Democracy, AI and Genomics

[I wrote this abstract for the ASU Governance Conference in May of 2018.]

Each era of human achievement reveals previously unimaginable goals that impact humanity and the world. The current use of artificial intelligence has formed an era of technological mitigation to resolve what had once been an unimaginable goal—the ability to identify and organize DNA. In 2001, the Human Genome Organization and Celera Genomics sequenced the full human genome with the goal of better understanding how knowledge about genes will help us improve health. For example, sequencing the first human genome cost One Hundred Million Dollars and took almost a year to accomplish. Today, a cost for partial sequencing is realized at approximately One Thousand Dollars and a week or two. Further, an AI driven DNA database can interpret genomic data to locate medically important genes. The field of bioinformatics—collecting, sorting, and analyzing DNA sequences, is one of the fastest growth industries in biotechnology. Thus, two relevant connections are put forward: that AI has advanced substantially within the past decade; and that the human genetic code is being stored outside the human body.

Artificial intelligence is not alchemy, it is a technoscience that is necessary for mitigating the vast array of problems humanity faces. Disease is one such problem. However, the sword cuts both ways. The use of AI as a tool is both promising and perilous. There are unsubstantiated benefits and nebulous precautions to the use of AI, based on objective reasoning and moral judgement. Relatedly and of consequence is the fact that public and personal opinions can and often do interfere with the continued successes of human achievements. Arguably, opinion is significant; however, it must not obfuscate reality. The fact is that notable scientists and theoreticians within the field of AI and life extension agree that there must be a democratization of genomics. This appears to be an apt opinion because it contrasts with moral-based bioethical perception that biotechnology deeply tarnishes human dignity rather than being an action to make genomics accessible to everyone. Noted, however; there is a large issue that we need to face together.

To contextualize this process, and why we should be concerned, our genes are sequenced, and bioinformatics is translating the chemistry of genes into code. The code is then uploaded onto computers and into the cyberspace Cloud. Putting this in perspective helps us understand the telos of this era and why we need an educated society of engaged learning to better understand the use of AI, the democratization of genomics, and subsequent impacts to humanity. 

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Natasha Vita-More

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