Originally posted June 11, 2018
No computer has yet shown features of true human-level artificial intelligence much less conscious awareness. Some experts think we won't see it for a long time to come. And yet academics, ethicists, developers and policy-makers are already thinking a lot about the day when computers become conscious; not to mention worries about more primitive AI being used in defense projects.
Now consider that biologists have been learning to grow functioning “mini brains” or “brain organoids” from real human cells, and progress has been so fast that researchers are actually worrying about what to do if a piece of tissue in a lab dish suddenly shows signs of having conscious states or reasoning abilities. While we are busy focusing on computer intelligence, AI may arrive in living form first, and bring with it a host of unprecedented ethical challenges.
In the 1930s, the British mathematician Alan Turing famously set out the mathematical foundations for digital computing. It's less well known that Turing later pioneered the mathematical theory of morphogenesis, or how organisms develop from single cells into complex multicellular beings through a sequence of controlled transformations making increasingly intricate structures. Morphogenesis is also a computation, only with a genetic program controlling not just 0s and 1s, but complex chemistry, physics and cellular geometry.
Following Turing's thinking, biologists have learned to control the computation of biological development so accurately that lab growth of artificial organs, even brains, is no longer science fiction.
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