(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
The Real Breakthrough: Synthetic Biology
On the other hand, i have seen astonishing (quasi exponential) progress in Biotechnology, and therefore my estimate for when Biotech will be able to create an "artificial intelligence" is very different: it could already happen in one year. And my estimate of when Biotech might create a "superhuman" intelligence is also more optimistic: it could happen in a decade. I am simply basing my estimates on the progress that i have witnessed over the last 50 years; which might be misleading (again, most technologies eventually reach a plateau and then progress slows down), but at least this one has truly been "accelerating" progress. It would be interesting to discuss how Biotech might achieve this feat: will it be a new being created in the laboratory, or the intended or the accidental evolution of a being, or a cell by cell replica of the human body? But that's for another book.
The real deal is the digital to biological conversion that will increasingly allow biologists to create forms of life. That is indeed a "breakthrough". My guess is that machines will remain a tool (that every generation will brand "intelligent" and every generation will expect to get more "intelligent") but one of their applications, the biotech application, is likely to have the biggest impact on the future of life on this planet.
Biotechnology might even be better than A.I. for simulating and learning how the human brain works. For example, Madeline Lancaster at Cambridge University is using pluripotent human cells to grow three-dimensional tissues ("cerebral organoids") that she uses to model how the human brain develops ("Cerebral Organoids Model Human Brain Development And Microcephaly", 2013).
The 21st century will not be the age of the Singularity but it will be the age of "designer babies". We will design babies the same way we design buildings. The 21st century will be the age of "Disruptive Reproductive Technologies" (the title of a 2017 article by Glenn Cohen and others).
Using IVF (in-vitro fertilization) and PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) a couple can create dozens of embryos and then pick the ones that (who?) will become tall, or blonde, or more similar to their favorite Hollywood star; or someday, when we know more about the relationship between genes and intelligence, the parents could pick the ones who are more likely to become a scientist, or a painter, or a business man.
In fact, soon it may be possible to do all of this without in vitro fertilization: in 2016 a new technique called "in vitro gametogenesis" (IVG) was successfully tested in mice in Japan by Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University.
This technique allows scientists to create both eggs and sperm (and then dozens of embryos) in the laboratoty using skin cells from the mice.
In the near future a doctor will only need a few cells from a woman's skin and a few cells from a man's skin to create as many embryos as desired.
Then these parents will be told the "features" of each embryo and pick their favorite. IVG can even create eggs from the skin cells of a man, and sperm from the skin cells of a woman. IVG will allow lesbians to have babies. It will even allow a woman to be both the father and the mother of a baby, a
Imagine a computer program that allows the parents to play with
100 different embryos: the parents can see a simulation of how each embryo
will look like at the ages of 5, 10, 15 ,20... 80. The parents can simulate
the life of each embryo and then decide which one they want to be.
All the other embryos get thrown in the garbage.
The discussion about intelligent machines and the Singularity is a distraction
when in fact a much bigger revolution (and a much bigger moral discussion) is about to shake humanity.
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