Tesla stock prices having struggled recently, the more sceptical among us could be forgiven as seeing this announcement as ‘classic Musk’, i.e. floating a new product to give things a boost.

The idea and the original vision for the robotaxi fleet dates back to 2016 but it may now be the case (although Musk denies it) that he’s going to prioritise the robotaxi over the lower-cost EV (Model 2) car.

If successful and all regulatory and technical challenges are overcome, the introduction of a robotaxi could have a number of industrywide ripple-effects. In fact, it could shake up several industries, compelling traditional automakers to fast-track autonomous and electric vehicle technologies. Ride-hailing services could see a direct threat to their business models, as robotaxis promise lower costs and potentially cheaper fares for consumers.

This new service could also impact public transportation usage, influence insurance industry standards due to changing risk profiles, and necessitate new regulatory frameworks. Urban planning may also need to evolve to accommodate autonomous vehicles, and while there could be job displacements in driving professions, new opportunities in tech and fleet management may arise.

Also, with robotaxis being electric, they could contribute to reducing transportation’s environmental footprint, aligning with sustainability goals. These ripple effects, therefore, would span across multiple sectors, prompting widespread innovation and adaptation. All that said, we’ve now got to wait a few months to see if (and how) Musk delivers on his promise.

Tech News : Musk Launches Preview of Grok AI Chatbot

Elon Musk’s ‘xAI’ company has launched the preview of ‘Grok’, a new and rebellious AI chatbot that’s modelled after the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Grok 

Grok is Musk’s answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Musk was a co-founder ChatGPT’s OpenAI before stepping down from its board in 2018, and his new xAI company is staffed with (ex) Google DeepMind, Microsoft, and other top AI research personnel.

Truth Seeking

Back in July, Musk said that his new xAI company would “understand the true nature of the universe” and would be an alternative to other popular AI companies that are “biased.” Musk said that xAI’s AI product would, therefore, serve as a “maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe”, would be “maximally curious” instead of having morality programmed into it, and in a Tweet (a while ago) warned of the “danger of training AI to be woke – in other words, lie”. This stance ties-in with Musk’s vision for X (Twitter) being a platform of free speech. For example, there has been some criticism of Musk’s X recently re-instating the accounts of far-right influencers Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson.

The Grok Difference 

It is against this backdrop that Grok’s introduction has been announced. The key differences between Grok and competing AI chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bard are:

Grok has real-time knowledge of the world via its training on the X platform (and probably on Oracle’s cloud). Other chatbots have only been trained to access information up to certain points in the past (ChatGPT-3 up to September 2021, and ChatGPT-4 April 2023) and (until very recently) needed plugins to access more current information. Back in April, Musk angrily accused Microsoft of training its AI programs through the ‘illegal’ use of Twitter data.

Also, in keeping with Musk’s ‘free speech’ stance and focus on ‘truth’ rather than ‘woke,’ X says that Grok will answer “spicy questions that are rejected by most other AI systems.”

Musk says “Grok is designed to answer questions with a bit of wit and has a rebellious streak, so please don’t use it if you hate humour!”

Some commentators have described its ability to use ‘sarcasm’ in its answers.

Why?

Despite Musk’s early involvement with OpenAI, X was essentially beaten to the generative AI chatbot market by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Copilot, and Meta’s announcement of truth GPT. After venting his frustration with competitors, Musk (who’s been busy fighting to create revenue streams for X other than advertising and trying to counter criticism about X under his leadership) while advancing his new company xAI and planning to turn X into a super app is keen to get his own differentiated generative AI product out there in order to compete. In fact, Grok will first be included as part of the X Premium+ membership, as a way to add value and help justify the subscription fee (all adding to the much-needed new X revenue stream).

Also, Musk’s concern over the threats posed by unchecked and unregulated AI, which led him to be one of the famous open letter signatories calling for a 6-month moratorium on the development of AI systems more capable than OpenAI’s latest GPT-4 (which may have given him more development time of his own), may have been a motivator for him to create a more positive and less threatening version of AI.

For example, Musk suggests his broader reasons for creating Grok include “building AI tools that maximally benefit all of humanity,” and empowering users with “AI tools, subject to the law.” Also, Musk says the ultimate goal for AI tools like Grok is to “assist in the pursuit of understanding.”

Who? 

Musk’s xAI says that the prototype release of Grok is just the first step for a chatbot that is initially being offered to a limited number of users in the United States to try out. Those wanting to try it following testing can join a Grok waitlist. Grok is ultimately intended to be offered as part of the X Premium+ membership.

When and How Much? 

When out of beta, and since it will be incorporated into X Premium+ subscription, the price will be $16 per month (less than ChatGPT’s $20 per month).

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Grok is the latest in a line of generative AI chatbot/AI assistant releases from the big tech companies. It’s the first big release from Elon Musk’s new xAI company, which is predominantly staffed by people from competing AI companies.

For Musk, therefore, it’s a way to compete in the new and rapidly evolving generative AI market, establish xAI as a significant player, benefit from synergies and add value to the troubled X while making the much-needed X Premium+ subscription more attractive (a new, non-advertising revenue stream). It’s also a way to put an AI assistant in place, ready for the proposed expansion of X to becoming a ‘super app’.

Crucially, Grok is a way to differentiate Musk’s late offering in the generative AI marketplace – a chatbot that’s a representation of the X brand and of Musk’s own public persona, and of his vision for AI. For other AI companies, it’s a threat but may not yet be seen as a major one (i.e. only being in beta, needing more training, and being confined within X membership).  For users, who may be already familiar and relatively happy with ChatGPT, and who may not be tempted by X Premium+ membership and yet another subscription for the same thing (in tight economic times), it remains to be seen how much of a lure a more novel, (possibly right-wing) chatbot style will be.

Tech News : Volunteer To Be A Cyborg, Anyone?

Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink has announced that it’s looking for recruits for its first in-human clinical trial of a brain implant.

Approved 

Neuralink says that it has received approval from the independent institutional review board and for its first hospital site to begin recruitment in its first-in-human clinical trial of a brain implant that could help people with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts.

Neuralink 

Neuralink is a neurotechnology company co-founded by Elon Musk in 2016. The company’s aim has been to develop high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) with the goal of merging the human brain with artificial intelligence (AI) and thereby advance human capabilities.

The idea is that the BMI, with its tiny, flexible electrode threads (thinner than human hairs) can be implanted into the brain to establish a high-resolution interface with neural circuits to record and stimulate electrical activity.

The main objective of Neuralink is to create a safe and effective means of connecting the human brain to computers or other external devices, for example to enable people who can’t use their hands to use their mobile phone or other devices simply by thinking about it.

The PRIME Study 

The first in-human trial has been dubbed the PRIME Study (short for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface) which Neuralink describes as “a groundbreaking investigational medical device trial for our fully implantable, wireless brain-computer interface (BCI)”.  

The six-year PRIME study will be used to assess and evaluate the safety and functionality of the company’s N1 implant, R1 surgical robot, and BCI. Neuralink says the goal of this first study will be: “to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.” 

What Will Happen? 

Neuralink says the study, which will be conducted under the investigational device exemption (IDE) awarded by the FDA in May 2023, will involve:

– The R1 Robot surgically placing the N1 Implant’s ultra-fine threads in a region of the brain that controls movement intention.

– The N1 Implant (which is “cosmetically invisible”) being used to record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that will decode movement intention.

Recruits 

Neuralink’s website says that, since the main (initial) purpose of the implant is to help those with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts, it is looking for recruits for the study who have, “quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)” 

That said, the website also provides a link for those who want to join a “Patient Registry” for current and “future Neuralink clinical trials.” 

Pigs 

Some may remember that  Neuralink’s implanting of devices into pigs (3 years ago) and demonstration by Musk involving three of them attracted a backlash and great deal of criticism on ethical grounds. Some commentators at the time also noted the potential dystopian possibilities of implants that could potentially be used for control, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reacted very angrily to Mr Musk’s use of pigs. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk issued a statement at the time saying, “PETA challenges Elon Musk to behave like a pioneer and implant the Neuralink chip in his own brain.” 

In 2022, it was reported that the company was under federal investigation for potential animal-welfare violations, and that there were internal staff complaints that Neuralink’s animal testing was being rushed and may have caused needless suffering and deaths.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Finding a way to help people with paralysis to operate devices using just their thoughts is a promising and potentially ground-breaking innovation that could deliver huge benefits. It’s also good that volunteers are being invited, thereby potentially giving many people a chance.

This is still a trial however, with a device is in its early stages, even though it has shown some promising signs in tests on pigs (which in itself created an ethical backlash) and so over the next six-months it will still only help a small number of people. That said, it needs to be tested and it’s likely that there will be many volunteers.

If successful and production and implanting program moves forward, the device could (presumably )help with other (medical) conditions and its usage could open up many other opportunities and whole new areas of development for companies and developers hoping to use the interface to link with a variety of products and services in a unique way. However, with it being a brain implant from a company run by a controversial tech figure rather than someone with a medical background, it will inevitably attract criticism around the first steps being taken into a dystopian future. Doubtless too, there will be conspiracy theories and opposition.

Hopefully, the proper regulation and oversight will be in place for Neuralink’s testing (both animals and human) to ensure safety and ethics going forward, and it would be a great achievement if, in six months or so, someone with paralysis can have at least part of their life transformed in a positive way by the implant, and even greater if this could be scaled up to benefit many more people.

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History …

Falcon 1 Launched : 28th September 2008

Rocket Man!

This week on September 28 2008 SpaceX managed to finally get the Falcon 1 rocket into space.

Founder Elon Musk was obviously thrilled, although curiously he wasn’t hungry – even though he’d skipped breakfast earlier that day. It was because he’d had such a big launch.

And just like that pun spectacularly failed, so too did Elon’s first three rocket launches in 2006, 2007, and also earlier that same year in 2008. It was why the payload of ‘RatSat’ was just a dummy and was used to simulate the mass of an actual satellite to test the rocket’s capabilities without risking a functional satellite. Obviously, cash was more important than ever as this was the first fully liquid-fuelled launch vehicle developed privately to enter orbit. An expensive business!

After those three expensive failures, that fourth success was pretty crucial for Elon Musk who has mentioned in several interviews that the company was close to running out of funds, and the success of the fourth launch was critical for securing more funding and ensuring the survival of the company.

After the rocket was launched successfully the next July (2009), this meant the rocket had 5 launches before it was retired, helping secure SpaceX to become the success it has become and with a market cap this summer (2023) of around $150 Billion, it’s Worth More Than Boeing and Raytheon. Not bad.

The moral here? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!
Although it may be helpful make sure you have deep pockets or access to someone else’s capital.

Featured Article : What The XXXX Does It All Mean?

Elon Musk has stated that his “𝕏” social media platform will cover the legal expenses and initiate lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have been treated “unfairly “by their employers due to posts or likes on the site, previously known as Twitter.

Presumably, he is trying to reinvent champion the platform as a bastion of free speech and everything seems to be getting turned upside down, so with Elon Musk re-branding Twitter, we look at why the rebrand has happened, and what rebrands can do for companies.

As an aside, the symbol “𝕏” is part of the Mathematical Alphanumeric Symbols block in Unicode. It represents a double-struck capital letter X. In mathematics, double-struck letters are often used to represent special sets or spaces. For example, the double-struck capital letter R (ℝ) is commonly used to denote the set of real numbers, and the double-struck capital letter C (ℂ) is used for the set of complex numbers.

The symbol “𝕏” itself might not have a universally recognised meaning, but it could be used in a specific context within mathematics or physics to represent a particular set or space.

For ease, we’ll stick to “X” for the remainder of this context.

From Twitter To X – What Happened?

At the end of July, Twitter replaced its familiar blue bird logo with a white X on a black background. The change is now visible in all Twitter/X accounts. What were termed ‘tweets’ will now be called “x’s.

A Slight Hiccup 

In one unfortunate incident during the rapid re-brand, the replacing of the new sign at Twitter’s/X’s San Francisco headquarters was interrupted as the police were called over a ‘mistake’ about a possible unpermitted street closure.

Why Rebrand?  

Elon Musk explained the reason for the rebrand as: “Twitter was acquired by X Corp both to ensure freedom of speech and as an accelerant for X, the everything app.” This indicates Musk’s intention to turn what was Twitter into a ‘super app’ such as China’s ‘WeChat’.

Super apps, like WeChat, are essentially like several apps rolled into one, thereby allowing the user to open just one app to do almost everything, e.g. from messaging, payments and manging subscriptions to paying bills, ordering groceries, buying travel tickets, and more.

Creating a super app called ‘X’ was something Elon Musk had in mind when he bought Twitter, saying that buying the social media platform was an “accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”

As Musk went on to explain in a tweet / an x: “This is not simply a company renaming itself, but doing the same thing. The Twitter name made sense when it was just 140 character messages going back and forth – like birds tweeting – but now you can post almost anything, including several hours of video. In the months to come, we will add comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world. The Twitter name does not make sense in that context, so we must bid adieu to the bird.” 

Other Reasons? 

It’s true that Musk was eyeing the super app / everything app idea when he took over Twitter, but he may also feel the time is right for a change following the many troubles and bad headlines since he took over. For example, job cuts (moderators, bosses, and workers), warnings from America’s Federal Trade Commission, key advertising partners leaving Twitter followed by a massive 68 per cent drop in media traffic, Microsoft dropping Twitter from its advertising platform, and a user vote wanting replace Musk have been just some of the high-profile bumps in the road. The decisive factor that may have helped accelerate the rebrand may well be Meta’s success in launching a competitor to Twitter in ‘Threads’ which gained 100 million sign-ups in just five days.

To Re-Brand Or Not To Re-Brand? 

Rebranding for Twitter, given its high profile and what’s at stake, could be seen as a high-risk move, or an opportunity to move forward in a new and better direction.

Rebranding can have both positive and negative outcomes for companies. Here are some of the main strengths and weaknesses of rebranding. For example, some of the key strengths of rebranding are:

– A Fresh Start. Rebranding can allow companies to reinvent themselves and start anew. It can breathe new life into a stagnant or declining brand or (hopefully) help a company to get away from negative associations with the previous brand or something negative it may have been involved in and made the news for.

– Differentiation. A successful rebranding can help a company stand out from competitors and help to emphasise their USP(s) and positioning.

– Market Expansion. A re-brand can facilitate entry into new markets by adapting the brand to suit the preferences and cultural nuances of different regions.

– Relevance. Rebranding can make a brand more relevant to current trends and consumer preferences, thereby appealing to a broader audience.

– Publicity and Attention. A well-executed rebranding generates media coverage and attention, which can increase brand awareness and engagement.

There are, however, some well-known weaknesses of re-branding. These can include:

– Brand Confusion. A poorly executed rebranding can confuse existing customers, leading to a decline in customer loyalty and sales.

– Costs. Of course, a rebranding exercise can be very expensive, involving changes to logos, packaging, marketing materials, and more. If not managed well, it could strain financial resources.

– Loss of Brand Equity. Unfortunately, rebranding may also lead to the loss of accumulated brand equity, especially if the new image does not resonate with the target audience.

– Negative Associations. Rebranding may not always succeed in shedding negative associations linked to the previous brand identity.

– Market Resistance. In some cases, consumers may be resistant to change, and a drastic rebranding can alienate loyal customers, leading to a temporary dip in sales.

Examples Of Where Re-Brandings Have Gone Well, And Not So Well… 

Re-branding is not particularly uncommon and, in fact, as part of perhaps playing down his decision to rebrand Twitter, Elon Musk shared a Tweet by Jon Erlichman (from Bloomberg) who listed many examples of now well-known brands that resulted from re-brands. For example: “Amazon: Cadabra Best Buy: Sound of Music eBay: Auction Web Facebook: Meta Google: BackRub Instagram: Burbn Netflix: Kibble Nike: Blue Ribbon Sports Pepsi: Brad’s Drink Playboy: Stag Party 7-Eleven: Tote’m Stores Snapchat: Picaboo Starbucks: Cargo House Target: Goodfellow Tinder: Matchbox”.  

Interestingly, Elon Musk’s original online banking business was called x.com before it was rebranded to PayPal in 2000 and you may recall that (before it was required to be changed by law) Musk’s baby was originally called X (First name) AE A-XII (Middle name) Musk. Clearly the symbol has significant meaning for Mr Musk!

It’s true, of course, that there are many examples of where rebranding has helped and tuned out well but, unfortunately, there are examples of where things haven’t gone to plan at all. With this in mind, here are a few high profile examples from recent history:

Rebrands that went well …. 

– A very famous one – Apple’s rebranding in the late 1990s is often cited as a successful example. They shifted from the colourful Apple logo and a confusing product lineup to a minimalistic, monochromatic logo and a focused product range. This move emphasised simplicity, which resonated with consumers and helped to contribute to their resurgence.

– In 2011, Starbucks dropped the word “Coffee” from its logo, symbolising their expansion beyond coffee products. This rebranding showcased their diversification into other beverages and food items. The change was subtle but effective, signalling the company’s evolving identity.

– Uber rebranded in 2016, shifting from the black “U” logo to a new design featuring a white circle and stylised “Uber” text. This rebranding aimed to represent the company’s global presence and versatility. It was generally well-received and helped signify a more mature and evolved brand.

Rebrands that didn’t go quite so well …

– In one that many people might remember, in 2001, the UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, underwent a rebranding to become “Consignia.” The rebranding was supposed to emphasise the company’s expansion into a broader range of logistics and communication services. However, the name change received widespread criticism and confusion from the public. The decision was expensive, and within a year, due to the negative response and lack of public acceptance, Royal Mail reverted to its original name. The failed rebranding was considered to be a costly and embarrassing misstep for the company.

– Wonga, a (controversial) UK payday loan company in the, attempted a rebranding in 2013 to appear more responsible and customer friendly. Despite introducing a new logo and advertising campaigns, the rebranding was met with scepticism and critics argued that the underlying issues of high-interest rates and predatory lending practices were not addressed. Public perception didn’t improve, leading to regulatory challenges and reputational damage. In 2018, Wonga went into administration, showing that rebranding can fail if it doesn’t address core problems authentically.

– In 2010, Gap attempted a rebranding by introducing a new logo, replacing their iconic blue box. However, the new design received overwhelming negative feedback from consumers and the design community. As a result, Gap quickly reverted to their original logo.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Twitter’s re-brand is another big deal for the company in what has been a bumpy road since Musk took over.

Rebranding is a strategic move that has the potential can breathe new life into a company – if/when it’s done right but it’s crucial for businesses to keep some essential considerations in mind. Rebranding should serve a clear purpose and be in line with the company’s vision and values. For Twitter(‘X’), the re-branding appears to fit with Musk’s original vision of turning it into an ‘everything app.’ It’s also essential in rebranding, however, to put the customer at the centre of the rebranding process, ensuring it resonates with the target audience.

Authenticity is a key consideration and successful rebranding addresses underlying issues and avoids superficial changes. With all that’s happened at Twitter in recent times, Musk’s tried to make this change appear as non-superficial as possible, saying the platform is going to be completely changed in scope. Planning and executing a rebranding with a strategic approach is also vital, considering all aspects of the business, and many people may have been taken a little by surprise at the sudden announcement and the contrast of twittering birds with the bold black and just a mysterious X. For re-branding, businesses must also be aware of potential risks, like customer confusion or negative perceptions, and take steps to mitigate them but with trouble at Twitter recently and with the arrival of Microsoft’s Threads, it may have been more of a case of not worrying too much about that now.

A rebranding should be seen as a long-term investment in a company’s growth and reputation and, as it has done for many companies, can yield significant benefits when done right. There are, however, many examples of where it hasn’t worked out for many large businesses and Musk is gambling with high stakes that the transformation to an ‘everything app’ pays off.

It’s still early days in the rebrand – watch this space!

Tech News : Musk’s New AI Company’s Mission To “Understand The Universe”

There’s nothing like setting the bar high and Elon Musk recently announced in a Twitter Spaces audio chat that the purpose of his new AI company, xAI, will be to “understand the universe”.

What Is xAI? 

xAI is Elon Musk’s new startup that aims to build a kind of ‘good’ AI system that will lead to an “age of plenty” where there’s no shortage of goods and services, as opposed to the dark, terminator-style future where AI could wipe out humanity. Musk said he wants xAI to be a “good AI” alternative to Microsoft, Google and OpenAI (ChatGPT’s makers). Elon Musk was famously one of the high-profile signatories (there were 1800) of the open letter calling for a six-month moratorium on the development of AI systems “more powerful” than that of GPT-4 which stated systems with “human-competitive intelligence” poses profound risks to humanity.

Musk said: “If I could press pause on AI or really advanced AI digital superintelligence I would. It doesn’t seem like that is realistic so xAI is essentially going to build an AI … in a good way, sort of hopefully”.

Who’s Involved? 

With Musk as the sole director, others involved in the xAI project include Jared Birchall (secretary), Dan Hendrycks (director of the Center for AI Safety), Igor Babuschkin (a former DeepMind engineer), Tony Wu (formerly of Google), Christian Szegedy (formerly Google – research), and Greg Yang (formerly of Microsoft).

What’s Going On? 

In Musk’s 90-minute-long chat, he jokingly remarked that the mission of xAI will be to find out “what the hell is really going on” in terms of creating “a maximally curious AI” that is trying to “understand the true nature of the universe” in a “pro-humanity” way.

Realised Pause Is Not Realistic 

In Musk’s Twitter chat, he acknowledged (as many critics of the open letter’s demands had previously pointed out) that a pause/moratorium in the development of AI systems is not realistic and that the best course of action is to create a friendly alternative.

‘Terminator’ Style Fate May Be Closer Than You Think 

During his chat, Musk said of the predictions of human-level intelligence AI’s potential to turn against and wipe out humans: “It’s actually important for us to worry about a Terminator future in order to avoid a Terminator future.” He suggested that the superintelligent AI (more intelligent than humans) could be only five or six years away.

Working With Tesla & Twitter – Twitter Data To Train 

The xAI website states that: “We are a separate company from X Corp, but will work closely with X (Twitter), Tesla, and other companies to make progress towards our mission.”  Musk has been very vocal about (and threatened lawsuits for) those allegedly using Twitter’s data.

Criticism 

Musk is also facing criticism in the news at the moment over his apparently personal fight with Mark Zuckerberg over allegations that Twitter data may have been used to develop Meta’s ‘Threads’ (which already has 100 million+ users, many from Twitter, plus the fact that after $44 billion and eight months on from taking over Twitter, the social network appears to be teetering on the edge of going under.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Many critics blame Musk’s behaviour in taking over Twitter – aggressive cost-cutting, the Blue Tick system, the sackings, advertisers leaving, and still a negative cashflow, 50 per cent drop in advertising revenue, and a heavy debt load (and more). While Musk may choose to blame Zuckerberg and Meta e.g., for scraping Twitter data, many see the apparent fast decline of Twitter that created the right circumstances for a serious competitor like Meta’s ‘Threads’ to gain massive and instant traction and mass as something Musk could blame on himself. Many may, therefore, see a move to launch yet another company as a rival to AI, which is advancing at a pace anyway, and accepting that getting xAI to the level of Google’s DeepMind and OpenAI could take a long time, as another high risk move by Musk. Using Twitter and Tesla to help get xAI off the ground may also make investors nervous, especially looking at the trajectory of Twitter. Many may see valid points in Musk’s arguments about needing to ensure that AI’s growth is at least made as safe as possible, but apparently swimming against a strong tide with a reputation that has taken a bit of a battering may make many doubt whether xAI will seriously be able, even with all the experts on board, to create another kind of safer AI. The battle of formats in many other tech markets springs to mind, but the events at Twitter may overshadow xAI’s development.

Tech News : Musk’s Brain Chips Ready For Humans

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface device company has been given the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin a clinical study with humans as subjects.

What Is Neuralink? 

Neuralink is a neurotechnology company co-founded by Elon Musk in 2016. The company aims to develop high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) with the goal of merging the human brain with artificial intelligence (AI) and thereby advance human capabilities.

The primary objective of Neuralink is to create a safe and effective means of connecting the human brain to computers or other external devices, e.g. enabling people who can’t use their hands to use their mobile-phone or other devices simply by thinking about it.

Device Implanted 

This involves developing a device described as a “a general-purpose, high-bandwidth interface to the brain” with tiny, flexible electrode threads that can be implanted into the brain to establish a high-resolution interface with neural circuits. These threads are thinner than a human hair and can potentially record and stimulate electrical activity in the brain.

Previous Test – Pigs 

Back in August 2020 there was news that neuralink was being tested in an experiment involving three pigs. One pig named Gertrude had the device implanted while another pig had previously been implanted with the device but had the device removed.  This pig was present to illustrate that the device could be removed safely and that this may be necessary as the hardware is updated over time and better versions become available.  The third pig had no implant fitted.

The demonstration showed how the neural activity of Gertrude the pig could be sent wirelessly to a screen, and a series of bleeps sounded when the pig touched anything with her snout. This indicated that the device could read brain activity related to the search for food.

Dystopian? 

At the time of the pig experiment, Neuralink received a Breakthrough Device designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration although some commentators have noted the potential dystopian possibilities of implants that could potentially be used for control, while People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reacted very angrily to Mr Musk’s use of pigs. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk issued a statement saying, “PETA challenges Elon Musk to behave like a pioneer and implant the Neuralink chip in his own brain.” 

In December 2022, Mr Musk was reported as saying that he’d be happy for a Neuralink to be implanted into the brain of one of his own children!

Investigation 

Also in 2022, it was reported that Neuralink had killed about 1,500 animals in its experiments which prompted the USDA’s inspector general to begin investigation for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Now Ready For Human Test – FDA Approval 

In the latest Neuralink progress announcement, Elon Musk has said that Neuralink  has been given the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (following a previous rejection last year) to begin an in-human clinical study, something that’s been promised four times since 2019. In a statement on Twitter, Neuralink announced: “We are excited to share that we have received the FDA’s approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study! This is the result of incredible work by the Neuralink team in close collaboration with the FDA and represents an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people. Recruitment is not yet open for our clinical trial. We’ll announce more information on this soon!”

Issues To Address First 

The FDA’s approval was, however, accompanied by the need to address issues beforehand such as issues around the lithium battery of the device, whether the implant’s wires could migrate within the brain, and how the device could be removed safely without damaging the brain.

What Are The Goals? 

The Neuralink project aims to achieve various goals, such as:

– Medical Applications. Neuralink’s technology could potentially help individuals with neurological disorders, spinal cord injuries, or other conditions by providing a direct interface to their brain, bypassing damaged or nonfunctional parts of the nervous system. It could enable communication between the brain and external devices, offering new possibilities for treatment and rehabilitation. For example, the neuralink device could be used help deal with serious conditions such as Parkinson’s by helping sufferers to control their movement instead of relying on strong medication. It is also envisioned that it could help with conditions like obesity, autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

– Brain-Computer Interface. Neuralink seeks to develop a means for individuals to control computers or other devices using their thoughts. This could have transformative implications for individuals with motor impairments or disabilities, allowing them to interact with technology more seamlessly, e.g. web browsing. More far-fetched suggested applications of Neuralink include enabling a kind of telepathy.

– Augmented Human Capabilities. Neuralink envisions a future where humans can augment their cognitive abilities by directly integrating with AI systems. This could potentially enhance memory, learning, or problem-solving capabilities, leading to improved overall cognitive performance.

– Advancing AI. Neuralink aims to facilitate a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI. By connecting the human brain to AI systems, it is hoped that humans can leverage AI’s computational power and analytical capabilities while providing the AI with direct access to the human brain’s vast capabilities, such as intuition, creativity, and emotional intelligence.

Possibilities Highlighted By European Experiment

The possible benefits of devices like Neuralink were highlighted recently when a digital bridge as a brain–spine interface device, developed by Neuroscientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, allowed a previously paralysed man to stand, walk and even climb stairs.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The idea of Neuralink as a way to help with medical conditions is a positive and promising one offering hope to many people with the chance to achieve transformations that haven’t been possible before. Also, such devices could open up many other opportunities and whole new areas for development for companies and developers hoping to use the interface to link with a variety of products and services in a unique way.

The FDA approval is really just the next (albeit important) step in what is likely to be a long process in order to address the issues highlighted by the FDA but, although a dystopian idea to some, as demonstrated in a similar experiment in Switzerland, it has the potential to achieve incredibly positive results. There are also, however, many medical, legal, research and ethical challenges (the death of thousands of animals and potentially a human subject) to overcome before devices like this are used beyond research projects and further announcements will prove interesting.