Readers have mixed feelings about this “AI afterlife”…
Will these mosquitos have unintended consequences?
When can we finally invest in nuclear fusion?
Welcome to our weekly mailbag edition of The Bleeding Edge. All week, you submitted your questions about the biggest trends in technology.
Today, I’ll do my best to answer them.
If you have a question you’d like answered next week, be sure you submit it right here.
An AI “afterlife” is coming…
Let’s begin with some feedback on one of our recent stories…
As a reminder, last week we covered an interesting development regarding popular metaverse Somnium Space. It recently announced its “Live Forever” mode.
The plan is to use artificial intelligence (AI) to create a virtual avatar that can “embody” someone in the metaverse. This digital creation would look, talk, and move just like the real person.
Somnium intends this avatar to be so lifelike that a family member or friend would not be able to discern a difference for at least 10 minutes. The idea is for this to offer the loved ones of a deceased person the chance to interact with them inside this metaverse.
And Bleeding Edge readers had quite a few thoughts on this topic…
Dear Mr. Brown: Thank you so much for your very interesting articles in The Bleeding Edge. I do have concerns that creating a realistic avatar would cause people to live in the past instead of mourning their loss and living in the present.
– Roberta W.
Hi Jeff, I think the idea is very disturbing. No matter how much perceived comfort might be drawn by remaining loved ones, I believe it would interfere with the natural grieving process and unnecessarily prolong it. People could get stuck in a psychological loop a bit like an addiction.
My wife passed away at the age of 48, way too young. But I grieved, moved on, and married a wonderful woman two years later. I suspect “staying in a relationship with a person who’s passed” would not have afforded me this opportunity.
– Scott P.
I see it as a great way to document someone’s life and pass it on to loved ones and descendants who might like to reminisce or learn about a person.
– Claudio M.
Hi, I love the idea of getting uploaded into the metaverse and interacting with my loved ones after I pass! I wish this was around when my grandma was alive. Even though she didn’t complete the 4th grade, she was the wisest woman I’ve ever met. I would be talking to her every day!
– Dawn V.
This could be just a cute idea. It could also be used as fake identification for real criminals to hack into people’s private accounts. The results could be disastrous for one’s life savings.
– Dan B.
Yeah, I see this afterlife AI as disturbing as hell! I’m all in! With the touchy-feely “snowflakes” out there, I can also see them contracting to have their pets or even ex-bosses or least favorite teacher included in the deal (for different reasons). Sounds like a money-maker to me. Sign me up for the investment!
– Jim B.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in about this topic. This story certainly resonated with many readers. And Jim – I really got a kick out of your comments.
As we can see, some support the project and find it appealing. The power to reconnect with loved ones has serious emotional pull, which is why I suspect Somnium Space will find plenty of users.
It also shows how many unique uses there are for blockchain and metaverse technology. We’re just now on the cusp of seeing this space really take off… and there are sure to be more and more innovations over the coming years.
Yet as I suspected, others find this idea disturbing. Becoming obsessed or failing to navigate the mourning process are reasonable concerns.
As a couple of readers mentioned, there are also possible security risks involved. In this case, the “AI avatar” would replicate someone who is deceased.
This particular issue is less of a concern to me as the technology can be implemented to avoid this kind of security risk. And a service operating in a walled metaverse enables even better security controls.
With that said, it’s easy enough to imagine this technology falling into the wrong hands and causing both emotional and financial trauma.
Is it possible that a bad actor could take control of an avatar and convince someone that they are real? If that happened, could they convince someone to transfer funds to a digital wallet so that the deceased avatar, which may be misunderstood to be “real,” would have digital currency to “live” in the metaverse?
For someone who is vulnerable, emotionally distraught, and not familiar with the technology, I can definitely see a scam like that taking place. These are considerations Somnium Space will need to keep in mind as this project moves forward.
One thing that I am certain of – whether we like it or not – AI will be used for these purposes. There will be a massive market for it, and it will be normal to see this kind of thing within the next five years.
And that leads us to our next topic…
Nature has a balance…
Next, a few readers want to know more about genetically engineered mosquitos…
OK. I’m no more a fan of mosquitos than anyone else. This has the potential to disrupt populations other than mosquitos. Where are they in the food chain? Are we going to see a reduction in bird populations and other organisms that feed on this mosquito? Has the company studied the whole ecosystem fabric of which these mosquitoes are a part? Just asking. Always enjoy your informative articles.
– Donald G.
I hate to think what the unintended negative consequences of this will be. Nature has a balance, and I wonder what will proliferate in the absence of mosquitos that never occurred to anyone before. Like killing all the dangerous wolves led to incredible destruction of farmland by wild overpopulation of deer.
Will the death gene-carrying mosquitoes worsen some other situation or develop a defense that will make the bites of these males with the death gene far more deadly to humans? Remember when DDT was considered a miracle chemical? And thalidomide and on and on.
– Freddie U.
Hi, Donald and Freddie – thank you and all the other readers who sent in comments on this topic. These are exactly the right questions to be asking. And I share your concerns that not enough work has been done on the potential second- and third-order effects.
Last week, we shared an update on Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitos. The company changed the DNA in male mosquitoes so that they pass on a lethal gene when they breed. This gene causes female offspring to die young before they can reproduce – and this reduces the number of mosquitos in the area.
This aims to limit the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, Zika, yellow fever, chikungunya, and more.
Oxitec began its experiment in the Florida Keys in April 2021. Now, a year later, the initial results are promising. All the females who inherited the lethal gene died before reaching the age when they could begin to breed. It worked.
What’s more, researchers verified that the lethal gene persisted in the wild population for three successive generations before it stopped being passed down. That’s excellent news.
Yet as I alluded to, the company is moving gradually for a reason. The Florida Keys experiment followed a similar one in Brazil. And Oxitec will continue with a new experiment in California in the near future.
It wants to repeatedly test and refine its process to ensure the edited mosquitos behave as predicted and don’t cause unintended consequences like the ones you both mentioned.
That’s also why Oxitec is taking many precautions, such as the “self-limiting” nature of the edited genes. The fact that the edit disappears from the gene pool within a few generations ensures that the changes may have natural limits.
Additionally, the modified mosquitos carry a fluorescent marker gene so the scientists can clearly track the bugs.
And after the experiments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that Oxitec must monitor release areas and ensure the edited mosquitos do not outlive their welcome. It has to confirm the edited mosquitos are no longer found for 10 consecutive weeks.
Oxitec is being very methodical in its approach to this problem. It’s motivated to do so because there’s even more potential if it succeeds with these mosquitos.
It aims to eventually use the same technology to treat other invasive pests like fall armyworms and soybean loopers.
So we’ll keep an eye on Oxitec as it continues to study this issue.
While there are certainly concerns about the use of this technology, this company is working hard to comply with regulatory requirements and use good research practices.
Hopefully they’ll continue to proceed with caution. And if Oxitec is actually able to affect less unnecessary deaths using these techniques without negatively impacting local and regional ecosystems, it could be transformational.
Investors are eagerly awaiting clean energy tech…
Let’s conclude with a question about nuclear fusion’s timeline…
When does Jeff Brown think we will be able to invest in a nuclear fusion company?
– Thomas L.
Hi, Thomas, and thanks for writing in. I know many readers are eager to invest in this technology. I am too!
That’s because nuclear fusion is the solution to our clean energy needs. Nuclear fusion is essentially the power of the Sun. It involves taking two separate nuclei and combining them to form a new nucleus. This creates a plasma that produces an enormous amount of clean energy.
And unlike nuclear fission, forms of nuclear fusion produce no radioactive waste.
We’ve also seen some extraordinary advances that indicate that this technology is much closer than many of us might think.
In September, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) used high-powered lasers to create a fusion reaction. And their experiment generated 70% of the energy the lasers used to produce the reaction.
70% may seem far away from that, but this is eight times more energy than the NIF’s experiments from back in 2018. This technology is moving fast.
And back in February, the U.K.-based Joint European Torus (JET) laboratory demonstrated a super-hot plasma in its reactor for five seconds. That may not seem like a big deal at first. But this reaction occurred at over 100 million °C. That’s nearly seven times hotter than the Sun.
Maintaining it for five seconds is quite the feat. For comparison, most fusion reactions to date have lasted in the millisecond range.
And get this – the reaction produced a world-record 59 megajoules of energy. It’s not a lot of energy, but that wasn’t the point. This is a great proof of concept for the reactor design that will lead to even more progress.
Even better, shortly after this announcement, Google shared that its DeepMind AI can help control fusion plasma in a fusion reactor. This is a big advance, as the “neural network” AI will be able to control a sustainable fusion reaction for 24 hours a day.
These are three examples that show how much progress is occurring in this area in just the last several months.
The goal, of course, is to create a fusion reaction that can produce more energy than what it takes to maintain the reaction. That’s when we begin to see nuclear fusion’s real potential to meet our needs for what will essentially be “free” clean energy production. It will literally become the cheapest kind of energy production on the planet.
So when will we be able to invest in this tech? There already have been some limited opportunities to invest in private companies working on the bleeding edge of nuclear fusion technology.
Unfortunately, those opportunities have been limited to accredited investors, and they’re mostly only accessible to those who have inside access to those kinds of deals.
This is unfortunate given that the companies that bring nuclear fusion and clean energy to the world will most certainly become multibillion-dollar corporations, and bring about a clean energy revolution to the world.
I’m actively scouting right now for any early stage fusion technology companies that might be willing to pursue a Regulation CF funding round. These are the kinds of deals that my team and I scour the markets for and recommend in my private investing research service Day One Investor. I’ll do my best to find such an opportunity.
And there are several later-stage private nuclear fusion companies that I’m keeping a close eye on – Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, and TAE Technologies are three potential investment targets once they are public.
Ultimately, whichever company succeeds in bringing nuclear fusion technology to the masses will make a fortune. So as soon as I have any information, you can be sure that my readers will be the first to hear about it.
That’s all we have time for this week. If you have a question for a future mailbag, you can send it to me right here.
Have a great weekend. Spring is here (in the northern hemisphere). Time to get outside and enjoy some nice weather!
Editor, The Bleeding Edge
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