…Then the Pterodactyl burst upon the world in all his impressive solemnity and grandeur, and all Nature recognized that the Cainozoic threshold was crossed and a new Period open for business, a new stage begun in the preparation of the globe for man. It may be that the Pterodactyl thought the thirty million years had been intended as a preparation for himself, for there was nothing too foolish for a Pterodactyl to imagine, but he was in error, the preparation was for Man… — Mark Twain
The Man. The man who won Tour de France seven times. Having reached the human limit of physical capabilities, he [and others] extended them. He did blood doping (by taking EPO and other drugs, storing own blood in the fridge, and infusing it before the competition for boosting the number of red blood cells, thus performance). He [and others] took anti asthmatic drugs to increases performance on endurance. And so on, so on. There are Yes or No answers from Lance himself from Oprah’s interview.
Is Lance cheater? Or is Lance hero? I consider him a hero for two reasons. First, he competed against the same or similar. Second, he went beyond the human limits, cutting-edge thinking, cutting-edge behavior, scientific sacrifice, calculated or even bold risk.
What could be said about all other sportsmen? I think the sporting pharmacology is evolutionary logical stage for the humankind to outperform our ancestors, to break the records, to win, and continue winning. If sportsmen are specialized in competing, and society wants them competing, then everything all set. Evolution goes on, biological meets artificial chemical. It improves the function, it solves the problem. Though it slightly distance biological ourselves from what we though we were.
It happens that people lose body parts. It is right way to go to give them missing parts. It’s still very complicated, the technologies involved are still not there, but good progress has been made. There are new materials, new mechanics, new production (digital manufacturing, 3D printing), new bio-signal processing (complex myogram readings), new software designed (with AI), and all together it gives tangible result. Take a look at this robot, integrated with the man:
Some ethical questions emerge. The man with prosthetic body part is still a biological being? What is a threshold between biological parts and synthetic parts to be considered a human being? There are people without arms and legs, because of injuries or because of genetic diseases, like Torso Man. We could and should re-create the missing parts and continue living as before, using our new parts. Bionic parts must evolve until they feel and perform identically to original biological parts.
It relates to invisible organs too. The heart, which happen to be a pump, not a soul keeper. People live with artificial hearts. Look at the man walking out from hospital without human heart. The kidneys, which are served by external hemodialysis machines. New research is performed to embed kidney robots into the body. Ethical questions continue, where is a boundary what we call a ‘human’? Is it head? Or brain only? What makes us human to other humans?
We are defined by our genes. Our biological capabilities are on genes. Then we learn and train to build on top of our given foundation. We are different by genes, hence something that is easy for one could be difficult for another. E.g. since childhood sportsmen usually have better metabolism in comparison to those who grow to ‘office plankton’.
There are diseases caused by harmful mutations on genes. Actually any mutation is bad, because of unpredictable results in first generation with new mutant [gene]. But some mutations are bad from generation to generation, called genetic disease. It is possible to track many diseases down to the genes. There are Genetic Browsers allowing to look into the genome down to the DNA chain. Take a look at the CFTR gene, first snapshot is high-level view, with chromosome number and position; second is zoomed to the base, with ACGT chain visible.
If parents with genetic disease want to prevent their child from that disease, they may want to fix the known gene. Everything else [genetically] will remain naturally biological, but only that one mutant will be fixed to the normal. The kid will not have the disease of ancestors, which is good. A question emerges: is this kid fully biological? How that genetic engineering impacts established social norms?
What if parents are fans of Lance Armstrong and decide to edit more genes, to make their future kid a good sportsman?
What is Life?
Digging down to the DNA level, it is very interesting to figure out what is possible there to improve ourselves, and what is life at all. How to recognize life? How would we recognize life on Mars, if it’s present there?
Here is definition from Wikipedia: “The definition of life is controversial. The current definition is that organisms maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce.” The very first sentence resonate with questions we are asking…
Craig Venter led the team of scientists to extract the genetic material from the cell (Mycoplasma genitalium), instrumented its genome by inserting the names of 20 scientists and the link to the web site, implanted edited material back into the cell, observed the cell reproducing many times. Their result – Mycoplasma laboratorium – reproduced billions times, passing encoded info through generations. The cell had ~470 genes.
What is absolutely minimum number of genes, and what are those genes, to create life? Is it 150? Or less? And which one exactly? What are their specialization/functions? It’s current on-going experiment… Good luck guys! Looking forward to your research success, and what is Minimum Viable Life (MVL). BTW by doing this experiment, scientists designed new technologies and tools, allowing to model the genes programmatically, and then synthesize them at molecular level.
Here Come the Robots
While somebody are digging into the genome, others are trying to replicate humans (and other creatures) at macro level. Most successful with humanoid machines are Boston Dynamics.
How far we are to make them indistinguishable from humans? Seems that pretty far. The weight, the gravity center, motion, gestures, look & feel are still not there. I bet that humanoids will be first create in military and porn. Military will need robots to operate plenty of outdated military equipment, serve and combat in hazard environments. it’s only old weaponry that require manned control. While new weapons are designed to operate unmanned. Porn will evolve to the level that we will fuck the robots. For military it’s more the economical need. For our leisure it’s romantic need and personal experience.
The size and shape of robots doing mechanical work is so different. From tunnel drilling monsters to blood vessels…
All 8 Together
If we look for the commonality in mentioned (and several unmentioned) disrupting technologies, we could select 8 of them (extended and reworked 8 directions of Singularity Univeristy), which stand out:
- Biology and Biotech
- Medicine and Longevity
- Network and Sensors
- Fabrication and 3D Printing
- Nanotech and Materials
- Artificial Intelligence
As we slightly covered Biology, Medicine and Robotics already, more to be said about the rest. But before than, few words about Biotech. We could program new behavior of the biomass, by engineering what the cells must produce, and use those biorobots to clean the landfills around the cities, sewerage, rivers, seas, maybe air. Biorobots also could clean our organisms, inside and outside. Specially engineered micro biorobots could eat the Mars stones and produce the atmosphere there. Not so fast but feasible.
Well, more words about other disrupting technologies. Networks and Sensors next. First of all – it’s about networks between human & human, machine & machine, human & machine. The network effect happens within the network, known as Metcalfe’s Law. Networks are wired and wireless, synchronous and asynchronous, local and geographically distributed, static and dynamic mesh etc. Very promising are Mesh Networks, allowing to avoid Thing-Cloud aka Client-Server architectures, despite all cloud providers pushes for that. Architecturally (and common sense) it’s better to establish the mesh locally, with redundancy and specialization of nodes, and relay the data between the mesh and the cloud via some edge device, which could be dynamically selected.
Sensors will be everywhere. Within interior, on the body, as infrastructure of the streets, in ambient environment, in the food etc. Our life is improved when we sense/measure and proactively prepare. We used to weather forecasts, which are very precise for a day or two. It’s because of huge amount of land sensors, air sensors, satellite imagery. Body sensors are gaining popularity, as wearables for quantified self. There are recommendations for the lifestyle, based of your body readings. It’s early and primitive today, but it will dramatically improve with more data recorded and analyzed. Modern transportation requires more sensors within/along the roads and streets, and cars. It’s evolving. Miniaturization shapes them all. Those sensors must be invisible for the eyes, and fully integrated into the cloths and machines and environment.
3D Printing. The biggest change is related to ownership of intellectual property. 3D model will be the thing, while its replication at any location on demand on any printer will be commodity function. Many things became digital: books, photos, movies, games. Many things are becoming digital: hard goods, food, organs, genome. It’s a matter of time when we have cheap technology capable to synthesize at the atom grid level and molecular. New materials are needed everywhere, especially for human augmentation, for energy storing and for computing.
Nanotech. We learn to engineer at the scale of 10^-9 meter. From non-stick cookware and self restoring paint (for cars), to sunscreen and nanorobots for cleaning our veins, to new computing chips. Nano & Bio are very related, as purification and cleanup processes for industry and environment are being redesigned at nano level. Nano & 3D Printing are related too, as ultimate result will be affordable nanofactory for everyone.
Computing. We’re approaching disruption here, Moore’s Law is still there but it’s slowing down and the end is visible. Some breakthrough required. Hegemony of Intel is being challenged by IBM with POWER8 (and obviously almost ready POWER9) and ARM (v8 chips). Google is experimenting with POWER and ARM. it’s true, Qualcomm is pushing with ARM-based servers. D:Wave is pioneering Quantum Computing (actually it’s superconductivity computing). There is good intro in my Quantum Hello World post. IBM recently opened access to own quantum analog. The bottom line is that we need more computing capacity, it must be elastic, and we want it cheaper.
Artificial Intelligence. AI deserves separate chapter. Here it is.
I blended my thoughts and my impressions from The Second Machine Age, How to Think About Machines that Think, forthcoming The Inevitable, and various other sources that had impact on me.
The purpose of AI was machine making decisions ( as maximization of reward function). But being better at making decisions != making better decisions. Machine decide how to translate English-to-Ukrainian, but not speaking either language. Those programs (and machines) are super screwdrivers, they don’t what to do, we want them to do, we put our want into them.
AI is different intelligence, human cannot recognize 1 billion humans, even really having seen them all many times. AI is Another Intelligence so far. The shape of thinking machines is not human at all: DeepBlue – chess winner – is a toll black box; Watson – Jeopardy winner – 2 units of 5 racks of 10 POWER7 servers between noisy refrigerators in nice alien blue light (watch from 2:20); Facebook Faces – programs and machines recognizing billions of human faces – it’s probably big racks in data center, Google Images – describing context of the image – big part of the data center (detection of cat took 16,000 servers several years ago); Space Probes – totally different from both humans and black toll boxes in the data centers.
BTW if somebody really spots UFO visiting our planet, don’t expect green men, as organics is poor for space travel, because of dangerous +200/-200 Celsius temperature range, ultra violet and radiation, time needed for travel (even through the wormhole)… That UFO is a robot most probably. Or intelligence on non-biological carrier, which means post-biological species (which is worse for us if so).
Our wet brain operates at 100 Watts, while the copy of the simulation of the same number of cells requires 10^12 Watts. Where on Earth will we get 1 trillion watts just for equivalent of one human intelligence? Even not intelligence, but connectivity of the neurons. Isn’t it ridiculous pseudo architecture? We still did not isolate what we call consciousness, and we don’t know it’s structure to properly model it. Brain scanning is in progress, especially for deeper brain. And this Eureka moment, like we got with DNA, is still to come.
We’re remaining at the center, creating and using machines for mental work, like we created and used/use machines for physical work. Humans with new mental tools should perform better than without them. Google is a typical memory machine, and memory prosthesis. Watson as a layer or a doctor is a reality.
Back from the future, at present we have intelligent machines – governments and corporations. We created those artificial bodies many years ago, and just don’t realize they are true intelligent machines. They are integrated into/with society, with law evolved through precedents and legislation, tailored to different locations and cultures. Culture itself is a natural artificial intelligence. Global biological artificial intelligence emerged on politicians, lawyers, organizations like United Nations and hundreds of smaller international ones. They are all candidates for substitution by programs and machines.
Interesting observation is that most intelligent humans neither harmful nor rulers of others. Hence we could assume that really smart AI will not be harmful to humans, when AI will be approximately at our level. But it’s uncertain about accelerated and grown AI later in time. Evolution will shape AI too, continuing from invisible interfaces with machines right now. We could stop clicking, typing, tapping into machines, and talk to them like we do between ourselves. Today we have three streams of AI: < 3yo AI, Artificial Smartness, Intelligence as a Service.
We are what we eat, hence they will have to eat us? Hm… Real AI will not reveal itself. And most probably they will leave, like we left our cradle Africa…
There were some concerns that we had slowed down, by observations and perception of the daily facts. But it’s also visible that several technologies are booming and disrupting our lives almost on weekly basis. Those 8 mentioned earlier technologies in section It All Together. Those technologies are developing exponentially.
The companies are highly specializing within their niches, performing at global scale. Global economy is changing. Few best providers of the narrow function do it world-wide. E.g. Google is serving search globally, with two others far behind (Baidu and Bing, with artificial restriction of Google in China). Illumina chips are used for gene sequencing (90 percent of DNA data produced). Intel chips are primary host processors in the servers. Nvidia are primary coprocessors and so on. Few companies fulfill the 95+ percent of the needs within some niche. Where this has not happen yet, big disruption is expected soon.
This is pure specialization of work at global scale. Shift from normal distribution to power distribution. Some may say that it’s path to global monopolism, with artificially hold high costs. But in fact it is not, as Google search is free. Illumina is promising full human genome sequenced under $1,000. And Intel still ships new chips according to Moore’s Law, 2x productivity per $1 every 1.5 year.
As global specialization reduces global costs, because same functions and products are produced more efficiently on same resources, it is good for our planet, with limited resources. But here another thing happens, we are not preserving resources, we are using them for creating new technologies, which are expensive, unique, disrupting. Provider of such new technology (and product, service) is not a monopolist, because of small scale/capacity at the beginning. Either they scale or others replicate it, and true leader emerges and make it globally. Also new ways for energy are found, from Sun and wind, and new nuclear too. We’re creating more wealth.
Scaling globally is dramatically easier and cheaper for digital products and services, than for physical/hard or hybrid. It is main motivator for digitization of everything. Software is eating the world, because it is simply cheaper to deliver sw vs. hw. Everything will become software, except the hardware to run the software, and power plants to empower the hardware.
Real life is becoming digital very fast. Why we’re taking photos of our meals and rooms, self faces and legs, beautiful and creepy landscapes, compositions? Why we checkin, express status, emotions for others’ expressed statuses, commenting, trolling and even fighting digitally? We also voting, declaring, reporting, learning, curing, buying and consuming, entertaining digitally too. We’re living digitally more than physically sometimes. Notice how people record the event looking at their smartphone small screen instead of looking at the big stage and experience it better. Some motivation drives us to record it to multiple phones, from multiple locations, aspects, angles, distances, and push it into the internet, and share with others. Then see it all from those recordings, own and theirs. Why is it happening? Why we are shifting to digital over natural? Or digital is new natural, as evolution goes on?
Kit Harington was stopped by cop for speeding. The cop made ultimatum – either driver pays fine, or he tells whether Jon Snow is alive in next season. The driver avoided the speeding ticket by telling the virtual/digital story to the cop. For the cop digital virtual was more important than physical biological. Isn’t it natural shift to new better reality?
Many people live is virtual worlds today. Take American and ask about ISIS. Take Syrian and ask about ISIS. Take Ukrainian and ask about Crimea and Donbass. Take Russian and ask about Crimea and Donbass. Same for Israel and Palestina. People will tell opposite everything. People are already living in virtual worlds, created by digital television and internet. Digitization of life is here already, and we are there already.
Specialization is observed at all levels. Molecules specialized into water, gases, salts, acids. Bigger molecules specialized into proteins and DNA. Then we have cells, stem cell and their specialization into connective tissue, soft tissue, bone and so on. Next are organs. Then body parts. Specialization is present at each abstraction level. At the level of people specialization is known as roles and professions. Between businesses and countries it is industries. Between nations it is economics and politics.
It looks like we are part of the bigger machine, which is evolving with acceleration. We are like cells, good and bad, specialized from vision to thinking. Roads, pipes are like transportation systems for other cells and payload. Internet (copper and fiber) is more like a neural system. Connectivity is a true phenomenon. We are now fully disconnected (and useless) without smartphone, or without digital social network in any form. Kevin Kelly once called it the One. The Earth of many people will evolve into earth of augmented people and machines, they all specialize and unite into the One.
And since the One, it all looks like just a beginning. I feel another One, and more cells-ones, organizing something more complex and intelligent from themselves. If our cells could specialize and unite into 10 trillions and walk, think, write, why it can’t be possible with bigger cells like One, at bigger scale like Galaxy?
The Man is not the last smart species on Earth. In other words, there will be a day, when the Last [current] Man on Earth goes extinct. What will happen faster: transhuman or true AI, that could replicate and grow? I bet on transhuman. Better for humanity too. For now.