Issue #215

This week - Elon Musk presents Neuralink; turning son into a cyborg; how synbio could wipe out humanity and how to stop it; restoring vision in humans and mice; and more!


More than a human

Elon Musk’s Neuralink looks to begin outfitting human brains with faster input and output starting next year

This week, Elon Musk revealed what Neuralink was working on since 2017. The plan is to achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence by using a robot that implants thin wires deep within a person’s brain tissue, where it will be capable of performing both read and write operations at very high data volume. Neuralink hopes to begin working with human test subjects as early as next year. You can watch the full presentation here or read Neuralink paper here.

Why I’m turning my son into a cyborg

When theoretical neuroscientist Vivienne Ming learned her son has autism, she reacted not just as a mom. She reacted as a mad scientist and built him a superpower. When her son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she hacked his insulin pump and built an AI that learned to match his insulin to his emotions and activities. She has chosen to turn her son into a cyborg and change the definition of what it means to be human. But do her son’s engineered superpowers make him more human, or less?

Brain interfaces aren't nearly as easy as Elon Musk makes them seem

With all the hype behind Neuralink, neuroscientists point out hurdles and challenges that the company needs to address, like how easily can you remove the device from your brain, can the electrodes stay in the brain for long periods of time, and so on.

Neural Implant Sends Camera Feed Into Blind People’s Brains

Six blind people have now had their vision partially restored thanks to Orion, a new device that feeds images from a camera directly into the brain. The Orion device comprises two main parts: a brain implant and a pair of glasses. The implant consists of 60 electrodes that receive information from a camera mounted on the glasses. Together, they can deliver visual information directly to the wearer’s brain, removing the eyes from the equation entirely.

The Abolitionist Project

This manifesto written by David Pearce calls to end suffering on Earth through brain implants, genetic engineering and designer drugs. It is an interesting read that answers how and why should we do it, how to marry this idea with religions, and even how would animals fit into this world without suffering.

Environmentalism Mandates Transhumanism

Micah Redding makes an excellent case for transhumanism in this blog post. Earth is the only planet we know that has life. And of all the living organisms on the Earth, we humans are the only species that can foresee upcoming threats to life on this planet and protect it. But some threats are too big for us right now so we need to upgrade ourselves. We need technology and we need to become transhuman to preserve life.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence must know when to ask for human help

In this article, a group of AI researchers describe their solution to fix the problem of biased AI systems. They propose to equip AI systems with a code that looks for inequalities in algorithms and data and when it finds one, notify a human to resolve the problem.

Robotics

This Crafty Robot Can Write in Languages It’s Never Seen Before

A robot built by researchers at Brown University was trained in how to hand-write Japanese characters. Then, the robot then turned around and started to copy words in a slew of other languages it’d never written before, including Hindi, Greek, and English, just by looking at examples of that handwriting. It is an interesting result when you take into the account how complex handwriting is.

The holy grail of robotics: Inside the quest to build a mechanical human hand

For roboticists, building the perfect robot hand has long been the Holy Grail. It is the hardware yin to the software yang of creating an artificial mind. Seeking out the ultimate challenge, robotics experts gravitated to recreating what is one of the most complicated and beautiful pieces of natural engineering found in the human body. And Shadow Robot Company’s Dexterous Hand is the closest we have right to the Holy Grail of robotics.

Biotechnology

► How synthetic biology could wipe out humanity - and how we can stop it (16:36)

Rob Reid paints an apocalyptic scenario where a single person with access to DNA printer can make a super killer virus and cripple if not destroy entire human civilisation. He then moves to propose a global immune system bringing together technology, imagination and simple human interactions to make sure no depressed and suicidal maniac will not take the entire humanity with them.

CRISPR is less like molecular scissors and more like molecular malware

Many articles explaining what CRISPR uses a metaphor of scissors - cut and replace DNA. It is a "pretty damn accurate [metaphor] as far as it goes", writes Elinor Hortle. It hides the complexity in the DNA-body relationship. Instead, Hortie uses a metaphor of a city. "The greater metropolis represents the body, the suburbs are organs, the buildings are cells, the people are proteins, and the internet is DNA. In this metaphor CRISPR is malware".

Gene Therapy Restores Vision in Blind Mice

Thanks to a new gene therapy targeting specific cells in the eye, blind mice have regained the ability to see. A team of neuroscientists developed a treatment that re-activated the Cngb1 gene, which when disabled causes light-detecting rod cells found in the retina to deteriorate. The recovered rod cells not only regained the ability to react to light, but also formed normal-looking connections with the nerves that connect the eye to the brain, a finding that demonstrates that the retina is far more plastic than scientists thought.

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