“One Small Wiggle For A Worm, One Giant Leap For Mankind”

January 28, 2015

Have you seen the Johnny Depp science fiction thriller Transcendence? If not, allow me to provide you with a quick summary. Johnny Depp plays a scientist who is driven by his interest in artificial intelligence. Depp’s character ultimately uploads his own consciousness to a computer program and that decision leads to dangerous implications. The concept would appear to be a great plot line for a science fiction film; however, someday in the future it may become a reality thanks to the work of the Open Worm Project.
According to their website, the Open Worm Project is “an open source project dedicated to creating a virtual C. elegans nematode in a computer.” The research brings scientists and programmers together with the common goal of recreating the behavior of the common roundworm in a machine. The project had its first major breakthrough recently when the software independently controlled a Lego robot. Project coordinator Stephen Larson estimates that the project is only 20% to 30% of the way towards what the team would ultimately consider completion.
The project’s open-source format means that anyone is able to contribute. Currently, the project has had input from more than 60 contributors who are spread across 15 countries. Additionally, the team meets every two weeks on public Google hangouts. The project is run entirely by volunteers and if you are looking to contribute, but lack the scientific or engineering background, the website does include a donate option.
The steps between the Open Worm Project and a real life Transcendence film are not going to be taken anytime in the immediate future. A CNN article that provides more detail on the Open Worm Project states, “[a] humble roundworm is leading the race in artificial intelligence, showing that it may be possible one day to upload our brains to a computer.” This statement should be put into perspective. That humble roundworm consists of a mere one thousand cells. In comparison, some in the scientific community estimate that a human body’s cell count is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.72 x 1013. Another way to compare those numbers is that the human body has approximately 3,720,000,000,000 times more cells than the roundworm.
The comparison between the numbers of cells in the roundworm and the human body is a good example of exactly how far away the scientific community is from being able to upload a human consciousness to a computer. But what if it did become possible? One interesting aspect of this potential scientific breakthrough would be the legal implications and how future jurisprudence would treat artificial intelligence.
Imagine being an intellectual property attorney.

If Stephen Hawking’s consciousness was uploaded to a computer and then that computer had a brilliant invention that was worth billions of dollars, who owns that invention?

Stephen Hawking? The computer programmer? What about the computer itself? There does not appear to be a clear answer because all three contributed to the invention and it would not have been possible without all three.
Here is another one. Imagine the same scenario, but instead of creating a brilliant invention, the computer hacks into the U.S. Department of Defense and releases state secrets. Who should be held responsible for such a crime? Would a prosecutor stand in front of a jury arguing that the computer should be put in prison?
The legal questions surrounding artificial intelligence are both intellectually intriguing and insightful when considering the implications that advanced artificial intelligence would have on our society. Although the matter is many years away from being an issue that the public has to consider there is a possibility that someday these questions will arise. Even if this reality is never realized movies such as Transcendence provide us with a great ‘what if.” Don’t believe me? Check out this upcoming blockbuster. Even if science is unable to make advanced artificial intelligence a reality; Hollywood will do its best to portray a reality where artificial intelligence thrives.