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A Two-Part Report on Global Futures 2045

Posted: August 25, 2013 at 2:53 am

The 2045 Initiative is a fairly young but comparatively well-backed effort to generate more support for and technological progress towards non-biological means of human life extension: artificial bodies, and ultimately artificial brains, built to be far more resilient and maintainable than our present evolved equipment. There is some debate over whether this is an efficient course in comparison to medical research, but that end of the futurist community already primarily interested in strong artificial intelligence seem to like where this is going.

There is a lot of fascinating groundwork in reverse-engineering the human brain presently under way, and it's clear that neuroscience is going to become an interesting place to be over the next few decades. However, I remain unconvinced that any of this is going to help us get over the initial hurdles to extending human longevity, meaning the frailty and short life span of the human body and physical structures that support the mind, soon enough to matter. Artificial intelligence and human minds running on machinery will certainly come to pass, and I will be surprised if the latter fails to happen in the laboratory prior to 2050 given the pace at which available processing power is growing. However, and this is important, over that time scale most of us doing the writing and the reading here and now are dead without some means of medical treatment for aging. This is one of the reasons why I pay less attention to neuroscience and mind-machine interface development than I do to repair biotechnologies for the causes of aging.

The Global Futures 2045 conference series is a part of the 2045 Initiative advocacy, and the most recent event took place a couple of months ago. I noted some of the media reports at the time. A two part report published earlier this month is quoted below and focuses more on the presentations than did past articles in the popular press, which I think is a good thing.

The world according to Itskov: Futurists convene at GF2045 (Part 1)

The development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to allow paralyzed individuals to control various external prosthetic devices, such as a remote robotic arm, was another key topic at GF2045. A very recent example of the BCI research Carmena and Maharbiz discussed is Neural Dust: An Ultrasonic, Low Power Solution for Chronic Brain-Machine Interfaces. The theoretical pre-print paper proposes neural dust - thousands of ultra-miniaturized, free-floating, independent sensor nodes that detect and report local extracellular electrophysiological data - with neural dust power and communication links established through a subcranial interrogator. With the purpose being to enable "massive scaling in the number of neural recordings from the brain while providing a path towards truly chronic BMI," the researchers' goal is "an implantable neural interface system that remains viable for a lifetime."

In Making Minds Morally: the Research Ethics of Brain Emulation, Dr. Anders Sandberg - a Computational Neuroscientist, and James Martin Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, and Research Associate at the Oxford Neuroethics Center - addressed the social and ethical impact of cognitive enhancement and whole brain emulation. "We want to get to the future," Sandberg said in his talk, "but that implies that the future had better be a good place. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a point in getting there - but that would mean in turn that the methods we're going to use to get to the future had better be good as well."

The world according to Itskov: Futurists convene at GF2045 (Part 2)

Dr. Theodore Berger gave the most groundbreaking presentation of the Congress - one that also received a standing ovation. In Engineering Memories: A Cognitive Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory Function, Berger discussed his extraordinary research in the development of biomimetic models of hippocampus to serve as neural prostheses for restoring and enhancing memory and other cognitive functions. Berger and his colleagues have successfully replaced the hippocampus - a component of the cortex found in humans and other vertebrates that transforms short-term memory into long-term memory - with a biomimetic VLSI (Very Large-Scale Integrated circuit) device programmed with the mathematical transformations performed by the biological hippocampus.

Dr. Randal Koene, neuroscientist, neuroengineer and science director of the 2045 Initiative, has been focusing on the functional reconstruction of neural tissue since 1994. In his Whole Brain Emulation: Reverse Engineering A Mind presentation and soon-to-be published book with the same title, Koene describes the process of progressing from our current condition to a possible substrate-independent mind achieved by whole brain emulation and cites a wide range of research, including the work of fellow GF2045 presenters.


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