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Interview: BT predicts future of computing

Futurologist says AI entity will win the Nobel prize

Stephen Hawking defended in 2001 the genetic enhancing of our species in order to compete with intelligent machines. Do you believe human genetic enhancing would be feasible, or even practical?

We are developing a good deal of understanding of how a human being is constructed and how it works with only armies of proteins and things that goes with it, to figure out how work the processes that are involved in life as well. This progress is going to accelerate over the next decade. Therefore it's very likely indeed that we will have the capabilities to modify people in several ways. But again we have to have reservations to police that to some degree, but at the same time we should have the possibilities to make pretty much any minor modifications in the human being that we want. For example, people will kind of look at genetic modification with genes that actually do something useful as well as get rid of genes that don't. I don't know how to answer this question, and most scientists don't.

We should be able to take genes from other organisms, and we could modify it by mixing the genes together. But eventually I think we could go a lot further then that, when we really understand the basic principles by which those genes operate and we gather other insights of nature that took eons of years to evolve on their own. But we could go much further than just taking genes from other organisms. We should be able to design genes from the ground up to achieve whatever goals we are trying to achieve. We should be able to decide what characteristics we want to create, and we should be able to do all specific proteins and systems to achieve it.

We will need a great deal of capabilities if we want to decide how people look like or if you want to even determine what your personality might be like. But it will be quite likely over time that we will start doing all these things. We will modify people and we quite likely eventually will end up with a number of much augmented human capabilities. The question is: how far do we go till we decide that we want to add genetic processing enhancement in people that allow them, for example, to link directly to machines? Do we want them to link to the network? Should we produce genetics that allows people to connect directly to the internet, for example, in 2050, 2060 just by thinking, and therefore to communicate to other people that are walking around telepathically? Why don't follow that path? People might want to go on that path if the capabilities might be there as well as the engineering to do so? Even these things would be possible, very interesting possibilities.

Right now the Pentagon is using some 5,000 robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, patrolling cities, disarming explosives or making reconnaissance flights. The next step is allowing them to carry weapons. Does this way lead to a Terminator scenario?

It's certainly one of the top concerns engineers have been worrying about, whether taking it leads towards Terminator how it happens in the film, whenever you design a robot that should be under their command, but then it becomes self aware or something and decides not to follow your command. When the US is developing robotic weapons they are making a step towards that. The question is how far it can go down that path without a huge line of assistance. For example, in a small dictatorship regime or something, could it afford to take it the full way to make some weapon system?

Well, probably not yet because they will lack capabilities that so far have not been built. That capability will need enormous resources to take that development path. It would take a long time to get to the point where it would be possible. I think that's a potential that we have. If you're aware that the possibility exists people obviously will have to think about it when designing these machines, and don't stop merely by expecting to make something which is quite likely to go a line to the Terminator scenarios. We certainly have a self censorship when we try not to be stupid destroying the world.

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