This truly startling talk by Professor Michael Levin, from the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, has implications for everything – not just regenerative medicine.
It is no exaggeration to describe the work done in Levin’s lab as Frankensteinian. This is not a criticism, just an inevitable observation.
Levin describes biochemical interventions that can effect electrical transmission at the inter-cellular level in a range of organisms. These change the parameters for regeneration of body parts and reveal that a non-neural regenerative memory can exist throughout an organism. From the start of evolution of ‘primitive’ life forms, anatomical decision-making is taking place in every cell, and at every level of body structure.
Levin gives a highly informed factual account of findings in bioelectrical computation. Although he only touches on the implications, these techniques potentially lead to a technology that can design new life-forms and biologically-based computation devices.
It seems incredible that research results like these are possible now. It may be years or decades before it translates into medical interventions for humans, or is applied to creating biologically-based artificial intelligence, but the vision is clear.
To me, more frightening than the content of this talk, is the Facebook logo hanging over Levin’s head (no doubt just promotion, but still!).
YouTube Video, What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System – NeurIPS 2018, Artificial Intelligence Channel, December 2018, 52:06 minutes
As concern about privacy and use of personal data grows, solutions are starting to emerge.
This week I attended an excellent symposium on ‘The Digital Person’ at Wolfson College Cambridge, organised by HATLAB.
The HATLAB consortium have developed a platform where users can store their personal data securely. They can then license others to use selected parts of it (e.g. for website registration, identity verification or social media) on terms that they, the user, is in control of.
This turns the table on organisations like Facebook and Google who have given users little choice about the rights over their own data, or how it might be used or passed on to third parties. GDPR is changing this through regulation. HATLAB promises to change it through giving users full legal rights to their data – an approach that very much aligns with the trend towards decentralisation and the empowerment of individuals. The HATLAB consortium, led by Irene Ng, is doing a brilliant job in teasing out the various issues and finding ways of putting the user back in control of their own data.
Every talk at this symposium was interesting and informative. Some highlights include:
- Misinformation and Business Models: Professor Jon Crowcroft
- Taking back control of Personal Data: Professor Max van Kleek
- Ethics-Theatre in Machine Learning: Professor John Naughton
- Stop being creepy: Getting Personalisation and Recommendation right: Irene Ng
There was also some excellent discussion amongst the delegates who were well informed about the issues.
See the Slides
Fortunately I don’t have to go into great detail about these talks because thanks to the good organisation of the event the speakers slide sets are all available at:
I would highly recommend taking a look at them and supporting the HATLAB project in any way you can.