Welcome to Foresight For Development

Humanity II

The Future of Humanity: An Intimate Techno-Relationship

By Kevin LaGrandeur - Professor & Director of NYIT Technical Writing Programs New York Institute of Technology

 

Futurists tend to exaggerate, overestimating the change that’s heading our way. Most likely there will be no new species, no destructive post-human scenario, no sci-fi movie style acceleration of evolution. However, what we can say or even predict with certainty is that the way we interact with the world and with the machines of the future will change. Human beings will remain human, but their relationship with objects will be deeper, a kind of technological intimacy.

I use the term technological intimacy to define all those types of relationships that, through connections, additions and implementations, will help people to enhance their activities and capacities, both at work and in their personal lives.

Of course, we are not talking about a new species of cyborg with human minds and technological bodies. The idea that the human mind can be removed and downloaded into digital structures ignores the fact that we do not know exactly what the mind itself is made of and where it is located within the body.

However, it should be said that notions of electronic adaptations at the brain level are not that far from reality. Some researchers have already been able to use technology to implant memories in the brains of rats. These types of procedures could bring big benefits to human beings, such as the digital “reinstallation” of the memory of Alzheimer's patients. However, it’s not hard to imagine dystopian undercurrents to such a scenario if instead of using real memories false ones were implanted. What if we were to remember events that never happened and someone else could manipulate our principles and beliefs? The experiment is now only conceptual, but it is not necessarily that far from possibly coming to pass.

On the work front, the partnership with machines that can interact and work side-by-side with employees to cooperate is already part of our world. It is no accident that it is now very fashionable to talk about cobots, robots developed to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. We are increasingly involved in technologically intimate relationships with digital tools without which we are decreasingly able to work.

But the development of this technological intimacy we are talking about could have very wide-ranging and possibly dark societal implications. One example could be the emergence of a new leadership made up of a privileged elite of individuals who, due to their high purchasing power, would be able to extend their physical and mental abilities at will. What would a society be like if only people who could afford it have the opportunity to learn everything they want at the speed of a download? What kind of society would be one in which the rich become more powerful, increasing the gap between those with plenty and those who have nothing? The harbingers of such a scenario are already apparent. This is the real problem: we need to start thinking about consciously choosing to make technology that offers everyone the chance to experience these "upgrades". And if the darker possibilities came to pass, what jobs would people do who cannot supplement their own biological characteristics with artificial elements?

The issue of automation and machines replacing people at work is already a source of increasing anxiety. However, if we look at the economic conditions at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, we find an almost carbon copy of the modern era, with the explosion of new technologies and the emergence of new types of industries that initially led to the loss of many jobs. Twenty-five years later, when people had invented new activities and developed new ideas to exploit that industrial potential, new jobs were created for those same people. This concept is called "creative destruction". Jobs will be destroyed, but other, newer, more innovative, more useful ones are created as the result of the development of new technologies.

And this is what we should focus on. Today we can- not even imagine the types of jobs that might exist 20 to 25 years from now. After all, 25 years ago would we have been able to imagine the existence of SEO Specialists, bloggers, drone operators, or digital under- takers? So, what can we expect in 25 years? What is certain is that humanity won’t be obsolete. It will only need to reinvent itself, as it always has, perhaps this time trying to work a little more closely with robotic and robotised colleagues.

 

Share content with FFD

Foresight For Development - Funding for this uniquely African foresight site was generously provided by Rockefeller Foundation. Email Us | Creative Commons Deed | Terms of Conditions

Top Desktop version