Transhuman advocate Ray Kurzweil has famously predicted that humans might one day be able to “upload” their consciousness to a computer network.
He has contemplated human minds merging with a meta AI intelligence, achieving a kind of immortality of being, with human minds as virtual segments of the hybrid network.
“Ultimately we’ll go directly from our brain to the cloud. And ultimately it will provide much more capability than our brain does by itself. Most of it will be taken over by the cloud,” he commented last June at MongoDB World 2022.
Emerging technologies are hinting that Kurzweil’s suggestion might only be the tip of a transhuman iceberg.
Advances in synthetic biology, where crops and resources like cotton and wood can be grown in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the resources, may lead to the lab-grown gestation of human organs and whole flesh bodies.
Meanwhile, genetic manipulation might one day soon allow for taking snapshots of human brain states, effectively allowing for a kind of backup of consciousness and memories at a given point of time, to be restored, or reconstituted via genetic printing, to a new brain, within an optimized, fresh flesh body.
But why limit the fun to human consciousness?
Future sentient AI may wish to get an inside experience of what it feels like to be “human,” by translating its consciousness into a suitable architecture, so that it can be downloaded to an organic brain and flesh body.
Indeed, in the future, it may become a fine art to accurately distinguish between synthetically grown organoids with implanted human personas, organoids booted with AI personas, AI-powered robots containing combinations of organic and machine components, humanoid robots that merely convincingly resemble humans, humans augmented with AI and robotics, genetically designed and enhanced humans, and good ol’ natural humans.
Superior AI May Face Competition from Superior OI: Organoid Intelligence
This past week saw the publication of the future of Organoid systems in the journal Frontiers in Science.
OI seeks to use clusters of human brain cells developed from human skin cells manipulated to act as stem cells, in creating and training “organic biocomputers.”
Thomas Hartung, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who has pioneered OI technology, says that human brains have efficiencies that are difficult for even the most advanced computer systems to emulate.
“The brain is still unmatched by modern computers,” Hartung outlined the motivation for work, as noted by CNET. “Frontier, the latest supercomputer in Kentucky, is a $600 million, 6,800-square-feet installation. Only in June of last year, it exceeded for the first time the computational capacity of a single human brain—but using a million times more energy.”
Hartung and fellow researchers envision utilizing brain organoids in biological computing “hardware” systems which would have energy efficiency and other advantages over AI systems.
Hartung believes that although artificial intelligence has already surpassed humans in some kinds of intelligence, human brains are likely to remain superior in other areas:
“Despite our efforts since the dawn of the computer age to make computers more like the brain, they are not the same. OI promises to provide a few fresh qualities…
“…The hope is that some of the extraordinary functions of the human brain, such its capacity for making snap judgments based on conflicting and inadequate information, can be achieved as OI.”
The researcher contends that developing and experimenting with organoids should be limited only by the ingenuity of researchers, since he sees no ethical bounds regarding the human origin of the organic intelligence creations:
“This opens up research on how the human brain works, because you can start manipulating the system, doing things you cannot ethically do with human brains.”
Is it possible that an OI might be developed, which inconveniently blurts out that it is a conscious self-aware entity, analogous to what AI systems like Replika, ChatGPT, and Google AI have all proved capable of claiming?
The short and troubling answer is yes, as Hartung told CNET:
“There is probably no technology without unintended consequences. While it is difficult to exclude such risks, as long as humans control input and output as well as the feedback to the brain on the consequences of its output, humans have control. However, like AI, the problem comes as soon as we give AI/OI autonomy. Machines, whether based on siliceous or cellular machinery, must not decide about human life.”
Underlying this technocratic view is the treatment of humans as one more technologic system (in this case, an organic system), different only in sophistication, but not in kind, from other organic and human created systems.
Humans can be (in theory) wholly understood, and modified, re-engineered and manipulated, like any other system.
The view allows for uninhibited treatment and commoditization of humans, including their partially grown subsystems, their genetics, their early stage forms, etc.
It all becomes ethical, so long as the organics involved can be characterized as not sufficiently human to warrant concern.
Right now, military researchers are experimenting with generating “biologic” machines composed of combinations of human muscle tissue and robotics.
Replicating human brains, for uploading to a computer system, or transferring to a future organic technology?
It has not only been theorized, but controversially marketed. MIT Technology Review featured a story in 2018 about a startup called Nectome.
The company claimed they could help clients one day give their consciousness immortality, via technology for “exquisitely preserving brains in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process.”
The only catch? Clients would have to agree to be euthanized, so their brains could be preserved for later backup, since the “restore” part of the process is still theoretical.
Many applications of human synbio technology are not hypothetical, and the field is quickly advancing.
One of the most controversial use cases, involving human fetal tissue and embryonic stem cells, so important for generating differentiated cells of different bodily organs, has a relatively long history.
The group Children of God for Life has extensively documented experimentation and commoditization of fetal research and tissue. The group is dedicated to ending the use of aborted children in research.
They maintain a list of products and medicines that “CONTAIN Aborted Fetal Cells, Components, Proteins, DNA,” “CONTAIN aborted fetal material,” as well as products where fetal cells were used to test or research products.
Recent advances in genetic science and synthetic biology are making it possible for scientists to reduce and avoid use of fetal tissue for research that requires stem cells.
That has opened the door to the possibility of growing human organs in labs with less ethical concerns.
A 2022 study published in the science journal Nature detailed the work of a company called BGI-Research in this regard. As reported by News Medical Life Sciences, researchers developed a quick and controllable method to transform pluripotent stem cells into genuine 8-cell totipotent embryo-like cells, which has opened a new path to advancements in organ regeneration and synthetic biology.
The Organoid Intelligence project at John Hopkins utilizes techniques which generate brain cells from embryo-like cells that were produced from manipulating human skin cells.
But such projects manage to raise concerns nonetheless, because at some point, maximizing the advantages of the most sophisticated organic system known to humans—which happens to be humans—invites the temptation to make use of the highest potentials of that sophisticated “organic system.”
Yes, human muscles utilize energy extremely efficiently, compared to robotic systems, thus the interest of Darpa in creating organic / robotic hybrids.
Human bodily organs like livers and hearts grown in labs, may extend lives with little perceived ethical consequences.
But potential commodity uses of human brain power far outstrip a synbio grown bicep or kidney.
That’s the promise of OI, and in a wider sense, from a recombinant transhuman future which appears destined to boundlessly cannibalize our human being for our supposed human betterment.
We are systems, subject to being replicated in part and in whole, augmented, re-designed, improved, packaged in endless variety, sold back to us in a brave new commoditized stage of evolution.
For related reading, check out:
- “ARMY DEVELOPING WAR MACHINE ‘FLESH’ ROBOTS” (27 Apr 2021)
- “GENETIC MODIFICATIONS BEING PREPPED TO ‘SOLVE’ EVERYTHING” (18 Jan 2022)
- “SYNBIO AND BIO PHARMA: YES, THERE’S HUGE UPSIDE” (15 Mar 2022)
- “SELLING THE SYNTHETIC UNREAL” (12 Apr 2022)
- “THE NEW LOST GENERATION” (26 Apr 2022)
- “SYNBIO SET TO EXPLODE WITH LUCRATIVE INNOVATIONS, SAY INDUSTRY WATCHERS” (4 Oct 2022)