Scientists are scouring human DNA to try and see if there might be any predispositions toward COVID-19 vulnerability.
This search for genetic risks is partially fostered by the seemingly mysterious facet that some people appear to be more likely to contract coronavirus or suffer particularly adverse consequences upon an infectious onset, doing so while others around them might be overlooked by COVID-19 or have no demonstrative reactions to the scourge.
Modern-day genetic hunters are using all the tricks of the trade-in conducting DNA analyses to possibly discover a fluke or some standout innate genomic characteristic that might account for the widespread differences in how people react upon COVID-19 exposure.
In a heartwarming sign of human compassion, people have rushed forward as volunteers to be studied by these scientific sleuths, hoping in their modest way to contribute toward a breakthrough by merely allowing their DNA to be collected and inspected.
A recently posted early-stage DNA study that has not yet been subjected to the needed peer review process has made some intriguing assertions that are worth contemplating.
This particular study first points out that: “Early in the pandemic it became clear that advanced age is a major risk factor, as well as male gender and some co-morbidities. These risk factors, however, do not fully explain why some have no or mild symptoms while others become seriously ill.” In other words, the obvious kinds of metrics such as age, gender, or other easily gathered parameters are seemingly insufficient to figure out who will get COVID-19 and who will not, along with whether the results will be mild or severe.
Digging deeper, the researchers postulated that there might be a DNA quirk that “entered the human population by gene flow from Neanderthals or Denisovans that occurred some 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.”
In a Darwinian process, this specific DNA variation potentially wound itself into substantial parts of the world population and has been continuing along without any noticeable impact, perhaps until now, and at this juncture is being considered as a core weakness for the ill-effects of COVID-19.
As the study points out, if their hunch is ultimately proven to be valid, then reportedly “gene flow from Neanderthals has tragic consequences.”
Again, please realize that this is just a working theory and not yet been scientifically confirmed.
In a sense, we can be sympathetic toward research efforts that are seeking widely to find possible underlying explanations for coronavirus vulnerability. Given the vastness and horrific impacts of the pandemic, aiming to leave no stones unturned would seem a worthwhile shot, even if only vaguely likely and in some cases turn out, in the end, to be misguided.
You might be wondering that if we did discover that this Neanderthal DNA was a legitimate culprit, what good would it do to know about it anyway?
You aren’t going to overnight change up your DNA or do some kind of X-Men morphing to alter your genetic makeup to avert COVID-19.
The good news would be that by knowing that such a DNA linkage existed, the public could potentially undertake DNA tests to ascertain who has the genomic attribute and then ready themselves accordingly.
If you found out the DNA lurks within you, it would make sense to take extraordinary precautions to avoid coming in contact with the deadly virus. Meanwhile, those that did not have the DNA indicator would be able to be less worried, though let’s be clear that even those not having it would potentially still be able to get the disease and suffer from it (thus, for clarification, the presence of the DNA would suggest that you are especially vulnerable, while the absence would not imply you are invulnerable).
In short, the incidence of a certain element of DNA might produce any one of these three outcomes:
· Relative Susceptibility
· Relative Imperviousness
Let’s briefly discuss those three aspects.
First, the suspected piece of Neanderthal DNA might lend itself toward a person housing the genome to be considered susceptible to COVID-19, which is what the researchers of that one study are proposing.
Second, given the slew of DNA components that we all have, the assumption is that some parts of our DNA could be considered neutral concerning COVID-19, offering neither heightened nor lessened levels of risk.
Thirdly, there is the possibility that an element of your DNA might provide added protections that would make you generally resistant to COVID-19 (that’s not what the Neanderthal study posits, but certainly such a theory could arise, namely that there might be other DNA elements that might help someone to extraordinarily withstand the virus).
It is unlikely any such DNA aspect would make you totally invulnerable and so we’ll use the phrase “relatively impervious” to merely suggest that you might have a stronger constitution as a result of having the DNA, therefore possessing a lessened risk associated with contracting and enduring adverse consequences of coronavirus.
Shifting gears, consider that in this discussion so far, the assumption has been that your DNA entails reactions to a physiological manifestation of a virus.
An added twist involves whether there might be cognitive or psychological consequences that can arise too.
Suppose that some people have a piece of DNA in them that makes them more prone to cognitive issues. This is a matter that has been and continues to be studied as part of the research on dementia and other mental difficulties and disorders that seem to occur in humans (see my description at this link here).
The point being that our DNA can have an impact in two ways:
· Physiological (upon our bodies)
· Psychological (upon our minds and cognition)
Thus, you could have an inherited DNA from Neanderthals that makes you predisposed to a physically transmitted virus such as COVID-19, or perhaps have a hand-me-down DNA that has a predisposition for mental impairments such as dementia.
Not wanting to seem too solemn, but your DNA can readily be prone to both physiological and psychological manifestations, and we cannot arbitrarily claim that those are mutually exclusive conditions. Overall, you might have DNA that can be imbued with some triggering related to physical entailments and some related to thinking oriented ones.
One other quick point before bringing this all together into a neat and tidy bow, there is the matter of whether we even know that a DNA variation exists and what its predispositions portend.
In this dimension, there are two major possibilities:
· Known predisposition (discovered)
· Unknown predisposition (lurking)
Okay, so you could have DNA that is known to have a predisposition and it makes you susceptible to a physiological outcome (that’s the working theory about the Neanderthal DNA element, though, right now, we would fairly have to say that it is an unknown predisposition, one that is possibly lurking within some of us, but there is as yet full scientific evidence to appropriately support such an assertion).
I trust that you can envision the various permutations and combinations associated with these variables, allowing you to combine the known-versus-unknown predisposition criteria with the physiological and/or psychological impacts, which then is going to produce any of the considered outcomes of relative susceptibility or be neutral or be impervious to some degree.
Wow, that’s a mouthful.
Are you ready for a veritable leftfield did-not-see-that-coming twist?
Some believe that humans might have DNA that lurks within some of us and that is going to be triggered upon the advent of AI.
In essence, perhaps there is a Neanderthal DNA strand that has been hiding inside of some of us, not otherwise having had any reason to be triggered or detected, and that upon AI being achieved, namely Artificial Intelligence that is fully sentient (for more on this aspect see my discussion here), those humans will find themselves triggered.
You could liken this to those that might have DNA triggered by the COVID-19 virus.
As an important aside, it is somewhat argumentative whether describing this DNA as a “trigger” is the right wording, some would say, and the DNA doesn’t need to cause something to happen, while instead, the DNA is pacifically allowing something to happen. Anyway, for the sake of simplicity, let’s go ahead and use the word “trigger” but keep in mind the nuances of the semantics involved.
Okay, so we have this working theory that upon achieving AI, which some believe will occur in a moment that is referred to as the singularity (see my explanation at this link here), certain people in society will be triggered accordingly due to their DNA.
Absurd, some exhort.
Plain nutty or pure hogwash is another oft-uttered response.
Others point out that it is a reasonable proposition and worthy of rapt attention.
Well, we have already seemingly agreed that your DNA might have unknown predispositions.
That seems eminently logical.
And we ostensibly agreed that the DNA can enable either or both of physiological or psychological impacts.
This too seems sensible.
The resulting outcome can be that the DNA tends toward susceptibility, or might be neutral, or might be impervious to whatever the triggering mechanism might be.
Thus, there might be a portion of today’s world population that has inherited DNA that we do not yet know anything about and for which upon being exposed to AI would trigger a psychological response and be one of susceptibility.
All right, if so, what would that foreshadow?
For those of you that are worried about AI being a potentially existential threat, a notable qualm voiced urgently by for example Elon Musk (see my analysis of his oft vocally stated belief at the link here), it could mean that the advent of a fully manifested AI would grab hold of that segment of humanity.
Those with the susceptible DNA might become mental zombies as controlled by AI, doing the bidding of AI, or at least be more inclined toward wanting to appease the AI.
Since the zombie notion seems especially farfetched and causes many to immediately reject the overarching hypothesis, we can stick with the idea that among mankind and when the AI moment comes, there might be some people that will be more willing to accede to AI and less likely to want to resist or repel AI.
Some liken those people to the infamous Borg of the Star Trek series (a sci-fi portrayal of living entities that become part of a collective).
Among the entire world population, and at the time that this presumed singularity occurs, there will be apparently some humans that are wary of the AI and will seek to stop or overcome it, and some that will be neutral about the matter, while others will willingly and openly embrace it.
The theory is that this predisposition could be possibly be apriori ascertained to a great extent by our DNA.
You might find this notion implausible and argue that people will choose independently and without regard to their underlying DNA as to whether they will be in favor of or disfavor of the grand appearance of AI.
Perhaps DNA has absolutely nothing to do with it.
On the other hand, it seems impossible to disprove that DNA does not have anything to do with it.
That’s a bit of a conundrum in that if you cannot disprove the DNA involvement, you are left with trying to prove the DNA involvement, otherwise, the whole matter is just pure conjecture.
At this time, there doesn’t seem to be anyone seriously doing DNA studies to determine this possibility of an AI-triggering hypothesis, and we probably should be happy that no one is since the need to deal with more concrete and near-term issues such as DNA and COVID-19 rightfully ought to be our higher priority today.
Of course, for those that do perceive AI as this looming and worldwide life-threatening extinction existential threat, they might argue that while having a devoted focus on the near-term is quite important, neglecting a further look ahead to the future is shortsighted.
It is indubitably the classic argument that humanity might win a battle, but ultimately end up losing the war.
Darn, if wishes could come true, it certainly would be handy to have means to study or experiment with this colossal AI triggering theory.
Wait for a second, maybe there is.
Here’s an interesting proposition: Does the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars offer a microcosm scenario for exploring the AI triggering theories?
Let’s unpack the matter and see.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some point out, see my indication at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And AI Trigger
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
One open question about AI self-driving cars is whether the AI must be sentient and have reached the vaunted singularity for true self-driving cars to be possible (for my viewpoint on this, see the link here).
If you believe that sentience must first occur, I can tell you right now that you ought to not be holding your breath for the emergence of true self-driving cars.
I say this because we are nowhere near to achieving that kind of AI, often nowadays referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
Today, we do not have any semblance of AGI, such as there is a woeful lack of common-sense reasoning in AI, a crucial element that humans clearly have (when I make this point, some chuckle right away and remark that they doubt many around them have common-sense, but put aside that smarmy view and I believe we can all agree that there is something practically known as common-sense).
Okay, if we are a far cry from AGI, does this imply that we are dead in the water when it comes to having AI self-driving cars?
Keep in mind that Level 4 self-driving cars are considered a limited version of self-driving, and rely upon what is called Operational Design Domains (ODD) as a scoping mechanism for their capabilities (for my indication on this, see the link here). In brief, an automaker or self-driving tech firm can declare that their self-driving car and its associated AI will only work in certain conditions or a defined ODD, such as within a specifically pre-mapped downtown area, during the daytime, and not when it is raining or snowing out.
This establishment of drivable boundaries is a helpful way to constrain the dynamics of the driving environment and too can keep the AI from becoming overly complicated to put together.
As such, some would claim that Level 5 might be the arena that requires something akin to AGI, while Level 4 perhaps does not. Essentially, Level 5 is the set of all ODDs, though this is not quite fully apt since you need to know that there are set aside exclusions in the standard itself (such as off-road driving is not included within the scope of the standard, see more at my analysis here).
It would seem plausible that with AI as we roughly know how to construct it today, we should be able to get Level 4 in narrowly determined ODDs to function safely and with an acceptable semblance of risk to society (for the risks considerations, see my description at this link here).
Returning to the earlier discussion about DNA and triggering via AI, it would seem highly unlikely that the revered or perhaps feared AGI is in the cards anytime soon, and therefore seemingly there are no viable means to do any initial testing on the matter.
Well, if you are willing to consider Level 4 self-driving cars as a forerunner of AGI, and since the Level 4 via limited ODDs seems reasonably viable in the near-term to mid-term, we might be able to use self-driving cars as a barometer after all.
In short, a proposed assertion is that the adoption of AI-based true self-driving cars of the Level 4 variety will be a means to judge whether people will possibly be triggered by AI, mildly so in the case of Level 4, but serving as a harbinger of what might come further down the pike with AGI.
Even if you do not buy into the DNA as a covert mechanism, perhaps it is reasonable to concede that at least the Level 4 will be the canary in the cage of gauging overall acceptance about AI in general.
You wake up one morning and see some self-driving cars cruising around your neighborhood.
This is wonderful and you smile from ear to ear, pleased to see them.
Is your reaction due to logically and rationally having arrived at such a conclusion, or might a lurking part of your Neanderthal descendant DNA be triggering you to gladly accept the AI and be impulsively spurring you to gleefully welcome these new AI-based intruders?
It could be that you are susceptible to the psychological trigger based on an as-yet-unknown and shadowy part of your inherited DNA.
There is the other side of that coin, namely you might have DNA that causes you to curse those AI self-driving cars and spark you to go out and see if you can stop them.
Lest this seems entirely fanciful, here’s a quick bone to chew on.
Could the acrimonious polarization in society today be simply due to chance alone, or might we be divided amongst ourselves by inherited Neanderthal DNA that has been triggered in recent times?
Let’s hope that we can find a means to overcome the polarization, else we might become an extinct species and then, down the road, perhaps some surviving all-knowing AI might look back one day and snicker that we were ultimately and unknowingly doomed by our Neanderthal forerunners.