Read Richard’s current thoughts about transhumanism and related fringe topics here.
The merging of biology with technology frightens many people. Our fiction is full of horrors like killer cyborgs, conscious AI, and robots that rise to destroy humanity. People have taken comfort in the “fact” that biology and machine technology are very different, and can never merge. Humans are not machines. Machines cannot think. Life cannot merge with inanimate objects. The laws of biology and the laws of computers simply do not mesh.
How wrong we were. Once scientists realized in the last decade that a biological cell with its active DNA, RNA, and proteins was similar in many ways to a computational device, progress in biology and computer science exploded. This insight led to the mapping of the human genome, the rapid advancement of the machines used for this mapping, datamining of life science databases, the previously mentioned merging of neurons with microchips, monkeys remotely operating robot arms and quadriplegics operating computers with their thoughts, new fields of study such as proteomics and systems biology [defunct link], the use of evolution to “evolve” new technology like satellite antenna [defunct link], better search engines, the “HAL” AI experiment in Israel, implantable mechanical devices and microchips, and many, many more advances and research avenues.
Many people now take refuge in their comfort, pretending that nothing has changed, closing their eyes and hoping it all just goes away. They are in for a rude awakening when the merger of biology and technology taps them on the shoulder in the not to distant future. There are many others who are trying to put a stop to the progress, but even as they try to gather their thoughts, articulate their arguments, and win supports, the pace of progress leaves them far behind.
This merger is one of many. Even as biology and computer science merge and advance, so do all the other sciences. In time, new insights will set off new explosions in knowledge. Witness the rise of automated and robotic astronomy, digital life analogs to sociological issues, the theory of complexity combined with economics, the merging of physics and chemistry in nanotechnology, and computer expert systems grading college English papers.
Whether we try to hide from, prevent, or embrace science and technological advancement, we really have no choice. The progress continues unabated.