The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment about technology and how it’s affecting us, as a species. I’ve covered this sort of thing before and the implications. I’m looking to see if there’s an audience for this on my channel. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: emerging technology
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.
While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.
We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.
There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.
Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.
One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.
Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.
At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.
All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.
The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.
“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”
Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.
Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.
This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.
That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.
It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?
I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.
We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.
As bad as last year was for so many people, there were some things that 2020 just couldn’t stop. When it comes to technology, a global crisis has a way of hindering certain processes while accelerating others. For many, that meant more telework and reliance on streaming media to stave off boredom.
However, it may very well end up being the case that 2020 proved just how frail human beings and their societies are. It only takes a tiny microscopic virus to send our entire society to a screeching halt. It’s sobering, but it’s probably going to be a source of humor for our future robot overlords.
I tend to be optimistic about the future and technological trends. I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist. I realize that we human beings have a lot of limits. Emerging technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, promises to help us transcend those limits.
Right now, it’s still mostly fodder for science fiction writers, futurists, and Elon Musk wannabes. We’re not quite there yet in terms of making a machine that’s as smart as a human. However, we’re probably going to get there faster than skeptics, naysayers, and the general public realize.
It won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen in the span of a single year. When it does happen, though, hindsight will make it painfully obvious that the signs were there. This was bound to happen. We had ample time to prepare for it. Being fallible humans, we could only do so much.
In that sense, I suspect that years from now, we’ll look back on what Boston Dynamics did to close out 2020. This company, who has a history of making robots that look way too advanced to exist outside a Terminator movie, decided to do something with their robots that would leave an indellible mark on the year.
They succeeded by teaching their robots how to dance.
I know it already went viral, but it’s worth posting again. Remember this video and this moment. Chances are it’ll be a major indicator years from now that this is when robots began catching up to humanity in terms of capabilities. At this point, it’ sonly a matter of time before they exceed us.
When that time comes, will we be ready? Will we embrace them while they embrace us?
If they don’t, just know that they will now be able to dance on our graves.
In general, I root for technology and technological progress. Overall, I believe it has been a net benefit for humanity. It’s one of the major reasons why we’ve made so much progress as a global society in the past 100 years.
I’ve sung the praises of technology in the past, speculated on its potential, and highlighted individuals who have used it to save millions of lives. For the most part, I focus on the positives and encourage other people to have a less pessimistic view of technology and the change it invites.
That said, there is another side to that coin and I try not to ignore it. Like anything, technology has a dark side. It can be used to harm just as much as it can be used to hurt, if not more so. You could argue that we couldn’t have killed each other at such a staggering rate in World War II without technology.
It’s not hyperbole to say that certain technology could be the death of us all. In fact, we’ve come distressingly close to destroying ourselves before, namely with nuclear weapons. There’s no question that kind of technology is dangerous.
However, artificial intelligence could be far more dangerous than any nuclear bomb. I’ve talked about it before and I’ll likely bring it up again. This technology just has too much potential, for better and for worse.
That’s why when people who are actually researching it have concerns, we should take notice. One such individual spoke out recently, specifically someone who worked for Google, an organization with deep pockets and a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.
According to a report from the Associated Press, a scholar named Timnit Gebru expressed serious concerns about Google’s AI research, specifically in how their operating ethics. For a company as big and powerful as Google, that’s not a trivial comment. This is what she had to say.
Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.
But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.
Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident “unprecedented research censorship” and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.
The furor over Gebru’s abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original “Don’t Be Evil” motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.
And it’s exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.
I bolded that last sentence because I think it’s the most relevant. It’s also the greatest cause for concern. I suspect Ms. Gebru is more concerned than most because the implications are clear.
When a tool as powerful as advanced AI is developed, who gets to determine how it’s used? Who gets to program the ethical framework by which it operates? Who gets to decide how the benefits are conferred and the harms are reduced?
Moreover, how do you even go about programming an AI with the right kind of ethics?
That’s a very relative question and one we can’t avoid if we’re going to keep developing this technology. I’ve tried to answer it, but I’m hardly an expert. Ms. Gebru was definitely in a better position than me or most other people with a passing interest in this field.
Then, she gets fired and starts expressing concerns publicly. The fact that she can and Google isn’t facing much in terms of repercussions should be concerning. It may also be a sign of the larger challenges we’re facing.
Google, like many other organizations researching advanced AI, is a profit-seeking tech company. They’re not some utopian technocrats. They’re a business who is obligated to make their investors happy. Advanced AI will help them do that, but what kind of consequences will that invite?
If profit is the primary motivation of an advanced AI, then what happens when it encounters a situation where profit comes at the cost of lives? There are already human-run companies that make those decision and people die because of them. An advanced AI will only make it many times worse.
Once an artificial intelligence system is as smart as a human, it’s going to be capable in ways we don’t expect and can’t control. If it’s ethics and goals aren’t aligned with us, then what’s to stop it from wiping humanity out in the name of profit?
It’s a distressing thought. It’s probably a thought that has crossed Ms. Gebru’s mind more than once. She may know how close or far we are to that point, but the fact that this is already a conflict should worry us all.
We’ve already become so numb to the greed and excesses of big business. Tech companies may conduct themselves as this team of future-building visionaries intent on making the world a better place, but the profit motive is still there. Like it or not, profit is still a hell of a motive.
Eventually, artificial intelligence will get to a point where it will either adopt our ethics or choose to formulate its own, which may or may not align with ours. When that happens, no amount of profit may be worth the risk.
Now, we’re still a ways off from an artificial intelligence system on that level, but it’s still quite possible that there are people alive today who will grow up to see it. When that time comes, we need to be damn sure these systems have solid ethical frameworks in place.
If they don’t, we really don’t stand a chance. We’re a society that still kills each other over what we think happens when we die without seeing the irony. Even a marginally advanced AI will have no issues wiping us out if we make doing so profitable.
Technology has and will continue to affect our sex life, our love life, our social life, and everything in between. It’s unavoidable. Whatever new technology we create will eventually affect or be applied to our sex life. Whether intentional or unintentional, it’ll find a way. Human beings are just too creative, passionate, and horny.
I’ve explored some emerging technologies that could have a significant impact on our sex lives. Many people alive today are likely to feel those impacts at some point. For the most part, it’s difficult to imagine. We can only speculate. However, we may gain unique insights from unexpected places.
Decades ago, shows like “Star Trek” and movies like “Demolition Man” imagined technology like smartphones and tablets. At the time, they didn’t seem like huge leaps, but they still seemed futuristic. They also offered some insight into how technology might find its way into our lives. It may have been innocuous to the story, but it was downright prophetic in envisioning the real-world implications.
This brings me to an upcoming game called “Cyberpunk 2077.” In a year where so many things that we love are getting delayed or cancelled, this had video game fans of all types giddy with excitement. It’s already one of the most anticipated games of the year and I count myself among those who have already made plans to play it for hours on end.
This is no standard Mario game. “Cyberpunk 2077” is “Grand Theft Auto” meets “Skyrim,” with a dash of Keanu Reeves for added awesome. It’s a mature journey into a futuristic world full of cyborgs, outlaws, and bloody brawls. If you can’t find something to enjoy in that, then you’re just being difficult.
However, the appeal of game isn’t the primary issue I want to highlight. Recently, some new details emerged that could offer the kind of futuristic insight that even “Star Trek” was too afraid to address. Specifically, the game revealed an option to customize the genitals of your character. An article in Kotaku went into detail.
Players can select a gender and customize their character; customization can include depictions of breasts, buttocks, and genitalia, as well as various sizes and combinations of genitals. Players can encounter events where they have the option to engage in sexual activities with other main characters or prostitutes — these brief sex scenes (from a first-person perspective) depict partially nude characters moaning suggestively while moving through various positions.
That makes sense in the context of the game. It’s a futuristic world in which the line between technology and our bodies is essentially gone. You can augment limps, organs, and various other features. It makes sense that this extends to our genitals. Conceivably, it means men can have vaginas, women can have penises, and those who prefer a more ambiguous kind of sexuality can mix and match.
The possibilities are vast, as well as sexy. To some, it’ll be disturbing. I’m sure the Rick Santorums and Jack Thompsons of the world won’t sleep well. At the same time, it provides some insight into the future of our bodies, our sex lives, and our love lives.
While the technology in “Cyberpunk 2077” is a long way off, some parts of it are already starting to emerge. From Neuralink to lab grown organs, the principle of creating new body parts and augmenting the ones we have isn’t new. It’s not some magical concept that requires that we break the laws of physics. In theory, this sort of thing is possible. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and development.
What games like “Cyberpunk 2077” promise is the ability to explore how society reacts to having the ability to change, enhance, or adjust their bodies at will. If you can have one set of genitals one day and another by the end of the week, what does that do for people? How does it affect the way they conduct themselves? How does it impact our notions of gender?
It would definitely change. That’s for certain. While it may be a novelty in the game, it could offer some insights for the real world. A while back, a study of players who played “Mass Effect” revealed that the vast majority of them preferred the path of a paragon hero over that of a renegade. Both options were available, but one appealed more.
I find that kind of insight powerful because, unlike TV shows or movies, video games are more engaging. People play an active role in both the plot of the story and how the characters conduct themselves. In games like “Cyberpunk 2077” when there are so many options for customization, the possibilities are even greater.
One day, people in the real world will be able to reconfigure and customize their genitals just like players can in “Cyberpunk 2077.” It’s hard to know what kind of impact that’ll have on the world, but “Cyberpunk 2077” should give us a tantalizing glimpse.
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.
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.
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.
The future can be scary at times, but the prospect of improved technology helps make it more exciting. I would argue it’s the most exciting part of the future. You see some of the fancy gadgets that tech companies are working on and you want to live long enough to use them, especially the sexy ones.
I’ve talked about emerging technology before. While I tend to be hopeful about the impact of certain technologies, I don’t overlook the existential dangers they pose. Some of those dangers are more relevant than others, but others are less fantastic and more pragmatic. One of those advances is self-driving cars.
Unlike some of the other advanced technologies that are decades away, this one already exists, albeit in a limited form. There are cars on the market today that can drive themselves in certain situations. I even had a chance to ride in one a couple years back. It works remarkably well, albeit it could only function on major highways.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s a promising start. The fact that it exists and is being refined as we speak means this is happening. It’s at an early stage, but like cell phones before it, the technology will continue to be refined. Eventually, it’ll get to the point where it’s better at navigating traffic than any human.
I honestly look forward to that day because I’m not a big fan of driving. I don’t mind it, but I’ve never been particularly fond of long drives, even if it’s for a vacation. My back gets sore, my arms get stiff, and I just get frustrated after the third hour behind the wheel.
It’s because of my aversion to long drives that I don’t take as many trips as I wish. I believe that if I had access to a perfectly functioning self-driving car, that would change. If the technology were refined to a point that I’d just type in an address and let it do the rest, then I would definitely go on trips. .With that in mind, I’d like to share a brief anecdote for how I would use a self-driving car.
It’s Friday night. I finished my last workout of the week, cleaned myself up, and ate my dinner. I’m tired, but I don’t intend to spend the weekend lounging around the house.
About a half-hour before I usually turn in, I pack my bag. I then put on my most comfortable pair of clothes, take a quick bathroom break, and head to the nearest self-driving car. As soon as I’m inside, I punch in the address to the beach that’s furthest south from where I am, whether it’s Florida, South Carolina, or somewhere in between.
I make sure the car has the range and speed. I then close it up, turn the car on, and let it work. From there, I just lay back in the seat and let myself fall asleep.
If all goes well, I wake up just as the car arrives at the beach. Even if the sun hasn’t risen yet, it’s right there in the nearest parking lot to the shore. I get out of the car, find the best spot I can on the beach, and wait to watch the sunrise. I then spend the rest of the day at the beach, lounging about and hitting up beach bars.
Once the sun sets, I return to the self-driving car, punch in my home address, make sure its charged, and ride it home. If I’ve done everything right, I sleep through the ride and wake up in my driveway. It caps off the end of a nice, relaxing day at the beach in which I slept through the commute.
This is just one idea from the perspective of what I’d do. If you have other ideas on how you’d use a self-driving car, please share them in the comments.