Is technology the future of mankind? The prospect of an improvement in humanity has fueled heated debates for more than fifteen years. What technologies are we talking about? And on what scientific presuppositions are these perspectives based?
There is an ongoing international controversy over human enhancement that can be traced back to a 2003 report sponsored by the US National Science Foundation.
This debate places the future of human beings in the context of technological progress. He questions the transformation of the human body and mind, but also the abolition of death and the fusion of man and machine.
Contrary to the speculations of the past, which remained largely theoretical, this debate is part of the prospect of achievements in the not-so-distant future. It is also marked by a powerful technological determinism.
The transhumanist movement, which is part of this debate and partly gives it its orientation, calls for the end of humanity as we know it, to be replaced by a technically perfect civilization: the possibilities of technical improvement are welcome and must be implemented quickly; humanity is able to overcome the shortcomings of human beings with its own skills and technologies, it will know how to transform the current society into a technological civilization considered better.
This historical transformation, this technological renaissance of an almost religious nature and whose coming is given as certain, should in short solve all the current human problems.
Set from the start in such an impressive perspective, the discussion raises expectations that are unusual for technical debates. Discussions on nuclear energy and genetic engineering, for example, are much more limited.
They refer to specific technologies, but not to the big question of the future of human beings and their relationship to technology.
Moreover, the debates on nuclear energy and genetic engineering relate to something concrete, involving specific decisions: genetic engineering law, nuclear safety…
But what field does the idea of a technical improvement of Human beings? Is the discussion on this subject, hot and interesting as it is, really relevant?
This contribution does not aim to determine whether and to what extent the expectations of a “technical improvement” are realistic.
She is interested in the debate itself, which has its own history and whose stability is astonishing. Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis, for example (1926), which also dealt with ‘machine men’, was shot against the backdrop of the techno visionary expectations of the 1920s which already cultivated the dream of a ‘new man.
But what precisely does the fiction of the technical improvement of human beings tell us?
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Visions of Augmented Humanity
The discussion of technical enhancement of humans focuses on interventions to improve brain function, motor, and sensory abilities, but also to delay or even eliminate aging.
The debate is built on older discussions of the genetic enhancement of human beings, enriched by other technological grounds. Human progress is understood in this debate as a technical improvement.
This first concerns individual capacities, but it also involves social improvement, as the NSF report suggests:
“The convergence of rapidly advancing technologies can increase both human performance and the country’s productivity.”
The benefits will affect in particular the efficiency of work and learning, the improvement of individual sensory and cognitive capacities, significant progress in terms of public health, greater efficiency of individuals and groups, and better performance of communication (including interactions directly at the level of the brain), the development of human-computer interfaces, including neuro-morphic engineering for industrial and personal purposes, the improvement of human capabilities for military purposes, more effective implementation of sustainability using NBIC tools and progress against the physical and cognitive decline that affects the mind with age. »
It is a question of improving the sensory, motor, and cognitive capacities of human beings, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, of working for the extension of life.
New or improved human capacities
Sensory implants generally aim to technically compensate for the failure of sensory functions, for example, loss of vision or other disabilities.
Advances in nano computing, such as miniaturization or increased capacity for data collection and processing, could approximate the physical dimensions and performance of natural systems.
But we can go further. By becoming artificial, the detection and interpretation of acoustic or optical signals are no longer linked to our physiological limits.
A visual implant can be technically extended so that it can receive data from both sides of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves.
So, for example, it is conceivable that people could be fitted with visual implants that would allow them to see in the dark. An optical zoom could also be integrated into the implant.
For many professions (soldiers, pilots, train drivers, surgeons), the ability to zoom would probably be attractive.
These ideas are based on technical possibilities such as those used so far outside the human body, such as cameras, microscopes, or fiber optics.
Cognitive enhancement ( cognitive enhancement) extends to human cognitive functions. When the brain is modeled as a data storage and processing machine, one can imagine the extension of memory function and the possibility of “backup copies” of information stored in the brain by means of “brain chips”. .
A chip that would be connected directly to the optic nerve could eventually record all visual impressions in real time and store them externally. In this way, all visual impressions that occur during a human life can be retrieved at any time.
They could also be linked to external knowledge bases or stored externally by radio links.
On the other hand, there is data processing in the brain. A brain chip connected to an external network could also be developed as a new interface in the brain, with which, for example, the content of books could be “downloaded” directly into the brain.
Or one could create a device that would load different language modules into this chip and activate them as needed – then boring foreign language learning would become unnecessary.
These projections, we can never say it clearly enough, are today and will remain for a long time purely speculative.
But they indicate a direction which, even if it should never be realized, profoundly modifies the very idea of man or his relationship with technology.
A simple change in ways of communicating can profoundly change behaviors and capacities.
If it is possible to connect artificial limbs (for example prosthetic hands or legs) to the nervous system, a loss of motor skills, after an amputation or an accident, can be compensated by controlling the brain of the artificial limbs in the same way as the natural members.
Over the past fifteen years, considerable progress has been made in this regard. Such a technical replica of the control functions or entire limbs would then be the starting point for possible improvements.
In addition to arms and legs, other recently invented motor terminals could be connected to the nervous system through appropriate neuro-electrical interfaces and controlled directly by the brain.
For training and certain professional groups, this could provide an attractive additional skill. However, it is not yet known precisely how the human brain processes information about new organs and what the mental effect of this sensory expansion would be if, for example, a third arm in the form of a robot were to be controlled by the brain through neural signals in addition to our limbs.
The military, in particular, shows great interest in these opportunities. The control of combat aircraft solely by brain activity,
Slow or eliminate aging
The hope or prospect of dramatically slowing or even abolishing aging plays a central role in the human enhancement debate.
Such hopes are fueled by certain nanomedical developments, supplemented by rather speculative hypotheses.
If aging at the cellular level is a degradative process – which is controversial from a medical point of view – aging at all could be reversed if the degradative processes could be discovered and repaired immediately.
Other ideas point in the same direction, for example, that of a technical immune system, installed with nanotechnological means.
Smart nanomachines could move through the bloodstream and act as a technical immune system in the human body to ensure that optimal health is maintained at all times.
According to these visions, any degradation, any sign of physical disintegration would be recognized immediately at the atomic level and stopped or repaired.
In this way, for example, it might be possible to heal wounds perfectly in a short time and ultimately stop aging.
Certainly, the realization of such visions, their scientific principle, and the time necessary for their advent are very uncertain.
In practice, however, some scientists estimate that a significant increase in human lifespan will be possible within decades, pushing back the barrier by 120 to 250 years. In addition, we must observe the impact of these expectations on public opinion, marked for several decades by a strong resistance to the idea of aging.
Even if the speculations evoked here do not lead to anything concrete (which is impossible to estimate), they can have real consequences on expectations, human perceptions, and also scientific agendas.
The scientific and technological foundations of these visions
Behind these ideas is the idea of ”NBIC convergence”, whereby nanotechnology, biotechnology and genetic technology, information and communication technology, cognitive science, and brain research tend to “converge” and from this convergence arise radically new opportunities.
To quote the NSF report again: “Nanotechnology is the way to manipulate the environment at the molecular level. Thanks to modern biotechnology, humans will learn to direct their own evolution.
Information technology and cognitive science are exploring ways to increase the speed and range of information a person can master, either by developing their cognitive abilities or through the aid of computing.
»Reasoning at the level of atoms and molecules would thus form a “theory of everything”, deployed in practice in the engineering of functioning and manipulation to assemble matter, whether crystalline or organic units.
The spheres of the living and the society would be explained from the atomic basis, and they would thus be made technically manageable: “Science can now understand how atoms form complex molecules, and these, in turn, come together according to common fundamental principles to form both inorganic and inorganic structures.
The same principles will enable us to understand and, where desirable, control the behavior of complex microsystems (…) and macrosystems such as human metabolism and transport vehicles. (NSF Report)
If this program could be implemented, its proponents are convinced that the categorical difference between living and non-living would also disappear, at least as far as the manipulability of matter at the atomic level is concerned.
The optimism inherent in this “progressive” vision is expressed in the idea that these discoveries are milestones on the way to a new society and a new person, which make it possible to better understand what is covered by the idea of a “technical improvement” of man: “Fast, high-bandwidth interfaces directly between the human brain and machines will transform working in factories, controlling automobiles, ensuring the superiority of military vehicles, and enabling new sports, art forms and fashions to flourish. interaction between people.
The human body will be more durable, healthier, more energetic, easier to repair, and more resistant to stress in all its forms, biological threats, and the aging process. (NSF Report)
These texts do much more than highlight future possibilities. Instead, as can be seen in the fact that they are mostly written in what I would call a “condescending” regime, they anticipate future development as something that is already fixed and therefore has only to unfold.
Roadmaps and milestones are set to connect today’s research with these visionary assumptions.
In this sense, these texts do not only claim to formulate possible recipes but to define the agenda of the current scientific establishment. Of course, whether the promise can be kept remains controversial.
Is technology the future of mankind?
The immense enthusiasm that surrounded some of the perspectives evoked in the first part of our article has as its reverse, a virulent rejection.
At the very least, they arouse unease, even if the developments seem remote and largely speculative: human nature is sacrificed, human beings are technicalized, and the technical improvements that would be made to them reflect above all an arrogance, even hubris.
However, no strong argument has been made against technical improvements made to human beings, at least if they are not made for people incapable of giving their consent.
If duly informed about the risks and the possibility of refusing, adults were subjected to a technical improvement, there would be no problem of determination or instrumentalization.
The ethical debate has focused on ill-informed decisions and on the problems of distributional justice posed by these new improvements.
However, such arguments are weak because they rest on a number of more or less uncertain assumptions about future developments.
They should not be understood as arguments against the improvement itself so-called, but as arguments that political and social measures, perhaps technical ones, must be taken to limit, prevent or adequately compensate for the occurrence of these unforeseeable consequences.
They aim to think quickly about possible problems in order to be able to anticipate problems or damaging consequences.
This implies that improvement technologies must find their place in society and that society must deal with them concretely, for example with regard to regulation, rules of responsibility in the event of failure, or offers of advice to those who wish to improve.
Diffusion of enhancement technologies could be actively pursued, for example, by spin-off companies from scientific institutions and universities.
Companies close to the academic world could develop a catalog of technical improvement offers and offer them on the market.
The economic success and expansion of cosmetic surgery could serve as an example. “Enhancement clinics” could be established, in the posh homes of which there would be materials on the possibilities of improvement,
Pathways to social acceptance
Such a market presupposes that a demand emerges, but also that these “technical improvement services” are socially accepted. Various normalization and valuation mechanisms are possible.
Often there is already an element of improvement in the healing or restoration of certain bodily functions. Replacing limbs with prostheses, for example, can not only lead to the restoration of lost bodily functions, but also to improvements, such as greater mechanical stability or longer life of artificial limbs.
One thinks here of the case of Pistorius, excluded from the competition because his prostheses would bring him advantages compared to an athlete of the normal constitution.
In this way, improvements can become an unintended side consequence of healing in everyday medical life and therefore in the lives of those affected.
This would introduce and standardize unintended human technical improvements.
You get used to it and see that it works: healing as an involuntary door opener for improvements. From restoration to improvement
From restoration to improvement
Interventions made in some situations for healing or restorative purposes can be made in other situations. The technical requirements for technically restoring bodily functions lost as a result of an accident or war injury are not very different from the requirements, for example, for technically improving soldiers.
Thereby, “In the context of debates on the social roles of the handicapped, on the one hand, and of soldiers, on the other hand, we see the emergence of a concrete strategy to make acceptable modifications of the physiology and human psyche aimed at improving performance.”
In these “test groups” of performance enhancement, promoters of radical “human enhancement” might find another advantage: the military context, with its command and obedience structures, but also the strong motivation and the will to take risks, would not favor the resistance of individuals. »
The healing of the wounded in war, a socially acceptable point, could serve as a starting point for the improvement of the normal soldier.
Lifestyle and trendsetters
Artists and self-promoters like famed cyborg-fan Ken Warwick could become role models. Just as we have seen in recent years, a wave of technical equipment for human skin with tattoos and the installation of piercing accessories, elements of technical improvements could be valued by prominent figures and spread in this way.
Requirements of certain occupational groups
Some professions might want functional improvements. Extended or additional motor or sensory abilities could greatly benefit the performance of certain activities.
Optimized motor “terminals” that could be connected to the arm instead of the normal human hand, improved visual abilities, or even improved brain abilities could make it easier to perform certain trades, or open up a competitive advantage for “enhanced” candidates, which brings us to the next point.
Competition and competitive pressure
What will contribute most powerfully to the spread of enhancement technologies is a force unrivaled in the modern world: competition.
The spiral of competition and its expansion around the world demands improvement: those who can improve themselves can hope for a competitive advantage, wherever they are.
There are already signs of this, with doping drugs in high-level sports.
The phenomenon of doping clearly reflects the combination of competitive pressures and opportunities for improvement.
From this point of view, sport is almost a model of society, a laboratory where extreme competition and pressure from management lead to the undermining of essential ethical conditions and the very idea of fairness.
A society that has made the idea of competition its central driving force at almost every level of the economy is faced with the quest for constant “improvement”. Competition and improvement are inextricably linked.
There are endless debates here because, if the growth of productivity enabled by competition has positive effects, it also opens up an endless spiral of improvement which also results in increasing pressure and forms of self-reliance. -exploitation, especially in the world of work.
Power and ambivalence of fiction
Many of the visions discussed here are so speculative, both in terms of feasibility and consequences, that one has to wonder why this debate between unease and enthusiasm has gone on so intensely for fifteen years.
Today, these discussions deeply permeate our relationship to scientific and technical progress, a relationship that is now very ambivalent.
On the one hand, the application of technical progress to man himself rather than to his environment is logically modernity.
It is a liberation, an emancipation from the constraints of nature, which affects, for example, aging or the sensory capacity of man. Traditional evidence for human limits is increasingly questionable.
The argument that humans are physiologically what evolution made them, and that there are no alternatives to that fate, no longer applies.
On the other hand, fears of loss of control and autonomy also accompany the history of technology. One thinks of the Tramp drawn into the cogs of a factory in Les Temps Modernes (1924), of the vision of a “one-dimensional man” reduced to the needs of the “system” in Herbert Marcuse (1967), of the idea developed by Gunther Anders in 1964 of an “antique” man, completely overwhelmed by technical creatures and unable to remain in control of technology, or even the vexing idea, developed by Billy Joy in a famous essay published in 2000, that the future does not need us.
The debate on technological improvement is part of a more general debate on scientific and technological progress, and this observation contributes to a better understanding of their meaning.
The many speculations (“if…”), declarations, expectations, and fears, which are expressed in these debates serve our own assurance.
The question is where we are today in the face of scientific and technological progress, what we expect from it or what the next steps will be, or what can be done today to shape these steps rather than leaving them to happen blind. The question is not what fictions tell us about the future, but what we can learn from them today.
This hermeneutic “twist” places future debates in the context of temporal diagnosis. The debate over speculative forms of technological improvement is fascinating because we live in a society where it is all too easy to imagine that, if available, improvements would be made quickly.
The American philosopher Michael Sandal has clearly shown how the American middle class is obsessed with the idea of improvement: children’s food, their creativity, and even their size for some ambitious parents! It is the endless competition of a society structured by the ideal of growth, caught in an endless spiral of further improvements, stimulated by the competitive pressure associated with this thought.
In the individual domain, one can think of the “quantified self” and continuous self-observation, considered for the purpose of improvement.
There is increasing use of diagnostic tools in sports and leisure, allowing the evaluation of various bodily functions for the purpose of self-optimization, for example, to achieve quantitative goals with sports activities.
An above-average capacity, a steady improvement in performance both at work and in leisure, and a beautiful and strong body, all of this express an atmosphere where constant improvement seems necessary to maintain the status quo and thus becomes coercive.
Because any success in competition is limited in time and is constantly threatened by the fact that “others” can do better. In this way, the idea of competition and the technical improvement of human beings are inextricably linked. This is also what the dreams of augmented humanity tell us.
The idea that human enhancement might be associated with the evolution towards a “performance society,” in which enhancement technologies would be developed and diffused according to a market model, was hardly expressed until the present and does not seem to arouse much debate.
Instead, an individualized perspective prevails in discussions, in the tradition of bioethics and medical ethics.
However, if this link could be confirmed – and there are arguments in this direction – something could be said about the orientation of the social debate which should be carried out on this subject: it would not simply question ethics that we could respond to in one way or another, but also of the form of society in which we live.
For instance, The question posed in the title of this article, whether technology is the future of man, is thus relegated to the background.
Technology belongs to man’s past and present. It is already in his “nature” and will therefore be part of man’s future.
But we cannot say today what forms the relationship between man and technology will take in the future. Anyone trying to do that might as well observe coffee grounds.
The above is written by “Armin Grünwald” Director of the Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. source: parisinovationreview
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How will the technologies of the future change the world and people’s lives?
Over the past two and a half centuries, the world has gone through three industrial revolutions. Each of them radically changed society and people’s lives.
During the first, factories appeared that created a huge number of jobs. The second gave people electricity, comfort, and mass in-line production.
The third – digital – opened the Internet to the world, and with it access to all available information.
From loom to computer
Every industrial revolution has changed the world. The first, beginning in the 18th century in Great Britain, led to the emergence of factories.
Following this, heavy manual labor was almost universally replaced by machine labor. Steam engines appeared with the trains, which revealed to people previously unknown speeds of movement and changed the idea of distance.
The second industrial revolution was even faster. She gave humanity the telegraph, the automobile, and new areas of production that no one could have imagined before: the electric power industry and the petrochemical industry.
The rapid development of society, economy, and technology slowed down only in the period between the two world wars.
During this time, the world changed a lot: the Soviet Union arose on the site of the Russian Empire, and the United States survived the Great Depression.
The third revolution began in the 1960s and was largely dictated by the need to restore, and at the same time rebuild the world after the bloody Second World War. New industries have emerged, and the world has entered the era of atomic energy and space exploration.
The development of these areas required complex calculations, which ultimately led to the emergence of personal computers.
The threat of nuclear war, in turn, led to the creation of the decentralized ARPANET communications system, which later transformed into the Internet.
Now the computer does fit in the palm of your hand, and people have access to the network from anywhere in the world.
The prerequisites for the fourth industrial revolution were born already in the 1990s. So, back in the middle of the decade in Japan, augmented reality began to be used for quality control during the conveyor assembly of cars. But before the full introduction of these technologies, several decades remained.
The fourth industrial revolution is just beginning, but its first fruits are already visible. Modern technologies are present in all areas and become the basis of any business.
The largest corporations are gradually transforming into IT companies in order to effectively solve the problems of the new time.
The Internet of things and smart home technologies in the future will allow shifting routine concerns to artificial intelligence and robots.
A person has the opportunity to receive education in a convenient format and work from anywhere in the world. If necessary, human health will be under round-the-clock remote monitoring.
The development of the Internet has already led to an avalanche-like increase in the amount of information. Now more than five billion people have access to the network, and most of them use it to search for information.
According to IDC, from 2018 to 2025, the amount of data created by mankind will grow from 33 to 175 zettabytes (1 zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes).
With so much content, the right information is extremely difficult to find without algorithms that independently select suitable content.
The most commonplace example is recommender systems. So, the SberMarket online service analyzes what the user has already added to the cart, evaluates his search queries, and offers to add suitable products.
Another example is social networks: Facebook algorithms know almost everything about users, which allows them to fill the news feed with only the information that is interesting to a person.
Virtual assistants that respond to speech requests are gaining more and more popularity. They also work on the basis of AI and can already not only execute basic commands but also become full-fledged assistants: they find answers to complex questions, answer calls, check mail, communicate with couriers, book a table in a restaurant and buy movies tickets.
But recommendation matching or spam filtering is only a small part of the possibilities that AI can provide when working in conjunction with other technologies.
All areas that will be affected by the fourth industrial revolution will work with artificial intelligence in one way or another.
This is a tool that will simplify the work of people and leave them time for other tasks beyond the control of technology.
Artificial intelligence not only greatly simplifies human life, but more and more often surpasses it even in those areas where the use of machines was previously considered impossible: AI beats professionals in chess, go, and poker, and the Air Combat Evolution system in virtual combat surpassed a real military instructor pilot in the US Air Force, Google’s AlphaFold system solves biology’s greatest problems. These successes of artificial intelligence have led some people to become wary of its active implementation.
There are two popular predictions regarding the role of artificial intelligence in the future of mankind: negative and positive.
Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom is sure that the android cannot be endowed with human features. According to scientists, over time, machines can surpass humans.
However, until a superior human AI appears, people have time to come up with a way to protect themselves.
Hundreds of experts hold similar opinions, including the late scientist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk .
However, despite the fear of superintelligence, they acknowledge that AI will help solve global problems, including climate change and cancer treatment.
Another point of view is held by the American inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil. The specialist is sure that people will only benefit from artificial intelligence technologies, the development of which in the distant future will lead to a technological singularity – the disappearance of the boundaries between man and machine.
In parallel with the introduction of AI, enterprises are already mastering the automation and robotization of processes.
Such development of technologies will not only increase the volume of production but also provide flexibility: instead of producing a huge number of the same type of products, factories will be able to produce goods according to the individual needs of users. Each such product, like its owner, will be unique.
A typical digital factory of the future is a fully automated production, the components of which are connected to each other and to the customer via the Internet.
Human participation will only be reduced to decision-making based on the collection and analysis of production data processed by artificial intelligence in real-time.
Medicine of the future
With the introduction of AI and robots, medicine is also changing. Even now, artificial intelligence helps doctors to identify diseases with a high degree of accuracy, and robotic nurses help in caring for patients.
But in the future, technology will begin to affect all healthcare – medicine will become personalized, and individual characteristics of a person will be taken into account in the treatment.
People in the future will know almost everything about their health, and information from the genome will reduce the likelihood of getting sick to zero.
Moreover, the development of methods of genetic engineering and biotechnology will make it possible to get rid of hereditary diseases. Progress in health care will not only improve the quality of human life but also increase its duration.
Medical technologies related to the creation of biological prostheses and the cultivation of human organs in bioreactors will receive separate development.
This will eliminate the need to resolve the issue of compatibility of organs and tissues during transplantation, which will save the lives of millions of people.
The current state of human health will be monitored in real-time and analyzed almost instantly. Modern fitness bracelets with a built-in heart rate monitor and saturation sensor (the amount of oxygen in the blood) are one of the first examples of such equipment.
In the future, in case of violations in the work of human organs, it will be possible to determine the disease at the initial stage and immediately begin treatment.
Telemedicine is also developing at a rapid pace. Already today you can consult a doctor without leaving your home or from any convenient place where there is an Internet connection.
A medical specialist can remotely analyze complaints, view test results, and make recommendations.
Learn and learn again
The use of digital tools can lead to the disappearance of some professions and the emergence of others. To be successful, it has long been important for people to learn throughout their lives and understand how new technologies work.
According to The Future of the Job Market 2020 report, by 2025, the growth of factory automation could lead to the creation of more than 97 million new jobs.
According to the estimates of the Ministry of Digital Development, today Russia lacks about a million IT specialists.
Russian universities annually graduate about 80 thousand personnel in this area, but by 2024 this figure should grow to 120 thousand.
A similar situation is developing in Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia, which compete with each other for IT specialists.
In addition to the programmers, system administrators, testers, and web designers familiar today, new IT professions may appear in the future.
For example, an information environment architect will integrate disparate solutions created by other developers.
The task of the architect of VR environments will be to create a virtual world in which each user can work, study and relax.
A separate specialist, the designer of virtual worlds, will be responsible for the visual component of this interaction.
The emergence of new professions at the junction with IT is expected. Among them are a neural interface designer, a network lawyer, and a digital linguist.
In the future, significant changes await the education system. Already today, many skills can be obtained without leaving home – with the help of online training.
The fourth industrial revolution assumes that a person will need to learn continuously. It will also lead to the emergence of new professions, such as the designer of an educational path and a personal guide to improving qualifications and career growth.
The rapid development of private space and the fight against global warming will lead to the emergence of specialists in the field of space tourism and green technologies, as well as environmental analysts in the extractive industries.
The widespread introduction of the Internet will create jobs for media police, online therapists, and game masters.
Addressing human health issues will require the emergence of genetic engineers and biopharmacologists.
Architects of green cities, designers of 3D printing in construction, and designers of smart home infrastructure will be responsible for creating comfortable living conditions.