Kurzweil builds and supports a persuasive vision of the emergence of a human-level engineered intelligence in the early-to-mid twenty-first century. In his own words,
With the reverse engineering of the human brain we will be able to apply the parallel, self-organizing, chaotic algorithms of human intelligence to enormously powerful computational substrates. This intelligence will then be in a position to improve its own design, both hardware and software, in a rapidly accelerating iterative process.
In Kurzweil’s view, we must and will ensure we evade obsolescence by integrating emerging metabolic and cognitive technologies into our bodies and brains. Through self-augmentation with neurotechnological prostheses, the locus of human cognition and identity will gradually (but faster than we’ll expect, due to exponential technological advancements) shift from the evolved substrate (the organic body) to the engineered substrate, ultimately freeing the human mind to develop along technology’s exponential curve rather than evolution’s much flatter trajectory.
The book is extensively noted and indexed, making the deep-diving reader’s work a bit easier.
If you have read it, feel free to post your observations in the comments below. (We’ve had a problem with the comments section not appearing. It may require more troubleshooting.)
Tony Zador of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory devised a new technique for mapping connections among neurons. It is much faster than other methods and at least as accurate as the most accurate competing methods, including fluorescence techniques. The technique, MAPseq, uses genetically modified viruses to insert unique RNA sequences (“bar codes”) into each neuron. Post-mortem DNA sequencing identifies connections among all neurons in the sample. The resulting model is structural, not functional. Derived models are not spatially accurate (i.e., not to scale and not physiographically representative). The models identify intraneural connections but not specific messaging among neurons. Zador is pursuing functional analysis by combining MAPseq with other techniques. MAPseq currently can map about 100,000 neurons per week. Increasing hardware and software efficiency and power will improve throughput dramatically over time.
This is the most startling brain research development Mark has come across recently. The implications are tantalizing. Start with embedding unique codes (think of inventory numbers) in each neuron. Presumably using a virus to add a consistent unique identifier to every cell in an organism could result in a unique “bar code” for every human and every other organism. We already have such a code in our genome, but this method could create a simpler code that would be easily readable by miniature, portable DNA sequencers. It could be a shorthand code linked to a person’s full genome record.
Back to brain research, once Zador and others find ways to combine real-time functional mapping and non-destructive ‘reading’ of the cellular IDs, increasingly faster computing and smarter (AI-enabled) software may make it possible to map not only a person’s neural connectome, but the functional dynamics playing out in the brain from moment to moment. That, in turn, could make it possible to create a high-fidelity, functional copy of a human mind (aka, a ‘mindclone’). It would probably not be necessary to explicitly model every neuron, synapse, and intraneural communication, but that may one day be possible.
During our next discussion meeting, we’ll explore the status, future potential, and human implications of neuroprostheses–particularly brain-computer interfaces. If you are local to Albuquerque, check our Meetup announcement to join or RSVP. The announcement text follows.
What are neuroprostheses? How are they used now and what may the future hold for technology-enhanced sensation, motor control, communications, cognition, and other human processes?
Extra Challenge: As you review the resources, think of possible implications from the perspectives of the other topics we’ve recently discussed:
• the dilemma of so much of human opinion and action deriving from non-conscious sources
• questions surrounding what it means to ‘be human’ and what values we place on our notions of humanness (e.g., individuality and social participation, privacy, ‘self-determination’ (or the illusion thereof), organic versus technologically enhanced cognition, etc.)
This very rich, conversational thought piece asks if we, as participant designers within a complex adaptive ecology, can envision and act on a better paradigm than the ones that propel us toward mono-currency and monoculture.
We should learn from our history of applying over-reductionist science to society and try to, as Wiener says, “cease to kiss the whip that lashes us.” While it is one of the key drivers of science—to elegantly explain the complex and reduce confusion to understanding—we must also remember what Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” We need to embrace the unknowability—the irreducibility—of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar with.
In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do.
Max Tegmark’s book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, introduces a framework for defining types of life based on the degree of design control that sensing, self-replicating entities have over their own ‘hardware’ (physical forms) and ‘software’ (“all the algorithms and knowledge that you use to process the information from your senses and decide what to do”).
It’s a relatively non-academic read and well worth the effort for anyone interested in the potential to design the next major forms of ‘Life’ to transcend many of the physical and cognitive constraints that have us now on the brink of self-destruction. Tegmark’s forecast is optimistic.
If you’ve read the book, please share your observations and questions in the comments below this article. (If you are not a member and would like to be able to comment, send your preferred email address to email@example.com. Please provide a concise description of your interests relevant to our site. Links to relevant books and articles will be accepted. No other advertising or unrelated comments will be accepted and submitters may be banned.)
A concise, timely look at how worldview-driven cognitive dissonance leads people to double down on their misbeliefs in the face of challenging evidence. It also recommends steps for having more meaningful conversations with others whose irrational positions differ from your own. 😉
Until now, gene editing has relied on cell division to propagate modifications made with techniques like CRISPR Cas9. Researchers at the Salk Institute have devised a new method that can modify the genes of non-dividing cells (the majority of adult cells). They demonstrated the method’s potential by inserting missing genes into the brains of young mice that were blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. After the team inserted fully functional copies of the damaged gene responsible for the condition into the relevant visual neurons, the mice experience rudimentary vision.
Team leader Izpisua Belmonte says of the new method, homology-independent targeted integration (HITI), “We now have a technology that allows us to modify the DNA of non-dividing cells, to fix broken genes in the brain, heart and liver. It allows us for the first time to be able to dream of curing diseases that we couldn’t before, which is exciting.”
While the team, naturally and appropriately, envisions therapeutic uses, could this method be used to modify brain function non-therapeutically, to improve normal functioning, for example?
Good discussion that covered a lot of ground. I took away that none of us have signed on to be early adopters of brain augmentations, but some expect development of body and brain augmentations to continue and accelerate. We also considered the idea of bio-engineered and medical paths to significant life-span, health, and cognitive capacity improvements. I appreciated the ethical and value questions (Why pursue any of this? What would/must one give up to become transhuman? Will the health and lifespan enhancements be equally available to all? What could be the downsides of extremely extended lives?) Also, isn’t there considerable opportunity for smarter transhumans, along with AI tools, to vastly improve the lives of many people by finding ways to mitigate problems we’ve inherited (disease, etc.) and created (pollution, conflict, etc.)?
All bodily capacities, including the most impressive, uniquely human cognitive and metacognitive ones, coevolve with regulatory mechanisms. Regulatory mechanisms operate unconsciously, and control the expression of associated capacities such that the latter consistently operate with high effectiveness and efficiency to promote replication of our genes. So, to fundamentally change and render socioecologically sustainable the human species, H+ technologies will somehow have to alter the deep neural relationship between these regulatory “value systems,” (sensu neuroscientist Gerald Edelman in, “A Universe of Consciousness”), residing primarily in the limbic system, and all our mundane or enhanced corticothalamic activities. We need H+ that radically diminishes our transparent penchant for evolutionarily adaptive self-deception, and that alters our power to more freely and consciously choose, moment-to-moment, what we do with our cognitive capacities. I suspect current H+ is blind to this. — Warmly, PJW