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Monday, June 11, 2018

We’re Worrying About the Wrong Kind of AI | Artificial Intelligence - Bloomberg

Follow on Twitter as @Mark__Buchanan
Mark Buchanan, Physicist and author, former editor with Nature and New Scientist argues, "Biologists are growing "mini brains" in labs faster than they can answer the ethical questions."

Could this be the start of something?
Photo: VW Pics/Universal Images Group Editorial

No computer has yet shown features of true human-level artificial intelligence much less conscious awareness. Some experts think we won't see it for a long time to come. And yet academics, ethicists, developers and policy-makers are already thinking a lot about the day when computers become conscious; not to mention worries about more primitive AI being used in defense projects.

Now consider that biologists have been learning to grow functioning “mini brains” or “brain organoids” from real human cells, and progress has been so fast that researchers are actually worrying about what to do if a piece of tissue in a lab dish suddenly shows signs of having conscious states or reasoning abilities. While we are busy focusing on computer intelligence, AI may arrive in living form first, and bring with it a host of unprecedented ethical challenges.

In the 1930s, the British mathematician Alan Turing famously set out the mathematical foundations for digital computing. It's less well known that Turing later pioneered the mathematical theory of morphogenesis, or how organisms develop from single cells into complex multicellular beings through a sequence of controlled transformations making increasingly intricate structures. Morphogenesis is also a computation, only with a genetic program controlling not just 0s and 1s, but complex chemistry, physics and cellular geometry.

Following Turing's thinking, biologists have learned to control the computation of biological development so accurately that lab growth of artificial organs, even brains, is no longer science fiction. A typical example of what's being done is the organoids recently grown in the lab of biologist Sergiu Pasca and colleagues from Stanford University. They started with stem cells, which have the remarkable ability to develop into any cell type in the human body, including brain cells. Put a collection of these in a dish, add the right molecular signalling factors to initiate development, and they will grow, divide and differentiate into an array of cells with distinct functions, the mass self-organizing into something like real brain tissue. After developing in culture for about 10 weeks, the resulting brain organoid displayed functional characteristics of the cerebral cortex of a mostly developed human fetus, including neurons with spontaneous electrical activity and working synapses.

Source: Bloomberg