Singularity is here Picture Credit: Nature.com
John von Neumann is regarded as one of the most intelligent and talented individuals, contributing significantly to the design of today’s computer architecture. He defined singularity as the technological creation of super intelligence, arguing that it is difficult or impossible to predict what human beings’ lives would be like in a post-singularity world. He was also quoted as saying that “the ever-accelerating progress of technology … gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity …. beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” Technology forecasters and researchers disagree when or whether human intelligence will be surpassed. Some argue that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will probably result in general reasoning systems that lack human cognitive limitations. Others believe that humans will evolve or directly modify their biology to achieve radically greater intelligence. Several future studies combine elements from both, suggesting that humans are likely to interface with computers or upload their minds to computers, resulting in substantial intelligence amplification and knowledge explosion.
Vernor Vinge’s Definition of Singularity
In an Essay published in 1993 TECHNOLOGICAL SINGULARITY by Vernor Vinge (cmu.edu) Vernor Vinge, an American science fiction author and retired professor who taught mathematics and
computer science at San Diego State University, defined singularity and its acceleration of technological progress as a central feature of this century. Vinge believes that we are on the edge of a change comparable to the rise of human life on earth. In his opinion the cause of this change is a technological breakthrough based on the following:
- Computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent may be developed with little doubt that more intelligent beings can be constructed shortly thereafter.
- Large computer networks and their associated users may “wake up” as superhumanly intelligent entities.
- Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
- Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect.
At the time Vinge made these statements, neuroscience – compared to the immense progress achieved over the past 10 years – was still in its infancy. While computational means are key, Vinge predicted that biological science and the capacity to manipulate the human brain would become the main driver for reaching singularity.
Nanobot Technology driving Superbrain Intelligence
In 2019, a highly profiled group of 12 researchers Frontiers | Human Brain/Cloud Interface | Neuroscience (frontiersin.org) predicted that before the end of this century exponential progress in nanotechnology, nanomedicine, artificial intelligence and computation will lead to the development of a so-called ‘human brain/cloud interface (B/CI)’, that connects neurons and synapses in the brain to vast external cloud-computing networks in real time. The B/CI concept was initially proposed by futurist-author-inventor Ray Kurzweil, who suggested that neural nanorobots could be used to connect the neocortex of the human brain to a ‘synthetic neocortex’ stored externally in the cloud. “These devices would navigate through the network of blood vessels, cross the blood-brain-barrier and precisely autoposition themselves among or even within brain cells”, explains Robert A. Freitas, a member of the research team that conducted the study. “They would then wirelessly transmit encoded information to and from a cloud-based supercomputer-network for real-time brain-state monitoring, data extraction and AI-supported analysis. This cortex in the cloud would allow the downloading of information to the brain. Hence, a human B/CI system, mediated by neural nanorobotics, could empower individuals with instantaneous access to all cumulative human knowledge available in the cloud, while significantly improving human learning capacities and intelligence”, says the study’s lead author Dr. Nuno Martins. “With the advance of neural nanorobotics, we envision the future creation of a ‘Superbrain’ that can harness the thoughts and thinking power of any number of humans and machines in real time.” This challenge includes determining the means as to how neurons can communicate with nanobots embedded deep in the brain. One solution proposed by the authors is the use of magnetoelectric nanoparticles to effectively amplify communication between neurons and the cloud. “This could work in reverse as well: Electrical signals produced by neurons and nanorobots could be amplified via magnetoelectric nanoparticles, to allow their detection outside of the skull.”
Nanotechnology for Brain Manipulation and Control
Human behavior is a complex interplay of three interrelated components: actions, cognition, and emotions. Modern approaches in behavioural research aim to explore the hidden and uncharted territory of the subconscious by measuring reliable outputs that provide deeper information as to what someone is thinking about. Progress in neuroscience, enhanced with steadily improving monitoring technology applying EEG, NIRS or fMRI , are driving the study of human behaviour to new frontiers, providing insight and knowledge as to how humans react when confronted with a rapidly changing socio-economic environment. While many nanotechnology projects are still in the research and development phase, significant advancements are being made in tumour diagnosis and drug delivery with non-invasive nanobots that can deliver drugs to the target destination to make them more effective and reduce side effects. Traditional drug treatments such as cancer chemotherapy, can inject toxic compounds that indiscriminately damage healthy tissues. In contrast nanobots can be inserted into human veins or ingested, enabling the early detection of brain tumours without damaging healthy tissue. The current results are promising, suggesting that nanobots could soon be used for delivering drugs with increased levels of accuracy, tailored to specific parts of the body and able to adapt to the environment of delivery. On their path nanobots must cross the blood-brain-barrier, an extremely selective biological defence mechanism that allows just some nutrients and molecules to pass through, keeping pathogens out. Computer simulations model these complex structures as machine intelligence provides the algorithms to control the movement of these nanoparticles while externally mounted magnetized coils are applied to push them deep into the selected brain region. Early research efforts provide promising results in battling brain-diseases such as Alzheimer, Epilepsy or Parkinson. In contrast, solving this problem with today’s standard technology, Invasive Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI’s) are physically positioned in the brain to monitor brain activity. Considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve the sensing capacity and biodegradability of these sensors. Elon Musk’s highly publicised Neuralink concept – a “sewing machine-like” device capable of implanting very thin (4 to 6 μm in width) threads into the brain – focuses on the ‘user-friendly’ positioning of the electrodes which can be performed at a doctor’s office in a very short time. After experimenting with pigs, Neuralink had anticipated starting experiments with humans in 2020 but have since moved that projection to 2022.
The Threat of Misusing Nanotech for Behavioral Control
Improving brain health is considered the most promising and useful application of non-invasive nanotechnology. On the negative side, nanobots can also be used to support humans in a new kind of warfare as a soldier’s attack capability is enhanced by better night vision or guidance based on the enemies physical movements. Equipped with helmets that connect to critical regions of the skull – energized with low power consuming neuromorphic hardware – renders an enemy with no access to this technology defenceless. Considering today’s political instability, we are likely to witness a new kind of arms race with new kinds of command-and-control systems for rapid decision making, making nanotech-enhanced army units far more efficient in combat. China and their leaders consider today’s technological revolution as a critical, even historic, opportunity to achieve strategic advantages. Chinese innovation is poised to pursue synergies among brain science, artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnology that may have far-reaching implications for its future military power. Moreover, utilizing its socio-economic application potential, nanotechnology is used to monitor and eventually enhance brain intelligence. According to a report published by China Is Monitoring Employee Brain Waves in Factories and the Military (businessinsider.com) some Chinese corporations are monitoring employees’ brain waves and emotions. The technology works by placing wireless, intelligent sensors in employees’ caps or hats which spot incidents of workplace rage, anxiety, or sadness. Employers use this ‘emotional surveillance technology’ by adjusting workflows, including employee placement and the timing of breaks, thereby increasing productivity and profits. As a next step, selectively injecting nanobots to enhance workers intelligence seems realistic, considering the immense competitive pressure Chinese individuals and corporations are exposed to.
Conclusion: The issue of Ethics
Fostering a society divided by highly intelligent and normally intelligent people using nanotechnology results in enormous social tensions which go way beyond ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ – to use Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s terminology. Western Big-Tech’s incredibly successful business model of monetizing behavioural data and their rise to power and wealth took place within just three decades. Trying to maintain their market dominance is increasingly challenged by ethical concerns as part of our western democratic mindset with the promotion of human rights. In contrast totalitarian regimes as they exist in China and increasingly so in Russia, might well be tempted to misuse the power of nanotechnology as a means of mind-control. As result, according to some historians, a new kind of warfare is likely to erupt. To others a new Digital Carta, signed by all members of the UN’s security council, is the only way to avoid a global disaster.