Neuralink is the Right Direction
A few thoughts after watching the Neuralink 2020 progress presentation and reading a few articles on it ...
Firstly, the rate of science is dictated only by if it happens or not. Nothing else. It is absolutely a step-wise function over time where 0-to-1 is the name of the game. There is no standard rate of scientific progress in any field (do not attempt to get "clever" and derive a statistical average or moving average of scientific progress over time -- you can, but it will be meaningless as scientific progress is a non-stationary process).
The most novel thing that Neuralink is providing is finally giving us a game-theoretic drive to provide incentive to scientific progress in this area. Any advance in neural-machine interfaces are going to work wonders for how we approach the entirety of augmented biology. In fact, I want to focus this post on augmented biology rather than just Neuralink.
Secondly, while people paralyzed from the neck down may end up being (guinea) "pigs" for Neuralink human clinical trials, I think we can all very safely assume that people with (possibly both physical and mental) disabilities are going to come out more ahead than anyone else with these advancements. Advancements which are, again, not just research but are in fact adoptable technology (a differentiation that is oft neglected in modern scientific "progress"). Neuralink is moving towards providing working and purchasable products, FDA approved, and insurable.
But, neural-machine interfaces do not just spell a world of benefits to those who have fallen victim to severe neurological damage. They spell an entirely new world for human technology and for humans ourselves. We can imagine machine replacements for decaying joints with neural connectivity, machine replacements for lost smell, taste, hearing, and sight. Machine-replaced organs with effective neural connectivity. Or perhaps, machine-enhanced senses or organs. Interfaces to general computational devices including entire computer networks. Extended and tertiary limbs. External machine control.
Entire economies, jobs, and schools for "neurally-enhanced" and only "neurally-enhanced" individuals.
It does not stop there. Machine-neural interfaces (MNIs) can generalize even further to machine-tissue interfaces (MTIs). Imagine a full integration of any arbitrary biological tissue (plant or animal) and machinery. Would the biological tissue be "programmable" dependent on which computational machinery it is integrated with? Who knows. An entire world of possibilities lay before us and we should probably be more focused on what are the applications and implications of this technology developing further at this point.
Preferably, before something weird happens:
All of these possibilities will likely not come solely out of Neuralink, but the majority of these possibilities will likely be using a set of Neuralink interfaces.
But, one of the most important points moving forward is the implications that augmented biology has for the entire field of medicine. It means we are moving away from a purely pharmacological approach to medicine that has existed since the dawn of human civilization. We are moving towards a world of true biological understanding and manipulation. The world of augmented biology provides a mechanism for us to provide medical applications that provide permanent solutions to people's problems. Replace that cancerous organ with equivalent internal machinery, process lactose better than ever with better internal machinery, and a 1000 other positive things.
This is a move in the right direction.