With the debate over artificial intelligence raging on in all areas of the world, a disturbing and yet potentially fruitful proposal continues to be made by scientists in laboratories studying brain tissue and robotics together. Perhaps we cannot create artificial intelligence out of circuits and wires, but we may be able to compromise with artificially created wetware fused to computers. Such technology is already being used in tests with rats. The reactions have ranged from disgust and horror to wonder and amazement. And so we ask the question, will we one day live in a world of blood vessel filled computers?
Imagine a world where computers are not simply built, but grown. What if your cell phone required nutrients and even blood in order to process calls? What if your word processor became opinionated about the things you wrote? What if the dead could be placed in wetware computers that allowed thoughts to communicate between old and dying brains and newly formed brains designed to transfer the information of the dying into new and fresh bodies? The applications are virtually limitless, although the world they would create may give us pause to question whether they are beyond mankind’s scope and entering a world too horrific to stomach.
On the other hand, is a world where patients suffering from alzheimers are able to once again retain their memories quite so horrific? Is a world where the dying can be given a second chance not worth striving for? These are heavy questions that this future of robotics and the fusion of brains with machines force us to consider.
In 2007 a culture of cells was placed into a computer operated robot in Reading University and acted as a memory center for the robot as it worked to avoid walls and maneuver around obstacles. By the year 2008 a more dexterous and quick moving rat brain was being utilized in Surrey, England to function more independently – capable of exploring its environment and even remembering where it could and could not go. A video of the experiment went viral and is still one of the most disturbing examples of this technology in action.
So as the relationship between hardware and the soft tissue of the brain is strengthened, what can we in our infinite capacity for invention create? And will we make wise decisions that lead to a more utopian world for those with disabilities? Or will an army of robotic systems controlled by brains be used for weapons of war? And what about this world where computers are grown in cell cultures and use neurons instead of circuits? At what point does it become unethical to shut such a system down? And if the system is truly thinking as scientists overwhelmingly agree, will the system even require a user eventually? Is it possible our computers will one day become self aware and even trained in order to create intuitive systems that make today’s computers look like calculators by comparison? What would we do with such systems? And if we did not treat them correctly, what would they do with us?