but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.
The advances of technology, especially the ones that seem to encroach on human abilities, often seem objectionable and even "against nature" – till they become commonplace.
Common enhancements today
I remember seeing a movie about an aging, shortsighted gunfighter, quick on the draw. He was losing his eyesight till a nerdy dude arrived from somewhere out east and provided him with spectacles – which, of course, restored his sharpshooter prowess. Hey, if you remember the name of that old movie, please let me know. I'd like to watch it again.
Today, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. So, it's considered normal.
How about taking pills to improve your health? How normal is that? Well, it's acceptable – until it turns out to be a steroid that actually enhances human performance in sports. Then it’s illegal and grounds for being disqualified.(1) So, should steroid use be acceptable for humans in combat? Would it be OK to give steroids to our troops? (2) These are all questions. Your answers are as good as mine.
Let's go off in another direction. Artificial Intelligence (AI) usually refers to machine intelligence. The inverse, Intelligence Augmentation (IA) slips into everyday use much more quickly, providing users with "unfair" advantages. When anyone asks me something – almost anything – I simply consult my Google-connected smart-phone and provide the answer. Is that a fair test of my knowledge and intelligence?
So, should a student be allowed to use a smart-phone in a test? Or, use Google-glasses? Don't be too quick to answer because within the next few years microchips will be inserted into the body, with effects similar to "brain steroids"? Who will know?
Chip implants present some intriguing possibilities and ethical concerns. But, my feeling is that increasingly common usage will sweep away objections. This trend will start with volunteers and people who would benefit directly, and then become commonplace.
Increasing human abilities
Technology continues to give humans what seem like superpowers. Human enhancement technologies (HET) are not just simply for treating illness and disabilities, but also for enhancing human abilities beyond the existing human range.
For some, HET includes the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science to improve human performance. Cochlear implants can restore some hearing for the deaf. Many scientists and researchers are working on restoring vision for the blind.
Indeed, this is the very reason for the introduction of the Apple Watch. This new gadget has been very carefully planned to enhance the user’s life to make the best use of its size and location on the wrist. It has new interactions and technologies to let people do familiar things more quickly and conveniently, plus some things that simply weren’t possible before. So using it is expected to be a whole new personal experience. (3)
Hey, I’ve already ordered my Apple Watch and it should arrive within the next couple of weeks.
Wearable technology is becoming common - body temperature, blood pressure, electro-cardiograms and other sensors. In Time magazine's March 25 2013 issue, "Wear Your Doctor" is one of their "10 Big Ideas". (4)
The International Athletics Federation has banned some artificial limbs because of unfair advantage. (5) So, when artificial organs are not visible, will they become acceptable? Or, will testing for prosthetics become as common as steroid testing?
Future neural implants could allow humans to manipulate real-world objects with their minds. Researchers demonstrated how a quadriplegic woman used electrodes in her motor cortex to feed herself chocolate with a robotic arm. (8)
Drugs and digital technologies are already allowing people to work harder, longer, and smarter. Soon, it may even be possible that employers will start to demand (implicitly or explicitly) that employees "augment" themselves with stimulants. The resulting implications to work and human values raises serious ethical concerns. Many bioethicists suggest that at least some of these regenerative medicines and enhancement technology developments should be regulated. (11)
Eliminating the Need for Humans
The first wave of unemployed workers will be millions of taxi and truck drivers who will be replaced by self-driving trucks. The human frailty and unpredictability of pilots will soon be eliminated. As new computer vision systems come online, we will see tens of millions of workers in retail stores, fast food restaurants and construction sites replaced by robots. There increasingly be tens of millions of workers who are unemployed and seeking welfare.
Marshall Brain (yes, that’s his real name, Brain) has just published a new book, “The Second Intelligent Species: How Humans Will Become as Irrelevant as Cockroaches”. (12) This book explores how the future will unfold as the second intelligent species emerges.
Where is this going?
What's your view?
Don’t just read passively. Please answer the following questions directly in the blog. Include your own comments and ideas.
- Do you use a smart-phone? Has it changed your habits? Will you buy an Apple Watch?
- Do you take performance-enhancing pills? Daily? Weekly?
- Do you drink energy-boosters? Are they addictive?
- Do you combat your own mood swings with pills?
- Does the trend towards accelerating human-augmentation concern you?
- Will the need for ordinary jobs be eliminated? When?
- Are these trends moving too fast? How can we stop them?
- How do YOU see the future unfolding?
- Should We Accept Steroid Use in Sports? http://goo.gl/Gc1lZG
- The Performance-Enhanced Military: http://goo.gl/fN3PK5
- iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch: http://goo.gl/HViNbH
- TIME - 10 Ideas That Make A Difference: http://goo.gl/KJNvVb
- Are Oscar Pistorius' Prosthetic Limbs an Unfair Advantage? http://goo.gl/xIovcI
- 3D-Printed Exoskeleton Could Turn You Into a Cyborg: http://goo.gl/7kLu9E
- Wearable muscle suit makes heavy lifting a cinch: http://goo.gl/ci5E0k
- Paralyzed woman thought-controls robotic arm to feed herself: http://goo.gl/xMLjgM
- Brain Gain - Underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs: http://goo.gl/AqWbMD
- Popping Smart Pills: The Case for Cognitive Enhancement: http://goo.gl/kSdVWP
- Human Enhancement Technologies Alarming: http://goo.gl/JsZSoc
- Book: Humans Will Be as Irrelevant as Cockroaches: http://goo.gl/eTQgHH
8 May 2015