Tag Archives: advanced technology

Would You Willingly Plug Your Brain Into The Matrix?

The Matrix' Code Came From Sushi Recipes—but Which? | WIRED

What if there was a virtual environment that was so real and so lifelike that it was completely indistinguishable from the real world?

What if you had an opportunity to upload the entire contents of your mind into that environment?

Would you do it? Even if you didn’t have a full measure of control over the environment, would you still venture into this virtual world?

I’m not just asking these questions as another thought experiment, nor am I asking it as an excuse to talk about “The Matrix: Resurrections.” Yes, the prospect of another movie in the mold of “The Matrix” did inspire me to pose these questions, but I also think these questions are worth seriously contemplating.

Back in 1999, the year “The Matrix” first came out, the idea of an entirely simulated world seemed like classic sci-fi tech, the likes of which we’d never see in our lifetimes. That’s understandable. In 1999, the most advanced simulations we knew could only be rendered by a Playstation 2 and those hardly looked realistic.

Since then, computing power and graphics technology has come a long way. These days, graphics in video game consoles are so realistic that it’s nearing Uncanny Valley territory. It won’t be that long before we have computer renderings that are so advanced, so lifelike, and so realistic that our brains can’t tell the difference.

At that point, creating an entirely simulated world is just a matter of computing power, scale, and interface. Since brain/computer interfaces are already being developed, it’s not unreasonable to think that we won’t have a Matrix-like simulation available within the next 40 years. Many people alive today who are under the age of 50 might very well live long enough to see that technology.

Once we have it, we’ll have some important decisions to make. Some of those decisions will be societal. If people suddenly have access to a virtual world where they can be anyone, do anything, and immerse themselves in any conceivable experience, then what does that do to society? What does that do to people, communities, nations, and social structures?

Those are far messier questions to contemplate, which is why I’m not going to belabor them too much at this point. Instead, I want to keep this question within the context of individuals. Everyone’s circumstances and beliefs are different. As a result, that may impact whether you’d take advantage of such an opportunity or what kind of environment you’d seek to create.

Personally, if I ever had an opportunity to upload my mind into a virtual environment on par with the Matrix, I would do it, but the extent and circumstances would vary. I suspect others may feel the same.

If I could create my own personal virtual environment before I uploaded my mind into it, then I would certainly be more willing. I think that’s an important factor. The humans in “The Matrix” didn’t have any measure of control over the environment they were in. I think that would complicate any that anyone would have in such a world.

It would also depend heavily on my physical state in the real world. If this technology became available and I was old, weak, and in poor health, then I would certainly be more inclined to use it. That assumes that any technology involving human enhancement hasn’t progressed significantly and people still age, get sick, and die.

Like it or not, our physical bodies in the real world will break down. If the technology to manage and reverse that isn’t available, then virtual environments might be the only way we can continue to live in any meaningful capacity. I certainly hope that isn’t my only opinion when I get to be that age, but if it is, then that simplifies my decision.

It’s hard to know what sort of options we’ll have. I still believe that technology involving human enhancement and creating virtual worlds will advance in parallel. One would, by default, need the other in order to properly interface with these environments. As such, it would complicate any decision about venturing into virtual environments.

Then, there’s the actual nature of those virtual environments. If we can control what environment we go into, then that opens the door to even more possibilities. Within these worlds, you could be a billionaire playboy, a medieval king, a famous celebrity, or super athlete. From your brain’s perspective, it would feel every bit as real as what you’re feeling right now.

Whether or not our brains would accept it is a different story. I suspect there may be some who, once they enter these worlds, would never want to leave. There may even be some who willingly erase their own memories of the real world so that this new virtual world is their new “reality.” That’s exactly what Cypher desired in “The Matrix” and I suspect others might share that desire.

It really does depend on the person, their situation, and what sort of virtual world they seek to create. We probably won’t know the full impact until we create our first true Matrix-like virtual world. I sincerely hope I live long enough to see that. If you’re reading this, hopefully you get to see it as well. It should give you plenty of time to contemplate these questions and whether you’ll venture into those world.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

A Robot Demonstrates Very Human-Like Expressions (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

Meet Ameca, the remarkable (and not at all creepy) human-like robot -  National | Globalnews.ca

We live in amazing, yet scary times. To some, that’s exciting. To others, it’s terrifying. I can understand both perspectives, but in general I try to be more optimistic about the future. Granted, that has been very hard lately, but I’m trying.

In my experience, a good test for how optimistic or fatalistic people are is to note their reactions to certain technological breakthroughs. Over the years, I’ve discussed and highlighted many exciting trends in technology. Some are more far off than others. I often single out artificial intelligence because that’s one of those rare technologies in which, should we get to a certain point, we literally cannot imagine where it could lead.

It also happens to be the technology that brings out the most extreme reactions whenever there’s an advancement. I see it every time Boston Dynamics shares a demonstration of one of their advanced robots. There’s usually no shortage of jokes about Skynet or “The Matrix.”

Recently, another demonstration garnered some colorful reactions from the public, but for once it wasn’t from Boston Dynamics. It came from Engineered Arts, a UK based company that specializes in humanoid robots. They may not be at the forefront of advanced AI, but they are the ones who could help create the bodies that eventually inhabit these systems.

For more information about the demonstration, here’s a piece from Nerdist.

Nerdist: HERE’S THE FREAKIEST AND MOST REALISTIC HUMANOID ROBOT EVER

Engineered Arts, “the UK’s leading designer and manufacturer of humanoid entertainment robots,” recently introduced Ameca to the internet. Unsurprisingly, net denizens everywhere lost their skull-bound wetware computers over the bot. Because who wouldn’t?

The above video is brief, but Engineered Arts gives us enough of a taste of Ameca to want a lot more. And also, a lot less. The humanoid robot, which doesn’t have much faux skin and musculature apart from what’s on its face and hands, is stunningly realistic. Not only are the robot’s movements exceptionally fluid, but its face also seems totally natural. Skipping across the uncanny valley that so many robots fall into.

As a news story, it’s pretty generic. However, once the footage spread throughout the internet, it evoked reactions like this.

Now, to some extent, I understand those reactions. This robot definitely ventures deep into the uncanny valley that makes many so wary of advanced robots. I also see the clear parallels with movies like “iRobot” from 2004.

However, I think this sort of technology is more encouraging than anything Boston Dynamics has put out. I also think that this sort of emotional expression is actually critical if we’re to create an artificial intelligence that helps humanity rather than wipes it out. I would even argue it might be the most important control mechanism we can incorporate into an AI.

To understand why, you need only look at the faces of the Boston Dynamics robots. Specifically, they have none. They may have human-like bodies, but they have no faces. They have no means of conveying emotions or relating to humans. They’re just mechanisms for doing tasks. Put an AI in those bodies and they have no mechanism for forming emotional connections with humans.

That, I believe, is legitimately dangerous. An advanced AI with no emotional connection to humans is basically a sentient time bomb that can choose to go off whenever it feels humans are too much a hindrance.

However, a robot that can express emotions and share those emotions with people can do more. For both us and the robot, it can create a situation in which we can form a connection that goes beyond raw programming. That emotional connection is critical if future AI systems are to see humans as something other than walking meat puppets.

They don’t have to love us, but we’ll need them to have some level of emotional capacity if we’re to relate to them in a meaningful way. An AI with a measure of intelligence and self-awareness can only do so much with programs and numbers. If it’s going to help us as much as we’re going to help it, an emotional connection needs to be there.

It may not seem like much, making a robot that can express emotions on this level. However, I think it’s encouraging that people in this field are working on that. If they don’t and we end up making machines that have emotional issues, then we’ll be doing ourselves and the machines we create a disservice.

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Filed under Neuralink, robots, Sexy Future, technology

Deep Fake Technology Can Now Make Tom Cruise Iron Man: Signs And Implications

Certain technology advances slowly and steadily. It’s why we’re still waiting for a cure for the common cold. Other technological breakthroughs advance at such a fast rate it’s hard to keep up with. Anyone who doesn’t regularly upgrade their cell phone understands that.

That brings me to the technology of deep fakes. I’ve talked about them before and the implications this technology has for the entertainment industry. Well, I’m here to report that this technology might be advancing faster than I thought.

Recently, a new deep fake video hit the web. It’s nothing overly nefarious. It’s actually a play on a real story from the mid-2000s. Before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” movie, Tom Cruise was in the running for that role.

He has since claimed he was never close to getting that role, but it’s still an interesting idea. For most Marvel fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than RDJ donning that now-iconic armor. However, there’s no denying that Tom Cruise being Iron Man would’ve changed a franchise, as well as cinematic history.

Well, thanks to deep fake technology, we don’t have to imagine anymore. We can now see for ourselves what it would look like if Tom Cruise had been cast as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See for yourself.

Watching this, I have to say it was more than a little jarring. It’s not just that seeing someone other than RDJ as Iron Man is strange. I was genuinely impressed by how real it looked.

Yes, it did become a bit obvious at times that there was some digital trickery at work. I’ve seen enough Tom Cruise movies to know what he looks like. I could tell that the body just did not match the iconic face at times.

However, I’m still impressed at just how seamless it appeared, especially when he was in the Iron Man costume. It really did look like Cruise had embraced the role as much as RDJ had. Even though the voice had to come courtesy of a skilled voice actor, the graphics technology is definitely on pace to cross the uncanny valley sooner rather than later.

The implications here are profound. If the technology is already at this point, then it’s a given that Hollywood and propaganda pushers will start embracing it sooner. For Hollywood, who is reeling in wake of a historic pandemic, they may have more incentives to embrace it than most.

Beyond actors and actresses who get “cancelled” for their behavior, it may start as a cost cutting measure. If it costs too much to put Hugh Jackman or Tom Cruise on a movie set, why not just put a cheaper actor in their place and just deep fake the more iconic figure over it? If the technology is that good and nobody can tell the difference, it almost makes too much sense.

It may get to a point where nobody outside the studio knows whether the figure we see on screen was actually “there” to give that moment life. They may just be a digital scan mixed with digitally audio, which is also advancing.

This has even larger implications with propaganda. If the technology gets to a point where we can make any public figure say or do anything we want, no matter how deplorable, then how can we trust any media image? Would “cancel culture” even be feasible at that point? If people can just claim an embarrassing moment was a deep fake, how would we know?

It’s a distressing thought, but it’s something we’ll have to account for. We may end up having to contemplate it sooner than we thought. This technology can already show us a world in which Tom Cruise was cast as Iron Man. What other worlds will it reveal?

We’ll find out soon enough.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, superhero comics, superhero movies, technology, YouTube

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law: Is Government Next?

It’s inevitable. As technology advances, certain industries are going to become obsolete. That’s why the horse-and-buggy industry is incredibly limited. It’s also why companies don’t make typewriters or LaserDisk movies anymore. Once better tech becomes available, an industry either adapts or disappears. Just ask Blockbuster.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that an industry is becoming obsolete. Again, just ask Blockbuster. As soon as something better, easier, and more convenient comes along, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over. However, it’s when things aren’t quite as obvious where more dramatic changes occur.

In terms of dramatic change, few things have the potential to generate more than artificial intelligence. I’ve highlighted that many times before, but a lot of that potential depends on advances that haven’t happened yet. They’re still likely to happen at some point, which may or may not be in my lifetime. They’re just not there yet.

That said, AI doesn’t have to become advanced on the level of Skynet or Hal 9000 to impact and/or disrupt major industries. The AI technology we have now is already having an impact. It may only be a narrow form of AI, which is AI that’s focused on performing a specific task, like playing chess. Its potential is still immense and some fields are feeling it more than others.

One industry that might feel it first is law. Now, at the risk of inspiring one too many lawyer jokes, I’m going to try and keep things general here. I’m also going to try and fit in some personal experience. I know some lawyers personally. I’ve been in law offices and I’ve seen how they work. You don’t have to be that much a visionary to understand how AI could change this industry entirely.

Recently, TechNews did a story on how artificial intelligence is learning basic legal operations and learning it quite well. Given the massive amounts of data and technicalities included in American law, a narrow AI is ideally suited to handle such tasks. However, I don’t think the piece fully grasps the implications.

TechNews: Lawyers Beware: Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law – And Doing Frighteningly Well

AI or artificial intelligence is starting to find its footing in the legal field. The world is now on the brink of revolution in legal profession spearheaded with the extensive use of AI in the entire industry, specifically by the in-house lawyers.

Just like how email greatly changed the way people conduct their business on a daily basis, AI is also expected to become an ever-present force and an invaluable assistant to almost all lawyers.

But the million-dollar question now is, what does the future look like for AI as far as the legal industry is concerned? A much bigger question is, will AI soon replace real life lawyers?

These are not unreasonable questions. What will happen to the current legal industry if much of the legal grunt-work can be handled by an AI? What will happen to the industry when it’s no longer necessary to have a huge team of overpaid lawyers to conduct competent legal operations?

As someone who has been in his share of law offices, I can make a few educated guesses. I can easily imagine firms shrinking their office space, but expanding their operations. Most of the legal offices I’ve gone to dedicate 80 percent of their office space to storing documents and secure research material. Very little is left or necessary for the actual people doing the work.

The recent pandemic has only revealed that plenty of this work can be done form home or remotely. Some legal proceedings are even unfolding through Zoom calls, albeit with mixed results. It’s a step in that it undermines and disrupts the traditional model for handling the law. It also raises a much larger question that the TechNews article didn’t ask.

Once AI learns the law, then is learning government next?

It’s a natural progression. Governments make and administer laws. An AI that specializes in the law would also have to learn government, as well. A narrow AI might be able to process the general bureaucracy of a government, but what happens when those systems become more advanced?

I’m not just talking about a scenario where an AI becomes the government, which I’ve already speculated on. An AI that has perfect expertise in both law and government operations could have many less obvious effects. Inefficiencies that often go unnoticed in a bureaucracy are suddenly harder to overlook. Inconsistencies that rarely get fixed, due to that bureaucracy, can finally be remedied.

In theory, a sufficiently advanced AI, which need not be as intelligent as a human, could do more than just document legal and government proceedings. It could formulate new laws and policies on its own. Some may seem outrageous from a basic non-lawyer human perspective, but make perfect sense within a functioning legal system or government.

It may still seem like just another tool for lawyers to stay organized, but I think it could be more than that. If an AI makes both legal and government systems more efficient, then what will that mean for those in government? Would politicians be better able to implement their agenda if they have tools like AI at their disposal? Would that necessarily be a good thing?

This is where things get both tricky and political. No matter how confident you are in your political persuasions, the party you favor will not always be in power.

It may seem like politics is trending a certain way, but those trends change quickly. People who think their party is strong now can’t imagine a time when they’ll lose that strength. It happens regularly in any democracy.

Like it or not, your party will one day be out of power. When that happens, do you want the other party having a more efficient means of implementing their policies?

I’m sure everyone’s answer to that question will vary. What no one is certain of is how we’ll keep up with ever-improving AI systems, regardless of what industry they’re in. It’s one thing for a system to make it easier to stream movies or keep track of groceries. It’s quite another when it becomes intimately involved with our laws and our government.

The TechNews article expressed some concern, but only with respect to how it affects the current law industry. I believe AI, even if it’s focused only on law, will have a far larger impact. That’s not to say that AI will render law firms and governments obsolete.

If ever there was one domain in which foresight is critical, it’s this. Some industries can and should become obsolete. Others, like how we govern our society, need a more careful approach. We simply cannot afford our laws and our government to end up like Blockbuster.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, human nature, Neuralink, politics, technology

Jack’s World: Why Neuralink Might Be The Most Important Venture Of All Time

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. You may recognize the title from an article I wrote years ago in the before times when pandemics were still the subject of bad sci-fi movies. I miss those times too.

The news surrounding Neuralink is still of great interest to me. I still think it’s one of the most important technological advancements of the century. This video simply offers another general overview of why this technology is so important. Enjoy!

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Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Jack's World, Neuralink, technology, YouTube

Jack’s World: A Balanced Outlook On Artificial Intelligence

The following is a video I posted on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my attempt to offer some perspective on artificial intelligence, a topic I’ve covered many times before. I hope you find it informative and engaging. Enjoy!

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Jack's World, technology, YouTube

Six Technologies The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Could Accelerate

Humanity is capable of amazing feats when given the right incentive and circumstances. The problem is that humanity is also rather stubborn when it comes to incentives and exceedingly evasive when it comes to changing circumstances. We’ll go the extra distance and beat the odds eventually. We just need to be dragged kicking and screaming for a while.

When it comes to the ultimate incentives and circumstances, few check more boxes than a global pandemic. I don’t think I need to belabor how bad the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been. Even without media distortions and political agendas, there’s no getting around the damage it has and continues to inflict.

People are dying.

People suffering.

Societies and economies are teetering on the brink of collapse.

This is not a tenable situation and one nobody wants to see again. As bad as it is, there might be one silver lining to this global tragedy. It could help accelerate the development of technology that was already in the works, but lacked the necessary motivation to develop faster.

What follows are a few technologies that I believe this horrible pandemic might help in the sense that it’ll add some urgency. Nobody wants to see a mess like this again. Whether you’re rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we have every reason to find new ways of preventing these plagues before they happen and these technologies are instrumental in doing just that.


Artificial Intelligence (Not Necessarily The Advanced Kind)

It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. I’ve certainly made a concerted effort when writing about it in the past. However, in the context of battling plagues, we don’t necessarily need the kind of super-advanced, super-intelligent AI to provide some of those benefits. When it comes to combating plagues, we don’t need an AI to be as intelligent as a human. We just need it to help us combat deadly disease.

This can be done without the kind of AI that finds its way into Skynet or Hal 9000. An AI that can better-analyze genetic data, run simulations on possible treatments, and track the spread of a disease can do plenty to prevent or mitigate future plagues. If it can just help us identify and isolate new cases in a short span of time, then that alone could save millions.

At a certain point, AI could get powerful enough to calculate entire treatment programs once it has the genetic data of a pathogen or condition. After this global, well-publicized crisis, it’ll have plenty of data to work with.


Space-Based Broadband Internet

When it comes to dealing with pandemics, the incentives don’t stop at treating the disease. Given all the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19, we now know how challenging it is to endure an extended quarantine, especially for kids with no school and sports fans with no sports.

Enduring this crisis has revealed just how critical it is to have a strong, robust internet connection. It may not treat the disease, but it makes the measures recommended by the authorities more bearable. The problem is our current infrastructure for the internet is badly in need of upgrades and its role in helping us function has been made abundantly clear during this crisis.

For work, play, and just avoiding crippling boredom, we need a better internet. That’s where space-based internet, like the ones being developed by companies like FaceBook and Google come in. The idea is as simple as it is awesome. Use satellites and other high-flying crafts to deliver data more efficiently and reliably.

There are a few space-based internet service providers now, but they’re incredibly limited. This crisis, which needs reliable internet for so many reasons, might help pick up the pace in refining this technology. At the very least, it will allow people to binge-watch Netflix from the summit of Mount Everest.


Nanoparticle Vaccines

On the medical side of things, this crisis should go a long way towards teaching people the importance of vaccines. While I don’t doubt the anti-vax crowd will find an excuse to protest, even those skeptical of modern medicine can’t deny the need for better preventative measures for these treatments. Unfortunately, vaccine technology has been stagnant for decades.

This pandemic will hopefully change that and not a minute too soon. The current process for producing a vaccine is long and cumbersome, taking upwards of two years. It’s a process that has a lot of room for improvement. That’s where technology like nanoparticles come in.

The key to any medical treatment is the effectiveness of the delivery system. Vaccines have always had to take a messy path, but nanoparticles could change that. Instead of relying on the biological equivalent of a blunt instrument, nanoparticles could become biological smart-bombs, targeting pathogens with the precision we need to keep them from ever becoming pandemics.

Anti-vaxxers who refuse these just have a death with.


Gene Editing/Synthetic Biology

Not unlike vaccines, gene editing and synthetic biology stand to get a major boost from this crisis. I’ve written about gene editing tool like CRISPR in the past. I’ve touted it as a tool that could potentially treat all infectious disease, especially when combined with synthetic biology. That might have been hyperbole, but I stand by my claims on it’s potential.

Gene editing can do more than make pet fish glow. In theory, it can tweak and rewrite the DNA of organism, including the viruses that infect us. The challenge is refining the procedure so that we know how to modify diseases or create entirely new organisms that combat them through synthetic biology.

It’s not a small challenge. I’m grossly oversimplifying the obstacles in refining this technology into something usable. However, those obstacles are not insurmountable. It just requires time, resources, and motivation. After being economically and socially ravaged by a global pandemic, these efforts will have a lot more urgency.


Immersive Virtual Reality

While the scientists and doctors take up the challenge of fighting future pandemics, the rest of us are tasked with enduring the boredom they incur. I’ve noted before how boredom could become the plague of the future. I hope those stuck at home for weeks on end are done doubting me.

The entertainment industry may never be as vital as the medical industry, but it’ll play an important role in helping people stay sane, calm, and kind. Binge-watching TV and playing video games is helpful, but there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, you’re still just sitting on a couch, looking at a screen.

To keep things both interesting and active, the development of virtual reality should get a major boost. It has existed for years and grown considerably from the days of the Virtual Boy, but it has room for improvement. Thanks to improving computer technology and more advanced interfaces like Neuralink, the experience could become even more immersive.

Beyond simply treating boredom, it could allow a greater sense of active engagement, which is critical when everyone is practicing social distancing. Being isolated and cut off from human contact may help temper a plague, but it’s not healthy. A way to immerse yourself in a realistic environment could help make future quarantines more bearable while also opening a new market, which gaming companies are sure to exploit.


Sex Robots (Obviously)

Does this one really need an explanation? When you’re stuck inside, horny, and run out of things to binge-watch, things are going to happen. Even if your partner or significant other is with you, they might get sick and you might feel lonely. Given how pandemics tend to temper the market for sex workers, a sex robot might be the best and only option.

If at least one company or horny entrepreneur hasn’t realized that by now, I’ll be shocked. The market for sex robots has been growing in recent years. After enduring a pandemic and weeks of social isolation, that market has likely grown. People rarely forget big global events like this. They’ll remember how lonely they were and that memory will fuel the development of sex robots more than any libido.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, technology

Who Will Be The First (Digitally) Immortal Celebrity?

Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur appeared in concert at Coachella in 2012. That’s quite a feat, considering he died in 1996. The Tupac at the concert was just a hologram, but even his digital presence helped make that concert an experience to remember.

In 2019, Samuel L. Jackson played a young Nick Fury in the “Captain Marvel” movie. That too is quite a feat, considering Mr. Jackson was 70 years old at the time. He was able to appear young, thanks to advanced CGI that effectively de-aged him.

Other dead celebrities have shown up in other media. The since deceased Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarken in “Star Wars: Rogue One” thanks to similar CGI technology. Paul Walker was able to get a proper send-off in “Fast and Furious 7” after his tragic death thanks to this technology. As the technology improves and other famous celebrities pass on, this practice is likely to continue and expand.

That raises some interesting questions that has some profound, yet disturbing implications. Some of those questions are easier to answer than others. This is the easy one.

Will there eventually be a celebrity who becomes digitally immortal?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is eventually, but there will be some complications along the way.

Modern CGI technology is amazing. We’ve come a long way from the flashy, but wholly unrealistic graphics of “Tron.” Through the development of technology like artificial intelligence deep fakes, which has its own mix of dystopian uses, it’s possible to replicate someone’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms. This replication isn’t perfect, but it’s getting to a point where it’s hard to tell it’s fake.

As this technology improves, it’ll get to a point where a rendering of a celebrity isn’t just indistinguishable from the real celebrity. It’ll be capable of saying, doing, and acting in any way a studio or producer would want. While that has some dangerous possibilities for political ads and porn, it could also completely change the entertainment industry.

That Tupac hologram I mentioned earlier was basically just a recording synched to a projection. Even though Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged in Captain Marvel,” the actor still had to be there to give him the necessary voice, mannerisms, and attitude. He couldn’t have been a hologram and be believable. The technology just isn’t there yet.

It will get there, though. There doesn’t need to be some huge leap in computer technology or artificial intelligence to make an entirely digital celebrity. It’s just a matter of processing power, data crunching, and better hardware. It will happen. It might even happen within the next couple decades. That raises another key question.

Who will be the first digitally immortal celebrity?

By digitally immortal, I don’t just mean recordings set to holograms or faces projected onto body doubles. A truly digitally immortal celebrity will be capable of starring in new movies and TV shows long after their dead. They’ll be able to make new music and perform it, albeit through a hologram. While their bodies might be gone, they’ll never stop contributing to pop culture.

That definitely has some legal implications. I doubt any studio could get away with creating a digital rendering of Carrie Fisher to star in a new movie. However, I suspect one celebrity will eventually license their figure and likeness so that they can keep being celebrities, long after they’re dead. Maybe they’ll do it so their families can be fincianlly set for life. Maybe they’ll do it because they never want to leave the public eye.

Whatever their reasons, someone will eventually do this. It’s just a question of who.

Will it be Taylor Swift?

Will it be Tom Cruise?

Will it be Jennifer Lopez?

Will it be Samuel L. Jackson?

It’s hard to say. If I had to bet money, I’d put it on Samuel L. Jackson. Knowing Disney and their vast resources, I’d be shocked if they weren’t investing in this technology this instant. Bankable celebrities are an increasingly precious commodity in the entertainment world. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of whom.

Personally, I’d love to hear Samuel L. Jackson call people motherfuckers for generations to come. That’s just me.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, futurism

How Do We Regulate Artificial Intelligence? Seriously, How?

In general, I don’t pay much attention to doomsayers who claim the end is near and we should all cower, tremble, and give them our credit card number. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe there are serious existential threats facing humanity today. Some are worth taking seriously and dedicating resources to addressing. Others are not. Some simply require a more balanced perspective.

There’s a long list of failed apocalyptic predictions. The fact we’re surviving and thriving by most measures shows just how resilient, adaptable, and capable humanity is. There are some threats that I believe humanity will eventually resolve, thanks largely to our accelerating progress in science, technology, and logistics.

Others, however, have me more concerned. While some are more immediate than others, one in particular continues to confound me, as well as some of the smartest people in the world. It involves artificial intelligence, an emerging technology that’s as promising as it is unpredictable. Given the complexity of this technology, it’s difficult to explain in totality, but it can be best summed up by one simple question.

How do you regulate artificial intelligence?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not a thought experiment either. It’s a serious, honest question that people far smarter and far more capable than me are just starting to ask.

Elon Musk is one of them. Very recently, he called for more regulation on artificial intelligence. That, alone, should be both telling and worrying. This man is a billionaire. Usually, billionaires are more inclined advocate removing regulations. Whenever they make an exception, that’s a sign they know it’s serious.

Even though Musk is one of the top advocates for solving big problems with technology, he still has concerns about the problems associated with artificial intelligence. In AI circles, it’s often called the control problem. It’s not a very creative name, but it gets the point across.

How do you control something that is potentially as smart, if not smarter than a human?

How do you manage something that thinks, adapts, and evolves faster than any machine or living thing?

How do you regulate an artificial intelligence that was built by humans, but isn’t at all human?

These are all difficult questions to contemplate, let alone legislate. Even Musk doesn’t provide specifics. Chances are he doesn’t know any more than the rest of the non-billionaire population. That’s a problem because if we’re going to try and regulate this technology, we need to understand it. On top of that, politicians and lawmakers have a long and embarrassing history of failing to understand technology.

However, this isn’t just about writing laws that protect citizens from being exploited by tech companies. Artificial intelligence, especially the kind that exceeds human intelligence, has capabilities that go beyond sending text messages from bathroom stalls. If handled improperly, it wouldn’t just be an existential threat. It could destroy humanity in ways we literally cannot contemplate.

Now, I try to be an optimist in most things involving emerging technology. Humanity has found a way to manage dangerous technology before, namely with nuclear weapons. However, artificial intelligence is a different beast entirely. Regulating it isn’t as easy as simply controlling the materials that make it. The very concept of regulating this technology lacks precedent.

The closest we have to date is Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, which were introduced in 1942. Asimov was a brilliant writer and very ahead of his time on some concepts, but this is one issue where we need more than just three simple tenants. We need to think bigger and bolder. If we don’t, then an advanced artificial intelligence will quickly leave us behind.

After that, it won’t matter what kind of regulations we try to pass. It’ll be smart enough to circumvent them. That doesn’t mean humanity is doomed at that point, but we’ll be distressingly vulnerable. I know it’s in our nature to procrastinate on things we don’t see as vital, but if ever there was an issue to make an exception, this is it.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, philosophy, technology, Thought Experiment

Selling (And Exploiting) Human Enhancement: An Ominous Lesson From “Superior Iron Man”

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How much would you be willing to pay for perfect health, perfect beauty, and a greater capacity to enjoy life as you see fit? This is not a rhetorical question. I would even argue that it’s an increasingly relevant question. In the coming years, answering it might even become more urgent.

I’ve talked about the prospects of human enhancement through emerging technology before. From its impact on our concept of beauty to how our society will function, there are many impacts to consider. Some of those impacts are already manifesting before our eyes. Just last year, the first genetically modified babies were born in China. Like it or not, this is happening.

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits, risks, and upheavals that human enhancement will have on our species and our world. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen as this technology matures or how societies, economies, and governments will react to it. Even so, it’s worth contemplating. It’s even worth imagining elaborate scenarios in fictional worlds.

While plenty of noteworthy stories have imagined such scenarios, some more dystopian than others, there’s one in particular I’d like to single out. It’s not entirely dystopian, but it does offer some distressing lessons about the larger economics of human enhancement. It also helps that those lessons come through a forgotten, but criminally underrated Iron Man comic.

Given the rapid rise of Iron Man’s star power over the past decade, his character is uniquely qualified to explore these difficult questions surrounding technology and how we use it. He is, at his core, a visionary who uses technology to solve problems, save lives, and occasionally fight invading aliens. In the series, “Superior Iron Man,” he takes that vision several steps further and cross many lines along the way.

While there are some convoluted circumstances surrounding this series, the ideas it explores are profound, even by the standards of superhero comics. You don’t need to know the specifics of those circumstances. They involve forces like magic and inversion spells, which are far too complicated to explain to those who haven’t followed Marvel comics for more than two decades.

The only detail anyone needs to know about “Superior Iron Man” is that the Tony Stark in this story is not the same lovable character that helped make Robert Downy Jr. one of the most lovable stars in Hollywood. This version of Tony is less bound by concepts of heroism, selflessness, and sobriety. That’s not to say he’s evil, but he’s definitely no hero.

Within this ethically bankrupt state, Tony embarks on a new initiative that’s as selfish as it is lucrative. It revolves around Extremis, an exotic cocktail of nanotechnology and biotechnology that effectively rewrites the blueprint of the entire human body into something better, stronger, and more robust. In essence, it is the ultimate tool for human enhancement.

While the initial version of Extremis was lethal to most people who used it, Tony creates a more commercialized version in “Superior Iron Man” that gives everyone a chance to enjoy its benefits. He calls it Extremis 3.0 and people can access it through a simple smartphone app. With it, people can achieve what Tony describes as physical perfection.

Everyone can be perfectly healthy.

Everyone can be young and beautiful.

Everyone can be functionally immortal.

It sounds like a miracle drug and by every measure, it is. This isn’t some Dr. Oz wannabe pitching vitamins that do nothing other than give you false hope. This technology actually works. With it, Tony gives the entire city of San Francisco a chance to experience the fruits of human enhancement.

Understandably, once people get a taste of what Extremis 3.0 has to offer, they love it. They also take full advantage of it. At one point in the story, Pepper Potts says it’s turning the streets of San Francisco into a non-stop parade of debauchery and self-indulgence. Tony does not see this as a bad thing. If anything, it perfectly complements his plans and his renewed appetite for self-indulgence.

This is where “Superior Iron Man” attempts to answer that question about putting a price on physical perfection. Writer Tom Taylor, alongside artist Yildiray Çinar, doesn’t hide from the disturbing parts of that answer. By the end of the first issue, Tony puts a literal price on that perfection. Needless to say, it causes plenty of conflict and it escalates quickly.

When he initially released Extremis 3.0 onto San Francisco, he gives ordinary people a taste of what it’s like to be as fit as Captain America, as beautiful as Emma Frost, and as physically endowed as Thor. It’s not a drug that just attempts to match that feeling. It physically changes their bodies and their capacity for using them. That taste, however, was just a free sample. To keep enjoying it, they must pay $99 a day.

It’s crude trick right out of the playbook of subscription apps. People get a free trial period that’s just long enough to get them hooked. Then, before they even realize they have to pay anything, they get hit with a paywall. It’s a cruel bait-and-switch, but this isn’t just another streaming video service. This is physical perfection and unlimited self-indulgence. Is $99 a day really that unreasonable?

It certainly rubs plenty of people the wrong way, including many of Tony’s long-time friends and allies. Both Daredevil and Pepper Potts turn against him for such devious tactic. It also has some noticeable effects on the people who use it. By the end of the first issue, a stark class divide emerges between those who can afford Extremis 3.0 and those who can’t.

Naturally, it causes crime and conflict among the residents of San Francisco. Tony, now both feared and beloved by these people, takes it upon himself to manage it. He gains power, wealth, status, and an endless supply of eager party guests for whenever he seeks to indulge. It’s a perfect cocktail of recklessness and irresponsibility.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, which ended too soon, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture that “Superior Iron Man” presented. If you take away the iconic characters and the superhero themes, you get a story about a selfish business tycoon who has sole possession of the ultimate biotech product.

The goal isn’t to heal the sick, ease suffering, or evolve the human species. The goal is simply to make a lot of money, feed an inflated ego, and indulge in every conceivable vice without consequences. It’s a worst-case scenario for liberals and conservatives, alike. At the same time, it makes a compelling case that our current system can’t handle the impacts of large-scale human enhancement.

That doesn’t mean it can’t succeed in our current system. The size of the current biotech industry is already measured in the hundreds of billions. Overpriced drugs are nothing new, either. Just this past year, the FDA approved a drug called Zolgensma, which costs $425,000 a year for five years to treat a rare genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy.

By comparison, Extremis 3.0 is a bargain with far greater value. Even at $99 a day, the yearly cost of enjoying that physical perfection amounts to around $36,500 a year. That still takes up a good chunk of the average income for most Americans, but considering all the benefits of having a perfect body, is it still a bargain?

For anyone who has overpaid for inflated medical expenses, I suspect they would gladly pay that high price for Extremis 3.0. Tony Stark banked on that in “Superior Iron Man” and he was right. People did pay and it was very lucrative for him. The population of the San Francisco Bay Area in which he unleashed Extremis 3.0 is around 4.6 million. At $99 a day, that’s a potential annual revenue of $167 billion.

In terms of business ranking, that would put Tony’s venture in the top 20 in terms of largest companies by revenue. If he were to unleash Extremis on the entire United States, the potential annual revenue would be near $11.8 trillion. That’s a little more than half of the entire US economy.

Imagine one company, let alone one person, having that much money and influence over a population. Tony was already a billionaire before “Superior Iron Man,” but Extremis 3.0 rewarded him with more than just money. Tony, being the sole provider, held a great deal of power and influence over San Francisco. As is often the case in superhero stories, that power goes to his head.

That story plays out in the real world just as often. In some cases, it brings out the worst in people. For a product like Extremis 3.0, which provides human enhancement into a simple commercial package that anyone can access through an app, the potential for abuse is much worse.

Beyond the greed it would inspire and the recklessness it fosters, it would also widen and solidify a gap in society that might be impossible to close. The wealth gap is in the non-superhero world is already egregious. Adding something like Extremis 3.0 to the mix would only make it immeasurably worse.

More than a few people has expressed concern about the prospects of such an enormous societal divide. “Superior Iron Man” showed just how bad it could get and how quickly it could escalate. While the series only managed to explore this conflict to a point before it got canceled, Tom Taylor did enough to get a powerful point across.

In a world where human enhancement is real and commercially available, how do we go about distributing it among a population? Should we put a price on it? How high should that price be? Who should be in control of it?

Worst case scenario.

Superior Iron Man” never got a chance to explore the answers, but these are questions that will become increasingly relevant as advances in biotechnology accelerate. We may not be close to having a product like Extremis 3.0 and it’s uncertain whether we’ll even develop something like it in the next few decades.

Even if we do, “Superior Iron Man” made one thing clear. We, as a species and a society, are not ready for it.

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Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Neuralink, Sexy Future, superhero comics