Issue #171

This week – the case for engineering ethical humans; brain-computer interfaces; DARPA invests $2B in AI; humans to drone race against AI; and more!

More Than A Human

The Case for Genetically Engineering Ethical Humans

With great technology comes great responsibility. Transhumanists often talk about using technology to enhance our intelligence or bodies. But little attention is given to the ethics and morality. Some people believe that we should use the technological power to give our moral capacities a quick boost — a moral bioenhancement. With discussions about designer babies happening all around the world, thinking about how we can make morally better humans is an interesting idea worth some of our brain powers.

The Limits of Computers That Read Our Minds

Changle Zhou and his team are trying to develop brain-machine interfaces. But while some projects aim to upgrade the way we interact with computers — letting people type and move a cursor on a computer screen through mind control, for example—Zhou is also trying to also upgrade the computer in the process. He’s thinking about a hybrid system: a brain-machine interface that could draw on “the intelligence of both people and machines,” says Zhou. “This is the future path.”

Brain-Computer Interfaces

ExplainingComputers explains brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). This video discusses research into noninvasive and invasive BCIs, as well as trying out the NeuroSky Mindwave consumer brain interface.

Artificial Intelligence

DARPA announces $2B investment in AI

DARPA announced plans to invest $2 billion in artificial intelligence research over the next five years. In a program called “AI Next,” the agency now has over 20 programs currently in the works and will focus on “enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies, reducing power, data, performance inefficiencies and [exploring] ‘explainability’” of these systems.

Drone Racing: The Next Battleground For AI to Try to Dominate Humans

Drone Racing League plans to launch the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Circuit, a series of competitions between autonomous drones and their human- piloted counterparts. The team responsible for the winning drone will receive $1 million prize provided by Lockheed Martin.

Artificial general intelligence: The domain of the patient, philosophical coder

In this video, Ben Goertzel explains what kind of personality is needed if you want to go into AI research. According to Goertzel, patience is a key requirement.

If Artificial Intelligence Only Benefits a Select Few, Everyone Loses

Experts and optimists can’t help but extoll the positive effects that artificial intelligence may have on our future. But that will only happen if global AI-based economies are set up to benefit everyone. If they’re not, people will grow resentful and impede further technological development. If automation became the enemy of the people, we would never reap the benefits that widespread, advanced AI could bring, such as improved healthcare or increased wealth.

What We Have to Gain From Making Machines More Human

The borders between the real world and the digital world keep crumbling, and the latter’s importance in both our personal and professional lives keeps growing. When people interact with each other face to face, emotional and intellectual engagement both heavily influence the interaction. What would it look like for machines to bring those same emotional and intellectual capacities to our interactions with them, and how would this type of interaction affect the way we use, relate to, and feel about AI? Some people believe that humanizing artificial intelligence will make the technology more useful to humanity, and prompt people to use AI in more beneficial ways.


Why it’s so hard to reach an international agreement on killer robots

For several years, civil society groups have been calling for a ban on what they call “killer robots”. Scores of technologists have lent their voice to the cause. Some two dozen governments now support a ban and several others would like to see some kind of international regulation. Yet the latest talks on “lethal autonomous weapons systems” wrapped up last month with no agreement on a ban. The Group of Governmental Experts meeting, convened in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, did not even clearly proceed towards one. The outcome was a decision to continue discussions next year. Those supporting a ban are not impressed. But the reasons for the failure to reach agreement on the way forward are complex.

Welcome to the Drone Valley

Everyone heard about Silicon Valley. But did you hear about Drone Valley? Located in Switzerland between the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich, the Drone Valley is home to 80 startups in the field. A combination of one of the best robotics schools in the world and pragmatic legislative environment created the ground for the drone startup community to flourish.

Robot Priest Will Officiate Your Funeral

Dying in Japan is expensive. Plus with the aging and shrinking population, priests are sometimes hard to find, which adds to the cost. But there is a company in Japan that offers funerals for a fraction of the price. Their secret? Robots. You can hire a robot dressed in a full Buddhist robe to chant, recite prayers, and tap a drum as you are sent off into the next life.

New Soft Robotics Manufacturing Techniques Yield Tiny Robot Spider

This coin-sized robot-spider combines many soft robotics techniques like soft silicone lithography, laser micromachining, and microfluidic actuation. This specific robot is just a proof of concept, but the same technology could be used to build robots that would be useful in small-scale operations, such as surgery.


Biohacking Is a Bitch

Meet David Ishee – a dog breeder and also a biohacker who wants to cure dog diseases caused by selective breeding with gene editing. But first, he wants to make puppies that glow in the dark.

Is synthetic DNA the future of data storage? (Bridget Breaks It Down)

Forget hard drives, saving files inside DNA is the next frontier of data storage. Bridget Carey explains how it works and explores a company that’s using synthetic DNA to store cryptocurrency passwords.

Pivotal CRISPR patent battle won by Broad Institute

A fierce and unprecedented patent battle between two educational institutions might be nearing a close, after a US appeals court issued a decisive ruling on the rights to CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit awarded the pivotal intellectual property to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, upholding a previous decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The decision spells defeat for a team of inventors at the University of California, Berkeley (UC), led by molecular biologist Jennifer Doudna.

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