HomeArtificial IntelligenceArtificial Intelligence NewsWhat if LaMDA Receives a Lab-Grown Brain?

What if LaMDA Receives a Lab-Grown Brain?

You may have read one or more recent articles about an impressive piece of AI LaMDA software, and/or an ardent Google employee named Blake Lemoine. Initially tasked with monitoring whether the company’s new Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) veered into pesky issues such as offensive conversations or hate speech, Lemoine soon came to trust that the chatbot qualifies as self-aware and deserving of the similar rights as humans.

He was so certain of this that he went ahead and published lengthy conversations with LaMDA online. Google may refer to this as sharing proprietary property. I call it sharing a conversation I had with one of my coworkers, he said on Saturday. Prior to Google shutting down his company email and putting him on leave, Lemoine sent out a group message with the subject line “LaMDA is Sentient,” which ended with the software described as a sweet kid who simply wants to assist the world to be a better place for everyone.

What if LAMBDA is given a lab-grown brain?

The idea of a lab-grown brain is so appealing that the authors of a Nature editorial wrote that, the promise of brain surrogates is such that discarding them looks unethical, given the massive amount of human anguish caused by neurological and psychiatric disorders, and given that most therapies for these diseases established in animal models decline to work in people. But there’s a catch. The closer we get to developing a fully functional human brain, the more ethically perilous it becomes.

However, the editorial co-authors state that we must address these issues now. Given how enticing and genuinely beneficial the promise of lab-grown brains is, they write that we can almost certainly expect to grow a whole brain at some point. We’re still a long way from that point; all we can do now is grow clumps of brain cells—but now is the time to think about ethics. The authors advocate for “thorough consideration by legislators, bioethicists, researchers, and any other experts who will have a say.

By refining and standardizing existing protocols for these mini-organs, a team of Max Planck researchers from Berlin was able to create brain organoids enriched with these stem cells. Organoids are advanced three-dimensional cell cultures that are responsible for the formation of mini versions of tissues like the liver, intestine, brain, or certain cancers, and hold great scientific promise. They allow for large-scale research into development, disease, and future therapies without requiring a complete organism. However, many challenges remain until an organoid is sufficiently similar to a real organ or a portion of one.

A Philosopher’s Say

Human development and capacity have long served as a key analogy for ethicists and moral philosophers. Peter Singer, a utilitarian philosopher, and general “living things” rights advocate, famously argued that a particularly brilliant chicken or another livestock animal might outperform some humans in at least some capabilities—yet, he claimed, we treat them very morally differently. You can already see how heated and divided the debate has become.

There are numerous reasons why someone might want to grow their brains. For starters, they would allow us to study human neurological issues in-depth, which would otherwise be difficult. Millions of people have been affected by neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and brains in a jar (so to speak) could allow us to study disease progression and test potential medications.

What is included in the research?

Other difficult aspects of research include reviving recently deceased brains, but this is still considered distinct from sentience, which humans completely artificially generate. According to Reardon, tests for “sentience” may include mathematical models based on neuron density or medical scans of “brain” activity. Any true ethical standard will almost certainly include a number of criteria that scientists can combine to create a compound metric.

For scientists who are already accustomed to using highly intelligent lab animals in destructive (in the literal sense) testing, the difference may appear minor, if not insignificant. But that’s why ethicists exist: to pose difficult questions and force scientists to respond.

The Max Planck team also made a significant contribution to this work by fine-tuning a protocol that consistently produces the desired results. Growing synthetic brains is, as you might expect, extremely difficult. So far, decades of trial and error have been required to get it just right. This research could eventually lead to more robust brain cultures. Who knows, perhaps scientists will one day create a synthetic human brain that is identical to the real thing.

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