With the advent of the intelligence age, how far can human beings reach? Where is mankind actually going? Concerning for our life span and health, what changes will occur? By Fifi Kao
In early March 2012, at the international Global Future 2045 Congress held in Moscow, Dmitry Itskov, a 31-year-old Russian media tycoon at the time, told attendees that he would launch a high-tech research program aimed at achieving immortal life by transplanting human thinking into the body of a machine.
In 2015, another news item shocked the world. Elon Musk, the fFounder of Tesla and SpaceX, donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute, an organizationbeing in operation for just one year at the time. The organization is working on the security of artificial intelligence, and its goal is to ensure that the development of artificial intelligence is beneficial to the future of humanity. They want to tell AI researchers that they need not only see the bright future of high-tech, but also keep an eye on the dangers it may bring to humans.
The Founder of Future of Life Institute, Max Tegmark, is a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of a book called Life 3.0. Prior to founding Future of Life Institute, Max had many achievements in the study of parallel universes, and had written a book for science popularization which sold very well, called Our Mathematical Universe – My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. Tegmark and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman were both taught by the same teacher – John Wheeler, a renowned physicist who joined the Manhattan Project and the study of the atomic bomb. The “black holes” we frequently hear about today were first proposed by Wheeler.
The Future of Life Institute is supported by a number of social elites and well-known organizations, including the great late physicist Stephen Hawking, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, and Deepmind, the developer of AlphaGo. In just two years since its foundation, the company has raised more than $100 million and brought together more than 8,000 of the world’s top AI experts, immediately making “Artificial Intelligence Security” research into a global campaign.
Life 3.0 is the newest study and full presentation of the question “How far will artificial intelligence lead humans to?” The book offers a new perspective onto life, science, technology, culture and society of the future with rigorous logical reasoning and bold imagination. It shows us all the possibilities of life of the future.
What is life?
Life 3.0’s author Max proposes a new perspective. He thinks that life is actually a system with a certain complexity that constantly replicates itself. Life has both hardware and software. Hardware is the tangible part, used to collect information while software is the invisible part, used to process information. The higher the complexity of life is, the higher the version will be. Thus he divides life into three versions: Life 1.0, Life 2.0 and Life 3.0.
Life 1.0 system cannot redesign its software or hardware, both of which are completely determined by DNA. Only through a long and slow evolution of many generations can some changes happen. Life 1.0 occurred about 4 billion years ago. Most of the plants and animals in the planet today are at the stage of Life 1.0.
Life 2.0 system can’t redesign its hardware, but it can redesign its software. It is able to acquire complex new skills through learning. Life 2.0 occurred about 100,000 years ago. Humanity is the representative of Life 2.0. But our hardware, the body itself, is still determined by DNA and small changes can take place only after generations of evolution. In other words, Life 2.0 adapts to the changes of the environment through software upgrades.
Life 3.0 system can continue to upgrade both its software and hardware without generations of evolution. The awakened robot receptionist in the second season of the American drama Westworld is a representative of Life 3.0, whose intelligence keeps renewing and its body can be redesigned any time.
Then an assumption arises. Maybe someday, life doesn’t need to be carried by this body of flesh and blood any more. When intelligence gets a chance to free itself from the bondage of the body, life for the first time can be its own master, and eventually be completely free from the shackles of evolution.
The question then is: If Life 3.0 is to appear, when is the earliest it can Ben expected? Is it good or destructive for humanity?
At present, most of the studies of AI developers we can see and have access to focus on a single-capacity AI, such as self-driving cars, alpha dogs that play chess, web robots that can answer questions. However, there is another type called Artificial General Intelligence, which can accomplish the work that human do, and can even do better in learning knowledge and form cognition.
When humans successfully develop the Artificial General Intelligence, the speed of intelligence evolution will double, and the “intelligence explosion” will be officially triggered. Super Artificial General Intelligence, known as Super Intelligence far exceeding human power will emerge. This will mark the advent of Life 3.0.
Some people argue that super intelligence won’t come for several hundred years. But most of the world’s top experts believe that super intelligence will emerge in just a few decades. The Future of Life Institute conducted a survey in 2015. Half of the interviewed scientists thought the “intelligence explosion” would come around 2055. In 2017, Future of Life Institute did another study. This time, the majority of interviewed scientists believed that the time would be brought forward to 2047.
If that is the case, there is not much time left for human beings to think about their future. In the remaining 30 years, we have to find the answers to many major issues. Super intelligence is hugely different from human beings in terms of cognitive ways, and understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. Therefore, is super intelligence good or bad for humanity? Scientists hold different opinions.
What kind of future does human want?
What kind of future does humanity want? Even the world’s top scientists have failed to reach an agreement on this question so far. Do you suddenly feel a panic that extraterrestrial advanced life will come to Earth tomorrow, and you simply can’t think of a countermeasure? So many scientists and AI experts are trying to find a way out for humans in the future. The book Life 3.0 sums up four possible consequences brought by super intelligence. It sounds like science fiction.
The first possibility is human extinction. Second, humans lose their dominance. Third, humans limit the development of super-intelligence. Fourth, humans dominate super-intelligence.
It is also possible that humans stop developing super intelligence. But there must be some wealthy people or countries who secretly develop the technology. Then they will accumulate more wealth and power to take over and rule the world, leading the world to totalitarianism. The world may become what is described in George Orwell’s famous novel 1984: dictators crazily pursuing power and profit; human nature and freedom are completely deprived; the lives of the lower classes are extremely poor, and human lives become exceedingly tedious.
Humans may also choose to voluntarily degrade their skills to the level of the Middle Ages, slowing down or limiting the development of high-tech. This approach, though preventing the rapid development of super intelligence, in the long run, will also lead humans to extinction from the perspective of natural ecology. Human will be erased by nature in 1 billion years, which is the inevitable result of natural selection.
How to ensure AI development is beneficial to the future of human?
The super intelligence developed by human beings must be friendly, meaning it must share the same goals as human being. But this is difficult. Life 3.0 argues: we say we need to let artificial intelligence understand our goals, accept our goals and stick to our goals. But what are our goals? The world’s top scientists have not yet reach a consensus on the issue.
What can be done now is to summarize the key points shared by most people, which include: human beings should feel happier and possess more initiative and the cultural heritage of mankind should be passed on. But it is so hard to perfectly answer this question by 2047.
Do you feel disappointed? Not necessary. Nevertheless, we have recognized the problems that we need to solve. This is already a big step forward. The next step is to do more research. It is much better than staying in a state of unawareness of and having no preparation for the potential dangers.
Scientists have realized that it is important to figure out the uniqueness of human — the things that artificial intelligence does not have.
For example, scientists are very concerned about whether “consciousness” is unique to humans. If consciousness is a subjective experience of human, then it is not possessed by artificial intelligence. However, more and more research suggests that consciousness can be generated and artificial intelligence may have a sense of grand consciousness in the level of whole cosmic space and time span which is unimaginable to humans. Anyway, it can be assumed that humans are not the smartest thing in the universe.
The reason we want to guard the continuation of life is not because of the superiority of our species. It is because as humans, it is our mission to do so. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon asks Star-Lord: “Why would you wanna save it?” Star-Lord answered: “Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!” So why do we struggle to protect humanity? Just because we are born human.
Artificial intelligence defeats all species of Life 1.0 and Life 2.0. Now people realize that the rich and unique experiences that life can bring to us are truly important. Life 3.0, in the last chapter, calls us to bravely embrace the Life 3.0 era ushered in by “intelligence explosion”.
In addition to developing artificial intelligence, scientists and medical scientists are working tirelessly and excitedly on another thing as well: how to push the limits of human DNA, extend the length of life, and overcome the diseases that affect health and threaten life.
Immortality plan never stops
Throughout the ages, from the endeavors of the First Emperor of Qin to the efforts of various emperors in later dynasties, as well as many Taoist alchemists, human beings have never stopped exploring the possibility of living forever and staying young, In today’s spa industry, likewise, “Anti-Aging” and “Longevity” are the most popular terms. Overseas medical travel and stem cell treatments have attracted a great many people. Every day, everyone is talking about fitness, diet and face lift. No one can resist the chance of being more healthy and living longer.
The human body is composed of atoms. When the configuration and connection of atoms changes, aging and death will occur. Moreover, human birth, aging, illness and death are all basically the results of this change. To stay young, it is necessary to repair the broken configuration and connection between the atoms. And the key factor that decides the atomic configuration is DNA. So to completely decode DNA is at the basis of prolonging the human life span.
Unlike medieval alchemy or the ancient Oriental approach of inquiring sages, today’s scientists search deeply within the human body: the nervous system, endocrine system, gene, free radicals, telomerase…
Nobel Prize in medicine: gene technology – telomere
Carrying various gene information, the DNA molecule is like a long and thin thread that is twisted into a chromosome according to certain rules. The cap-like substance covering the end tip of the chromosome is telomere. The length of telomere decides the timing of cell division and controls the aging and dying process of cells. Each time the cell divides once, the telomere is shortened. When the telomere cannot be shortened any more, the cell will die because of the failure to divide. Therefore, scientists call telomere the “clock of life”. Normally, a cell can divide 50 times. The division cycle is about 2.4 years. Therefore, the limit of men’s life span is about 120 years old (50*2.4). The winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 were three scientists who discovered how telomere and telomerase protected the chromosome.
If we can strictly control and protect the length of telomere, can we then delay aging? It is a good assumption, but the reality is far more complicated. Telomerase is a combination of angels and demons. A very few of telomerase, after being activated for certain reasons, will give cancer cells an infinite ability to duplicate. However, doctors can also restrain cancer cells by restraining the activity of telomerase. Some anti-cancer drugs targeting telomerase have entered phase 3 clinical tests.
While researchers into telomerase immerse themselves in the study of cells wishing to prolong human life, environmental pollution, poor living style, free radicals and the toxic side effects of drugs are quickening aging and shortening telomere all the time, leading to pre-aging and the death of cells. So it is still unsure whether humans can live longer and be free from diseases just by controlling telomere.
Nanorobot and stem cell technology
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have mastered a special monitoring technology. They can use “nanomites” to locate and wipe out the cancer cells in the blood. It is estimated that 25 years in the future, scientists will be able to develop a nanorobot which is one billion times more powerful than the first generation of “nanomites”. The nanorobot will be able to enter the human body and repair damaged cells. At that time, humans may live to be several hundred years old.
Today, scientists can cultivate tissues and organs outside the human body with stem cells in order to replace the diseased or aging ones inside the body. If old people can make use of their own or others’ stem cells gathered in childhood or youth for tissue and organ cultivation, our wish of living forever may come true.
Stem cell technology can be regarded as a transitory substitute before scientists’ perfect mastery of gene technology and nano-technology because stem cell technology can’t fundamentally bring immortality to humans. It just renews damaged parts inside the body. The human body is not a machine. However, some scientists believe that the combination of nano-technology and gene recoding may realize the autonomous evolution of the human body.
So far, the only actual way to hinder the coming of death is “cryonics”. But it is like pressing “pause” to life, not giving humans immortal life. True immortality will depend on the science of the future.
The “Rejuvenation Drug” of Harvard
In 2013, Professor David Sinclair, the Head of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology for Aging Research of Harvard Medical School, discovered that after takingβ-nicotina mide mononucleotide for one week, the 22-month-old mouse (equal to a 60-year-old person)’s physical signs returned to the level of 6-month-old (equal to a 20-year-old person) and its life span increased 30%. Therefore, β-nicotinamide mononucleotide is widely known as the “Rejuvenation Drug” of Harvard.
In 2018, David Sinclair’s team made another discovery. After taking β-nicotinamide mononucleotide for one month, the 32-month-old mouse (equal to an 80-year-old person) increased 1.6 times in running time and distance and its blood capillary condition and blood flow speed returned to the level of youth. Due to his research and the discovery of β-nicotinamide mononucleotide’s anti-aging function, Sinclair was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People by TIME.
In March this year, Hisayuki Amano’s research team from Baylor College of Medicine found that β-nicotinamide mononucleotide could maintain the length of telomere. In addition, various research results published in Nature, Science and Cell confirm β-nicotinamide mononucleotide’s power to activate stem cells and repair DNA, making it a key factor for anti-aging process.
Supported by so much scientific research, this anti-aging substance has been added to the longevity package of rich people. In 2016, Li Ka-shing became the first to take the precursor of β-nicotinamide mononucleotide and said he felt rejuvenated. Afterwards, he invested 20 million dollars in the manufacturer. At present, the selling price of one bottle (9000mg) of β-nicotinamide mononucleotide precursor is more than RMB 20,000.
The most worthy investment: longevity and health
Prof. Max Planck of the University of California, Berkeley searched through the “human death rate database” and found that the human life span has increased 2-3 years every decade in the past 200 years. Merrill Lynch estimates that the market scale of “health, anti-aging and longevity” has reached 110 billion dollars. So in the next 10 years, the companies most worthy to invest are those dedicated to “delaying the death of hunans”. Silicon Valley has been at the front of the trend.
In 2013, Google invested 1.5 billion dollars to recruit top biology experts worldwide for its subsidiary company Calico, hoping that the firm can take another big stride in prolonging human life. In the same year, another giant in Silicon Valley – Oracle invested 335 million dollars on the anti-aging studies.
In 2016, Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, donated 3 billion dollars hoping to eliminate diseases in this century.
In 2017, Peter Thiel, the fFounder of PayPal, and Jeff Bezos, the fFounder of Amazon co-invested 370 million dollars in Unity Biotechnology, a company dedicated to extending life span through the clearing away of aging cells.
While “death delaying” programs have become the target of investment, the scientific community has quickened speeds up the study of various techniques for prolonging life span. The anti-aging achievements in gene therapy, intestinal flora study, immune cell study, aging cell clearance and eNAMPT enzyme therapy have been published in authoritative medical journals time and time again.
In the SPA industry, never before have we found so much interest in improving life quality and prolonging life span, going beyond traditional beauty treatments, stress management, and wellness practices. It is believed that it won’t be long before mankind achieves a big breakthrough in terms of health and life span.