In the blue corner we have Stephen Hawking, representing mankind; world renowned physicist, presenter, philosopher and cosmologist, author of the blockbusting book “A Brief History of Time”, and a brain the size of a small planet.
In the red corner, a computer. Or a computer programme, perhaps, representing AI. Artificial Intelligence.
Seconds, away, Round One. Well, not just yet, this is to be a future bout of boxing, in the not too distant future. Humankind versus AI. Some would say it should never be a contest at all. We humans invented AI, and can control it. It is our baby, our spawn of the future, and it can never bite the hand that feeds…. or can it? Stephen Hawking thinks AI is a threat to all our futures…
Stephen Hawking, in an interview with a UK Sunday paper is quoted thus:
“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
Hawking thinks we are moving too quickly, too far, without considering the possiblerepercussions. From digital personal assistants to self-driving cars- he believes we’re on the cusp of the kinds of artificial intelligence that were previously exclusive to science fiction films. Shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hal 9000 and I, Robot? The possibility of smart robots roaming the streets is not so far-fetched. he basically asks who will control AI when AI becomes programmed to control itself?
It’s not just that there may be massive unemployment due to robotisation, if a robot is sufficiently intelligently programmed to consider itself “aware” or even “alive” then why would it allow anyone to control it, or worse still, switch it off? If the answer is no, then we could be on the way to a global conflict between humans and robots. Pure fantasy? Stephen Hawking doesn’t think so. Perhaps we should start dumbing down drones already….
Let’s imagine (or scroll forward if you think it definitely will happen) we manage to cure ageing, both in the body and in the mind. We have immortality. Nice. But how would we be able to cope with the infinitely accumulating number of memories and things to remember?
Memory is a funny old thing. We do get more forgetful as we get older. Yet we still have retained and lodged forever in our memory certain events, numbers, faces, facts and triggers. Even though brain cells die at a quicker rate as we get older, we must assume that immortality will include the ability for the brain to regenerate itself. So our capacity to think is unimpaired because our brains will remain functioning.
But what of memory? Research indicates that there is a certain part of the brain where memories reside. But it is of a finite size. As more and more experiences and memories are accumulated throughout the centuries and aeons of our immortality, that part of the brain will just become clogged and full and unable to absorb any more information. It would also be difficult if not impossible to recall information because there are so many full rooms,corridors and halls all full of filing cabinets, full of folders, full of papers.
Your brain can keep all that stuff organized for a while (say, the span of most of a normal human lifetime) but it’s not like you can go into your brain and just delete files like cleaning up a hard drive of a computer.
Your immortal life and experiences may be infinite, but your brain’s ability to store and recall them is not. After a relatively short time into your immortality, as early as 300 years old, your brain will be chock-a-block piled up with information/junk like one of the habitual hoarders who can never clean up or throw anything out.
The only possible solution would appear to be to connect to technology that could store, sort and recall all that information- and perhaps delete it to. “Total Recall” anyone? So perhaps at 30o years old plus you’ll be permanently wired in to a data/memory dump/recall system. But your biological brain’s ability to process the information and retain it, would not be expanded once it has received the input from the memory card or whatever. And of course you might forget that you have stored the information remotely and so the whole system falls down again!
Immortality? Not as easy as it sounds!
Gabrielle (Gabby) Williams from Billings, Montana, United States, is 9 years old, but weighs a mere 11 pounds. She has the appearance of an infant and needs constant attention as if she were newborn- having her nappies changed and being fed a number of times each day. Her skin is baby-like and her hair is fine-textured. There has been some slight growth over four decades- she now needs clothes to fit a baby of 3-6 months instead of up to three months.
People with this condition are very rare- scientists haven’t even got a name for it. Only two other people with a similar condition have been found: a 29-year-old Florida man with the appearance of a 10-year-old, and a 31-year-old Brazilian woman who still looks like a three year old.
So far the search for clues as to why these individuals don’t age and what they have in common have not uncovered their secrets.
Dr Richard F Walker (pictured above) has been studying Gabby’s case in the hopes of finding a reason for the arrested growth and perhaps unlock a path to eternal youth and immortality. He is retired from the University of Florida Medical School and now does his research at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Dr Walker has called the condition “developmental inertia”. He said that without the process of growth and ageing, a human would never develop and remain stunted and unfulfilled. But if there is a gene responsible for this condition, and it could be identified, isolated and modified, then there is a possibility that the most obvious effects of ageing could be arrested or slowed considerably.
Walker said he believes he has found one of the genes responsible- a mutation on the second female X chromosome. The trick would be to allow growth to a certain level, for example maturity, and then halt further growth and ageing. This “biologically immortality” would not prevent people dying from disease and in accidents. They would not become superheroes.
Gabby’s parents admitted that they were concerned at first that Dr Walker was using their child to find the fountain of youth for vanity purposes, but he explained to them that the research was focused on helping people who struggle with the hardships that come with old age.
Gabby’s mother, Mary, said:
“Alzheimer’s is one of the scariest diseases out there. If what Gabrielle holds inside of her would find a cure — for sure we would be a part of the research project. We have faith that Dr. Walker and the scientific community do find something focused more on the disease of aging, rather than making you 35 for the rest of your life.”
Dr Walker is currently Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Interventions in Ageing, a source of evidence-based information for practitioners of age-management medicine. He also heads a private consulting company providing regulatory and scientific services for physicians and other health-care professionals. Gabrielle Williams’ condition has since been confirmed to have been the result of a genetic mutation. Emulating or stimulating that mutation has, so far, evaded scientists and researchers, including Dr Walker.
There are some World Cup Football Teams who you may think need a miracle in order to win the coveted World Cup. But a miracle, of sorts, will take place on the football pitch of the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo at the opening ceremony of the World Cup at 5pm 12 June (local time). A young Brazilian will take a kick of a football on the centre spot.
But this is no ordinary young man, nor is the kick trivial. The boy, yet to be chosen from a shortlist of nine aged between 20 and 40,will be a paraplegic. He will rise from his wheelchair and walk to the midfield and then kick the ball. How?
It’s down to Miguel Nicolelis and his team of neuro-engineers and scientists at Duke University in North Carolina. And if the event works as intended, it should spell the end for wheelchairs, and the evolution of mind-controlled exoskeleton robots. Here’s a picture of the robot:
The mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton is a complex robotic suit built from lightweight alloys and powered by hydraulics. When a paraplegic person straps themselves in, the machine does the job that their leg muscles no longer can. But there are no buttons levers or controls to tell the robot what to do. Only the human brain.
The exoskeleton is the culmination of years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers on the Walk Again project. The robotics work was coordinated by Gordon Cheng at the Technical University in Munich and the French researchers built the exoskeleton. Nicolelis’ team focused on what many say is the most difficult bit; ways to read people’s brain waves, and use those signals to control robotic limbs.
To operate the exoskeleton, the person is helped into the suit and given a cap to wear that is fitted with electrodes to pick up their brain waves. These signals are passed to a computer worn in a backpack, where they are decoded and used to move hydraulic drivers on the suit. There’s a battery that powers everything, with a two hour life before it needs re-charging.
The operator’s feet rest on plates which have sensors to detect when contact is made with the ground. With each footstep, a signal is transmitted to a vibrating device sewn into the forearm of the wearer’s shirt. The device fools the brain into thinking that the sensation came from their foot. In virtual reality simulations, patients felt that their legs were moving and touching something. Here’s a diagram showing the details.
Last month, Nicolelis and his colleagues went to some football matches in São Paulo to check whether mobile phone radiation from the crowds might interfere with the suit. Electromagnetic waves could make the exoskeleton misbehave, but they were reassured.
This is ground-breaking robotic/artificial intelligence/mind-control technology all rolled into one: Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we will all witness the miracle first kick of the World Cup on 12 June.
In a new study into advancing the longevity of humans it was found that in the healthy white blood cells of a 115-year-old woman, there were over 400 mutations.
Of course genetic mutations have been linked to diseases such as cancer, but these new findings by researchers suggest that mutations in white blood cells are largely harmless over a lifetime. And may have beneficial effects on ageing. Blood is continually replenished by hematopoietic (meaning “to make blood”) stem cells that are inside our bone marrow and divide to produce different types of blood cells. Cell division can lead to genetic mutations and hundreds of mutations have been found in patients with blood cancers. However, until recently little was known about white blood cells and mutations. Because they weren’t harmful, they weren’t studied.
The woman in the study was the oldest person in the world when she died in 2005 at 115 years old. She is also thought to be the oldest person ever to donate her body to science. The hundreds of mutations identified in her white blood cells appeared to be tolerated by the body and did not cause any disease.
The researchers also found possible new insight into the limits of human longevity, according to the authors of the study published on-line April 23 in the journal Genome Research.
Lead author Dr. Henne Holstege (pictured below) said in a journal news release:
“To our great surprise we found that, at the time of her death, the peripheral blood was derived from only two active hematopoietic stem cells (in contrast to an estimated 1,300 simultaneously active stem cells), which were related to each other. Because these blood cells had extremely short telomeres, we speculate that most hematopoietic stem cells may have died from ‘stem cell exhaustion,’ reaching the upper limit of stem cell divisions.”
The researchers also found that the woman’s white blood cells’ telomeres were extremely short. Telomeres, which are at the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage, get a bit shorter each time a cell divides. Further research is needed to learn whether such stem cell exhaustion is a cause of death in extremely old people.
The next step will be to see if the white blood cell mutations can be artificially produced, and their effect on longevity, and whether avoiding stem cell exhaustion is feasible, thus prolonging life.