Our Primordial Future
"We are flesh—-self-aware, questing, problem-solving flesh."
— Octavia Butler
I had a really exciting conversation with Adam Stieg scientific Director of the Nano and Pico Characterization Lab at the California Nanosystems Institute this evening about his current projects. There was always something about his research that really rung a bell with me, and as he continued to describe his work with artificial brains and stem cells, I had an epiphany. Whether he's attempting to create a "physical brain" using top secret chemical etching techniques, or experimenting with mechanically induced stem cell differentiation, Adam consistently relies on basic physical processes to "artificially" modify (or create) living systems.
Rather than a building an artificial intelligence system out of software or reverse engineering the brain one neuron at a time, he attempts to catalyze a "physical brain" using special etching techniques, basic chemistry and chaotic processes that may or may not yield functional brain-like structures (more info shall be revealed after publication). Similarly, rather than injecting DNA from another animal to induce stem cell differentiation, why not expose the pluripotent gems to the physical environments that they're destined to serve in through machine-driven stimulation? I suppose these very elegant solutions could only come from a forward-thinking chemist, who compared biology to art in its nebulousness. (It should be noted he is also the Scientific Director of the Art|Sci summer program at UCLA).
I suppose it's only natural then that I was immediately compelled to extrapolate this bottom up cell differentiation theory to the highly complex process of human development, recalling a wise Japanese inventor named Dr. Nakamatz who recently introduced me to the idea that our environment and actions allow us to access genetic potential, IE nature and nurture are not opposed, but complimentary. The more experience you subject your human apparatus to, the more access you have to potentialities as yet unknown to you.* And from Adam's perspective, this makes sense because a person is a system subject to the same natural laws as say, the pluripotent stem cell. Then he held up a book on Cybernetics — " the study of systems and processes that interact with themselves and produce themselves from themselves." (Wiki).
Which leads us back to, THE BODY.
In spite of being a severed head wishing on occasion to disregard the body completely, I can't help but be seduced by the thrilling re-cognition that the material world is as manipulatable as it is concrete. Under the right conditions it can be elastic, re-programmed, and re-imagined. The work Adam is doing is definitely on par with some of the best conceptual art in how concisely it opens up the possibility that life, even Artificial Intelligence life, may actually be catalyzed by interactions in the physical world.
Clearly the integration of the internet/computational intelligence (a most harmonious coupling, from which the most user-friendly form AI will most likely be birthed — see Google* and NELL — ) to the total system is crucial. However, when it comes to the future form of everything, technology not only offers add-ons and implants, but also a means of further unraveling and transforming intelligence from the most primordial levels.
Now performing another leap in scale, I would compare this re-conception of the physical world to the discovery of 10 thousand galaxies inside a tiny black patch of sky. Seems to me like the 90% of the JUNK in our genome is another black patch that will hopefully reveal some equally massive new insights. We are continuously looping back on ourselves with fresh information gleaned, "producing ourselves from ourselves." Will runaway AI be catalyzed physically? Will it look more like us or will we look more like it?
The present seems like a breeding ground for the primordial and the high-tech to meet, mesh, and manipulate each other in mutually mind/body/environment altering ways.
As such, it may be apt to conclude by saying that the newest high tech airport security may, in fact, have fur.