Why Elon Musk Thinks We're Already Cyborgs

A recent conference on the future of artificial intelligence features visionary debate between Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, Sam Harris, Nick Bostrom, David Chalmers, Jaan Tallinn and others.

Why Elon Musk Thinks We're Already Cyborgs

A fascinating conference on artificial intelligence was recently hosted by the Future of Life Institute, an organization aimed at promoting “optimistic visions of the future”. The conference “Superintelligence: Science or Fiction?” included such luminaries as Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, futurist Ray Kurzweil, Demis Hassabis of MIT’s DeepMind, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, philosopher Nick Bostrom, philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as computer scientists Stuart Russell and Bart Selman. The discussion was led by MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark.


The group touched on a number of topics about the future benefits and risks of coming artificial superintelligence, with everyone generally agreeing that it’s only a matter of time before AI becomes ubiquitous in our lives. Eventually, AI will surpass human intelligence, with the risks and transformations that such a seismic event would entail.

Elon Musk has not always been an optimistic voice for AI, warning of its dangers to humanity. But here he sounds more muted about the threat. He sees the AI future as inevitable, with dangers to be mitigated through government regulation, as much as he doesn’t like the idea of them being a “bit of a buzzkill”.

He also brings up an interesting perspective that our fears of the technological changes the future will bring are largely irrelevant. According to Musk, we are already cyborgs by utilizing “machine extensions” of ourselves like phones and computers.

“By far you have more power, more capability, than the President of the United States had 30 years ago. If you have an Internet link you have an article of wisdom, you can communicate to millions of people, you can communicate to the rest of Earth instantly. I mean, these are magical powers that didn’t exist, not that long ago. So everyone is already superhuman, and a cyborg,” says Musk [at 33:56].

He sees humans as information-processing machines that pale in comparison to the powers of a computer. What is necessary, according to Musk, is to create a greater integration between man and machine, specifically altering our brains with technology to make them more computer-like. 

“I think the two things that are needed for a future that we would look at and conclude is good, most likely, is, we have to solve that bandwidth constraint with a direct neural interface. I think a high bandwidth interface to the cortex, so that we can have a digital tertiary layer that’s more fully symbiotic with the rest of us. We’ve got the cortex and the limbic system, which seem to work together pretty well - they’ve got good bandwidth, whereas the bandwidth to additional tertiary layer is weak,” explained Musk [at 35:05]

Once we solve that issue, AI will spread everywhere. It’s important to do so because, according to Musk, if only a smaller group would have such capabilities, they would become “dictators” with “dominion over Earth”.  

What would a world filled with such cyborgs look like? Visions of Star Trek’s Borg come to mind.

Musk thinks it will be a society full of equals:

“And if we do those things, then it will be tied to our consciousness, tied to our will, tied to the sum of individual human will, and everyone would have it so it would be sort of still a relatively even playing field, in fact, it would be probably more egalitarian than today,” points out Musk [at 36:38].

The whole conference is immensely fascinating and worth watching in full. Check it out here:

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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