Posts Tagged ‘human evolution’

When the Teaching Machines Learn to Think

March 31, 2008

A recent article in Science Daily  announces what may be an AI breakthrough. The article explains that AI researchers in Sweden have combined two tired and trued methods of artificial intelligence in order to create a robot that “learns like a child or a puppy”.

Essentially, they have put together the classic rules based system (which tends to mimic human rationality) with an Artificial Neural Network (our attempt at mimicking the physical structure of the brain). The result is a system that reacts to new and different stimuli by learning about it.

 They boot up the system and the only human intervention after that was telling the system whether it had succeeded or not (which brings to mind how me may be able to train for that). The system was used to try ti fit pegs into holes. It seems that on each subsequent attempt, the system did better having “learned” about the best ways to go about it.

 The real breakthrough here is that they have a system that seems to be able to adapt to its situation. This could be a really big step towards some form of useful artificial intelligence. We are still within the 2005-2030 range which Vernor Vinge predicted would be the time span that an artificial super human intelligence would appear and what he called the “end of humanity” would occur. This may be a significant step in that direction.

 Such a superhuman intelligence would indeed require both the neural network and the rules based intelligence. While AI researchers spent more of the early years working on the rules based approach, it may be that the neural network through the general expansion of the internet

 This comes to the question of whether a set of artificial neural networks may be able to evolve the same way biological ones have. And even more poignantly, whether these artificial networks may simply be extensions of existing biological ones?

The interesting part happens when artificial networks begin to interface and grow enough so that the biological originators become the extensions rather than vice-versa. And if there is indeed a need for a rules based system to manage it all, who makes the rules (and what are they)?

When the servers become large, complex, integrated, interconnected enough that the services become the “servees”, does the sleeper awaken?


The End of Human Evolution, or the Beginning?

March 25, 2008

Recently, researchers at Washington University school of Medicine in St Louis announced that they had corrected a genetic mutation in a fish embryo prior to birth. More importantly, they announced that the research could lead to the prevention of up to one fifth of birth defects in humans caused by genetic mutation.

While I will avoid the over discussed topic of when does an embryo become a human, it made me wonder whether we would be actively interfering in human evolution. One of the precepts of evolution is that mutation id often occurring as a form of trial and error in which we bring about new and improved (read more successful) forms of life. Now, I do think a portion of the creationist argument against human evolution is the notion that we might continue to evolve. Afterall, if we are already in God’s image, how can that be improved upon?

 But even with the massive success of homo sapiens on this planet, nothing seems to assure us that a sudden mutation may not offer some improved form of human (the variety of possible mutations is huge). Additionally, as we go on to explore and possibly colonize other planets, the mutative effects of lesser gravity and increased radiation will forcibly engender changes in the humans born under those conditions. If they are to survive, I suppose the ones with improved adaptability will be displaying some features or functions that will help them be more successful in their environment. Remember that Darwin claimed that evolutionary success was not about survival of the strongest or smartest, but of those most able to adapt. In fact, although it may be difficult to imagine, a dumber human that had other attributes that permitted for better survival might be an evolutionary improvement from Darwin’s point of view.

 What the Washington U announcement got me thinking was what if we use this wonderous medical break-through to put a halt to hap hazard mutational changes.

Despite the political will to try to stop people from experimenting with stem cells and human genetic manipulation, it is rather unrealistic to imagine that it will not occur (even though we may legally declare that a genetically modified human is not a human , much the same way certain European politicians are trying to do with GM corn).

 So, if humans begin to prevent mutations and actively change themselves, does that mean evolution (in the traditional format that we have come to know and argue about) is coming to an end or are we just about to begin.

 To add a little extra thought to this, remember that dogs as a species are only about 10,000 years old (obviously human developed from wolves) and that the vast majority of dog breeds are less than 500 years old. We are not strangers to altering the evolution of life forms.

LSDNA – will we pee in the genetic pool?

March 10, 2008

So far, the term “recreational genetics” has been used primarily to denote the “pastime” of tracking someone’s genetic heritage in order to discover who they may have been related to, or how far they can trace their family tree back to some nomadic tribesman of inner Youfreakistan.

I think we will be able to go well beyond that. The entertainment value of discovering that Barack Obama and Dick Cheney is temporal at best. I mean, who doubts that all politicians have some evil, twisted gene that leads them to the desire to dominate the masses under the barely disguised moniker of being concerned for the welfare of their fellow human?

No, I am thinking of a far more amusing form of using genetic manipulation: temporary retroviral reshaping of ones genetic structure as a source of entertainment.

Wayne Porter, in his blog entitled “Second Life is Real Life,”

touches on the notions of using tiny computers inside the body in order to fully simulate the experiences on can have in the here-to-fore named “virtual worlds.”

But I think we will go several steps further.

Genetic manipulation is being worked on and tested all over the world (except perhaps in Us government funded labs) through stem cell research and retroviral experimentation. The notion that we can “fix” a faulty gene set and in that way change a person’s health condition is very appealing to science, the pharma industry and the general population.

Of course, as we get closer to being able to do this on an economically efficient scale, we will see other uses deployed. If steroids can give an athlete such an edge in building muscles that he may be willing to perjure himself before congress about it ( a congress who feels the country has so little or importance on it’s plate that it spends time reviewing the drug habits of baseball players – a subject that they must be certain will impact the war, the economy, social security and health care) then what would they be willing to do if they can alter their body to see like a hawk , or improve the response time of their nervous system or speed the time it takes to recuperate or heal the body?

Will these be the methods that will allow us to affectively adjust our genetic makeup enough that colonizing the moon, other planets and asteroids will become feasible (if we modify ourselves to use less of or more efficiently the resources that are scarce in other areas, we would be continuing the human tradition of adapting to our environment in or to better subjugate it).

We have shown that humans are willing to spend big money on personal body enhancement be-it boob jobs, tattoos or Botox. I think there will be a tremendous market in not just genetic fixes and alterations, but an even more interesting one in temporary genetic transformation. You could decide to be a freckled red head for a week or month or have your lung capacity increased for that vacation hiking in the mountains. Or even just have the size of your g-spot doubled and twice as sensitive in time for that honeymoon or big weekend date.

The possibilities are mind bending far beyond anything we have seen done with drugs or surgery. The questions of what constitutes a human will be more than interesting.


Update: the Vatican has just announced that “Genetic Manipulation” has been added to the list of “sins.” Ii guess the discussion is getting here sooner than I thought it would.