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It will be like moving from the obscurantism of the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Cultura - El Mostrador

Scientists announce that in 20 years the human species will take an evolutionary leap never seen before

por 17 enero, 2017

Scientists announce that in 20 years the human species will take an evolutionary leap never seen before
The best brains of "Congreso Futuro" make their predictions about how the human specie will change in the next few decades and the ethical dilemmas that we will have to face: Rafael Yuste, neuroscientist, looks to break de codes of the human brain; Peter Worden, from the Breakthrough Initiative to find intelligent life in space; Jaime Moreno, expert in artificial intelligence; David Liu, inventor who discover a way to edit the human genome; and Luiz Davidovich, a world expert quantum physicist.
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The information that impacted the world nowadays is just like the ones of yesterday. Armed conflicts, terrorism, economic crises, political surprises (Trump and Brexit) and sport's success and failures. All of them, without exception, refer to the dynamics of the social body, to our form of liquid and contemporary organization that makes - as in Chaos Theory - the consequences of a local event to end up impacting on global society.

With no need of altering these logics and without the majority of us being able to realize it, the rising acceleration of the scientific discoveries is setting a new scenario where challenges and dilemmas no longer take society as center of discussion, but - for the first time in history - the human species itself.

El Mostrador, in an exercise of anticipation, talked with the most brilliants minds that were present in the VI Future Congress that are the heads behind some of the scientific researches that will make humanity transpose - in within no more than 20 years according to themselves - to a new rebirth. We are talking about a multidisciplinary investigation that will reveal the secret codes of one hundred billion neurons of the human brain; the ability to recode the genetic sequence of humans; travelling in a speed of sixty thousand kilometers per second to find life (perhaps intelligent), in a distance of 4.4 light years from Earth; and to coexist, as part of our society, with machines that are no longer programmed, but has the ability to learn, like children, in the era of cognitive computing.

"When we understand what a thought is, how our brain learns and what potentiality it hides, there will be a cultural revolution in all of humanity. I have no doubt about it. The impact will have consequences on the world’s economy, health, education and everything".

 Functional sequencing of the mind

In within 15 or no more than 20 years, Brain initiative promoted by the White House and Europe’s leading scientific agencies, intend to decipher the interactions of the 100 billions of neurons in the human brain. "Neurons are like little lights that shoot, they turn on and go out," explains Rafael Yuste, the neuroscientist in charge of the project.

Rafael Yuste, Neurocientífico

Rafael Yuste

Every time they do – he says – they send a secret code that is completely unknown. “It is as if they spoke in a foreign language that we have never heard”. With an annual investment of 500 million dollars – which they intend to maintain as a cruising speed for 15 years - neuroscientists from all over the world work on the functional sequencing of the mind with the purpose of understanding for the first time in the history of humanity the question what exactly are we are as humans?

The ethical dilemmas that this research faces are directly related to those interested in the project. Just as global technology corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, closely follow the progress of the Brain project to adapt the codes to the future model of artificial intelligence, the US military industry also does that, supporting the project with money, since with this information one could literally read another one’s mind.

Intelligent Life

peter worden

Peter Worden

Astrophysicist Pete Worden, with the economic support of Facebook and a Russian millionaire, leads the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. This project consists in nano ships travelling at fifth of the light speed, which receives impulse of a light beam that might be launched from the Atacama Desert. The purpose: find life in Alfa Centauri, a star system located in a distance of 4.4 light years from Earth. If it is possible, just like Brain, the ships could gather relevant information in 20 years. "And that (discovery of life) will be the most important discovery of all time," he calculates.

"In the first few missions we will just go through the system, we will not stop there. I hope that in the next ten or fifteen years we can discover one, two or three Earth-sized planets throughout the Alpha Centauri system that can potentially have life ", predicts the astrophysicist.

With the greatest challenge being the discovery of chemistry in the atmosphere of those planets, the simple evidence of life in one of them means that life could be found everywhere. Given the possibility that this life is intelligent, Stephen Hawking, Worden’s partner in this same project recommends avoiding the extraterrestrial contact, since it would be catastrophic - according to him - for humanity.

Even that Worden admits he is not sure whether it is good or not to seek intelligent life in space, he doubts of that possibility. "I think it is improbable that there is intelligent life there, because it could have existed a billion years ago and now is extinct." Otherwise, he maintains, "that society would have already contacted us."

"It is a very meaningful discussion, in my opinion sometimes I think we should contact sometimes, I think we should not." We first have to discover the character of these societies and collect more data. It is always good to get as much data as possible before doing anything".

Cognitive Computing: The Learning of Machines

jaime moreno

Jaime Moreno

Chilean researcher and current Operations Manager, Worldwide Technology and Informatics IBM Research based in the United States, Jaime Moreno is one of the world experts in supercomputing and cognitive computing: the new way of programming computers so they can learn, like children. The problem is that children can also learn bad things.

"First thing is that we have to separate the general concept of Artificial Intelligence, which is very broad, and which in its extreme means the replacement of the human being. I see it as an utopia, basically because creativity is a very human quality and there is no technology that can get close to it. One thing I am sure about is that everything that can be automated, and it will be automated, and that is not the future, that is now”, he propounds.

Economist and Senior Editor of The Economist, Ryan Avent was also an invited to the Future Congres, starts from the same premise but his vision is somewhat more pessimistic, even though he rejects that concept, because in his opinion it is not pessimism but a inevitably reality: people with unqualified labor will lose their jobs worldwide.

Back to the power of machines, the IBM expert calculates that in the future the internet of things, or artifacts as he prefers to define them, and cognitive computing, will work in a complementary way.

"The Internet of artifacts is the ability of communication and synchronization between objects to perform tasks in a autonomous way, if it is accompanied by cognitive computing, the result are machines with the ability of no longer to present answers, but to predict and anticipate the reactions ", he explains.

According to Moreno, the learning of machines today can be compared with the learning of a teenager, "but in 20 years, cognitive computing will be adult."



One of the problems that is observed, at that moment, is that like children, machines can also learn bad things. The clearest example of this was the Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence Tay experiment, which was designed as a bots that could talk to young people via twitter, using that information as the basis of their learning. The result: in less than a day, the machine became racist, Nazi and sexist. In one of its tweets, it said that he expected feminists to "burn in hell", despite having defended them at first. "Hitler was right. I hate the Jews," it said in another post.

Ethics, according once more to Moreno, takes an essential role, since it is a human quality.

"The basic premise in science is that any advancement or technology can be used for good or bad. It is inevitable. What we have to do as a society is to identify when the use is good, when it is moderately good and when it is intrinsically bad and have the attitude to avoid the last ".

The other point, "is how we defend ourselves and stop those who wants to use technology for evil, because unfortunately those will always exist."

Editing human beings: closer to God

david liu

David Liu

For David Liu, the creator of CRISPR / Cas9, called the genetic scalpel, able to modify the sequencing of human genetics, to talk about what will happen in 20 years is a long time. "This project just exists for 3 years, so talking about that will happen in 20 years is very difficult, because in the biotechnology field, science is moving very fast."

He points out that his expectations are that genome-editing therapies could treat all genetic diseases. "It is important to keep in mind that our field is interested in helping to heal diseases that do not yet have any kind of available treatment and we want to avoid suffering”. If this technology can be used to create superhuman or if the mechanism could be used for warlike purposes, Liu sees a difficulty in those situations due to the complexity of DNA.

"The difficulty is not in the technology but in the direct relation of the DNA sequence, it requires interactions with hundreds and hundreds of genes," he says. However, he is also cautious: "Education and public and governmental regulation are very important for this".

Information: the key to 21st Century ethics

Liuiz Davidovich

Liuiz Davidovich

Although the field of quantum physics is one of the most abstract theoretical areas of science, the scientist and professor Luiz Davidovich affirms that when the time comes, science could be used for perverse purposes, and the way to avoid it is in the ethics of citizens, in one ethic that unlike other historical moments is not governed by morality, but by the information available and the clearness of the scientific propagation.

"Recent developments in the area of ​​biology allow humans to live longer, allow us to direct and edit our genetics. This may in the future be very good for humanity, but it can have its perverse side, and I think ethics is very important for that. When talking about extending human life, the key question is: will it be for all mankind or only those who can afford it?"

In an ethical moment for biology, the use of genetics in benefit only for a few others - even if it seems to be only an operative problem - is one of the dilemmas, he analyzes.

"That does not mean that the researches should be stopped, but we have to discuss this a lot, because in the end the decision is not going to be for the scientists, as the decision of the bomb was not Einstein's. The final decision will be for politicians and that is why I am very concerned that society is more involved in discussions about science, and that it is well informed of the progress of science, for helping to decide on these political issues".

That is why he insists that scientific propagation is extremely important to democracy.

"How can a society discuss about the applications of biology, about the applications of physics, without knowing them a little bit more. I believe that more and more, ethics will be based on information.  Knowledge and technology must be well known, since inclosing it between four walls, is where the danger lies".

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