As the power and capability of our AI systems increase by the day, the essential question we now face is what constitutes peak human. If we stay where we are while the AI systems we are unleashing continually get better, they will meet and then exceed our capabilities in an ever-growing number of domains. But while some technology visionaries like Elon Musk call for us to slow down the development of AI systems to buy time, this approach alone will simply not work in our hyper-competitive world, particularly when the potential benefits of AI are so great and our frameworks for global governance are so weak. In order to build the future we want, we must also become ever better humans.
The list of activities we once saw as uniquely human where AIs have now surpassed us is long and growing. First, AI systems could beat our best chess players, then our best Go players, then our best champions of multi-player poker. They can see patterns far better than we can, generate medical and other hypotheses most human specialists miss, predict and map out new cellular structures, and even generate beautiful, and, yes, creative, art.
A recent paper by Microsoft researchers analyzing the significant leap in capabilities in OpenAI’s latest AI bot, ChatGPT-4, asserted that the algorithm can “solve novel and difficult tasks that span mathematics, coding, vision, medicine, law, psychology and more, without needing any special prompting.” Calling this functionality “strikingly close to human-level performance,” the authors conclude it “could reasonably be viewed as an early (yet still incomplete) version of an artificial general intelligence (AGI) system.”
The concept of AGI has been around for decades. In its common use, the term suggests a time when individual machines can do many different things at a human level, not just one thing like playing Go or analyzing radiological images. Debating when AGI might arrive, a favorite pastime of computer scientists for years, now has become outdated.
We already have AI algorithms and chatbots that can do lots of different things. Based on the generalist definition, in other words, AGI is essentially already here.
Unfettered by the evolved capacity and storage constraints of our brains, AI algorithms can access nearly all of the digitized cultural inheritance of humanity since the dawn of recorded history and have increasing access to growing pools of digitized biological data from across the spectrum of life.
Once we recognize that both AI systems and humans have unique superpowers, the essential question becomes what each of us can do better than the other and what humans and AIs can best do in active collaboration. The future of our species will depend upon our ability to safely, dynamically, and continually figure that out.
With these ever-larger datasets, rapidly increasing computing and memory power, and new and better algorithms, our AI systems will keep getting better faster than most of us can today imagine. These capabilities have the potential to help us radically improve our healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing, make our economies more productive and our development more sustainable, and do many important things better.
Soon, they will learn how to write their own code. Like human children, in other words, AI systems will grow up. But even that doesn’t mean our human goose is cooked.
Just like dolphins and dogs, these alternate forms of intelligence will be uniquely theirs, not a lesser or greater version of ours. There are lots of things AI systems can't do and will never be able to do because our AI algorithms, for better and for worse, will never be human. Our embodied human intelligence is its own thing.
Our human intelligence is uniquely ours based on the capacities we have developed in our 3.8-billion-year journey from single cell organisms to us. Our brains and bodies represent continuous adaptations on earlier models, which is why our skeletal systems look like those of lizards and our brains like most other mammals with some extra cerebral cortex mixed in. Human intelligence isn’t just some type of disembodied function but the inextricable manifestation of our evolved physical reality. It includes our sensory analytical skills and all of our animal instincts, intuitions, drives, and perceptions. Disembodied machine intelligence is something different than what we have evolved and possess.
Because of this, some linguists including Noam Chomsky have recently argued that AI systems will never be intelligent as long as they are just manipulating symbols and mathematical tokens without any inherent understanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone interacting with even first-generation AI chatbots quickly realizes that while these systems are far from perfect or omniscient and can sometimes be stupendously oblivious, they are surprisingly smart and versatile and will get more so… forever. We have little idea even how our own minds work, so judging AI systems based on their output is relatively close to how we evaluate ourselves.
Anyone not awed by the potential of these AI systems is missing the point. AI’s newfound capacities demand that we work urgently to establish norms, standards, and regulations at all levels from local to global to manage the very real risks. Pausing our development of AI systems now doesn’t make sense, however, even if it were possible, because we have no sufficient ways of uniformly enacting such a pause, no plan for how we would use the time, and no common framework for addressing global collective challenges like this.
But if all we feel is a passive awe for these new capabilities, we will also be missing the point.
Human evolution, biology, and cultural history are not just some kind of accidental legacy, disability, or parlor trick, but our inherent superpower. Our ancestors outcompeted rivals for billions of years to make us so well suited to the world we inhabit and helped build. Our social organization at scale has made it possible for us to forge civilizations of immense complexity, engineer biology and novel intelligence, and extend our reach to the stars. Our messy, embodied, intuitive, social human intelligence is roughly mimicable by AI systems but, by definition, never fully replicable by them.
Once we recognize that both AI systems and humans have unique superpowers, the essential question becomes what each of us can do better than the other and what humans and AIs can best do in active collaboration. We still don't know. The future of our species will depend upon our ability to safely, dynamically, and continually figure that out.
As we do, we'll learn that many of our ideas and actions are made up of parts, some of which will prove essentially human and some of which can be better achieved by AI systems. Those in every walk of work and life who most successfully identify the optimal contributions of humans, AIs, and the two together, and who build systems and workflows empowering humans to do human things, machines to do machine things, and humans and machines to work together in ways maximizing the respective strengths of each, will be the champions of the 21st century across all fields.
The dawn of the age of machine intelligence is upon us. It’s a quantum leap equivalent to the domestication of plants and animals, industrialization, electrification, and computing. Each of these revolutions forced us to rethink what it means to be human, how we live, and how we organize ourselves. The AI revolution will happen more suddenly than these earlier transformations but will follow the same general trajectory. Now is the time to aggressively prepare for what is fast heading our way, including by active public engagement, governance, and regulation.
AI systems will not replace us, but, like these earlier technology-driven revolutions, they will force us to become different humans as we co-evolve with our technology. We will never reach peak human in our ongoing evolutionary journey, but we’ve got to manage this transition wisely to build the type of future we’d like to inhabit.
Alongside our ascending AIs, we humans still have a lot of climbing to do.
Most people don't recognize how significantly and soon the genetic revolution will transform healthcare, the way we make babies, and the nature of the babies we make. The press release below is a thought experiment today. Within a decade, it won't be. * * *
Genomix Launches uDarwin, a New Business to Help Parents Optimize the Health, Well-Being, and Beneficial Traits of their Future Offspring
NEW YORK, July 29, 2029 /PRMediawire/ -- Genomix, a Caribbean-based health and wellness company, today announced the launch of uDarwin, a discrete, confidential service helping parents select and edit the pre-implanted embryos of their future children.
"Our mission is to help prospective parents realize their dream of parenthood in the safest manner possible while helping them optimize their future children's potential."
"We often fetishize nature," said Genomix Medical Director and Co-Founder Dr. Noam Heller, "but the traditional process of conception through sex confers risks on future children that can be significantly reduced through the careful and safe application of powerful new technologies."
Approximately three percent of all children are born with some type of harmful genetic mutation. Through its patented process of extracting eggs from the prospective mother, fertilizing these eggs with sperm from the intended father or from one of the superstar donor samples in the proprietary uDarwin gene bank, and screening up to twenty of these embryos prior to implantation, this risk can be brought down to under one percent.
"Having a baby is the most intimate and important experience in most people's lives," said Genomix CEO and co-founder Rich Azadian. "Our mission is to help prospective parents realize their dream of parenthood in the safest manner possible while helping them optimize their future children's potential."
In addition to screening pre-implanted embryos to significantly reduce disease risk, uDarwin uses its proprietary algorithm for the "polygenic scoring" of embryos to directionally predict potential future attributes including healthspan, height, IQ, personality style, and other complex genetic traits. Attributes once accepted as being the result of fate or chance can now increasingly be selected by parents from among their own natural embryos using this entirely safe process.
A premium product offering, uDarwin+, provides parents the opportunity to make up to three single gene mutations to their selected embryo to reduce a risk or confer a particular benefit. Among the most popular options for this service include increased resistance to HIV and other viruses, a greater ability to build muscle mass, and enhanced cognition. Additional edits will be made available as the science of human genome editing further advances.
Jamie Metzl's new book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, explores how the genetic revolution is transforming our healthcare, the way we make babies, and the nature of and babies we make, what this means for each of us, and what we must all do now to prepare for what's coming.
"uDarwin is proud to be the first company in the world offering the highest level of reproductive choice to parents," Mr. Azadian continued. "Genetic technologies are allowing us for the first time to crack the code of our health and identity. As pioneers in applying the most advanced genetic technologies to human reproduction, we recognize that prospective parents' desire for the services we offer exceeds societal levels of comfort with this technology. Our highest levels of customer service, comfort, and confidentiality ensure parents can secure massive benefits for their future children while avoiding unnecessary attention or any compromise of privacy."
All uDarwin services will be carried out in the company's state-of-the-art clinic aboard a super-luxury 500-foot yacht operating in international waters. After applying on the secure uDarwin website and gaining approval, clients are provided a date, time, and location to meet a company representative at a conveniently located Caribbean marina from where they will be shuttled to the uDarwin clinic. "Pioneers have always traveled beyond boundaries to create new possibilities," Mr. Azadian added. "Conceiving a child in a location where it can receive the greatest benefits of advanced science is no different."
"Pioneers have always traveled beyond boundaries to create new possibilities."
The cost of the basic uDawin service is $5 million, with half paid up front and half paid following the successful birth of a baby. Charges for uDarwin+, premium sperm or egg donors, surrogates, and other services are additional. "uDarwin is not for everyone," Mr. Azadian said, "but most parents of significant means understand that the benefits of optimal genetics far exceed almost any monetary cost."
"The genetic revolution has already begun," Medical Director Heller added. "The question for prospective parents is whether they want to be the last parents who left the health and identity of their future children to chance or the first to give their future children the greatest chance of optimal health and maximal fulfillment in the new reality that will arrive far sooner than most people appreciate."
If you could genetically alter your future children, would you? https://t.co/N0tqwX4Qd3— leapsmag (@leapsmag) 1564426548.0
The news last November that a rogue Chinese scientist had genetically altered the embryos of a pair of Chinese twins shocked the world. But although this use of advanced technology to change the human gene pool was premature, it was a harbinger of how genetic science will alter our healthcare, the way we make babies, the nature of the babies we make, and, ultimately, our sense of who and what we are as a species.
The healthcare applications of the genetics revolution are merely stations along the way to the ultimate destination.
But while the genetics revolution has already begun, we aren't prepared to handle these Promethean technologies responsibly.
By identifying the structure of DNA in the 1950s, Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin showed that the book of life was written in the DNA double helix. When the human genome project was completed in 2003, we saw how this book of human life could be transcribed. Painstaking research paired with advanced computational algorithms then showed what increasing numbers of genes do and how the genetic book of life can be read.
Now, with the advent of precision gene editing tools like CRISPR, we are seeing that the book of life -- and all biology -- can be re-written. Biology is being recognized as another form of readable, writable, and hackable information technology with we humans as the coders.
The impact of this transformation is being first experienced in our healthcare. Gene therapies including those extracting, re-engineering, then reintroducing a person's own cells enhanced into cancer-fighting supercells are already performing miracles in clinical trials. Thousands of applications have already been submitted to regulators across the globe for trials using gene therapies to address a host of other diseases.
Recently, the first gene editing of cells inside a person's body was deployed to treat the genetically relatively simple metabolic disorder Hunter syndrome, with many more applications to come. These new approaches are only the very first steps in our shift from the current system of generalized medicine based on population averages to precision medicine based on each patient's individual biology to predictive medicine based on AI-generated estimations of a person's future health state.
Jamie Metzl's groundbreaking new book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, explores how the genetic revolution is transforming our healthcare, the way we make babies, and the nature of and babies we make, what this means for each of us, and what we must all do now to prepare for what's coming.
This shift in our healthcare will ensure that millions and then billions of people will have their genomes sequenced as the foundation of their treatment. Big data analytics will then be used to compare at scale people's genotypes (what their genes say) to their phenotypes (how those genes are expressed over the course of their lives).
These massive datasets of genetic and life information will then make it possible to go far beyond the simple genetic analysis of today and to understand far more complex human diseases and traits influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes. Our understanding of this complex genetic system within the vaster ecosystem of our bodies and the environment around us will transform healthcare for the better and help us cure terrible diseases that have plagued our ancestors for millennia.
But as revolutionary as this challenge will be for medicine, the healthcare applications of the genetics revolution are merely stations along the way to the ultimate destination – a deep and fundamental transformation of our evolutionary trajectory as a species.
A first inkling of where we are heading can be seen in the direct-to-consumer genetic testing industry. Many people around the world have now sent their cheek swabs to companies like 23andMe for analysis. The information that comes back can tell people a lot about relatively simple genetic traits like carrier status for single gene mutation diseases, eye color, or whether they hate the taste of cilantro, but the information about complex traits like athletic predisposition, intelligence, or personality style today being shared by some of these companies is wildly misleading.
This will not always be the case. As the genetic and health data pools grow, analysis of large numbers of sequenced genomes will make it possible to apply big data analytics to predict some very complex genetic disease risks and the genetic components of traits like height, IQ, temperament, and personality style with increasing accuracy. This process, called "polygenic scoring," is already being offered in beta stage by a few companies and will become an ever bigger part of our lives going forward.
The most profound application of all this will be in our baby-making. Before making a decision about which of the fertilized eggs to implant, women undergoing in vitro fertilization can today elect to have a small number of cells extracted from their pre-implanted embryos and sequenced. With current technology, this can be used to screen for single-gene mutation diseases and other relatively simple disorders. Polygenic scoring, however, will soon make it possible to screen these early stage pre-implanted embryos to assess their risk of complex genetic diseases and even to make predictions about the heritable parts of complex human traits. The most intimate elements of being human will start feeling like high-pressure choices needing to be made by parents.
The limit of our imagination will become the most significant barrier to our recasting biology.
Adult stem cell technologies will then likely make it possible to generate hundreds or thousands of a woman's own eggs from her blood sample or skin graft. This would blow open the doors of reproductive possibility and allow parents to choose embryos with exceptional potential capabilities from a much larger set of options.
The complexity of human biology will place some limits to the extent of possible gene edits that might be made to these embryos, but all of biology, including our own, is extremely flexible. How else could all the diversity of life have emerged from a single cell nearly four billion years ago? The limit of our imagination will become the most significant barrier to our recasting biology.
But while we humans are gaining the powers of the gods, we aren't at all ready to use them.
The same tools that will help cure our worst afflictions, save our children, help us live longer, healthier, more robust lives will also open the door to potential abuses. Prospective parents with the best of intentions or governments with lax regulatory structures or aggressive ideas of how population-wide genetic engineering might be used to enhance national competitiveness or achieve some other goal could propel us into a genetic arms race that could undermine our essential diversity, dangerously divide societies, lead to dangerous, destabilizing, and potentially even deadly conflicts between us, and threaten our very humanity.
But while the advance of genetic technologies is inevitable, how it plays out is anything but. If we don't want the genetic revolution to undermine our species or lead to grave conflicts between genetic haves and have nots or between societies opting in and those opting out, now is the time when we need to make smart decisions based on our individual and collective best values. Although the technology driving the genetic revolution is new, the value systems we will need to optimize the benefits and minimize the harms of this massive transformation are ones we have been developing for thousands of years.
And while some very smart and well-intentioned scientists have been meeting to explore what comes next, it won't be enough for a few of even our wisest prophets to make decisions about the future of our species that will impact everyone. We'll also need smart regulations on both the national and international levels.
Every country will need to have its own regulatory guidelines for human genetic engineering based on both international best practices and the country's unique traditions and values. Because we are all one species, however, we will also ultimately need to develop guidelines that can apply to all of us.
As a first step toward making this possible, we must urgently launch a global, species-wide education effort and inclusive dialogue on the future of human genetic engineering that can eventually inform global norms that will need to underpin international regulations. This process will not be easy, but the alternative of an unregulated genetic arms race would be far worse.
The overlapping genomics and AI revolutions may seem like distant science fiction but are closer than you think. Far sooner than most people recognize, the inherent benefits of these technologies and competition between us will spark rapid adoption. Before that spark ignites, we have a brief moment to come together as a species like we never have before to articulate and translate into action the future we jointly envision. The north star of our best shared values can help us navigate the almost unimaginable opportunities and very real challenges that lie ahead.