Twenty Years after Intelligent Tools
Replacing the Cell Nucleus
Ray Kurzweil, the well-known futurist visionary and leading AI authority of our times, presented the following ideas in a keynote speech at the recent "Breakthrough Technologies for the World's Biggest Problems" conference, on April 28, 2004, sponsored by the Arlington Institute:
"A nanobiotechnology research program to replace the cell nucleus and ribosome machinery with a nanocomputer and nanobot to prevent diseases and aging.
nucleus is basically a
computer that stores the
code and controls gene
RNA, and ribosomes, which build amino acid sequences that get folded into
proteins that control everything else.
"Using nanotechnology expected to be available in the late 2020s, a nanocomputer would store and execute the software of the genetic code and the expression of genetic information. It would direct a nanobot to construct the amino acid sequences (eventually, it could also construct the folded proteins). The system would 'block uncontrolled replication and DNA transcription errors, and virus replication that can result in cancer, disease, and aging,' he said. 'It could also upgrade the genetic code to eliminate other diseases, reverse aging, and enhance human abilities.'
"The concept of modeling the genetic code in software and using nanobots to repair a patient's DNA was suggested by Robert A. Freitas, Jr. in the book Nanomedicine Vol I. Kurzweil's concept would go further, replacing DNA, RNA, mRNA, and ribosomes with software and nanobots."*
The above is not just a project of human enhancement. It is not just creating self-replicating copies of DNA, RNA, and life. It is having major control on the creation and working of nano-scale life forms.
DNA Bipeds Show Post-Anthropocentric Manufacturing Has Already Started
The advantages regarding disease and aging are tremendous as noted above, but my discussion here is not about those aspects.
I will review how these changes are forming a glacial change in the ways we *produce*, making the central world production to become post-anthropocentric, and to understand how the economic and social issues need to be addressed within the perspective of this epochal change. The discussion is not just about what is expected by the year 2020, rather it is about what has already started, namely DNA locomotion in the lab, as reported on May 4, 2004 in "DNA Robot taking its first steps."
Here is a report about the achievement of biped's inventors, chemists Nadrian Seeman and William Sherman of New York University state:
"A microscopic biped with legs just 10 nanometres long and fashioned from fragments of DNA has taken its first steps. The New York team's biped can "walk" because its DNA-based legs are able to detach themselves from a DNA-based track, move along a bit, then reattach themselves...
"Why DNA? Two reasons. First, unlike other polymers, DNA chains like to pair up. However, two DNA strands will only "zip" together if the sequences of bases in each strand complement each other in the right way - so by tweaking the sequences chemists get a high degree of control over where each strand attaches. Second, researchers hope that cells can one day be engineered to manufacture these DNA-based machines...
"The researchers were able to confirm that the nanowalkers had taken their first steps by taking small samples of the solution after each DNA addition. By feeding the material through a gel which separates DNA molecules by size and shape, they confirmed where the feet were attached - it is the same technique that gives "DNA fingerprints" in forensics."
In other words, the above scientific achievement means the start of artificial post-anthropocentric production, which is a new historical development.
This method can be one way of arriving at nanotechnology's goal of molecular manufacturing, which I had explained in details in Is Nanotechnology Real?.
Non-Anthropocentric Production in History
To better understand what non-anthropocentric means, let's take a look at historical precedence of non-anthropocentric production, as a natural process in history, and not as an artificial process, which is a new thing happening now.
Bees making honey is a good example of a non-anthropocentric production process in nature. Such a production even predates human agricultural production, yet it was not *artificially* made, and it was a natural process in nature, so it is not *production* in the narrow sense of the word.
All forms of *production* in history have been anthropocentric, in other word, they either had humans in the center of the production. Even the use of robots in manufacturing, was anthropocentric, meaning that their functions were designed to be replacements of human workers, whether they had vision and other sensory capabilities, locomotion, knowledge and expertise, or communication capabilities.
The same way that using intelligent tools found in nature, as I noted in 1985 in Intelligent Tools: The Cornerstone of a New Civilization, such as "use of horses as tools in transportation, dogs in trailing fugitives, doves in carrying messages, falcons in hunting birds", were not anthropocentric. But manufacturing intelligent robots to replace humans as intelligent tools, were basically anthropocentric, mimicking production processes based on human labor, although they could go beyond humans' capabilities as I had noted in that paper.
The new artificial post-anthropocentric manufacturing, which is happening in projects like the DNA bipeds noted above, is essentially ending the anthropocentric nature of production in human history. If what Kurzweil is proposing gets shaped, then the new cell nucleus, which will not be anthropocentric, becomes the basis of all future production processes at a nano-scale, in molecular manufacturing, envisioned and coined as Engines of Creations by K. Eric Drexler, the founder and pioneer of the field of nanotechnology.
All the past production in human history, whether agricultural production or industrial production had been human centric, which means that it had to be limited by the limitations of human model, whether because of size, sense capabilities, communication limits of natural languages, and the amount of knowledge a human laborer could embody. The new post-Anthropocentric manufacturing will not have such human limits, although will have limitations of its own.
But what is important is the orders of magnitude the world production can leap, without adding much to human labor, and this takes me to my final point, about income based on work, which is the reality of most human civilizations, and particularly the industrial society, whose ways still seem like absolute truth to us, while the current developments are making this income model obsolete.
In other words, work of humans as a tool, was what all these civilizations rewarded as basis of income, and with human labor, and work in this sense, losing its centrality in the world production, the income based on work, will also become obsolete. (The use of the term "work" in other senses of the word is not what is discussed here, and I already have discussed those in Intelligent Tools).
Post-Anthropocentric Manufacturing and Income
Major economists such as Wassily Leontief had foreseen issues of distribution of wealth, resulting from the loss of centrality of human labor. In his article of Scientific American of September 1982, entitled "The Distribution of Work and Income", Leontief noted these issues, when looking at information economies, and later some AI scientists like Nils J. Nilsson in Summer of 1984, in his "Artificial Intelligence, Employment, and Income", referred to the topic in light of developments of Artificial Intelligence. James Albus also offered his own proposal to deal with this reality of the upcoming new civilizations, as I explained in National Mutual Fund.
Albus tries to make an alternative of income model, based on ownership, for the whole population, as the societies are able to benefit from wealth, which does not have its source in human labor, at its center of production. Thus the income model based on work, work in the sense of human tool-like activity, as explained in Intelligent Tools, is obsolete for the upcoming civilizations, and I have discussed the related problems of social justice in another paper, and these efforts are the beginning to understand the issues involved.
With the introduction of first post-Anthropocentric production processes, it is becoming more and more clear that to deal with the issues of the need for new models, to go beyond income_based_on_work, is not just a far-fetched theoretical issue, and is becoming a practical issue to deal with today. All countries need to pay attention to these issues, before social justice becomes a hindrance to the progress that technologically is proving to be possible, following every new invention like the DNA bipeds.
I should note that these developments are not only of importance to the developed countries, in fact, the developing countries like Iran, will be impacted as much by such changes, and these are key issues to deal with in Futurist Iran. If the worldwide need for human labor drops, people in all countries, whose income is based on human labor as an intelligent tool in manufacturing or agriculture, will lose their source of income, and their lives will be directly impacted by such changes.
Moreover, the old anthropocentric manufacturing, will mostly not be able to compete with these new ways of post-anthropocentric production. It is time to take these issues very seriously, and work on them, whether one lives in Iran or the United States.
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
May 11, 2004