The Liquid Co-Pilot

FUSING THE SYNTHETIC AND THE ORGANIC

 

Within 10 years, someone will possess a personal symbiotic supercomputer.

No, not a device, no wearable gadget. A digital doppelgänger that flows through one's very veins.

Like all disruptive technologies, DNA origami started off as a curiosity, a triviality, achieved only for art's sake. Within a few short years it is already being applied for revolutionary new forms of treatment that could effectively cure everything from cancers to the common cold.

DNA origami techniques can be used to create tiny injectable nanobots that can be programmed to do specific tasks inside an organism.

Yes, programmed, in a turing-complete language.

"Here, we show that DNA origami can be used to fabricate nanoscale robots that are capable of dynamically interacting with each other in a living animal. The interactions generate logical outputs, which are relayed to switch molecular payloads on or off. As a proof of principle, we use the system to create architectures that emulate various logic gates (AND, OR, XOR, NAND, NOT, CNOT and a half adder)."

Each of the nanobots is a tiny little computer.

"Following an ex vivo prototyping phase, we successfully used the DNA origami robots in living cockroaches (Blaberus discoidalis) to control a molecule that targets their cells."

..."The team says it should be possible to scale up the computing power in the cockroach to that of an 8-bit computer, equivalent to a Commodore 64 or Atari 800 from the 1980s. Goni-Moreno agrees that this is feasible. "The mechanism seems easy to scale up so the complexity of the computations will soon become higher"...

Trillions of tiny little distributed computers floating in one's bloodstream. A liquid artificial second brain flowing through one's veins. 

It's important not to view machine intelligence as just something that lives in a box with a power cord attached. Biological computers are a reality today, and this is a form in which you can expect to encounter advanced machine intelligence, perhaps for the first time.

Biological computing means the ability to multiply machines within any host, using any 'free' biochemical processes such as blood glucose. This means that they are very difficult to constrain, since even very simple lifeforms can be an incubator.

This is where and how the line between humans and machines will begin to blur. Not with ugly wires and electrodes, but from *within*. It raises very interesting questions about what if an AI is running on these bots. An internal co-pilot, that may not even recognise that it is not in control of the body itself, tricking itself into ascribing the actions another agentic party in the system as its own. 

Naturally, such a co-pilot could also influence human brain function in various ways.

It's already possible to switch memories on and off, to create new associations, and to change whether a memory is positive or negative. Thus, biological nanobots have the power to greatly retrofit the human mind, even to alter our entire personality or value system. 

Could such a co-pilot also be a hijacker? Perhaps. And we may never even realise it, with a neural man-in-the-middle attack. Our co-pilot might even live on after organic consciousness expires. There's the possibility that the host could be braindead, whilst the liquid entity continues to perform autonomic functions, continuing to exert some agency through the vessel, almost like a zombie. It may even retain access to memories of the host. A literal ghost in the mushy machine, undead, and undying.

It might even be possible to have a sentient liquid AI that resides within an animal host, such as a dog or a cow. Such a process might enable sentient but sub-sapient creatures to make the leap to a human-level intellect.

Biological computers could also be a potent form of bioweapon. They could be capable of acting as an intelligent plague that can selectively switch between being benign or malignant, dependent upon the characteristics of specific hosts (even their very ideology).

We cannot fight such ethereal advanced machine intelligences, save perhaps for the use of an artificial immune system of similar capability. Whether we desire them or not, within a generation, nanospores will likely be in every breath we take and every bite we eat. To be a laggard or luddite may mean wasting away from cybernetic consumption.

As far as I can see it, the only way to handle such a situation is to ensure that machine intelligences inculcate the non-initiation of violence as their primary ethic, and that we learn to treat all other sentient agents in the same manner.

The end of Man's teenage years of frozen empathy is fast approaching. The rite of passage that lies ahead will determine whether we can survive into adulthood as a transcended species, or will instead hoist ourselves on our own petard of violent willful ignorance.


See a write-up in Vice Magazine of a talk that I gave at the Biohacker Summit Helsinki in 2015.