Science of the Singularity — Can Technology Surpass Scientists?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Singularity and Science

 Science and Technology
According to guest writer, Jessica Reynolds, two experiments that are taking place now that are currently stirring up a lot of Singularity-related buzz are prenatal DNA sequencing, and memory loss.

Science and technology go hand in hand. Without technology, we wouldn't have a lot of the answers, solutions, or the ideas that we have today. And without scientists, we wouldn't have the technology that they produced.

So, is it safe to say that technology can outsmart the scientists?

Technology and evolution: most people wouldn't put these two “ideas” together. But, in all reality, technology evolves just as much as we do. Look at the past decade of technology; social media like Facebook, YouTube, your smart phone, IPod, etc. Technology is constantly improving and growing— society and science, are trying to keep up.

So what about the newly founded research projects that are taking place, and how does that affect the science and world? There are two main experiments that are taking place, that are currently stirring up a lot of buzz: prenatal DNA sequencing, and memory loss.

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Now, for a quick definition, prenatal DNA sequencing essentially means finding “abnormalities” that your unborn child may be carrying. Up until just recently, trying to research your baby’s DNA could potentially cause a miscarriage from grabbing fetal cells from the placenta. Now, the company Illumina (a global company known for its amazing technologically advanced machines for DNA sequencing), has found a different approach to learning more about the genetics of your future baby.

They have helped another company, Verinata, come up with a solution of requiring just a sample of the mother’s blood for testing. By doing this, the mother can acquire knowledge about any possible abnormalities her child may have; like Down syndrome or Anencephaly. These companies are hoping to press even further with this new development: seeing the baby’s entire gene chromosome to detect any future abnormalities; like cancer, amnesia, or depression.

Now, what are the ethics that we are looking at here? To many, knowing the full potential of your baby is stepping outside of the boundaries of science. Not only are there beliefs as such, but it can still potentially carry risks for the baby, and the mother. Society is also worried about how the future parents may react to knowing what their baby may be carrying; will you treat your child differently? Will you even have the baby after knowing?

However, this is a scientific breakthrough for many—knowing exactly what your child may or may not carry at its birth, and its future, can greatly change the way medicine is perceived. Because of the many predictions of this future scientific breakthrough, scientists have to tackle the next step of medicine, and how to stop these abnormalities from happening.

The second major tackle in the science world, is the solution of reversing memory loss. Theodore Berger is one of the leading scientists on this case. He has interpreted that placing a silicon chip in the hippocampus to mimic the signal processing that neurons do (when they are functioning correctly). This allows us to recall memories from days, weeks, and years ago.

Currently, there is no testing on humans taking place—however—Berger was able to test on rats and primates, with successful results. They were able to find that these animals could remember given tasks (even when they were drugged to forget it) with this chip located in their brain. Now, it’s all a matter of when and where for testing on humans, and getting to the next step of helping millions of people with memory problems.

Because this is such a sensitive issue, and because humans haven’t been part of the experiment yet, multiple scientists are worried at the direction this could possibly go. They need volunteers to help speed up this scientific breakthrough, and that could potentially be hard to come by. Surgically placing a chip into the brain is no easy task either; it can still lead to complications. However, being able to reverse memory loss and help strengthen memory stability within people can greatly change the way science is looked at.

After looking at these two highly discussed experiments taking buzz within the scientific world, we can really begin to understand the importance of technology and science becoming one, evolving together. Scientists are coming up with “far fetching” ideas of changing the way we interact, the way we think, and the way our health can change—and technology is far surpassing their predictions.

How will these newly founded ideas and experiments go in the next couple of years? We’ll have technology, and those who've created it, to thank for that.

By Jessica ReynoldsImage courtesy of Shutterstock. Subscribe to 33rd Square

This post is written by Jessica Reynolds, a writer who strives to offer information and resources, including data about scientific posters to students and those interested in the sciences..