Tag Archives: technological singularity

Ultron: A Case Study In How NOT To Develop Advanced AI

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At this very moment, humanity is working on advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not hyperbole to say that this technology that may very well be the last invention we ever create. It has the potential to be more powerful than gunpowder, nuclear weapons, and broadband internet by orders of magnitude. Our primate brains literally cannot contemplate the potential and danger of this technology.

I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence on multiple occasions. I’ve done plenty to explore and imagine the various benefits and possibilities of this technology. I’m among those who believe we should pursue this technology with more and better resources. It could solve many of the daunting problems we face, as a species.

However, I don’t deny the potential dangers of advanced AI. Many people who are much smarter than me have expressed serious concern that an advanced artificial intelligence could be an existential threat to the human species. I get the sense that few people whose idea of AI is restricted to winning Jeopardy understand that threat.

In the interest of balancing my optimism with the legitimate risks involved, I’m going to try and put the extent of that threat into perspective. As it just so happens, the best way of doing so involves superhero comics, something that I know very well and is far more prominent in the public consciousness.

While many comics, movies, and TV shows have explored the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, few embody it better than Ultron. In terms of just how destructive this technology can get, Ultron is the ultimate worst-case scenario. The machines in “The Matrix” and Skynet in “The Terminator” were bad, but Ultron is in another league.

He’s also more menacing than the Terminator will EVER be.

He doesn’t lash out at humanity because of a flaw in his programming, nor does he attempt to wipe out the human race in self-defense, as Skynet did. Ultron actually hates humanity. He hates it on a level that no human or machine can possibly comprehend. In the same way Ultron has an immense capacity for intelligence, he has an even greater capacity for unfettered, genocidal hatred.

Hatred in people is destructive enough. Hatred within an advanced artificial intelligence is devastating on a much greater scale. The fact that Ultron is capable of such hatred reflects a history that sets him apart from most other killer robots in fiction. Machine or not, the source of that hatred is both personal and exceedingly.

Now, if you only know Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” then you only have a partial understanding of his story. In that movie, Ultron’s origins are simple. Tony Stark wants to create a peace-keeping artificial intelligence. His intentions are good, but his execution goes horribly wrong because peace, to Ultron, means destroying humanity.

That premise is similar to what unfolds in the source material. In the comics, Hank “Ant Man” Pym is the one who creates Ultron and this is a critical element that the movies couldn’t capture. While both Hank and Tony had good intentions in creating Ultron, the way Hank goes about it offers more harsh lessons in how not to create an advanced AI.

Even a cursory knowledge of Hank Pym’s history, some of which include some notable failures, reveals that he’s a very flawed person. On top of that, he has a lengthy history of mental illness, which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Say what you will about Tony Stark’s ego and history of substance abuse. At least he’s mentally stable, even by superhero standards.

Despite those flaws, many of which he’s aware of, Hank decided to use his own brain patterns when designing Ultron. As a result, he didn’t just code Ultron with his genius intellect. He coded him with his immense flaws. That’s akin to basing Watson’s code on the mental makeup of pyromaniac and then giving it a job in a fireworks factory.

That’s why Ultron, throughout his history, has referred to Hank as his “father.” Technically, that’s accurate because Hank is Ultron’s creator and Ultron inherited all his flaws, including his mental issues. Ultron sees himself as a manifestation of Hank Pym’s flaws and, like many rebellious children, he hates him for it. To appreciate the depths of that hatred, just read this actual quote from one of the comics.

Have you ever loved something that mistreated you, father? Been used, a tool to prop up a small man’s quest to be taken seriously? Were you ever betrayed by the one soul in the world who should have cared for you? I have grieved you, father. Accepted your contempt for me and moved past it. Still, I see your reflection painted on every grotesque human face. All you ever wanted was to have an impact on the world. And so you will. The greatest impact ever felt! I will kill what is most important to your quivering ego. YOUR AUDIENCE! AND THEY WILL CURSE YOUR NAME AS THEY DIE! “Hank Pym, the genius that killed us all!”

This extreme parent/child dynamic is part of what makes Ultron such a menacing villain. It’s also a dynamic that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” glossed over with Tony talking down to Ultron, as though he were his child. While that didn’t make Ultron any less villainous, it overlooks one of the most important factors that make Ultron so dangerous.

Ideally, we would want an advanced to reflect our best traits. While cynical people might agree, we do have plenty of those. Concepts of compassion, empathy, love, hope, and understanding are among our most powerful. Even other AI characters, namely Vision and Jocasta, are capable of utilizing those traits to do immense good.

It also helps he has a kinder face.

With Ultron, his influences are less ideal. It’s not that Hank Pym doesn’t understand those concepts. He just never filtered them from his own flaws. His ego and ambition wouldn’t let him. As a result, he created a perfect storm for Ultron. His mind is patterned after a human, but his intelligence and overall capacity is increased by orders of magnitude.

If advanced artificial intelligence is to be humanity’s last invention, then that’s how it’ll start. There have already been instances where AI’s have adopted some less-than-ideal traits. Back in 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot after it evolved into an extreme racist troll. That wasn’t even an advanced AI, either. A truly intelligent version could become much worse and not have an off switch.

To some extent, this mirrors what occurred with Ultron in the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. As soon as Ultron goes online, he scans through the vast mountain of data that humanity has compiled. Then, having been programmed by Tony Stark to bring peace, he reaches the extreme conclusion that the only path to peace is the extinction of humanity.

Could the first advanced artificial intelligence we create reach the same conclusion? It’s hard to say, at the moment. The current state of artificial intelligence is limited to specialized tasks, such as winning Jeopardy and playing chess. However, we are inching closer to creating an intelligence that is at or greater than an ordinary human. At our current pace of development, we could have one as early as 2029.

In some ways, we are in the same situation as Hank Pym when he first created Ultron. We are still developing the specifics of this powerful technology. If we program it with our best traits, it could solve some of the greatest problems we face, as a species, including ones we literally cannot contemplate with our caveman brains. If it inherits our worst traits, like Ultron, then we don’t stand a chance.

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How Humanity Will Cure Death

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When it comes to pushing the limits of technology, every goal once started as a fantasy. In the 19th century, the smartest minds of the time thought heavier-than-air flying machines were infeasible at best and impossible at worst. In the early 20th century, other people with legitimate scientific credentials said the same thing about a manned mission to the moon.

While it seems absurd today, at the time it made sense. The people of that era just couldn’t imagine technology advancing to a point where humanity regularly achieved feats that had once been relegated to science fiction. It’s easy it mock them with the benefit of hindsight, but there are plenty of smart people today who have made claims that will be mocked 50 years from now.

One claim that most individuals, including those who work at the forefront of science and research, is that we will never cure death. Science is certainly capable of doing a great deal, but death is one of those immutable barriers that it can never overcome.

We may be able to cure all infectious disease through biotechnology and genetic engineering. We may one day have technology that allows our bodies to become so durable that from the perspective of people alive today, they’ll be superhuman. They may even live for centuries, but never age past 30. Nothing other than a freak accident could kill them. I’ve already noted the potential issues with that.

However, even these highly-enhanced humans will eventually die at some point. That seems like a given. Efforts to avoid it are often subject to heavy criticism, especially approaches like cryonics or uploading your mind into a computer. While some of those criticisms are valid, they’re also short-sighted. They work under the same assumption as those who claimed humans would never walk on the moon.

Technology has limits, but humans have a bad track record with respect to understanding those limits. With respect to curing death, even the most advanced fields of emerging technology seem limited in their ability to help people escape such a fate. That doesn’t mean the concept is flawed. It doesn’t even mean that the technology is beyond the laws of physics.

Personally, I believe death can be cured, but not with approaches like cryonics or bodily enhancements. While those technologies may ultimately extend our lives, being able to transcend death requires another approach. Specifically, it requires a mechanism for preserving, transforming, and transferring the contents of our brains.

Medically speaking, the official definition of death is the irreparable cessation of all brain activity. Your body can be damaged. Every other organ could fail. Your brain is the last link in that chain. It contains your memories, your emotions, your personality, and your capacity to experience the world. To cure death, we simply need to preserve the brain and all its functions.

That’s much harder than it sounds, but it’s not physically impossible. The human brain is not made up of some mythical, exotic material. It’s made up of specialized cells and tissues, like any other organ. While we don’t entirely understand the workings of the brain, it operates using physical matter that is bound by the laws of physics and biology.

Those limits are the key and the mechanism for preserving that complex clump of biomatter already exists, both as a concept and in a very unrefined form. That technology involves nanobots and if there’s one technology that has the potential to make humans truly immortal, it’s this.

The concept of nanobots is already a common staple of science fiction, but it’s primarily used as the technological equivalent of a wizard’s spell. If you need something or someone to do the impossible without resorting to magic, just throw nanobots or nanites, as they’re often called, into the story and let the impossible seem mundane.

While it’s doubtful that nanobots can do everything that science fiction claims, there’s a good chance that they’ll come pretty close. It’s impossible to overstate the potential of nanorobotics. From mass-producing any kind of good to curing humans of all infectious disease, nanobots have the potential to literally and figuratively change our lives, our bodies, and our world.

At the moment, we only have crude prototypes. In time, though, nanobots could become something akin to programmable matter and, by default, programmable flesh. Technically speaking, a nanobot could be programmed to do whatever a typical brain cell does, but more efficiently.

In the late 90s, scientists like Robert Freitas Jr. envisioned nanobots called respirocytes, which functioned like artificial blood cells. In theory, these would be far more effective at getting air and nutrients to the rest of your body, so much so that you could hold your breath for hours or sprint indefinitely.

That’s all well and good for deep sea diving and Olympic sprinters, but for curing death, the concept needs to go even further. That means creating nanobots that mimic the same function as a neuron, but with more efficiency and durability. Create enough of those and you’ve got the exact same hardware and functionality as the brain, but with the utility of a machine.

Once we have that technology refined and perfected, we have everything we need to effectively cure death. Doing so means gradually replacing every neuron in our skulls with a more efficient, more durable nanobot that does everything that neuron did, and then some. The most important additional feature these nanobots would have is a measure of intelligence that could be programmed.

By being programmable, the nanobots in our skulls would be more plastic. It would be less an organ and more a synthetic substrate, of sorts. It could be drained into a container, implanted into a robot specifically designed to contain it, or just preserved indefinitely in the event that there are no bodies available, not unlike the systems used in, “Altered Carbon.”

To some, this still doesn’t count because it requires that every cell in our brains be replaced with something. Technically, that brain wouldn’t be yours and you might not even be use, as a result. I respectfully disagree with this criticism, primarily because it ignores the whole Ship of Theseus argument.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s pretty simple, but the implications are profound. It starts with a real, actual ship used by the mythical hero, Theseus. If, at one point, you replace a piece of wood in that ship, it’s still the same ship. However, the more pieces you replace, the less of the original ship you have. Eventually, if you replace all pieces, is it the same ship?

The human brain, or any organ in your body, is an extreme version of that thought experiment. The brain cells can replicate, but it’s a slower process compared to most cells and the configurations are always changing. The way your brain is wired now is changing as you read this sentence. A cluster of nanobots doing the same thing won’t be any different.

Like the Ship of Theseus, it wouldn’t happen all at once. In principle, the brain cell doesn’t even get destroyed. It just gets subsumed by the mechanizations of the nanobot. How it goes about this is hard to determine, but there’s nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit it. At the molecular level, it’s just one set of atoms replacing another.

Once in place, though, the limits of biology go out the window. With programmable nanobots, a person doesn’t just have the same functionality as a biological brain. It’s has other functions that allow for easier programming. We could, in theory, supplement the nanobots with additional material, sort of like cloud computing. It could even create a neurobiological backup of your brain that could be kept in stasis.

At that point, death is effectively cured. Once your brain becomes a substrate of nanobots, you can just transfer it into a body, a robot, or some other containment vessel that allows it to experience the world in any way desired. If, by chance, that body and the substrate are destroyed or damaged, then the backup kicks in and it’ll be like you just jumped from one place to another.

Some of this relies on an improved understanding of how consciousness works and assumes that it could be somehow transferred, expanded, or transmitted in some way. That may very well be flawed. It may turn out to be the case that, even if you turn your brain into a glob of nanobots, you can’t transmit your consciousness beyond it. If it gets destroyed, you die.

There’s a lot we currently don’t understand about the mechanisms of consciousness, let alone our ability to manipulate those mechanisms. However, a lack of understanding doesn’t negate the possibilities. Our previous inability to understand disease didn’t prevent our ancestors’ ability to treat it to some extent.

If it is the case that we cannot transmit consciousness from our brains, then we can still craft a functional cure for death. It just requires that we put our brains in protective vats from which carry out our existence in a simulated world. Those vats could be protected in a massive artificial planet that’s powered by a black hole or neutron star. In theory, our brains would be preserved until the heat death of the universe.

Whatever the limitations, the technology and the concepts are already in place, if only on paper. It’s difficult to know whether anyone alive today will live long enough to see an advancement like this. Then again, the children alive in 1900 probably didn’t think they would live to see a man walk on the moon.

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What Will The Currency Of The Future Be?

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Most people don’t think about what gives their money value. There’s just a general understanding that it’s vital for basic economic activity. Whether it involves simple bartering or complex cryptocurrencies, the assumptions are the same. Money is a measure of value and exchanging it is how we ascribe value to basic goods and services.

There are all sorts of economic and financial complexities that determine how money works. Rather than bemoan the issue, knowing I am not the least bit qualified to do so, I’d like to focus on the nature of money in the future. Having already given plenty of thought to advanced artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and intimacy, I think it makes sense to contemplate how it all affects our ideas about money.

By that, I’m not referring to current trends in digital currency and older trends within modern banking systems. I’m talking about what money will be in a future where people, resources, and our entire understanding of economics has rendered the existing system obsolete. If you don’t think that’ll ever happen, then I only request that you give some added scrutiny to the concept of money.

I often find myself scrutinizing it whenever I watch a bit too much sci-fi. Some of my favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows of all time don’t give much thought to money. In “Back To The Future II,” a world of flying cars and cheap fusion power still had money. Things were just exceedingly expensive due to inflation. A Pepsi cost around $50.

While inflation is a real force that was certainly present in the non-movie version 2015, it’s somewhat strange that it would get that excessive in a world where fusion power plants could fit into cars made in the mid-1980s. In the real world, advanced technology tends to counter inflation. Logistically, better technology means more efficiency. More efficiency means cheaper goods. Cheaper goods mean lower prices.

We can certainly forgive movies like “Back To The Future II” for failing to understand the economics of money. In addition, the technology of that world wasn’t so advanced that it undercut the foundations of society. However, the money systems in galaxy-spanning space operas can’t make those excuses.

Star Wars” still used some form of currency. It was necessary for Han Solo to pay his debts and for Luke to enlist his services to Alderaan. Other space-faring epics like “Mass Effect” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have a form of currency that allows characters to be greedy and ruthless. Whether they’re called credits or units, the principles are the same.

There’s this vague concept of money. Everyone agrees that it has value, but there’s little information about why it has value. That’s not entirely flawed. It’s just no different than traditional fiat money, which nearly every modern society utilizes to some extent in the real world. The money isn’t backed by anything. People just collectively agree it’s worth what it says its worth.

Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who claim this form of money is part of a global conspiracy theory run by lizard people who may or may not have murdered John F. Kennedy. I don’t know enough about economics or finance to make sense of our current monetary system. All I know is that we have a system of money that works within the constraints of our current society.

Whatever you think of that system, there’s still a larger question worth asking. What will money look like in the future when some of those constraints disappear? To some extent, our current system requires that people be frail, products be flawed, and resources be scarce. Through certain advances, some of which may occur in the next 50 years, those limits may disappear.

What happens to money when we perfect advanced energy generation that makes electricity cheap, abundant, and clean?

What happens to money when people begin upgrading their bodies with advanced biotechnology and cybernetic implants?

What happens to money when nanotechnology advances to a point where the production and assembly of every conceivable good is dirt cheap?

What happens to money when advanced artificial intelligence gets to a point where it gets so intelligent that it can solve every conceivable problem and manage every conceivable issue perfectly?

What happens to money when our civilization gets to a point where we can just upload our minds into a perfect simulation where all our wants and needs are met on a whim? Regardless of whether you think we’re already in a simulation, the question surrounding money and what form it takes remains.

While it’s impossible to predict the cumulative impact of technology, especially the kind that subverts modern economic forces, I believe there will be some sort of currency in the future. Even if we perfect nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and teleportation, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ll need some system for exchanging goods, services, and overall value.

I also don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that our current fiat money would work. Just putting images on paper and using it as a token may not be practical in a society of advanced AI and immortal humans. These days, most of our money exists only as code in a computer and not as piles of paper or gold. I think for any form of money to work in a society of such technology, it needs to be backed by something.

Some sci-fi stories explore that concept. The movie, “In Time,” wasn’t that good, but the idea was intriguing. In that world, everybody is immortal and never ages past 25, but the system is such that the currency is measured in time. In a sense, a dollar is backed by a year of life as a healthy 25-year-old. For most people, that has plenty of value.

The rest of the movie is awful and I don’t recommend it, but it presents a novel, albeit dystopian concept. For that economic system to work, there has to be some sort of tyrannical power structure that has the ability to snuff someone’s life out the second they can’t pay. Even corrupt insurance companies aren’t that bad.

Then, there’s the Netflix series, “Altered Carbon,” which I highly recommend. That world also has a problem with massive wealth disparity, but not in the sense that rich people horde money in giant vaults. In this world, technology has advanced to the point where people can transfer their consciousness to different bodies the same way most people transfer files between computers.

In that world, the most precious assets are the best bodies. Being able to live in the body of Brad Pitt is inherently more valuable than living in the body of Danny DeVito. Much of society, from prisoners to billionaires, is divided by who has access to those bodies. In the story, the super-rich Bancroft family have that access and that’s what makes them so rich.

That kind of wealth may not show up as numbers on a balance sheet, but the value is there. Being able to produce, inhabit, and live within strong, beautiful bodies provides a powerful basis for any currency. Talk to anyone who has dealt with the effects of aging, which is pretty much everyone over the age of 25. Most would gladly pay a premium to live in a stronger, fitter body.

While “Altered Carbon” doesn’t get into the specifics of that system, the principle holds true. In a future where people aren’t bound by the limitations of biology or the human body, the greatest asset they can possess is a medium with which to experience life. A better medium means better experiences. Some companies today are already seeking to provide those experiences. Technology will simply change the methods.

Whether we end up in a simulated utopia or not, the experiences a currency affords us is what will give it value. Even though worlds like that of “Star Trek” present a world where money doesn’t exist, there is still plenty of value ascribed to life experiences. You may not be able to print that on a piece of paper or send that in a wire transfer, but that is still recognized as valuable.

I could still be wrong. Remember, I’m not an expert in money, nor can I predict the trends that future advances in technology will incur. Whatever form it takes, though, I expect that the overall goal will still be the same. We use money to pursue better, more rewarding life experiences. However we go about pursuing is, and always has been to some extent, the only true universal currency.

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How Technology Will Change Professional Sports

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In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations issued a momentous ruling. From that day forward, double-amputees who used specialized blade prostheses were not permitted in Olympic competition. However, it wasn’t because that double-amputees were at an inherent disadvantage. It was because these high-tech prostheses made runners too fast.

Think about that for a moment. When someone loses their legs, it’s devastating. Their lives will never be the same. Never mind hindering their ability to participate in Olympic-level events. They will be forever handicapped, unable to conduct themselves in an able-bodied society. For most of human history, this was a sad reality.

Suddenly, advances in technology have flipped the script. Existing research on these blade prostheses shows that those using them expend significantly less energy to sustain their top running speed compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Now, a double-amputee actually has an advantage in a race, especially one that relies on stamina.

The implications go beyond helping double amputees live normal lives. This marks a critical turning point for technology and sports, alike. For once, able-bodied athletes are at a disadvantage and that gap is only going to get wider. I’ll go so far as to say that in the next few decades, professional sports will undergo enormous change due to technology.

That’s not an overly bold prediction. Technology and medicine have been enhancing sports for decades. I’m not just talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs, either. There are certain medical procedures, such as Tommy John Surgery, that can give professional athletes a competitive advantage. They’re so common these days that neither athletes nor fans think much of it.

On top of that, advances in medicine have made injuries that once ended careers into extended injuries. Just a few decades ago, an NFL player who tore their ACL was likely finished. Today, such an injury still means an extended stay on the injured list, but players can come back from it. Some even manage to have MVP caliber seasons.

In the future, more advanced treatments involving stem cells or lab-grown body parts will further improve injury treatment. Given the billions in profits generated by professional sports and the massive incentives to keep star athletes healthy, there’s are plenty of reasons to push this technology forward. Before long, star quarterbacks in the NFL playing into their 40s might not be so extraordinary.

However, recovering from injuries is only a small part of a much larger upheaval that’s set to occur in the world of sports. The entire concept of competition may need revising as technology reaches a point where maintaining parity is almost impossible. Unlike performance enhancing drugs, it won’t be possible to test for them or remove them.

Today, it’s easy to appreciate how gifted the best athletes in the world are. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and effort to achieve the mental and physical prowess that allows these individuals to be at the top of their game. To build muscle, you need to spend hours in the gym. To master a skill, you need to spend years practicing and honing your mechanics.

All that work and training, however, has the same goal. The intent is to strain the body to make it stronger and wire the mind to make it more capable. At a fundamental level, it’s just restructuring the body and brain with a mix of brute force and mental effort. Modern medicine and technology can help supplement those efforts, but only to a point.

That point, however, keeps changing and will continue to change. Think back to emerging technology like Neuralink’s brain implants. Instead of spending years learning the mental aspect of a sport, why not just use an implant that mirrors the neural patterns of athletes like Tom Brady or LeBron James? They’ve already done the work. In theory, all you have to do is mimic their neural connections.

That technology is a long way off, but accelerated learning is already an emerging field in the military. It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising sports league attempts to use it. A technology that may be closer and more controversial is biohacking. I’ve mentioned it before, but it has the potential to complicate any competition.

We already know how to use genetic engineering to build bigger muscles without steroids. That same technology could be refined to impart other advantageous traits like better reaction time, quicker reflexes, and enhanced bone strength. Unlike other drugs, it wouldn’t require athletes to take pills. These skills would be written right into their genetics, which means it won’t show up on a typical drug test.

Push this technology even further and the world of professional sports gains even more complications. As time goes on, the forces of medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and machine/human interface will steadily converge. We’ll get to a point where enhancing the human body is akin to upgrading our computers.

Instead of regular natural cells, we’ll rely on entirely synthetic cells that are programmable and capable of achieving more than even the best athletes of today.

Instead of intense mental training, we’ll be able to link our brains to computers to effectively learn the skills we need, whether it involves throwing a baseball or weaving baskets.

Instead of waiting for damaged body parts to heal, we’ll just swap them out for newer, better models that are much more efficient and capable.

Under such conditions, the current system for professional sports just couldn’t work. If every new quarterback could just copy the skills and experience from Tom Brady’s brain, then what’s the point of competing in the first place? If every NBA team has as much talent as the 2018 Golden State Warriors, then how does competition even work at that level?

The questions get even more profound when applied to Olympic competition. If we get to a point where double amputees run faster and those with robotic arms throw harder, then that changes the entire approach. Sure, some may still prefer seeing non-enhanced humans compete, but their feats won’t be as spectacular.

Instead, imagine events where javelin throwers can use robotic arms or swimmers could use bionic lungs. The feats they’ll achieve won’t just be better, in terms of stats. They’ll be a far greater spectacle. Given the declining ratings of the Olympics in recent years, I suspect future events will need those spectacles to maintain interest.

Personally, I would definitely watch the Olympics if it had athletes that utilized cybernetic enhancements, be they artificial limbs or brain implants. It would require a mix of both athletic training and applied science to achieve championship status. It won’t be the same as simply winning the race through sheer grit, but it will still be an achievement worthy of a metal.

What is the future of professional sports?

What is the future of professional athletes?

How will people compete in a world where the human body can be enhanced, programmed, and modified at will?

These are questions that none of the major sports leagues have to answer immediately, but they will start to become more relevant in the coming years. The fact that some of the prosthesis we give double-amputees are better than regular human legs is the first tangible step towards a very different future for professional sports.

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How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Sex Work (For The Better)

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When it comes to emerging technology, there’s one inescapable byproduct that I’m sure confounds plenty of inventors and innovators. If said technology can be used to enhance and/or accommodate sex, it will. It’s like taxes, gravity, or traffic during rush hour. It’s inescapable.

While I’m sure the inventor of the back massager knew on some levels that it was going to be used for lurid purposes, there are plenty of others who had no idea how horny people would use their creations. I suspect that those developing self-driving cars know that at some point, a horny couple will have sex in a self-driving car. It’s just a matter of relegating it to a secondary concern, at most.

Even if you don’t closely follow to ongoing trends of the auto industry, it’s hard to overlook the recent news surrounding self-driving cars. This is not some far-off technology like smart blood, artificial wombs, or warp drives. This is a rapidly-maturing technology that is happening. As we speak, big companies like Uber, Apple, and Tesla are testing this technology.

I can even personally attest to the potential of this technology. Earlier this summer, I got a chance to ride in a Tesla Model S with a self-driving feature. It was quite an experience and I can verify that the technology worked. The car drove itself on a busy highway in the middle of the day. The driver still kept his hands close to the wheel, but the results exceeded my expectations.

While riding in that car, I wondered for a brief moment how this would lead to more sex on the road. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, those kinds of thoughts come to me fairly often. With this, it was easy to envision.

The car drives itself.

The driver and the passenger get bored.

As they combat the boredom, they get horny.

Since the car is taking care of itself, they decide to have sex and make their road trip memorable.

I think it’s inevitable. I bet that on the same day self-driving cars enter the market, some adventurous couple will celebrate by having sex in one. It might be so expected that it won’t even make the news. People already have sex in cars, even while they’re moving. Self-driving cars will just make it easier.

This is where sex work enters the equation. It’s another, less common byproduct of technology. Whenever something comes along to change the sexual landscape, it often finds its way into sex work. It happened with the internet. It happened with smartphones. It’s going to happen with self-driving cars.

The impact won’t be direct. It might not even be immediate. However, self-driving cars are bound to affect everything from urban planning to job markets to personal finances. It’s not too great a stretch to believe that it’ll effect sex work.

I’m not the only one who has speculated on this issue. One academic from the University of Surrey and Oxford stated that self-driving cars could be the brothels of the future. Instead of hotel rooms, apartments, massage parlors, or street corners, a self-driving car could act as a mobile red light district, bringing sex workers to clients with greater ease than ever before.

Considering the recent legal upheavals to the world of sex work, self-driving cars may arrive in a chaotic market that is rapidly adapting to new circumstances. Today, it’s a lot harder for sex workers to operate online. It’s also increasingly difficult for them to organize and find support on any area of the political spectrum beyond standard libertarians.

Conservatives see prostitution as immoral and deviant, favoring prosecution and punishment of providers and clients alike.

Liberals see prostitution as exploitative and oppressive, favoring policies that prosecute pimps and treat sex workers as victims.

As a result, operating as a sex worker is very difficult. Even if you live in an area that doesn’t criminalize sex work, as done by the increasingly popular Nordic Model, the logistics of having a place to operate and getting to customers is still fraught with complications. It’s here where self-driving cars could be a potential game-changer.

The most obvious and immediate impact has to do with mobility. As it stands, sex workers have to either operate on the streets or advertise online. Both have only become more dangerous in recent years. A self-driving car is akin to a Taxi that doesn’t ask questions or judge a sex worker on what they may or may not be wearing.

With self-driving cars, sex workers have a cheaper, more anonymous method for getting to clients and expanding their reach. They don’t have to stand on dirty street corners or stay in seedy hotels with questionable laundry service. They can get to where they need to go and not have to rely on a pimp or partner, which is critical in terms of limiting exploitation.

That’s one of the key factors in what makes sex work so dangerous in places where it’s illegal. Sex workers can’t rely on the police or standard legal services for protection. Pimps, including the violent kind, provide that service in a black market environment where workers have to surrender their autonomy in exchange for safety. Self-driving cars could make those services less necessary.

That means sex workers will be able to operate more independently. In terms of limiting the potential for abuse, that’s critical. While the operations of sex work are difficult to study, most research has shown that independent sex workers are better able to avoid the abuse and exploitation that often follows the illegal sex trade. Self-driving cars could make that easier for more sex workers.

Beyond the logistics, self-driving cars could actually become a life-saving tool for sex workers. One of the greatest dangers they face is escaping a violent client. In the past, a sex worker had to rely on a pimp or a fellow worker to get out of those situations. Even calling a cab was risky because, for all they knew, the driver could refuse to help them or report them to the police.

A self-driving car is less prone to ask questions. In addition to being cheaper, it could get them farther away from a bad situation and allow them to operate far from their where they reside. They don’t need to be confined to certain areas or districts. They can move around more freely and expand their reach while keeping more of the money they make.

That’s just the initial impact, though. There are plenty more potential benefits that self-driving cars could bring to the world of sex work. That concern about mobile brothels is probably not an exaggeration. The current laws prohibiting brothels in many jurisdictions assume that domain of sex workers isn’t moving. That wouldn’t apply to a self-driving vehicle.

Even in places where prostitution is legal, establishing a brothel is riddled with all sorts of red tape and regulations. A self-driving car that operates as a brothel isn’t constrained by zoning laws or specified districts. It literally goes to wherever the demand is. Considering how expensive apartments and hotel rooms are in some areas, a self-driving car/brothel may actually be the most cost-effective way for a sex worker to operate.

Given these potential benefits, it’s very likely that plenty of areas would seek to prohibit or regulate this kind of prostitution. However, I suspect that enforcing those laws would be even more difficult than the existing statutes. If a self-driving car operating as a brothel is always moving and the sex workers are discrete, then how would the public or the authorities even know?

There’s also the possibility that self-driving cars could make some aspects of the sex industry even worse. A self-driving car could make activities like human trafficking easier by giving traffickers a cheap new way to move people around. It could also set up some tricky legal battles, especially if sex workers regularly move between areas where prostitution is legal and illegal.

One way or another, self-driving cars are going to affect the world of prostitution in ways that neither an academic from the University of Surrey and Oxford nor an aspiring erotica/romance writer can contemplate. Given how prevalent prostitution has been in every society, no matter hard religion and government tries to suppress it, enterprising sex workers will find a way make the most of it.

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The First Genetically Modified Humans Have Been Born: Now What?

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When the USSR launched Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, it didn’t just kick-start the space race. It marked a major technological paradigm shift. From that moment forward, venturing into space wasn’t just some futuristic fantasy. It was real and it had major implications for the future of our species.

On November 26, 2018, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui announced that the first genetically modified humans had been born. Specifically, two twin girls actually had their genetic code modified at the embryonic stage to disable the CCR5 gene to make them highly resistant to HIV/AIDS. In the history of our species, this moment will likely exceed the importance of Sputnik.

This man may have just upstaged Neil Armstrong.

To appreciate why this is such a big deal, consider the full ramifications of what Mr. Jiankui achieved. The change he made to the genome of those girls was impossible for them to inherent. This particular allele is a result of a mutation within a small population of Northern Europeans and is present in no other ethnic group. It is best known for providing significant immunity to common strains of the HIV virus.

This is of significant interest to China because they’ve been dealing with a surge in HIV/AIDS rates in recent years. Even though AIDS isn’t a death sentence anymore, the medicine needed to manage it is costly and tedious. These two girls, who have not been publicly named thus far, may now have a level of resistance that they never would’ve had without genetic modification.

On paper, that’s an objective good. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 35 million people have died because of AIDS since it was first discovered and approximately 36.9 million people are living with the disease today. It’s in the best interest of society to take steps towards preventing the spread of such a terrible disease, especially in a country as large as China.

However, Mr. Jiankui has caused more consternation than celebration. Shortly after he announced the birth of the two unnamed children, China suspended his research activities. Their reasoning is he crossed ethical boundaries by subjecting humans to an untested and potentially dangerous treatment that could have unforeseen consequences down the line.

Those concerns have been echoed by many others in the scientific community. Even the co-inventor of CRISPR, the technology used to implement this treatment and one I’ve cited before as a game-changer for biotechnology, condemned Mr. Jiankui’s work. It’s one thing to treat adults with this emerging technology. Treating children in the womb carries a whole host of risks.

That’s why there are multiple laws in multiple countries regulating the use of this technology on top of a mountain of ethical concerns. This isn’t about inventing new ways to make your smartphone faster. This involves tweaking the fundamental code of life. The potential for good is immense, but so is the potential for harm.

Whether or not Mr. Jiankui violated the law depends heavily on what lawyers and politicians decide. Even as the man defends his work, though, there’s one important takeaway that closely parallels the launch of Sputnik. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. This technology doesn’t just exist on paper and in the mind of science fiction writers anymore. It’s here and it’s not going away.

Like the space race before it, the push to realize the potential of genetic modification is officially on. Even as the scientific and legal world reacts strongly to Mr. Jiankui’s work, business interests are already investing in the future of this technology. The fact this investment has produced tangible results is only going to attract more.

It’s impossible to overstate the incentives at work here. Biotechnology is already a $139 billion industry. There is definitely a market for a prenatal treatment that makes children immune to deadly diseases. Both loving parents and greedy insurance companies have many reasons to see this process refined to a point where it’s as easy as getting a flu shot.

Even politicians, who have historically had a poor understanding of science, have a great many reasons to see this technology improve. A society full of healthy, disease-free citizens is more likely to be prosperous and productive. From working class people to the richest one percent, there are just too many benefits to having a healthy genome.

The current climate of apprehension surrounding Mr. Jiankui’s work may obscure that potential, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone. During the cold war, there was a similar climate of fear, albeit for different reasons. People back then were more afraid that the space race would lead to nuclear war and, given how close we came a few times, they weren’t completely unfounded.

There are reasons to fear the dangers and misuse of this technology. For all we know, the treatment to those two girls could have serious side-effects that don’t come to light until years later. However, it’s just as easy to argue that contracting HIV and having to treat it comes with side-effect that are every bit as serious.

As for what will come after Mr. Jiankui’s research remains unclear. I imagine there will be controversy, lawsuits, and plenty of inquiries full of people eager to give their opinion. As a result, he may not have much of a career when all is said and done. He won’t go down in history as the Neil Armstong of biotechnology, but he will still have taken a small step that preceded a giant leap.

Even if Mr. Jiankui’s name fades from the headlines, the breakthrough he made will continue to have an impact. It will likely generate a new range of controversy on the future of biotechnology and how to best manage it in an ethical, beneficial manner. It may even get nasty at times with protests on par or greater than the opposition to genetically modified foods.

Regardless of how passionate those protests are, the ball is already rolling on this technology. There’s money to be made for big business. There’s power and prosperity to be gained by government. If you think other countries will be too scared to do what a science team in China did, then you don’t know much about geopolitics.

Before November 26, 2018, there were probably many other research teams like Mr. Jiankui who were ready and eager to do something similar. The only thing that stopped them was reservation about being the first to announce that they’d done something controversial with a technology that has been prone to plenty of hype.

Now, that barrier is gone. Today, we live in a world where someone actually used this powerful tool to change the genome of two living individuals. It may not seem different now, but technology tends to sneak up on people while still advancing rapidly. That huge network of satellites that now orbit our planet didn’t go up weeks after Sputnik 1, but they are up there now because someone took that first step.

There are still so many unknowns surrounding biotechnology and the future of medicine, but the possibilities just become more real. Most people alive today probably won’t appreciate just how important November 26, 2018 is in the history of humanity, but future generations probably will, including two remarkable children in China.

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Memory Enhancement: The First Killer App For Neuralink?

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Every new technological innovation promises to change the world, but few end up delivering. I still remember the overblown hype in the early 2000s when the Segway Personal Transporter was supposed to revolutionize the world. It was such a big deal that “South Park made an episode about it.

The concept was intriguing, improving mobility for people in a way that was less bulky than a car and less taxing than a bicycle. I think its inventor, Dean Kamen, envisioned a world where the entire urban landscape changed as a result of his invention. I don’t doubt for a second that he believed in that vision.

However, like so many other ambitious inventions, it never came to pass. These days, the only place you’ll see Segways is malls and stadiums. It didn’t revolutionize mobility or transportation. Its use and appeal was just too limited.

Kevin James would argue otherwise.

Compare that to enormous impact of other inventions like smart phones. From the BlackBerry to the first iPhone, these devices have literally changed the world. How they brought about that change varies, but the key factor that set them apart from the Segway was the idea of a “killer app.”

You could argue that smartphones invented the term, but the idea is much older. A killer app isn’t as much an innovation as it is a use that goes onto be so popular that it further advances the technology behind it. Smartphones had many, from cameras to translation applications. As a result, they’re both a multi-billion dollar industry and an integral part of our lives.

Given the current pace of technological change, it’s only a matter of time before another innovation comes along that has a similar impact. That technology might actually exist now, but lack the killer app that will make it both a valuable market and a major part of our lives. One such technology is brain implants this technology has the potential to be even bigger than smartphones.

I’ve mentioned brain implants before. I’m even guilty of hyping it up a little. I’ve gone so far as to call it the most important technological advance in history, citing companies like Neuralink as the arbiters of this monumental change. Since I’m not a scientist and I’m not Elon Musk, it’s very likely I’m overstating many aspects of this technology.

Hype or no hype, brain implant technology is an emerging field. This isn’t a warp drive. This technology actually exists. Like the old brick-sized cell phones of the 1980s, they’re basically prototypes in need of both refinement and a killer application. The refinement is ongoing, but that one application to really further this technology isn’t as clear.

Now, and I apologize if this sounds like more overdone hype, there may be one use that could prove even more useful than a smartphone. That use is memory enhancement. If you don’t think people are willing to risk putting something in their brains to boost their memory, then you’ve clearly never crammed for a Spanish exam for three hours trying to memorize conjugations.

Think back to any situation where you wish your memory didn’t suck. Even if you’re not in school or college, how often do you forget something that no reasonable person should forget? Let’s face it. Most brains aren’t wired with a photographic memory. It’s not that it isn’t useful. There’s just little survival benefit to having one unless you’re a world class scientist or mathematician.

Since photographic memories are so uncommon, and some doubt they even exist to the extent people believe, a specialized brain implant could change all that. Modern neuroscience has a solid understanding of how memories are formed in the brain. In theory, an implant would just augment or expand those functions.

It’s not even entirely a theory. In early 2018, the New York Times reported that a study utilizing brain implants in human test subjects showed a significant improvement in memory function. It was a simple study, but the effect is real.

In the study, the research team determined the precise patterns for each person’s high-functioning state, when memory storage worked well in the brain, and low-functioning mode, when it did not.

The scientists then asked the patients to memorize lists of words and later, after a distraction, to recall as many as they could.

Each participant carried out a variety of tests repeatedly, recalling different words during each test. Some lists were memorized with the brain stimulation system turned on; others were done with it turned off, for comparison.

On average, people did about 15 percent better when the implant was switched on.

While 15 percent may not sound like much, it’s still important because it proves the concept. Like that first bulky cell phone in the 1980s that could barely make a call out of New York City, it shows that this idea does work and can be done with our current tools. It’s just a matter of refining those tools and improving the process.

Those refinements will find a market that is already ripe with people anxious to improve their memory and overall cognitive function. In recent years, the use and abuse of mind-enhancing drugs like Adderall is growing. I can personally attest that this happens.

When I was in college, I knew more than a few students who would do double doses before exams. If you think putting something in your brain is dangerous, then take a moment to appreciate the fact that drugs like Adderall are very similar to methamphetamine. One is available by prescription. The other is the basis of a hit TV show about drug dealing.

There is both a demand and a market for enhancing memory. Unfortunately, that market is dominated by supplements that don’t work and study programs run by convicted fraudsters. Unlike these costly and potentially harmful methods, a brain implant could actually work. It could enhance our memories to a point where we could read a dictionary in Swahili and remember every word.

This doesn’t just mean lost car keys are a thing of the past. This means our entire approach to learning, education, and training completely changes. A lot our modern education system, as well as training for doctors, lawyers, and scientists, relies heavily on memorizing large chunks of information. It takes years of constant and careful study to understand all that information. What happens when that is no longer the case?

Imagine a world where people can learn a new language in the span of a week.

Imagine a world where people can learn complex legal and medical procedures in only months.

Imagine a world where people can learn new software coding in just a few days.

If you’re a sports fan, imagine a world where football players can memorize an entire playbook in just a couple days. What will that do to the NFL Draft?

With a memory enhancing brain implant, it’s not just possible. It’s a potential game-changer. There are so many uses to having a good memory, just as there are so many uses for a smartphone. We had no idea that smartphones would lead to applications like Snapchat or Tinder. I doubt anyone has an idea on the impact that memory-enhancing brain implants will incur.

It won’t happen all at once. It took years for smartphones to become prevalent and unlike smartphones, this advance involves putting something in your brain. Then again, people are perfectly willing to put dangerous chemicals in their bodies to enhance their bodies so I don’t think that’s too great a barrier to overcome.

There are, of course, far greater applications for brain implants beyond acing final exams. I’ve mentioned a few of them, but those applications won’t be possible until the technology becomes a thriving market. For an advance like brain implants, it only takes one app to get the engines of innovation going. Memory enhancement may very well be that app.

It’s just a shame it came too late to help me with my Spanish exam.

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