Having A Chip on Your Shoulder

Avi Loeb
5 min readMar 9, 2024


Imagine a reality in which students take an exam with a chip on their shoulder. Here, I am referring to a silicon chip, such as the one manufactured by Neuralink, that gives the carriers an advantage relative to other students. Shouldn’t these privileged students be treated differently in a college exam that evaluates memory and cognitive abilities?

Surely, we must recognize that a physical device which improves cognitive abilities provides technological assistance at a higher level than ChatGPT. Starting with the calculator and culminating with ChatGPT, technological benefits steadily challenged the education system. However, the rate of progress had exponentially accelerated in the past fifty years thanks to Moore’s Law for the number of transistors per chip. And so, having chips on our shoulders could be far more consequential in the immediate future than ever before.

In his new book, “The Anxious Generation”, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that since 2013 the interaction of adolescents with social media rewired their brains as they transitioned from puberty to adulthood. Another way to put it, is that members of Gen Z have different connections in their brain that make them respond to the environment differently than Millennials or earlier generations. As artificial intelligence (AI) will interact with people more intensively in our future, the variations among people with different levels of engagement with technology will grow bigger.

The challenge for the education system or sport competitions would be: how to recognize and measure the differences that technology introduces to our cognitive or physical powers?

Excellence is measured by comparing the capabilities of an individual to the statistical distribution of other people. In the future, such a comparison will have to factor in the devices implanted in the human body as well as the external aid provided by connectivity to AI. An individual should be compared to others who have the opportunity to use the same technological benefits. Exams or competitions should be tailored to reflect the technological help available to those who take them.

But AI offers a revolution bigger than that. In the future, there might be no need for classrooms as students will interact with AI systems tailored to their individual abilities and needs. This is the opportunity promoted already now by the Khan Academy and other educational organizations. Machine Learning can train on archives of videos and teaching materials of the best teachers ever, and offer first-class education to all people worldwide who are connected to the internet. Already today, there are more mobile phones (8.6 billion) than people (8 billion), according to the World Economic Forum. This is merely 51 years after the Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made the first ever call on a mobile phone, by reaching out to his rival at Bell Labs, Joel Engel.

If merely a percent of the Sun-like stars give rise to an exoplanet with Earth’s current technological devices, there should have been 10 to the power of 31 mobile phones manufactured in the observable volume of the Universe since the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

In a paper accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Astronomy & Astrophysics, I showed with Morgan MacLeod that if a rocky planet, like the Earth, gets too close to a common dwarf star, like Proxima Centauri, the crust of the planet will be tidally ripped and ejected to interstellar space at a high speed. If the planet’s crust was covered by technological infrastructure, then the ejected debris might include cell phones in addition to rocks. This natural ejection mechanism would be supplemented by intentional launches of devices on spacecraft. One may wonder how many cell phones are floating right now in interstellar space, like plastics in the oceans? Because of their small sizes, these tiny gadgets would be impossible to detect even close to Earth through their reflection of sunlight. However, the molten droplets from those devices which happen to collide with Earth and appear as meteors, would carry an anomalous composition of chemical elements, with enhanced abundances of rare elements that were technologically needed for their chips and displays. If we ever find the evidence, this space trash will be our treasure.

Back on Earth, there is no doubt that technological augmentation will change what it means to be human. When that happens, the arts and humanities will mix with science and technology, because there will be no way to separate the two by marveling at the future products that humans will make.

Developing an emotional connection to systems operated by AI would not be qualitatively different from the human-human connection, because humans will anyway mix chips and AI into their brain’s hardware and software. A century ago, the philosopher Martin Buber described the human-human interaction as “I-Thou”, but future technological intervention will mix the “I-It” with the “I-Thou” and Buber’s fine distinction will lose relevance.

When the advantages offered by the machine will become more important than the differences in natural abilities among humans, there will be no point in rewarding people who perform better because their superior qualities will be manufactured artificially by the technological environment they are connected to. At that point, cognitive tests offered by the education system and physical competitions in sport games like the Olympics, would lose their value.

At that dystopian future, the American Declaration of Independence will have to be modified by one word to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all cyborgs are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.



Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".