Synthetic Biology Research on the Rise

dna

The number of private and public entities conducting research in synthetic biology worldwide grew significantly between 2009 and 2013, according to the latest version of an interactive map produced by the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The map is available online at http://www.synbioproject.org/map. Read More →

Mind Over Evolution: An Alternative Vision of Humanity

consciousness

Part of the reason why fierce debates rage around the origins of man – in the conflicts between Creationism and Darwinism that we see within many schools, for example – is because our beliefs about where we came from can strongly influence our sense of identity and our feelings of self-worth. It’s impossible to separate our self-image from our life philosophies in that regard. The stories we cling to will paint our inner pictures of who we are, where we come from and what our race can achieve.

Unfortunately, the stories that we’ve inherited in our culture paint a fairly unflattering picture that does little to inspire us to discover and express our true potential in this world.

Science spins its own version of reality. If you believe that the sky is blue because of the chemical composition of the gases that exist up there, and the way that light refracts off of them, then that’s all you’ll ever see. You won’t perceive the unfathomable mystery of it all. What is the true nature of light, or gases, or the color blue? Questions like these are beyond our ken. The theory of evolution teaches us that it’s useless to ask such questions anyhow, though. This theory, which forms the backbone of so much scientific thought and of our very definitions of humanity, maintains that matter came first and consciousness emerged later – almost as an afterthought; and certainly by accident.

consciousness (1)What if the mind formed matter? What if consciousness preceded everything else, and created form? Our scientific indoctrination has convinced us that reality works the other way around, but we’ve been offered little actual proof of this. What is obvious, however, is that the belief that consciousness always comes first would do much more to uphold the beauty, grace and potential of our natures than does the belief that our existence was the random result of accidental evolution.

We would do well to adopt stories that inspire us and offer us a new vision of what humanity can aspire to. When trying to grasp the nature of our reality as human beings, and drawing upon the resources that civilization offers us, we’ve thus far been essentially left with a choice between atonement (the predominant religious thinking of the West), accepting that the world we exist in is illusory (the predominant religious thinking of the East), or the theory of evolution. Typically, we are never taught or encouraged to believe that we are, ourselves, divine.

None of the arguments that uphold a notion of a barren and sterile universe can hold water. Most children know better than to believe in those wet-blanket descriptions of reality. Sadly, though, they eventually learn to accept them. How could they not, when our cultural beliefs make their survival virtually dependent upon it?

Love has to come from somewhere. But within the world’s established religions, love always has its conditions; and within the world of science, love can be explained away in terms of neurological transmissions and chemical interactions. It seems that our race, by and large, is willing to accept practically any belief except for one that maintains that what we are is something miraculous.

Most scientists or religious scholars would dispute that we are miraculous, by virtue of being conscious beings. Could it be that consciousness came first; that we did not become humans by accident? What if consciousness created our world in order to express all that it is, and to become better acquainted with itself? If this is true, how might it change the idea that consciousness will arise in machines once we’ve reverse-engineered the brain?

Is ‘Mind Hacking’ a Threat of the Future?

Often when I write/speak about synthetic biology or the future merging of humans and technology at the biologic level, one of the primary concerns expressed by others involves the possibility of virus corruption. The fear of hackers that engineer viruses or bacteria to control humans may be a valid concern. What do you think? Is mind hacking a real threat to humans down the road once we’re “plugged in”?

A Look Back at the Alabama Virus 

Computer viruses are never a positive thing. They’re malicious, and there has been a great deal of debate over them. However, the Alabama virus can be used as an interesting thought experiment. Considering that it infected computers in October 1989, using it as a point of reference is probably innocuous.

In its day, the Alabama virus infected executable DOS files. It was loaded up into memory when a user executed an infected program. Infected programs grew by 1,560 bytes. Each Friday, the virus started to mess with the file allocation tables in order to insure that infected files were run preferentially over uninfected ones. This process was dangerous, and caused people to loose files.

Interestingly enough, it had an anti-piracy message. After staying in memory for an hour, the virus would tell the user that software copies were forbidden under international law. It then displayed a PO box address located in Tuscambia, Alabama. Tuscambia actually doesn’t exist. Since the virus was probably developed in Israel, the author may have confused the spelling of Tuscumbia.

Additional infections were carried out by carefully inspecting the directory to note which files were clean. The virus attacked the program being run if there were no further files to infect. Considering this selective nature, the virus program almost seemed like a living thing. It was apparently supposed to impart a moral lesson and act on behalf of its creator. In that respect, it almost seems like the living arm of the individual who programmed it.

While it would certainly be foolish to call it a completely independently acting piece of artificial intelligence, the Alabama virus does have some aspects that make it resemble a living thing. It also may represent the dangers of letting computers act in a totally autonomous fashion.

So do we need to worry about viruses/hacking used to control robots and/or humans in the future? What are your thoughts?

Reference:

http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/cgi-bin/res.pl?keyword=Alabama+Virus&offset=0

Superintelligence Must be Carefully Tapped

I’m of the opinion that if we’re ever going to achieve long-range space exploration/colonization, human engineering of some sort will be required. This not only applies to space exploration however, but most likely the long-range survival of humanity in general. The common fear in this topic seems to always conjure up a ‘rise of the machines’ scenario when I’m discussing this with others. So I thought that today I’d post a few thoughts on how these fears might be alleviated in the future. Read More →