For the past 20 years we’ve been living in the age of information technology With the growing use of computers across all walks of life and exponential growth in computing power, the spread of the Internet and social media (and, more recently, artificial intelligence), our society has evolved dramatically and learnt to communicate and interact with technology as if it were second nature.
Over the next 20 years we will begin to shift the age of human enhancement, the integration of technology, artificial intelligence, and biology, which may in the future come to be known as the fourth industrial revolution. This revolution has been brought about by the emergence and convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and the cognitive sciences. Enhancing the human body and biological processes with computer chips, sensors, nanobots, implants, and various devices are just a few of the things that will become a reality in the near future.
Emerging companies such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink are looking to develop brain–computer interfaces that promise to increase the bandwidth of the brain and help us connect directly to the digital, online world. This, in theory, will allow us to keep up with the advances of AI and also any possible existential threat it may pose once it has evolved to levels of superhuman intelligence.
Passionate hobbyists, communities of biohackers, trans-humanists, and futurists have pledged themselves to the cause of human enhancement, where they regularly consume nootropic (cognitive enhancing) supplements and psychedelic substances, go on fasts, or adopt special nutritional strategies and diets. Some people are even going so far as to implant themselves with chips and sensors to monitor key biometrics, or to add an extra sense, such as the ability to detect electromagnetic fields.
The idea of human enhancement isn’t some ridiculous utopian fantasy either; it is real and it has already started. Mainstream news outlets in Australia have already reported cases of individuals opting to get their hands implanted with RFID (radio-frequency identification) and NFC (near-field communication) chips. These chips can be used instead of public transport cards or debit cards for small transactions and purchases.
This is just the first small step on the path to human enhancement and all its possibilities.
Every single aspect of our lives will be automated and made more efficient by integrating digital technologies within our bodies, our clothes, and every item we use from day to day.
Imagine having a permanent implant or device within your body that could monitor blood glucose levels and other vital health factors. It could provide you with a continuous stream of data about how your body and its organs are operating, what essential nutrients are lacking, and what can be improved. Instead of getting a check-up every year or so at the doctor’s, you could be constantly monitoring your own health and making gradual adjustments that would lead to better quality of life and greater longevity.
What about going a step further, and connecting your brain to a computer, uploading all your memories and thoughts for others to view, or for you to look back on? There is an infinite realm of possibilities within the future of human enhancement and other biotechnologies.
Many may see these technologies as intrusive, a form of mass control and surveillance, or just outright absurd. Why shouldn’t they? It represents a whole cultural shift and further cements our personal relationship with emerging technologies. But I, for one, welcome this change and cannot wait to be a part of a future with limitless possibilities for discovery, change, and innovation.
The beginning of the era of human enhancement will undoubtedly lead to a singularity—a point where either human intelligence or artificial intelligence have become so vast, and our technology so great, that the world will change in ways that it becomes unrecognisable.
This Pandora’s Box could lead to advances in nanotechnology that would allow us to control and manipulate matter—to alter the very building blocks of all life. Immortality could become a very real possibility.
Will this utopian dream and extraordinary future ever become a reality for our species?
If we don’t destroy ourselves in the meantime, or face some cataclysmic doomsday event, then I think it is a certainty.
This has been an excerpt from the Nov-Dec 2017 issue of the Age of Robots magazine.