Dirk Knemeyer

Genomics for the Few, AI for the Many, December 22, 2016

The big difference between AI and genomics is that AI is going to be changing the lives of all of us really soon. Really soon. Whereas genomics is going to change the lives of the wealthy really soon, and may or may not change the lives of the rest of us any time soon. For me when I think of genomics in sort of juxtaposition to AI which we talked about before, that’s what I think about, is the fact that AI really matters to all of us. Genomics matters to the elite, and hopefully will matter to more of us over time, but I’m not counting on it anytime soon.

Whether it be me sort of dictating the kind of child that would sprout from the proverbial loins of myself and a partner, or my life extension or my life enhancement at some sort of large important scale, I mean those are simply things that will be reserved for the elite for probably many years after first becoming truly commercializable. It’s just a question if they can ever get to the point, or if they should get to the point of mattering for all of us.


The Ethics of Designer Babies, Wealth & Power, October 10, 2016

For a long time we’ve taken an egg from a different woman and planted a sperm from a father and put it in the wife of the father as the host mother for an egg that she didn’t produce, or were taking sperm from another man, putting it into an egg of the mother from someone other than her husband. Of course, marriage is not a prerequisite for any of these things. Now, it’s taking essentially the egg and taking part of it out from a genetic perspective and replacing it with something else.

It seems newer, scarier maybe, but it’s really not that different. It’s really making a decision based on the viability of the biological material of one of the parents and making an alteration for the viability or the health of a baby. In and of itself it’s doing it at the genetic level as opposed to the sort of substitution of an egg or a sperm cell, which makes it different, but it’s pretty similar from an outcome perspective. Where this becomes more compelling is the slippery slope problem, because it’s easy to sit back and say, “Oh, yeah, you know, we don’t want to have this child born with this congenital problem. We want it to be born healthy.”

Most people are going to nod their heads with that and say, “Yeah, that makes sense,” making that replacement okay, but the path isn’t that long to the superman, the supermensch model, where you’re not replacing to avoid some disease or some condition. You’re replacing to enhance. You’re replacing to go and not just get healthy, but to healthy superstar. Right? I think that’s where it becomes more interesting. Certainly, this technology is on a path to allow that to happen, even though in the sort of concrete sense that we imagine it probably not able to happen today.

We were having a conversation about Trump’s tax return, and the fact that if you look at over all of human history, there’s always been an elite. Always is too absolute, but by and large, in civilization there’s haves and there’s have-nots.

That’s been the case whether it’s been a democracy, whether it’s been a hereditary monarchy, whether it’s been communism. Regardless of the social structure, there is a small group that has a vast majority of the wealth and power that tends to propagate generation over generation over generation, whether it be because it’s supposedly by divine right or whether it’s because you just have a shit ton of money that you keep passing down to the following generations.

To me, if we’re concerned about it being only elite are going to use this and their children are going to be more powerful, more successful, more set up, it’s already the case. It’s just manifesting in different ways. Now, it’s just they have the millions of dollars that they pass down, which gives the children ginormous advantages that sets them up to more likely to be in charge. This is just a different flavor of that.

Not that that is necessarily to advocate for or excuse it, but I don’t know that it’s such a different state of affairs than we already have in the world. The fact is, there is a power elite in virtually every organized manifestation of civilization as far back as recorded history goes, and that power elite generally tends to stay in place generation over generation. One of the things that’s remarkable about the experience in the United States of America, where we are, is that unlike the European countries, where many of us came from originally, it’s much easier to go from having nothing to make it for yourself and to get into that elite at one level or another.

The question is, would this make it harder? Would the sort of promise of America of, “I have nothing, but I’m going to work hard and be ingenious and make something for myself that starts to move me into a place of power and could move my family into a place of power,” do the hurdles of designer babies and technology create a system that is less penetrable by the lower classes? I think it may, but I think there’s a lot of unknowns, too, so I’m not sure.

Business is always way, way ahead of legislation on this stuff. There’s no question about it. Way ahead. The government’s going to be really slow to catch up. I don’t know that this technology is all that different from things that we take for granted now. What I mean by that is the wealthy now take their children and put them in private schools. They take them and put them in schools that are demonstrably better than the public schools that everyone else is in.

What is more impactful on the outcome of a child as they’re advancing? Is it more impactful that they get the super smart genes, or is it more impactful that they get the private schooling? I think it’s well within the realm of possibility that the environmental and network benefits of the existing old-school infrastructure that the money buys actually is the thing that should be more intimidating and frightening to the have-nots in terms of the advantages that the children are getting.

It’s just that the designer baby aspect of it is the sort of sci-fi. It’s not here yet. It’s a little bit scary. It’s easier to feel fear toward … I suspect that the very analog, very old-school advantages that the money of the power elite provide are really putting in harder-to-overcome obstacles for the rest of us ultimately, at least certainly in the short term until that technology is super-perfected and is creating more holistic uber-people.


Engineering the Human Animal, June 2, 2016

We’ve mapped the genome, of course we’re going to fabricate a genome. There’s going to be some ethicists that are wringing their hands, but science is well on its way here.

Where I’m going with this, and tying back into this conversation, is I’ve talked a number of times on the show about humans having bad programming. Let me get into that with more specificity. When we were unsophisticated beings going back, I probably need to know my history of human biology better, but going back many thousands or millions of years, it was important that essential in our programming was drive to procreate, for example. For that to be just this inherently important code in how we behaved as a creature was essential, and it’s what allowed our species to continue and to reach a point of dominance over the rest of the animal kingdom and get to the point today where our ability to think and reason and logic is incredibly evolved and sophisticated.

That old, human code was important for that moment, but in today’s world with the way that we’re able to see the world, the way that we function in societies in the world, that code is garbage code. It’s like if you were looking at the latest and greatest software today, it would be like getting an app that’s totally coded in basic. People would be like, “What the hell are they doing? It’s using this code that is so unsophisticated, such bullshit.” We can’t use that code. We need to be using the latest and greatest code. Human programming is still done in fricking basic. I talked about male sexual urges and the deleterious impact that those have on other people in the society specifically but then in the society in total. That’s bad fricking programming. That’s a lot of basic code that is still crumming up how we behave and how we function in the world.

My saying this today is going to sound to most people like it’s crazy. It’s going to sound to most people like I’ve gone off my rocker, but as these technologies around the genome progress, as we learn to fabricate the genome, as we learn to fabricate a human being, as we learn to engineer babies, as we learn to reverse and re-engineer children and adults and humans, that’s going to come in the future. That’s a ways down the road. I’m going to tell you right now, at the point that that becomes a reality, all these other things in the world will have changed to the point where people are going to shrug and say, “Yeah, of course we have bad code. Of course we have crummy code. Of course we should be taking advantage of those technologies.”

That stuff today in 2016, or 10 or 15 years ago when I first started talking about this stuff, might sound crazy, but in 20-blabbity blah, decades up the road when this shit is reality, it’s not going to sound crazy at all. The kind of work that’s being done now by people like George Church, by companies like Gen9, by these things the mainstream media are totally ignoring and people are not aware of are going to be the technologies that allow us to evolve beyond our broken basic crappy code that was necessary when we were thoughtless, stupid creatures just trying to battle our way to the top of the animal kingdom. That’s going to all go away and be replaced by something else that is coming from these kinds of technologies, possibly or probably, and the world is going to be ready for it and not only accept it, but embrace it because in the context of our evolution as a species, it simply makes sense.


Humanity as User Interface, May 12, 2016

The whole wearables thing is just a transitional phase. Embeddables are going to be where it’s at. Wearables are going to be clumsy clunky junk.

When you let your mind sort of go crazy and explore, it seems like dystopia all over the place, but, I don’t think the technologies will manifest that way. The technologies can’t manifest that way, and here’s why. To take your example of employers, employers being up in your shit, every damn thing you do at work, it’s not feasible, and the reason it’s not feasible is we as humans are not robots. We are going to rest, we are going to take moments where we are not linearly kerchunking away like John Henry on the railroad on the exact thing the employer wants us to do right in front of ourselves. If that level of monitoring existed, it would spoil the relationship between virtually every employee and every employer everywhere in the world, and that’s not going to happen, so, yes, there are a lot of interesting questions about where this could go, what could happen, how it impacts us, but a lot of them wouldn’t even be manifest because they would undermine the very fabric of reality.

We’re a long way away … I shouldn’t say that because neuroscience is moving very quickly, but we certainly don’t have a coherent sense yet of, and of course, it would have to be different for each person because we’re all wired so differently, but, we don’t yet have a coherent sense of the optimal way to work is in four hour shifts with two and a half hours being kerchunking, and a half an hour being daydreaming, and fifteen minutes being a power nap. At some point, that kind of stuff will be figured out, but I think we’re a long way away from that and it would only be in the context of that deeper understanding of how the human animal optimally functions that that sort of analysis of how people are spending their time at work, what they’re doing really has any value. Until that, it’s just voodoo.

I’m picking on that one example to sort of push back against the whole waterfall of interesting thought examples you had of these crazy ways it could go. A lot of them aren’t going to go that way because it would be completely undermining to the basic systems and functions we have in place. The ones that we should probably be more concerned about are the ones that would be more at the level of the government, Big Brother, tracking. Right now with our cell phones, we can be tracked in pretty granular ways, probably more so than we realize, and maybe it’s even happening in ways beyond what my naïve little brain would allow for.

I don’t know that embeddables change the game that much. I think where I’m interested with embeddables, at the end of the day, our eyes, our hands, our mouth, and other parts of our body are part of a UI. They’re part of a user interface between ourselves and the outside world and we’re going to get to a point where those user interfaces are less important, possibly to the point of obsolescence because everything can be straight into our brain, into our central nervous system, into the neurological and endocrinological and psychological aspects of who and what we are, so, we’ll have direct mind-to-mind communication, be able to picture each other in fulsome ways from across the country or from across the world, to download not even the literal sense of how we think of download per se, but to download huge chunks of data and thought.

That’s coming, it’s not super close, but we’re on that path. That opens up a lot of real interesting questions because then the frontier becomes the brain, the frontier becomes the self. Right now, cyber terrorists or hackers are trying to crack our thumbprint. Right now, our thumbprint gets us into our phone. We’re also moving towards ocular technology, right. The technologies of high resolution, which you talked about before will make it trivial for someone to copy my eye-print. Somebody who is just way off, that I don’t even realize is there is getting a picture of my eye in a way that it could in a high resolution way reproduce it, and make sort of ocular authentication completely irrelevant. That’s all trivial and that’s all greatly coming pretty much as fast as ocular recognition technology itself comes.

To me, where it gets more freaky and more interesting is when the brain becomes the final battlefield, is when we move beyond the eye, the thumb, the lettered passwords to where it’s the brain is the true essential self that is somehow unlocking systems communicating externally. Our self representation in the world is largely from our mind and spirit, whatever that is or isn’t, and that is going to be the frontier of hacking and that is going to be the frontier of terrorism. I think that’s where really interesting stuff starts to come, and now I’m going pretty far down the road.

There is a lot of learning to do, and we mysticize and privilege humanity, but we really need to step back and deconstruct it and think that we are just an IO device. Our bodies are our user interfaces, and the fact of when the wind blows, it blows my skin which makes me feel something, which makes things happen in my brain, those are all things that science can get to the point of first understanding directly from wind hitting all the way through the totality of things that you think can feel in a certain way, but the next step is to replicate those things, and whether it be wind on the skin, or the things you’re hearing in your ears or seeing with your eyes.

At the end of the day, that can be chunked down into IO stuff, into data in and data interpreted, and data making systems fire within our system, and science is well down the path of figuring those things out, and, once it’s done, the sky is the limit. Science, technology, it’s been the applied technology that has really driven the digital revolution. The next revolution to come is one that is going to be driven by the science.


Social Controls to Reduce Crime, March 10, 2016

It’s easy to dismiss this as a China thing. Right? Totalitarian state regularly oppresses the liberties of the citizens. For me what’s compelling about this story is the fact that it’s a foreshadowing of things that we’re going to be dealing with in the United States, both in ways similar to what are being outlined here in a Chinese context, but also things far, far beyond that I believe. We are likely headed for a future where the government is using data to predict future behavior and takes preemptive action to control [criminal] behavior. Look, even thirty years ago we knew very little about the human animal. We would rely on things like characteristics that go back to classical times that we would bestow upon people. That’s a person with character. That’s a person with self-control. That’s a person with honor. That’s a person who is trustworthy.

I think we’re heading for this sort of tipping point, if you will, where we are going to have so much knowledge around human motivation and behavior, scientifically, not armchair theory, that comes together with our finally saying, “You know what? It is not acceptable for one in four women to have to deal with an attempted sexual violence.” These things are going to come together, and I think it’s going to result in at least the consideration, at the highest levels, and potentially in public forums, of prediction and control, and controlling people from doing those things that once upon a time were tolerated. Now they’re not tolerated, but they’re still not being forcefully addressed. I think we’ll forcefully address them, and I think something akin to pre-crime may be part of that.

The fact is, if you go above humanity and you look at it in some objective way and you say, “You know, for one of these two genders, this super high percentage is being abused by the other one in ways that can fundamentally shatter their sense of self and the rest of their lives,” that ain’t acceptable. It’s not acceptable. Up to now we haven’t been able to see it. We haven’t been able to understand it. We haven’t been able to control it, but science is moving so fast that we’re going to understand the human animal very well. We’re going to grok what it is that results in that stuff happening, the combination of physiology, psychology, sociology, the whole nine yards. We’re going to be able to control it. That control is going to look invasive and intrusive and like something out of a science fiction movie, but is it better to put those controls on to protect the half of the people who are being imposed upon and violated? To me it’s a no brainer. It’s just a question of what does that look like when the time comes.