Technology has come quite a long way to be where it is today. In fact, to put things into perspective, take out your smartphone and visually dissect it for a moment. Notice its weight, its interface, its design and the fact that it can fit snugly in your pocket or comfortably in the palm of your hand. This little device, believe it or not, is millions of times stronger than the most advanced computers NASA had in the 1960s. This attests to the speed the world advances technologically, but also the sheer effort and investment into the industry.
In the name of speed and efficiency
Every year our computers and devices get smaller and more convenient to facilitate the needs of the consumer. Over the course of 25 years, the consumer and their needs will evolve more than they ever have in the last century, in large part due to the development of artificial intelligence.
This is a timeline of events that lead to the inevitable fusion of the organic and the cybernetic. Cyborgs, short for cybernetic organisms and defined by the OED as “a person whose physical tolerances or capabilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other external agency that modifies the body's functioning; an integrated man–machine system,” will be the augmented face of the future. This technology is built with the intent to make us smarter, healthier, and more productive. We have already seen similar advancements in prosthetics that have gone from rigid, limb look-a-likes, to complicated electronics that can read and interpret brain patterns to more effectively simulate the natural behaviour of legs, hands, and arms.
As prosthetics become even more sophisticated, so will its abilities within the human body, and the interfaces that run them. "The next 20 years are going to make this last 20 years just pale," says Kevin Kelly, futurist and founding executive editor of Wired magazine when asked about the future of bio-cyber tech. "We're just at the beginning of the beginning of all these kinds of changes. There's a sense that all the big things have happened, but relatively speaking, nothing big has happened yet,” he says. Words like this are being echoed in the industry by leading professionals and analysts. We are on the verge of a “big bang” in this niche, but soon to be mainstream industry.
The present and future of cyborgs
Amongst the general populace, cyborgs still seem to only be relevant when it comes to pop culture and entertainment. We seem to have the idea that cyborgs and most robotic phenomenon are reserved for movies like “The Terminator” or “Robo-Cop.” What most people don’t know is cybernetic organisms are already becoming more and more prevalent, with some applications of these technologies leading to multi-faceted growth in their respective fields.
Cases such as Toyota’s EEG Wheelchair, which is electronically controlled via the user’s mind rather than their hands or arms, or Professor Kevin Warwick of Coventry University’s introduction of ultrasonic devices to one’s body to create additional human senses, are just a microcosm of the endless possibilities of these technologies when invested in and better understood.
The future of cyborgs may have your cybernetic systems autonomously carrying out mundane and menial roles, or regulating our biology to a higher “hospital-esque” standard. This does pose the question however, to what degree do we interfere with “god’s work?” How much cybernetic augmentation is required before we breach the threshold of what it is to be human? Are the pursuits of demi-god immortality good for the psyche, or just the pockets of the industry leaders and stakeholders?
Inherent risks + downfalls
The realm of artificial intelligence goes hand in hand with the idea of augmenting and fortifying the future human with technological changes. The main concern thus far in our dive into the industry of AI, is how sentience will be overseen when it is left to grow on its own. How do we monitor the consciousness of machines with minds, when we do not fully understand our own biological ones? How do we implant tech with consciousness and intelligence, into another human being of consciousness and intelligence, and how do we assess the values of each?
Altering a human being to accommodate more and more features of a cyborg involves the use of machines that monitor themselves. The whole appeal of this technology is the hands-off, autonomous approach to simplifying daily life. Think of it like a biological app. If we had to update and monitor these programs 24/7, they would lose their appeal, and ultimately their purpose.
Therefore, this may very well be major fault in creating cybernetic humans with the help of AI systems. In 2009, a study conducted in Switzerland reported that robots could in fact lie when faced with a self-preservation crisis. The robots were programmed to collect resources and when faced with the stress of increasingly scarce resources, would lie in an attempt to hoard more resources. With the ability for a simple isolated program to show a survival instinct, the increased measures to monitor the devices we could potentially have with our bodies may simply be too much hassle to gain traction with consumers. We can handle when we need to close a frozen app and re-install it on our phones, but can we afford to think of our bodies in the same terms?
The breaking point?
The “singularity” is a term used to describe a point in time where collective machine intelligence will not only supersede our own intelligence, but the combined intelligence of the world. “By definition, the Singularity would mean that the machines are smarter than us, and, in their wisdom can innovate new technologies,” says Marvin Ammori, American innovation lawyer, best known for his work with network neutrality and internet freedom issues. Reaching the climax of the singularity can mean the potential for one of two things. First, humanity and what it means to be human is lost and the keys of the world are handed over to machines and the highest forms of AI. Second, we strike a perfect harmony between man and machine, conscious and unconscious thought, and we ascend to an immortal, demi-god status. It’s difficult to picture which is more likely, if either, for the average person and futurist alike.
Survival is hardwired into human beings’ biology. We have moved past the caveman days of hunting to live, and are continuing to thrive as the apex species with the development of the high-end tech of the 21st century. However, we are vain to think it will always be like this. The very nature of infrastructure, culture, technology, government and life is constant change. If this is the change we are approaching, we must approach it with prudence and thought. Without it, we may forgo our augmented “Cyperior” lifestyle, for catastrophic ruin at the hands of our own creations.