Human Enhanced Intelligence and Collective Bio Intelligence

George Church believes that enhancing human intelligence will stay ahead of artificial synthetic intelligence. George Church thinks that combining natural and artificial systems could result in hybrid biological organisms with advanced capabilities. These organisms are likely to improve as rapidly, or more rapidly, than silicon-based A.I., and could result in enhanced natural intelligence: An A.G.I. in a human body which is far above human level. He says that general awareness of the rate of progress of synthetic biology is low.

George Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT. He is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Technology Center and Director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science. George leads Synthetic Biology at the Wyss Institute, where he oversees the directed evolution of molecules, polymers, and whole genomes to create new tools with applications in regenerative medicine and bio-production of chemicals. He helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984 and the Personal Genome Project in 2005. George invented the broadly applied concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and array DNA synthesizers. His many innovations have been the basis for a number of companies including Editas, focused on gene therapy, Gen9bio, focused on Synthetic DNA, and Veritas Genetics, which is focused on full human genome sequencing. And with that, let’s get into our conversation with George Church.

George believes that human intelligence is a moving target.

Clock speed might be less relevant than energy economy.

We can make DNA memory storage that is a million times more energy efficient. It can be copied for a few joules. Roswell Biotechnology is a startup that could make trillions of parallel devices to read and write to DNA.

There is an assumption in the AGI Singularity that computers will improve nearly constantly at Moore’s Law pace and human intelligence would stay static. However, George Church believes that human intelligence will be improved with biotechnology.

If the first AGI is on the economic and computational scale of a supercomputer such that we imagine that we’re still just leveraging really, really big amounts of data and we haven’t made extremely efficient advancements and algorithms such that the efficiency jumps a lot but rather the current trends continue and it’s just more and more data and maybe some algorithmic improvements, that the first system is just really big and clunky and expensive, and then that thing can self-recursively try to make itself cheaper, and then that the direction that that would move in would be increasingly creating hardware which has synthetic bio components.

We could move the goalposts where human intelligence moves from our current average to Albert Einstein at his peak year in 1905.


We already are seeing some aging drugs, small molecules that are in clinical trials. George Church’s lab just published a combination gene therapy that will hit five different diseases of aging in mice and now it’s in clinical trials in dogs and then hopefully in a couple of years it will be in clinical trials in humans.

We’re not talking about centuries here. We’re talking about the sort of time that it takes to get things through clinical trails, which is about a decade. And a lot of stuff going on in parallel which then after one decade of parallel trials would be merging into combined trials. So a couple of decades.

14 thoughts on “Human Enhanced Intelligence and Collective Bio Intelligence”

  1. Human augmented intelligence honestly scares me a lot more than AGI or even an artificial super intelligence. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” will be orders of magnitude larger than it even is today. I hope it is never expected that humans will have to augment their intelligence just to survive. Ignorance really is bliss. There’s a reason why children just learning basic observations about the world are able to experience so much joy while adults experiencing important life events might not even experience the same joy. A lot of times stupid people have an easier time making friends than intelligent people. I think humans will be much happier and better off if they don’t augment their intelligence.

  2. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what they mean by AGI. Many evade answering the question by saying things like “able to do any task or job a human could do” – which is about as useful as saying “I’ll know it when I see it.”

  3. I agree with Musk that at least of the key issues is bandwidth. The past 50 years we’ve been limited to a very small number of electrodes of a relatively large size. Progress in BCI abilities was severely limited by the available electrodes, and those were limited by the manufacturing capabilities. It’s like trying to build an airplane when all you have is steam engines.

    But we’re getting closer to breaking that manufacturing barrier, and once we do, we may see much more rapid progress in the science.

    That said, I agree that it will take time. But then, AGI may also take longer than some people expect.

  4. I’ve often thought that having a substantially ‘larger’ short term memory might be the biggest thing to enhance human intelligence – the ability to hold more and more complex ideas in mind and manipulate them with the same ease we currently do with ordinary human short term memory.

  5. It’s good that Musk is pushing it ahead now. But the idea and experiments in BCI have been around since the 1970’s. So maybe instead of another 50 years, it’ll only be another 25-30 years to get past current early experiments, animal testing, early human testing, early attempts to use it to solve various disabilities, early attempts to actually use it for brain-computer communication, and then finally getting it to the point where the human-computer pair is actually ‘smarter’.

  6. This is a very general and meaningless statement that comes from an overwhelmed victim of the materialistic scientific dogma. Materialistic science has no understanding of how the brain works nor the understanding of the connection between consciousness and the brain. This is one of the materialistic science biggest false claims that is made to keep us in the dark.

  7. Having a DNA (or other) computer integrated into your own brain could be used to enhance control of our own bodies. Instead of thinking of it as just adding to our information systems and thinking of it as a faster internet, it could also be gathering internal biological information, both from our existing sensory capabilities and new ones that we invent. The info can be analysed and can trigger our bodies to react better to environmental stresses. It can control new protein synthesis “organs” to emit anti-aging or others to enhance our capabilities – both in brain and body. Our brains already do that through the endocrine system – adding rational design to these systems could do wonders to help us all.

  8. Everybody filling his mouth with singularities and vaporware, and then a simple
    biological nanomachine is enough to bring us on our knees. Way to go, gentlemen.

  9. I’m not quite sure what kind of ‘natural intelligence’ upgrades people really want or could use: more accurate memory access and detail? ability to consider many more alternative ideas and assess them in real time (such as diagnosing with little evidence), ability to read and access much more information quickly from a remote source and make a decision (such as re-routing during a trip when the main route os blocked), etc. Like laptops, which are getting faster, more reliable, and have some limited memory and connectivity upgrades, but tech improvements there are really slow compared to server and broadband tech upgrades. So, the human mind may not seek to know it all, have it all, and do it all right out of their own brain – rather have quick and easy access to remote data, remote processing, and remote resources – more of a master delegator than master CPU.

  10. As I’ve mentioned before, BCIs can help with that a lot. One the one hand, by helping us study the brain in more detail, and on the other hand, by helping us interface with the latest machine intelligence. That’s what and why Elon Musk’s Neuralink is trying to do, and he’s not the only one working on BCIs.

    The BCIs themselves are basically just a bunch of electrodes. It’ll take extra work to understand the signals, let alone figure out what to write back, but the device itself doesn’t require any new understanding of the brain. It’s just difficult to manufacture.

  11. Enhancing human intelligence could be quite useful, IF we do it. But we probably will go at it VERY slowly: ethics, fear of appearing as a crank, incomplete understanding of the brain – many factors will slow progress in this area.

    And suppose we got some decent human intelligence augmentation. Those enhanced humans will still find it easier to make progress in machine intelligence, than human intelligence augmentation – the same ‘drag’ factors still apply.

  12. I personally consider wrong the assumption that Artificial Intelligence must be “Intelligent” to threaten humanity. Viruses, bacteria and pests are not smart yet they cause enormous damage competing with us for resources. You do not need Skynet to destroy humanity: some very small, very dumb piece of software yet able to adapt fast enough to avoid antiviruses and colonize critical systems with very different architectures could do it. And while ‘enhanced humanity’ might be possible to achieve what keeps us ‘human’ is a big payload of things that will slow us down compared to simple digital viruses and bacteria. In the most recent centuries we got ahead of microbes (and before that lions, wolves, bears and mammoths) because we started to collectively dedicate our highly effective and versatile software (our mind) supported by our highly specialized hardware (our brain) to tackle problems that yes evolved and adapted, but not as fast as the advancing horizon of our collective understanding of the problem. But if the problems start to move and evolve way faster we will lose the advantage we have: it will be our few billions of squishy brains enhanced by software and electronics competing with very small very simple fully digital parasites. And I am not even considering the scenario where those parasites could infect our enhancements. Regards

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