There have been some who have complained about the seeming lack of acceleration or slower than some have expected development of societal technology.
Richard Jones talks about lack of specific progress to diamondoid molecular nanotechnology or the appearance that we might not be on track to a technological singularity.
Addressing this criticism of rate of technological progress. There is a need to understand the s-curve concepts in innovation and barriers to exploration of technology. There is a need to review history when technology was held back and how breakthroughs did occur.
The 2016 talk with Richard Jones disparages lack of technological progress and the idea of Transhumanism. In regards to Transhumanism. There is CRISPR genetic engineering. It was just used to genetically alter two human embyros to make them immune to HIV and smallpox. Those two children were born.
There has been progress towards advanced neural interfaces to connect human brains to computers in a far higher bandwidth.
Elon Musk said in the Joe Rogan interview that Neuralink would have something interesting to announce in a few months that’s at least an order of magnitude better than anything else, probably better than anyone thinks is possible.
Neuralink is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
Open Water and Inventor Mary Lou Jepsen have shown how we can use red light to see and potentially stimulate what’s inside our bodies and brains. Taking us to the edge of optical physics, Jepsen unveils new technologies that utilize light and sound to track tumors, measure neural activity and could possibly replace the MRI machine with a cheaper, more efficient and wearable system.
Red light passes through flesh and bone but it scatters. A hologram can reform the scattered light into an image to see inside the body at high resolution. Sound is used to focus the system. It changes the red light to orange and enables an orange light under a sensor to create a hologram. The sonic points are moved and rapidly scanned to form images.
Open Water can focus infrared light down very finely, to sub-mm or even a few microns depending on the depth. Already 10 cm of depth can be shown with about 100 micron resolution or focusing power; this enables stimulation of certain areas using light itself. Benign near-infrared light. No probes, no needles, no cutting open a skull, no injections. While these numbers are more than enough for a variety of products, we are working on improving both the depth and focusing resolution and making rapid progress.
This light-based system will not only be vastly smaller and cheaper than existing magnetic MRI, it will also have vastly higher resolution.
Open Water can enable micron level resolution interfacing and interaction with the human brain.
Breaking Through – Involves Different Difficulties and Varying Resources With Different Gains
I believe that there is a useful analogy to exploring the world and continents to discovering, exploring and exploiting technology. Major new and existing technological areas are like the exploration of continents, worlds or oceans. There is a vastness an unknown levels to the technologies.
There can be barriers or innovations needed to enable successful development of technologies.
I recently looked at the Shackelton Expeditions to explore Antartica. We can also look at the discovery and exploration of North America and the invasion of continental Europe in WW2.
Initial, Antarctica exploration took many decades and 17 expeditions. The barriers were extreme cold weather, ice crushing ships, geographic barriers like mountains and scurvy that had to be overcome. The expedition sizes were a couple of dozen men and resources were about $10 million in todays dollars per trip. Figuring out that eating seal meat was key to preventing scurvy prevented expeditions from dying. There was also the learning about how to handle dog teams. Later modern travel and radio communication made Antarctic exploration relatively safe. However, there was little utility for the large continent so it remains unpopulated.
North America exploration took over two hundred years and required crews of hundreds. This was followed up with millions journeying in many successive waves of colonization over hundreds of years. The barriers were the oceans, geographic barriers, scurvy, disease and sometimes hostile native americans. The continent is very useful and rich and has over 500 million people on it now.
The invasion of Europe in WW2 required tens of thousands of men for the D-Day invasion. This was followed by millions of personnel.
What Held Back AI and Space?
Artificial Intelligence has had a few booms and busts. Ray Kurzweil discussed how neural networks were invented in the 1960s.
AI failed to deliver on its promise for decades.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a mathematic proof by Minski in the Symbolic school proved that neural nets could not handle particular basic problems. This limitation only applied to single layer neural nets.
A decade later 3-4 layer neural nets could be made but a mathematic limitation prevented them from going beyond 3-4 layers.
Another mathematical solution was needed to get beyond this limitation. This has enabled the current age of deep learning with hundreds and thousands layer neural networks. Neural nets with 15 layers are able to distinguish between dogs and cats.
There is now an AI industry worth many billions of dollars. AI is back on track and is enabling self-driving cars and other massive societal change.
Far better AI is also critical to delivering the ultimate promise of the Technological Singularity. There is still many breakthroughs needed to make Artificial General Intelligence or more adaptable versions of useful but narrow AI.
The advantage now is that AI is highly profitable there will tens of billions of dollars every year and tens of thousands of researchers working on problems and needed breakthroughs. In the AI Winter, teams were reduced to dozens of researchers with only few funded at the Shackelton level.
Space and Speed Were Held Back by not Having Reusable Rockets
The Space Shuttle was an attempt in the 1970s and 1980s to develop reusable space systems. Each reuse ended up costing $1 billion. SpaceX cracked the reusable rocket problem. SpaceX has first stage reuse for a few million dollars. The non-entrepreneurial approach of the government space agencies and cost plus contracts to industry produced almost no driving force to innovation or improvement of technology.
Transistors and Integrated Circuits
Computer chips have had Moore’s law and exponential improvement. This is the basis of the Information Technology industry worth almost $5 trillion. Intel and others were able to develop computer chips and gather the resources where Intel alone had a $10 billion R&D budget. Tens of thousands of engineers could attack challenging problems and barriers that emerged every year. They could shift and create new S-curves of technology. Entirely new materials could be used when silicon technology had limitations. It looks like one continent of technology but it is actually multiple continents and required multiple D-day invasions. But it was a rich world that justified and paid off the effort.
Nanotechnology and the Promise of Other Technology
There has long been the promise of molecular nanotechnology. Molecular Nanotechnology is multiple rich continents of technology. But there are barriers between some of the precursor nanotechnology which does not lower the barriers to reaching molecular nanotechnology.
Once key hurdles are overcome and key processes learned, then it will become profitable and possible for these technologies to be explored and developed. Just like the Antarctic explorers needed to learn key tricks to survive or AI needed to figure out deep neural networks, nanotechnology businesses will need to reach key learnings.
There is now a lot of capital for breakthrough technology. There is the $100 billion Softbank Vision Fund. China is willing to spend many billions on breakthrough quantum technology. There are many other private and public funds that need to get huge breakthroughs.
The only loosely related DNA nanotechnology, graphene, carbon nanotubes, atomic force microscopes are developing tools and computer simulations which are putting improved enabling technology in place.
There are parts of the vision of molecular nanotechnology which are getting ready to breakout.
Nanomedicine is in Stealth Mode with Pfizer
There is the Ido Bachelet work on DNA nanobuckets which can be used for DNA nanosurgery. This is enabling a pathway to cellular and molecularly precise nanomedicine.
Bachelet came to Bar-Ilan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) several years ago. They first create a selected DNA sequence, and then fold it using a process called DNA origami. With this method, a person can give a command to a computer, which folds the DNA molecule as needed.
A DNA sequence can be made in the form of a clam which can contain a drug. The DNA molecule contains a code activated upon encountering certain materials in the body.The clam can be designed to change its shape and release the drug only when it meets a cancer cell or the right tissue.
In the future, it will be possible to combine each such molecule with a miniature antenna. When the antenna receives an external signal, it will make a small change in the molecule that will make it open or close, and dissipate or connect itself to another molecule.
In 2015, they successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and wrote two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.
If this treatment works this will be a medical breakthrough and can be used for many other diseases by delivering drugs more effectively without causing side effects.
2012 Video with answers from George Church, Ido Bachelet and Shawn Douglas on the medical DNA double helix clamshell nanobucket nanobot
George Church indicates the smart DNA nanobot has applications beyond nanomedicine. Applications where there is any need for programmable and targeted release or interaction at the cellular or near molecular scale.
Carbon nanotube bundles have reached 80 GPA macroscale strength.
Finally ultralong (several centimeter) carbon nanotube fibers have been made into stronger bundles. The tensile strength of CNTBs (Carbon nanotube bundles) is at least 9–45 times that of other materials. If a more rigorous engineering definition is used, the tensile strength of macroscale CNTBs is still 5–24 times that of any other types of engineering fiber, indicating the extraordinary advantages of ultralong Carbon nanotubes in fabricating superstrong fibers. The work was done at Tsinghua University and other facilities in Beijing.
A synchronous tightening and relaxing (STR) strategy further improves the alignment of the carbon nanotubes to increase the strength.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.