Science and technology have a growing impact on our lives, from food and medicine to communication and entertainment. There’s an argument to be made that we have already entered our cyborg era, having enhanced our abilities through computers and the internet. It seems almost inevitable that we’ll eventually make our relationship with technology official by melding tech with our biological bodies. That’s the premise behind the 2018 action thriller Upgrade. In it, Grey Trace — played by Logan Marshall-Green — is paralyzed during an automobile accident. Later, under pressure from a wealthy inventor, he accepts an AI implant which allows him to regain function in his limbs. It also turns him into a lethal killing machine.
We, blessedly, have not yet come to a place where an artificial intelligence can take control of our bodily movements, but they might soon be able to take control of our appearance. At least part of it. Recently, scientists from the Qingdao University of Science and Technology and colleagues used an artificial intelligence to design a new treatment for baldness. Their findings were published in the journal Nano Letters.
Age-related balding is a common experience across the sex and gender spectrum and is often caused by a condition known as androgenic alopecia. That condition is commonly known as male pattern baldness, although it doesn’t only impact biologically male individuals, and it has the potential to negatively impact self-confidence and self-image. While some folks are comfortable with their hair loss, and even embrace it, many of us long for the days when we had a full head of luscious hair. Pharmacy shelves and infomercials abound with products promising to restore the youthful vitality of your hair, but many have middling results at best. Maybe we just needed the right kind of mind, an artificial mind, to tackle the problem.
Researchers used an artificial intelligence to predict chemical compounds which might be effective at combating hair loss. Their target was the reactive oxygen species — oxygen free radicals — which overpower antioxidant enzymes in the body. When that balance gets out of whack it can cause damage to hair follicles and increase hair loss. Prior efforts have been made to develop compounds which could disrupt free radicals and allow hair growth to continue unabated, but they largely haven’t been successful. The artificial intelligence might be changing that.
Once the AI was trained, it spat out several potential compounds which researchers reviewed. From among the computer-generated suggestions, they chose the one they thought looked most promising and synthesized small sheets they could use in experiments. Initial tests were carried out in the lab using human skin fibroblast cells. This first step was a proof of concept, meant to ensure that the compound known as MnPS3 was effective and safe. Those human cell tests confirmed that MnPS3 reduced reactive oxygen species without any negative side effects.
The next step was to test MnPS3 on mice to see if it remained safe and effective when used on a living organism. Researchers chose mice because they too suffer from androgenic alopecia, which can cause large patches of thin or absent hair on their backs. To test the compounds, researchers constructed small microneedle patches, not unlike the ones used for instant painless tattoos, to deliver MnPS3 to the skin.
Within 13 days of treatment mice were growing thicker and denser hair which more effectively covered the previously bald spots. Moreover, the new treatment was more effective than alternative treatments with testosterone or minoxidil, a common treatment for balding in humans. In fact, in some cases hair growth was nearly twice as robust in the test group when compared with the minoxidil control. There’s a long road between mouse model tests and human trials, let alone commercial availability. But someday, in the relatively near future, you might be able to upgrade your look — if not your hand to hand combat skills — all thanks to an artificial intelligence.