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Op-Ed: Bio AI ­— Major issues arising with AI and living tissue components

Pay attention to this tech, because it really is the future.

Google says advances in artificial intelligence that can create realistic-seeming video or audio prompted changes to its political advertisement policies
Artificial intelligence gaining importance. — © KCNA VIA KNS/AFP STR
Artificial intelligence gaining importance. — © KCNA VIA KNS/AFP STR

You’ll be pleased to hear that you now have something else to be scared about. For the last several years, the integration of living tissue with living robots has been ongoing. They’re called xenobots. Bio AI Is actually part of an evolving ecology of synthetic life forms.

These bio-enhanced AIs will be the first real biocomputers. They are not even called artificial intelligence anymore. They’re called ‘organoid intelligence”, OI rather than AI, and it’s an important distinction.

This branch of science has been generating a snowball of literature recently. Some xenobots can self-replicate. If you’re having visions of living forms of artificial intelligence breeding itself, things are pointing that way. They’re not yet, but it is foreseeable.

That’s where the problems start. Biological neural systems are not the same thing. Australian company Cortical Labs, famous for DishBrain, human brain cells that have learned to play the game Pong, are raising issues about living materials and AI.

These tissues and their applications are also now approaching a threshold of potential future sentience. This is part of what Cortical Labs is talking about, with all the unknown risks and unknown possibilities.

There are also many major economic drivers in this research. Living tissue is far more efficient and quicker than silica-based processes. Energy-efficient artificial intelligence is a major financial incentive.

Compared to living tissues artificial power systems are ridiculously inefficient. The human brain runs on microvolts. Compare that to the voltage of any existing electronic system, and you can see the problem. Living tissues use synaptic connections and a very efficient type of holistic integration to perform at multiple levels.

Let’s put it this way – Existing electronic systems simply cannot compete. In any artificial intelligence form, it’s like comparing a Ferrari to a skateboard with one wheel. In practical terms depending on scope and scale there is no real upward limit to living tissue potentials.

There is obviously a long way to go with this technology. Cortical Labs have correctly pointed out that there is also a long way to go with managing the ethics and practicalities of using living tissue.

Tesla’s Elon Musk is among those claiming that AI could make humanity extinct, while standing to benefit by arguing only their products can save us – Copyright AFP/File WANG Zhao

Let’s start with the easy stuff:

How do you maintain living tissue in a biocomputer environment?

What if the living tissue gets sick?

Do living tissue neural networks experience pain?

What about cellular mutations?

What about stem cells?

What about mitochondria?

What about regenerative tissue?

Can genetic tech like CRISPR create tissues and inheritable characteristics to order?

Do you need an actual synthetic brain to run a bio-computer?

No.  You could have a type of electronically connected tissue spread worldwide for example. This ‘brain network” could design itself and allocate resources. You could easily have a “brain” the size of a football field, in theory.  

There’s an interesting irony here in that neuroscience and artificial intelligence signs are proceeding at breakneck speeds, but not necessarily in reference to each other. Research can go in any direction in any science. In this case, it seems that these two sciences will need to be on the same page.

Excuse the expression, but it seems that this type of research will have to be “systemic”. Neural interfaces are well-known, but we are talking about large high-performance systems with completely new technologies built in. This really is top-tier neurology in its most unambiguous form.

The idea of sentience is even more difficult. At what point does a biocomputer become a person? Feel free to groan. You can hear every science fiction cliché in history rattling around trying to get noticed.

That’s not good enough. There have to be clear parameters and standards for any level of sentience. Sentience cannot be someone’s whimsical idea of what constitutes a person.

To start with, a biocomputer is not and cannot be a human being. We are talking about sentience in the objective form. There is simply no point in being anthropomorphic. Does anyone see any ethical issues?

This is not something that will happen in the blurry future. These issues will arise in practical forms sometime within the next 10 years.

Do you want a resentful biocomputer running your finances? How about a smartphone with a head cold? Pay attention to this tech, because it really is the future.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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