I might start with riding a bicycle, to explain how natural a man/machine connection is and we take for granted?
Hi there all,Through some strange confluence of events, it seems that I am to appear on my current favourite tv program, Aftershock (Australia, ABC, Thursdays 8:30pm). I'm on relatively late in the series (episode 6, the next episode is episode 3), so all I can imagine is that they used up all their quality guests (like Damien "btw have you heard about The Spike?" Broderick) early on :-). The filming is on 22 May. The episode is entitled "Superhumanity 2.0 - Cyborgs" (it follows "Superhumanity 1.0 - Biotech"). I can talk about that in a pretty general sense (I could probably talk all day about it, in fact, family members will corroborate this). However, as I've been picked on as Aussie Extropian Exhibit A, I'd be happy to represent a more rounded view, informed by others onlist. So, I'm throwing it open to the peanut gallery. If you were to talk publicly about cyborged humans in the nearish future, what would you say? I've got a random assortment of ideas... - Wearables... it might be a bit daggy to mention them, but wearable computing will be big way before cyborg stuff comes into it's own. It'll be a proof of concept in many cases... will people take up the closer relationship with their machines, or is the idea of the cyborg flawed in the same way as a the video phone or the flying car? - Killer app 1: Life extension... This application will really pull "cyborg technology" into mainstream culture. Already, there are artificial limbs and joints, pacemakers, cochlear implants... I think there are even implanted insulin feeds for diabetics (better check that one). People seem happy with the deathist meme in a general sense, but often tend to speak differently when things start looking grim on a personal scale. Contrary to the normal pattern of social change, I would expect strong cyborg uptake to begin in the older generations, as it becomes available and shows itself to be superior to what these people possess naturally. Younger people, on the other hand, will likely resist implants/modifications related to life extension. You see this uptake already. I have relatives who shall remain anonymous, who delve into these areas... HRT is a great example. These people will not label themselves Transhumanists (despite my taunting to come out of the closet), they will continue to raise the deathist business about death being part of life and all that great stuff. They also will continue to seek treatment for things which might kill them, and which are only newly coming to be regarded as pathologies. Such as menopause. An interesting factor here is that there is, implicit in much modern, mainstream medicine, and in it's life extension techniques, the ideal human state of "wellness" (similar and related to the beauty industry's ideal form, discussed below). The ultimately healthy body is not only free of disease, mobile and resilient, it is youthful. Life extension in this context is about maintaining this idealised state indefinitely. Incidentally, I feel that transhumanism would not take such a simplistic stance on life extension... to us, it is all about freedom of choice, not pursuit of a mass marketted ideal. But I have digressed. The point of the above is that there is an abstract ideal state which informs the search for extended life and youth in mainstream culture, and that model will continue to dominate, rather than our prefered "freedom of choice" model. The ramifications of this in the context of improving technologies will be a shifting of the ideal, eventually into territory that only a cyborg can enter. At some point in the future, I have no doubt that normal, unaugmented humans will be seen as physically ill/disabled individuals, in need of special help and in need of treatment. I don't think it's a particularly good thing, but it is likely. - Killer app 2: Net connection... In the world of today and tomorrow, the greatest change from the past is the existence, and increasing dependency upon, interconnection with the rest of the world. Our wearables now (mobile phones, pdas. etc etc) are a testament to this... I don't think it's a trend which is about to falter any time soon. True wearable computing will take off, and the push after that will be to get "cyborg" enhancements to make communication even easier... headup displays directly on the retina, microphones implants (in/near the jawbone?) to pickup speech, speakers inside the ear. Before VR environments (or perhaps in parallel with them) we will introduce a whole noisy world of input as close to our external senses as possible, and we will simplify output to the maximum extent possible, even without direct neural interface. I would then predict that we'd try to move directly to neural interfacing, although I'll temper that by saying that this will not be the be-all and end-all. I think we'll continue to use our external language abilities for a good while yet, basically because any kind of direct mind-to-mind interfacing would be incredibly intimate, and not the kind of thing you'd want to use to communicate with anyone with whom you would not freely make love. Oddly enough, it might also be acceptable to communicate with external machines that way too. This type of enhancement is one that I would expect younger people to adopt first. It will be driven primary by social and economic competitive advantage... to have access to these technologies will give you an edge those who don't have them. More correctly, as is the case with commercial information technology adoption now, using these technologies will be like a pre-requisite... you wont gain much by using them (because most others will have access to the same stuff), but you will be at a serious disadvantage if you do not. A strong implication of the drivers of this branch of cyborg tech, is that it may well be at odds with the life-extension application. In some cases, undoubtedly people will be faced with the choice of enhancements which give them short term advantage, but cause them longer term trouble. Some people will choose these enhancements. The bar will be raised higher... Another implication is related to that of life extension... that it will become non-competitive to remain an unaltered human. From the angle of the competitive edge in a fast moving society, there is no ideal to be reached; it's more like trying to be out the front of the pack in a marathon, or at least not falling behind. Very interesting things should come from competition driven cyborg technologies, because diversity will be important; you never know where the next edge will come from. But, it will be a lot more difficult to maintain even the illusion of control over where these technologies go. We probably need to get past the desire to control them pretty soon, or learn to live with dissapointment. Killer app 3: Eternal youth and the beauty industry... Somewhat related to life extension, the quest for physical youth and beauty will be a very strong driver of cyborg type technologies. It is easy to dismiss this area, because it seems somewhat superficial, but when you look at the amount of money that flows through the (well manicured) hands of the beauty industry, a different picture emerges. Our cultures pathologise aging, and they pathologise the marks of aging. Implicit in all this is a model of "perfection" which we should all be trying to reach. I am not sure exactly what form it takes... Brad Pitt/Nicole Kidman? Whatever the exact form is, it apparently doesn't have wrinkles, cellulite or body hair. It can, on the other hand, have breast implants, a face lift or a nose job. There will be a strong overlap between life extension technologies and beauty related technologies. One way to look physically young and fit is to stay physically young and fit, after all. Who knows... in the far flung future, those anti-wrinkle creams might actually work! They might even work by keeping you physically young enough to not have wrinkles. Of course, acne could be a problem. On the other hand, beauty related technologies have more in common with the "competitive edge" camp... they have much to do with gaining ground in one's dealings with others, rather than the more internally motivated goal of a prolonged life. Techniques down the ages (lead face powder, corsets, stomach stapling, modern dieting) show pretty clearly that beauty and health can run sharply at odds with one another. Another point about the beauty industry is that its ideals are, for all intents and purposes, unobtainable. Do what you will, you wont look like Elle McPherson with today's technology and treatments, unless you are Elle McPherson. However, the beauty industry will have a good go at telling you that it can get you close. The unobtainable ideal means endless consumption of products. So, as our technology for self modification improves, and we can more easily hit the mark, the beauty industry will move the target. There are some great stats out there (The Beauty Myth contains some decent research) to show that the "ideal woman", for example, is a physically impossible being already. When we add cyborg technology to the mix, where will the collective ideal of the perfect form move to? Somewhere as odd as it is extreme, and it will motivate ever larger uptake of the sillier forms of cyborg technology. - Physical enhancements... In the cyberpunk literature, people tend to make very silly modifications, so that they can look freaky, or have some enhanced physical trait. Steve Austin, eat your heart out. However, I believe that these will be the very last types of enhancements that are made, and the least frequent. In the world of today, and certainly in that of tomorrow, physical enhancements are and become less useful than one might suppose. Leap tall buildings in a single bound? Sure... but why not just take the lift? It might not turn out to be very important to a modern westerner to be able to lift a small truck; it might be far more useful to merely look as though you could. Eventually physical enhancements will become more important, as our biology begins to really let us down... we may need to change form to cope with overcrowding of earth, we'll definitely need to change form to explore space. That, however, is some way off. - Part robot... intertwined with our cyborg advances, will come advances in biotech, nanotech, AI (in the loosest sense), and information and communication technologies. So, it is likely that we will have some pretty smart computers kicking around, grown out of the needs of the biotech revolution first, then whatever follows. These will use sophisticated models born of that revolution's discoveries. Evolved software, which adapts to a changing enironment in real time, will be the bedrock of such systems. We'll be pushing close, perhaps, to machines that do something vaguely resembling thought. Certainly, they'll make this look like the stone age. So, in terms of human enhancement, we are likely to see some very smart control systems finding their way into, or close to, people. Tasks which take manual dexterity, such as driving a car, should move to become a partnership between human and machine, with the machine taking over the simpler tasks which require instaneous reaction based on multiple inputs, and the humans keeping a high level control. It's human as captain, computer as first mate, robots for crew. And what is the ship? It could be a car, which can virtually, if not absolutely, drive itself. It might be a factory, which just requires a few humans to make directorial pronouncements (more blue in the blue m&ms please), and can otherwise manage on it's own (hmm, I think this might alread be happening). It might be a spacecraft whose sensory abilities are translated into human equivalent sensory signals, and whose directions come directly from a that human controller's nervous control signals (my fuel intake valve feels a bit sticky, I'll wiggle it a bit). - Part virtual robot... And some of us will end up descending (ascending?) entirely into the virtual realm, with the software equivalents of cyborg enhancements... intelligent agents scooting around doing our bidding (most likely communicating with even more intelligent server based systems), alerting systems and autonomous systems for acting on our behalf, giving the as yet nu-enhanced human mind a function performance boost, and the ability to move freely in a new environment for which it has not been evolved. - Security... People often raise the spectre of personal vulnerability in an interconnected world. No one wants to find their robot arm suddenly writing "0wned by Kr4XX0r 133t", or that, after installing some IBM human memory expansion, they inexpicably foul themselves whenever they think about Microsoft products. In response to this, I would say that we have already begun on the path to extreme global interconnectedness, and are painfully aware of these issues because of problems we've already experienced. However, we must not forget that the world has gone on. Most of us choose to remain connected despite the risk, because we perceive it to be far smaller that the gain. Yes, we'll continue to have mellissa and I love you viruses and internet worms. We'll continue to have script kiddies and black hat hackers and international bad guys and, sometimes, catastrophes based on pure incompetence. Slowly we get better at coping with these problems. We will, through a combination of local intelligent design and global natural selection, come to be more and more skilled at keeping the computer network a safe enough place, such that, by the time people are putting their bowels online, it'll be safe enough to do so. - Lastly, I think this discussion can get a bit silly, and will look hopelessly naive from the perspective of the people of 50 years from now, let alone 100. It'll look something like predicting steam-powered zeppelins as the next big thing. There are so many different technological avenue down which to progress, and the interaction between these, combined with a few completely-out-of-left-field surprises, will take us somewhere mostly obscured from here. Personally, I suspect that the mainstream culture's "cyborg" is probably another flying car/videophone, and whilst it embodies more useful concepts perhaps than those two others, in itself it will go obsolete and embarrassing before it becomes reality. However, I think that the cyborg memeset is useful at least for a while, and I agree with Anders that the tendency to throw our hands up and say "We can't know" is counterproductive. Babbage could see the computer, daVinci could see human flight, Jules Verne could see space travel. We can see transhumanity. This whole discussion of mine probably looks hopelessly ill-informed to many of you... so tell me why. What's important that I've missed? Where am I wrong? Where is my presentation flawed? Don't quietly grumble about it to yourself... if you can correct my misinformation, then I'm less likely to say something problematic on the box. Thanks in advance, Emlyn
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