What's up with Musk's purchase of Twitter for 'the future of civilization' (Part I Age of the Brain)
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Part 1 of the series: The Age of the Brain
October 29, 2022. Revised Dec. 6, 2022
by Patrice Johnson
The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, declares he is creating SpaceX “to colonize Mars,” and “save the world.” Then, weeks after asking the United Nations to show him how $6 billion would solve world hunger, he ponies up $5.7 billion to charity. Considering the man’s larger-than-life actions, even a hard-core skeptic would have to grant the man credit for audacity, if not gallantry. So, Musk's $44 billion purchase of Twitter begs the question: Where does a social media company fit into Musk’s matrix for saving humanity? As importantly, why would both left- and right-leaning media turn on him like rabid jackals for making the acquisition?
Good chance, the answers lie buried inside a U.S. government research project on the human brain.
Behind every great man, there’s a motive
Musk, who founded Tesla and holds degrees in economics and physics, flatly denied buying Twitter for convenience or to make more money.
The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner without resorting to violence,” he tweeted. “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.
No doubt, "a common digital town square" is essential to free speech. But for Musk to set it as the baseline for putting civilization on a constructive trajectory seems overblown, bordering on whacko. Then again, a billionaire, $251 times over, could be privy to information the we regular Joes lack. Few of us have a dream team of analysts at our disposal to pluck tidbits of data out of the miasma swirling around us and connect the dots.
But the truth is out there, and two time-tested techniques tend to shake Big Truths with a capital T from the weeds:
1. Follow the money, and
2. Follow the science
Twitter: Where worlds of Science and Money collide
A recent Princeton University study found that Twitter lowered the Republican vote share by 8.6% and 9.4% during the respective 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
How can this be? Subsequent articles in this series will explore more details. Today, let us start at the beginning.
Back roads lead to a 2013 State of the Union address when President Barack Hussein Obama (D) teased a brain research program on the scale of the Human Genome Project.
A month later on February 17, the New York Times published a front-page scoop on the administration’s pet research effort, called the “Brain Activity Map,” a huge neuroscience undertaking.
If nothing else, the convoluted route that writer John Markoff took to size the project would have triggered a reader’s spidey sense. Instead of describing the undertaking as a 10-year, $3 billion project to map the human brain, the NYT reporter said the administration’s project was “planning a decade-long scientific effort,” and “financing for the project would be more than $300 million a year.”
On April 2, 2013, the White House announced, “the President unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.”
The administration judged the project so important that it jumpstarted BRAIN, short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, with $100 million from its own budget, which as with all government agencies, was taxpayer-funded.
Twitter should be more open source, Musk said, with “no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmicallyor manually.”
On April 2, 2013, the White House announced, “the President unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.” Image: Photonics.com
The initiative was pitched to the public as aiming “to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.”
But the next paragraph in the White House release stated,
The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought. These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior. (Obama White House Archives) [Highlights added.]
DARPA tosses its hat into the ring
Lower in the release and listed among the public and private investors, was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“DARPA aims to develop a new set of tools to capture and process dynamic neural and synaptic activities.”
For those who missed the hit television series, Lost, the uber-secretive DARPA reports directly to senior management in the Department of Defense.
Wikipedia defines DARPA as "a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military."
If BRAIN was so benign as to seek only cures for diseases, why was DARPA interested or involved?
Scientists were skeptical
Even the left-leaning Atlantic magazine reported that some scientists were expressing skepticism and complaining, “the project lacks clear goals and gobbles up money that could've gone to a lot more smaller studies.” Why Some Scientists Aren't Happy About Obama's $3 Billion ...
Perhaps one of the most telling comments came from Dr. Chun, who described herself as the “glue” holding the diverse stakeholders together. She told Nature, “In the long run, one of the very important points would be to come up with revolutionary new tools that will measure brain activity in a completely different way than what we know now.”
Actions speak louder than words
New Year's Day 2023 will mark the beginning of the tenth year of the BRAIN Initiative. Meanwhile, brain disorders including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury continue to wreak unfettered devastation on innocent lives. And more questions than answers haunt the massive brain mapping effort.
What new "tools" were developed and are now applied to measure brain activity and determine behavior? Is the public aware of these tools, or have we become the unwitting subjects of subliminal manipulation? Where do social media companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, and TikTok fit into this puzzle? Were BRAIN's findings made public and shared equally among all factions of the citizenry? What is taxpayer-funded DARPA doing with the information it gleaned?
To what, exactly, was Musk referring when he said, "Twitter should be more open source with “no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually.” ?
“What motivates people to pursue these big projects is not the belief that they will solve problems,” said Michael Eisen, Ph.D., a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s the belief that this is the way to get money.”
Bottom line, when the world’s richest man—who neither needs more money nor has expressed interest in acquiring more of the green stuff—buys Twitter and tells us he's making the acquisition in order to put civilization on the right track, we would do well to take him at his word.
Rather than attacking the proven philanthropist, maybe the more appropriate question to ask is What does he know—and what do the bad guys know—that We the People know not?