Mini-brains may already be sentient and suffering, scientists warn

To prevent torturous experiments on organoids, some are calling for clearer definitions of consciousness.

Credit: M. Lancaster/MRC-LMB
  • Mini-brains (also called organoids) are tiny lumps of tissue capable of generating rudimentary neural activity.
  • Neuroscientists use mini-brains to conduct research and experiments that help them learn about the brain.
  • As scientists generate increasingly complex mini-brains, however, some are concerned they might be experiencing pain.
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Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry

The private sector may need the Outer Space Treaty to be updated before it can make any claims to celestial bodies or their resources.

  • The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, is the basis of international space law. Its regulations set out what nations can and cannot do, in terms of colonization and enterprise in space.
  • One major stipulation of the treaty is that no nation can individually claim or colonize any part of the universe—when the US planted a flag on the Moon in 1969, it took great pains to ensure the world it was symbolic, not an act of claiming territory.
  • Essentially to do anything in space, as a private enterprise, you have to be able to make money. When it comes to asteroid mining, for instance, it would be "astronomically" expensive to set up such an industry. The only way to get around this would be if the resources being extracted were so rare you could sell them for a fortune on Earth.
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AI: Our New Best Friend

The fourth wave of the Industrial Revolution is here. If change is led by the right people, we will have ethical machines, says Intel's Lama Nachman.

  • We're entering the fourth wave of the Industrial Revolution, says Genevieve Bell, cultural anthropologist and fellow at Intel. You can chart humanity's progress through four disruptive stages: Steam engine, electricity, computers, and now AI.
  • AI is already all around us, but what will it look like at scale? What will life be like when "suddenly all the objects around us are capable of action without us directing them?" asks Bell. Will fully scaled AI be a boon or an existential threat to humanity?
  • Speaking at The Nantucket Project, Lama Nachman, director of Intel's Anticipator Computing Lab, affirms her optimism. "My belief is that, really, ethical people and ethical researchers are the ones who are going to build ethical machines."
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Technology surrounding the human embryo has moved out of the realm of science fiction and into the reality of difficult decisions. Clinical embryologists fertilize human eggs for the purpose of helping couples conceive.

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Writing a will: What to leave behind after you die

It may be an uncomfortable thing to do, but creating a will can save your loved ones a lot of headaches after you're gone.

  • A will is not a simple, one-piece-of-paper kind of document. There are many different kinds of wills: There's a will to handle your things. There's a will to handle your body. And there are wills to handle your legacy.
  • If you don't prepare a will, and if you don't set up a trust, and if you don't arrange your advance directives, then you, and your loved ones, fall into these default legal mechanisms that aren't necessarily always commonsensical.
  • In ethical wills, which are gaining popularity today, deceased individuals pass along tips of wisdom or things they've learned to those who survive them — this is an opportunity for them to pass along the narrative of how they say life, what they thought of themselves and others, and what they hope for their loved ones.
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