Re: Augmenting humans is a better way

From: Brian Atkins (
Date: Sat Jul 28 2001 - 23:50:25 MDT

Ben Houston wrote:
> >This seems to be getting away from my point, which is that biologically
> >augmenting humans most likely will not enjoy the widespread support and
> >resources that the original poster was predicting. It is unlikely in my
> >opinion that companies in the USA or Europe will make attempts to
> >commercialize such tech, and there is even a chance such products might
> >be outlawed the same way that cloning has been in some countries already.
> Please understand that cloning was banned because it is currently quite
> unsafe. Did you know that for each successful cloned animal the researchers
> had to induce hundreds of pregnancies that failed in various ways? They
> banned it because even though it wasn't safe people were stilling willing to
> try it.

I don't buy that argument. I think that argument is an excuse that they
are using to ban it, but their real reasons lie in morality/ethics/
religion/squeamishness/fear. This reminds me of the precautionary
principle used by anti-tech Greens- things should be banned until they
can be proven 100% safe. How are we supposed to improve the process if
the research is banned?

> I expect that non-FDA/FTC approved implants will be banned as well. Just
> like non-FDA/FTC artificial hearts are currently banned from being implanted
> into humans.

I doubt you would ever get an intelligence enhancing device approved
by such an organization, assuming of course you were even allowed to
develop it.

> > > > >Exactly, it may well be impossible to come up with a one-size fits
> all
> > > > >technology for something as uniquely individual as the brain.
> It probably is possible to come up with something that is similar to a
> one-size-fits-all model? What is your specific argument against such a
> thing?

I'll take the Higgins approach and say "show me the money" here. The
ball is in your court to explain to us how a generic implant could be
developed that would be able to automagically adapt itself to each
individual's brain wiring. From what I see going on currently it takes
a lot of effort to locate even a few interesting neurons in a patient.
As for automatically wiring up many many more neurons in just the right
way, how will that work?

> > > > > And what
> > > > >company will take the risks to commercial it if they know that for
> many
> > > > >people it won't work, or they even risk getting sued?
> Who said that neural implants would have a low probably of working with
> individual patients? What is your specific argument against such a thing?

In order to develop a powerful implant that will work for a wide range
of individuals, there would have to be a huge amount of work and testing
done over a long period of time. And then even if it gets to the point
of being sold commercially, what's to prevent the users who develop
some kind of symptoms or actual disease from suing them ala the breast
implant women? They all had some symptoms which it turns out were not
really related to the implants. Yet they successfully sued the crap out
of Dupont. Can you imagine the kinds of lawsuits people might come up
with for brain implants? The kind of subjective diseases and symptoms
they could convince a jury of? It all looks way too risky from what I
see, and I reiterate that I find it hard to believe a large company
would really try to develop it.

> > > > >We live in a
> > > > >country where Dow Chemical got sued by women who got breast implants.
> > > > >Will companies really expose themselves to the kinds of risks
> involved
> > > > >with neural hacking?
> You forget that overall Dow Chemical made a lot of money and that they did
> make and sell the breast implants in the first place.

I do not know the exact details of whether Dow ended up making or losing
money on the whole implant issue. I know someone who might know, so I'll

> > The vast majority of potential users will probably be
> >pretty satisfied with external wearable apparatus, and I think this is
> >where the real action will be. Many of the things you want can be done
> >with wearables- you only need to get access to the internals if you want
> >to really try and increase the raw intelligence or speed of thought or
> >direct memory capacity.
> Access to last three things is the Holy Grail.

For us yes, but is there a real market out there today for it?

> >Actually there are some people around here that think they know that. They
> >simply haven't proven it yet. This is quite different again than the state
> >of progress in RNIs where no one really has any idea yet how to do much at
> >all besides linking a few neurons to a computer.
> I would posit that you actually have no clue as to what the state of the art
> is.

Then educate me.
Can you show me some research involving more than a few neurons? Can you
show me some research explaining how it will be possible to wire a RNI
to my brain such that it increases my raw intelligence, memory, or speed
of thought?

> >In fact, reverse engineering the evolved mess that is the brain may
> >be very very hard.
> It may be hard but there are many well-funded professors and graduate
> students working on it everyday.

Yeah and there have been a lot of people working on AI since at least the

> >At least machine learning folks have created non-general
> >AIs that can excel at specific tasks like chess. Even that puny
> accomplishment
> >Is much more than the progress so far in RNIs.
> Like I said before you don't seem to know what the current state of the art
> in neural implants is.

My understanding is that they can (using pretty invasive implants) access
a few neurons, allowing someone with a lot of training to move a mouse
cursor on a screen. Yeah and they had computers in the mid 20th century
that played tic tac toe. I'd consider both accomplishments to be at about
the same point on their respective tech timelines (i.e. very very early).

> >An AI should only be eventually constrained by how much computing power
> >it has available. The same will hold for your RNI.
> Exactly right.
> >How can a RNI that
> >is internal to your skull, or at most wearable, possibly match the
> >computing power available to an AI?
> Who said the bulk on the processing power must be done on person... maybe
> one has an uplink to off person processors? I don't see any hard limits to
> the processing power available to a human with a neural interface.

Could be, especially if you are willing to stay wired up instead of free
roaming. How much bandwidth do you think it would take to maintain "oneness"
between your bio-brain and the computer-chunk of your mind, and would it
be possible to disconnect from the computer even when 99% of the processing
is being done there? Or would parts of your mind migrate over to the
computing hardware, leaving you unable to function without it in place...

> >Actually with stuff like Flare we are beginning to see how computing
> >power can help developers out. Just like how software helps Intel
> >engineers create chip designs, software will eventually help software
> >people create code. Actually it already does, but it is a pretty limited
> >effect.
> The above idea of using computers to help out people out in their chores is
> the basis of the computer revolution. This includes helping Intel design
> new chips or helping a developer write a new program or me to write this
> email. It is in no way what so ever a "a pretty limited effect."

In terms of software it is a pretty limited effect currently. Reread what I
said. The whole reason software developer productivity has not followed
any kind of exponential curve (so far...) as seen in hardware design is
because the tools to develop software have not scaled in the same way
hardware tools have. This is changing in various ways such as evolutionary
programming techniques, so there is hope it will eventually start to scale
with the hardware.

Brian Atkins
Director, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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