Monthly Archives: July 2016

Technology to eventually streamline

images-11A who’s-who grouping of the world’s most prominent minds has signed onto a letter urging robotics researchers to be extremely cautious in developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology, warning that an inevitable military AI arms race could (and likely will) unfold, leading to “a third revolution in warfare.”

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Tesla’s Elon Musk, scientist Stephen Hawking and more than 1,000 others, presenting at the recent International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Argentina, obviously see the writing on the wall: If AI technologies continue to develop unabated, they say, autonomous weapons systems that operate without human input will eventually commit atrocities like mass genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns.

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms,” their letter reads.

“It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”

AI robots help or hurt humans?

AI robot technology is already being used to perform unskilled labor and other mundane tasks that humans would rather not have to do themselves. Automated pesticide drones have now received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for use in the spraying of genetically-modified (GM) and other chemical-reliant food crops, for instance.

Experiments have also been conducted on AI robots capable of planting, watering, and caring for plants without human intervention. This segment of AI development claims to be working “for” humanity rather than “against” it.

But AI as a whole remains an existential threat to human subsistence, these men and their colleagues warn. The endpoint of where AI technology is headed looks grim, at least on its current trajectory. The unmitigated endeavors of AI programmers and visionaries must be reigned in to prevent the full-scale annihilation of human civilization.

Technology could be used to unleash the world

The next generation of genetically engineered life will more than likely possess a novel trait known as “gene drive” that literally spreads gene alterations like a virus within the host population, whether it is a plant or an animal. Many scientists are starting to worry that if it is placed into the wrong hands, the self-replicating technology could eventually turn GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) into covert bio-weapons for destroying food crops, livestock and even humans.

Gene drive is the scientific community’s latest attempt to domesticate Mother Nature and eliminate undesirable issues such as mosquito-borne illnesses — or at least that’s what we’re being told. The Independent (U.K.) says that gene drive technology has the potential to “address global problems in health,” but it also warns that gene drive has the potential to worsen global problems in health, not to mention contaminate the entire food chain with irreversible GM traits.

In a letter in the peer-reviewed journal Science, a cohort of 27 leading geneticists has urged the scientific community to take a step back and consider the ways in which gene drive technology poses serious risks to human health and the environment. In essence, the technology gives genetic butchers the ability to ignite a chain reaction of genetic changes that can’t be stopped, effectively transforming an entire population of life within just a few generations.

“Just as gene drives can make mosquitos unfit for hosting and spreading the malaria parasite, they could conceivably be designed with gene drives carrying cargo for delivering lethal bacterial toxins to humans,” warns David Gurwitz, a geneticist from Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Gene drive technology artificially speeds up the spread rate of GM traits

Under normal circumstances, altered genes only have about a 50 percent chance of being passed on to future generations. A visual diagram published by The Independent illustrates this, showing how even over the course of several generations of exposure, genetically altered mosquitoes only pass their traits on to a small percentage of their offspring, preserving wild-type features within its population to some degree.

Reproductive technology with a higher risk

Children conceived via assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are twice as likely to suffer from autism as children conceived without such technologies, according to a study that was conducted by researchers from Columbia University, Fordham University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

ART refers to any fertility treatment in which the sperm and egg are manipulated outside the body. The category includes artificial insemination, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In spite of the alarming findings, most of the correlation between ART and autism could be explained by previously known risk factors, such as higher maternal age and increased rates of pregnancy complications.

Once these factors were controlled for, the rest of the risk was found to stem from multiple births (including twins); when women conceived only a single child, that child did not have an increased autism risk.

Risk due to multiple births, high-risk pregnancies

In the largest study ever conducted into the link between autism and ART, the researchers examined records from California Master Birth Files and the CDC’s National ART Surveillance System for all children born in California between 1997 and 2007 — nearly 6 million. These were then compared with autism case load records from the California Department of Developmental Services for the same time period. There were a total of 32,922 children with autism in the sample, and 48,865 children conceived via ART.

The researchers found a dramatically higher rate of autism among children conceived via ART, but nearly the entire correlation disappeared when researchers adjusted for known autism risk factors including maternal age and birth complications (which are higher with ART in part because of increased incidence of multiple births).

“There is an association between IVF and autism, but when we control for the characteristics of women who are more likely to use IVF, for example, age and social status, this association is lessened significantly,” researcher Peter Bearman said.

Even after these adjustments, however, women between the ages of 20 and 34 who conceived via ART were still significantly more likely to give birth to an autistic child. In order to see whether this increased risk could be explained by multiple births, the researchers re-analyzed the data only with women who had given birth to a single child. The correlation disappeared.

Autism risks still under investigation

“While the risk of ART with respect to autism appears to be largely modifiable by restricting the procedure to single-embryo transfer, more research is needed to understand the precise mechanisms by which ART and autism are linked,” Bearman said.

The chances of a multiple pregnancy are significantly higher with IVF, because doctors regularly implant multiple embryos in order to increase the chances of successful implantation. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the popularity of ART has been partially responsible for a leap in the frequency of multiple births in recent decades. Since 1980, the twin birth rate has increased by more than 75 percent, and the birth rates for triplets, quadruplets and higher-number multiples have increased even more.

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty with social interaction, social imagination and social communication. Rates have been increasing in recent decades, such that the CDC now estimates that one in 68 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.

The causes are not known but are likely due to a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. Environmental factors potentially linked to autism include air pollution, heavy metal contamination, vitamin D deficiency and early antibiotics exposure or other disruptions to the gut microbiome.