Where do you end and your machines begin? Do you know?
A year ago, I pointed out at TEDx that we are all bionic now. That the lines between us and our machines have already been blurred. We don’t need chips under our skin or a neural lace in our heads to be bionic. The bandwidth of communication between us and our machines has been so increased by predictive intelligence, rich sensor arrays and rapid interfaces that the machines may as well be part of us now.
Tomorrow I head to Tug Life 3 to talk about “Machines + Human Life: What next? And is it really better?”. And I’ll say that this is just the beginning. And I’ll ask, what do you mean by better? And for whom?
Let’s be clear: the reality of tomorrow’s world is of one populated by cybermen and cyberwomen, unaware of where they end and their machines begin. People who may not be surgically altered for this interface, but who will certainly be adapted to it. People with sixth, seventh, eighth and more senses: for the direction of their friends or favoured hangouts. For the mood on their social streams. For the weather. All fed through permanent digital overlays on their existing senses: vision and sound but also touch and smell.
These people have outputs as augmented as their inputs. Their shouts reach billions, their gestures command objects to move. They can create faster than any human in history — whether objects or documents. Their imaginations made real at incredible speed. The only thing that prevents these superhumans becoming gods is the relative power of their peers, maintaining a balance.
Except there won’t be a balance. On the current course, the gap between the haves and have-nots will widen. Social mobility is hard enough between classes. How do you maintain a balance when the rich ascend to godhood? This is the subject of the 2013 Neil Blomkamp film Elysium, on which I did a round of media interviews at its DVD/Blu-ray launch. His answer? Violent revolution.
Maybe we will take a different course. Maybe the technology becomes so cheap and so accessible that everyone can have it without signing their privacy and rights away in return, the format that currently funds many tech-driven services. Maybe we have a less violent revolution in the interim and steer down a more egalitarian path.
I am excited by the prospect of human-driven evolution. The idea that we can be more — better — with the application of technology. This is nothing to fear. It is, after all, what we have always done: extend ourselves with tools. From the flint axe, to the abacus, to the supercomputer, we have always applied science to overcome the weaknesses of our minds and bodies.
But I am fearful for who this accelerated evolution might leave behind. Those without wealth or work may see no benefit without concerted effort from all of us who consider relative equality to be important.