Friday, July 13, 2018

The Future of Humankind


medium |  Okay, so we’re not talking about entire brain transplants. There’s a joke that the only organ that’s better to donate than to receive is the brain.

No, no, no, just pieces.

Might people add brain tissue for extra IQ points?

For it to be used in healthy people, it has to be exceptionally safe. But I could imagine that being quite safe.
I think doing experiments on humanlike artificial intelligence would be unethical.

Are there applications of these brain organoids to artificial intelligence?

Oh, that’s the fourth category. The human brain is pretty far ahead of any silicon-based computing system, except for very specialized tasks like information retrieval or math or chess. And we do it at 20 watts of power for the brain, relative to, say, 100,000 watts for a computer doing a very specialized task like chess. So, we’re ahead both in the energy category and in versatility and out-of-the-box thinking. Also, Moore’s law is reaching a plateau, while biotechnology is going through super-exponential growth, where it’s improving by factors of 10 per year in cost/benefit.

Currently, computers have a central processing unit (CPU), often accompanied by specialized chips for particular tasks, like a graphical processing unit (GPU). Might a computer someday have an NPU, or neural processing unit — a bit of brain matter plugged into it?

Yeah, it could. Hybrid systems, such as humans using smartphones, are very valuable, because there are specialized tasks that computers are very good at, like retrieval and math. Although even that could change. For example, now there’s a big effort to store information in DNA. It’s about a million times higher-density than current silicon or other inorganic storage media. That could conceivably in the future be something where biological systems could be better than inorganic or even hybrid systems.

At what size should we think about whether lab brains deserve rights?

All of these things will at some point be capable of all kinds of advanced thinking. I think doing experiments on humanlike artificial intelligence would be unethical as well. There’s this growing tendency of computer scientists to want to make them general purpose. Even if they’re what we would call intellectually challenged, they would have some rights. We may want ways of asking them questions, as in a Turing test, but in this case, to make sure we’re not doing something that would cause pain or anxiety.

Will we ever develop into something that calls itself a new species? And could there be branching of the species tree?

It’s a little hard to predict whether we’ll go toward a monoculture or whether we’ll go toward high diversity. Even if we go toward high diversity, they could still be interbreedable. You look at dogs, for example. Very high diversity, but in principle, any breed of dog can mate with any other dog and produce hybrid puppies. My guess is that we will go toward greater diversity and yet greater interoperability. I think that’s kind of the tendency. We want all of our systems to interoperate. If you look into big cities, you’re getting more and more ability to bridge languages, to bridge cultures. I think that will also be true for species.

Do you think your greatest contribution to humanity will be something you’ve done, or something you’ve yet to do?

Well, I hope it’s something I have yet to do. I think I’m just now getting up to speed after 63 years of education. Aging reversal is something that will buy me and many of my colleagues a lot more time to make many more contributions, so you might consider that a meta-level contribution, if we can pull that off. The sort of things we’re doing with brains and new ways of computing could again be a meta thing. In other words, if we can think in new ways or scale up new forms of intelligence, that would lead to a whole new set of enabling technologies.