Guru Magazine - - Contents - CHRISTO­PHER PHILLIPS

Tech­nol­ogy of­fers you a chance to be you – the real you – or so says guest writer Christo­pher Phillips. He thinks that fus­ing us with the best bits of tech­nol­ogy will give us a longer life, a stronger body and bet­ter mind. But will it make you a bet­ter per­son?

Wel­come to the fu­ture. You are now liv­ing in an era of trans-hu­man tech­nol­ogy – an era some call an evo­lu­tion­ary re­nais­sance. And you are what we call a cy­borg: part hu­man, part ma­chine… For decades we have been in­te­grat­ing tech­nol­ogy into our daily lives. Ev­ery per­son has be­come a mass con­sumer and mass pro­ducer of data. We en­gage with tech­nol­ogy to the point that ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment is dom­i­nated by in­ter­ac­tions with mi­crochips. Our so­ci­ety has em­braced tech­nol­ogy will­ingly and we have in­te­grated tech­nol­ogy into ev­ery facet of our daily lives: the way we con­duct busi­ness, en­gage in dis­course, wage war and stage rev­o­lu­tions; the ways we or­gan­ise so­cial gath­er­ings, share in­ti­mate mo­ments and fall in love. Tech­nol­ogy has now be­come the means for all of these things that make us hu­man. Wel­come to the fu­ture. Wel­come to now. Right now, many of you may be read­ing this ar­ti­cle on a mo­bile de­vice – a de­vice that, if you’re hon­est, never leaves your side. Your touch­screen com­pan­ion is mil­lime­ters from your skin from the mo­ment you wake to when you go to sleep. You may not have re­al­ized it, but tech­nol­ogy has never be­fore been so in­ti­mately wo­ven into our lives. Tech­nol­ogy has al­lowed us to im­prove our­selves, our in­ter­ac­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties. The man­ner in which we pro­duce art, sci­ence, lit­er­a­ture; the way we com­mu­ni­cate and ed­u­cate; our shar­ing of ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences; even our in­ter­ac­tions with our en­vi­ron­ment – all of this has been re­de­fined by the in­te­gra­tion of tech­nol­ogy into our so­ci­ety. Take, for ex­am­ple, the act of read­ing, that most ‘ hu­man’ of ac­tiv­i­ties. It is now per­formed by bil­lions of people glob­ally via a dig­i­tal medium, a tech­nol­ogy that didn’t ex­ist a gen­er­a­tion ago. These dig­i­tal pages ex­ist as ma­chine code: vir­tual and in­tan­gi­ble. Yet the in­for­ma­tion they con­vey is as real and as mean­ing­ful as that con­veyed by ink on a page. You can share this in­for­ma­tion at the speed of light with any other hu­man on the planet, to en­tire pop­u­la­tions if you so de­sire.

Got a spare leg, any­one?

We are all par­tic­i­pants in this tech­no­log­i­cal re­nais­sance and – like it or not – our na­ture as hu­man be­ings is fun­da­men­tally chang­ing. The next twenty years will see the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man and ma­chine re­de­fined in a most pro­found way. This gen­er­a­tion could be part of a rad­i­cal evo­lu­tion­ary change in life, the like of which hasn’t been seen since our an­ces­tors crawled from the oceans mil­lions of years ago. It may sound fright­en­ing, but I am ex­cited. We draw our­selves ever closer to our tech­nol­ogy be­cause we want to bet­ter our­selves – to make our life some­how eas­ier and more en­joy­able. Of course, this is not a new con­cept: hu­man­ity has al­ways sought to do this, al­beit through the use of sim­pler tech­nol­ogy. Take the fash­ion­ing of ba­sic tools by early hu­mans, for ex­am­ple: axes, spears, spades and knives al­lowed frail hu­mans to over­come bi­o­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Tools al­lowed us to hunt big­ger game, to farm the land and con­struct dwellings. With ro­bot­ics and ge­net­ics we will once again change our­selves. Ad­vance­ments in nan­otech­nol­ogy, me­chan­i­cal pros­the­ses, com­pu­ta­tional pro­cess­ing power and ma­te­rial sci­ence have al­ready en­abled us to cre­ate so­phis­ti­cated limbs that as­sist those that have suf­fered the loss of their orig­i­nal limbs. Some of to­day’s most ad­vanced pros­the­sis are now even able to re­store limited sen­sa­tion to the wearer. For the first time, am­putees are start­ing to be able to feel again, en­abling them to per­form com­plex mo­bil­ity tasks, such as climb­ing stairs un­der one’s own power. Sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment are at work in help­ing blind people to see again, by bridg­ing dam­aged op­tic nerves with com­puter chips that ac­tu­ally re­lay vis­ual in­for­ma­tion to the brain. Ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy have also helped to re­store hear­ing, re­place dam­aged or­gans and re­store ner­vous sys­tem func­tions. We are start­ing to heal and re­store like we could have only pre­vi­ously imag­ined.

See the world… through Google’s eyes

‘Aug­mented re­al­ity’ is a rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy that is set to al­ter the way we view the world around us as we use glasses and vis­ual dis­plays to su­per­im­pose dig­i­tal im­ages into our vis­ual space. The mil­i­tary and emer­gency ser­vices have used ‘aug­mented re­al­ity’ tech­nol­ogy for many years. Heads-up-dis­plays ( HUD) in hel­mets and glasses present sit­u­a­tional data, such as en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, nav­i­ga­tional data, and haz­ards, to a user wher­ever they are. Google Glass is one of the first at­tempts at an aug­mented re­al­ity prod­uct in­tended for the gen­eral con­sumer. But more than show­ing you the way to the Post Of­fice, it of­fers the abil­ity to record via a dig­i­tal cam­era and mi­cro­phone. Google‘s dig­i­tal specs are a first step, but imag­ine if your eye it­self could per­form the same func­tions. What if you had an en­hanced eye that was able to dis­play and gather data about your world? What if that eye looked, felt, and acted like a reg­u­lar hu­man eye, but pos­sessed ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties? It is but a tech­no­log­i­cal stone’s throw away. We could ex­trap­o­late these ca­pa­bil­i­ties to other as­pects of the hu­man body. What if a com­bi­na­tion of ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing and pros­thetic tech­nolo­gies en­abled us to pro­duce ar­ti­fi­cial limbs that re­sem­bled our own limbs in ev­ery de­tail, but with en­hanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties, such as ex­tra strength and speed, and re­silience to trauma and dis­ease? Would you con­sider re­plac­ing one of your limbs with an ad­vanced pros­the­sis, know­ing that it was no dif­fer­ent from the limb you were born with – ex­cept, it was bet­ter? Or con­sider aug­ment­ing your brain and other in­ter­nal or­gans so that they func­tion with greater ef­fi­ciency and are more re­sis­tant to dis­ease and fail­ure. Would you? Or per­haps, more im­por­tantly, what would stop you? And that is the crunch ques­tion. While this may all sound like sci­ence fic­tion at the mo­ment, these prospects are be­com­ing very real; over the next decade or two we will see ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy that will al­low us to en­hance our­selves in ways we have only dreamed of. The hu­man body is, af­ter all, but a bi­o­log­i­cal ma­chine. It un­der­goes me­chan­i­cal fail­ure and degra­da­tion just like any de­vice. With suf­fi­ciently ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, we can over­come these flaws in our bi­o­log­i­cal con­struc­tion to pro­long its use in­def­i­nitely. Some people will see this fu­ture as daunt­ing and bleak, but I see it as one of hope. The idea of closely in­te­grat­ing tech­nol­ogy into our bod­ies and minds will have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions to so­ci­ety – but the path is set. Your smart­phone, tablet, head­set, pace­maker or proth­e­sis are the first it­er­a­tions of this union of hu­mans and tech­nol­ogy. We have al­ready cho­sen to em­brace this tech­nol­ogy and, for the most part, have used it re­spon­si­bly. Yes, there are risks and some will al­ways mis­use any tech­nol­ogy for per­sonal gain. (Take piracy and pri­vacy in­va­sions, for ex­am­ple.) But be­ing aware of these risks will help us to min­imise the dan­gers. It’s an ex­cit­ing fu­ture: I be­lieve that we as a species will ul­ti­mately ap­ply this tech­nol­ogy re­spon­si­bly, just as we have through­out his­tory. New tech­nol­ogy will re­de­fine so­ci­ety and cre­ate one that is more demo­cratic, equal and just – in which ev­ery hu­man be­ing has the op­por­tu­nity to ful­fil their po­ten­tial, re­gard­less of phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­po­si­tion. In the end, com­bin­ing hu­man­ity with tech­nol­ogy will help us all to be­come more hu­man.


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