Symbiotic Machines

Brain 2.0: improving the capabilities of our brain through emerging technologies may lead us to a slippery slope. The future may be coming too soon. Credit: Forum for the Future

At the Future Direction Committee we discussed what we should be looking at in the coming years. There were several proposals. I presented one on Symbiotic Machines.

The first idea of Symbiotic Machines goes back to one of the grandfather of Internet, JCR Licklider who in 1960 published a famous paper on Man-Computer Symbiosis where he foresaw an ever closer cooperation between man and computers to the point where computers would augment man's capabilities.

I cannot imagine he could have foreseen what happened in the following 50 years. Not even the wildest imagination could have probably foreseen the way computers have come to permeate our society and our lives.

Yet, we have just begun. And what is ahead of us is as amazing as it is scaring.

Scientists have developed drugs that augment our brain power, chips can be embedded in our bodies to monitor and deliver drugs, prosthetics are getting closer to work as well as our limbs.

Watch the clip. You really have to watch it, take twenty minutes of your time and watch it through. You'll appreciate the emotional engagement and the incredible feat that can be achieved through technology in general and ICT in particular.
Progress is being driven by the convergence of several technologies, nano-tech, smart materials, genetics, robotics, processing, sensors, Artificial Intelligence.

Health care and military are the first users (and drivers) of this evolution but we can expect that in the next decade capabilities augmentation through wearables first, and then embedded augmentation devices will start to become familiar.

Contact lenses that could improve our vision, letting augmented reality become seamless, are already within the realm of the possibile, it might become "normal" in just a decade. Exoskeleton in various shapes will increase our resistance and dexterity first in professional applications and then in the private life. Industry 4.0 will likely see some kind of symbioses between workers and robots in the factory and we might expect symbiotic products to reach our homes in the next decade making us "expert" in doing certain activities.

The evolution of brain-computer interfaces is increasing our understanding of our brain and it starts to be used to ease certain disabilities but the progress is not going to stop there. A direct connection brain-web is not longer science fiction and whenever it will become practical (we are still pretty far from it) it will boost our capabilities immensely. 

Sooner or later we will see a symbiosis between machines and us. In a way it is not new, it started 10,000 years ago with the invention of the plow, now we are in a sort of symbiosis with our smart phones. What makes the future different from the past is the seamlessness of this symbiosis. Machine will become embedded in our bodies, something that is also referred to as Human 2.0.  It will take, possibly, a few decades to see this transformation to happen but in my mind it will happen. I just fail to understand its consequences.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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