As the Social Network of Things becomes more prevalent, the Cyborg Age will come into fruition. At this point in our future, we can expect the conversation about technology to become more complex than discussing the devices or software we use, because such tools will become nearly indivisible from ourselves. Unlike Google Glass or Oculus Rift, devices which add an information layer to our daily experience but which we can easily remove, the technologies of the Cyborg Age—some of which are already here—will not be so easy to turn off.
Our first forays into this age started when we began implanting inorganic technologies in our bodies, like pacemakers (or attaching them, like prosthetics). The apex of the Cyborg Age, however, will be marked by technologies like wetware—neural implants, for example—and nanotechnological chemicals and devices entering our bodies through our blood. Imagine being able to download an entire language in seconds—or, more likely, to just “know it when you need it” with no additional thought. Imagine nanobots which can remove plaque from arteries or repair torn ligaments. If you are concerned (and maybe also a bit excited), you are not alone.
The Cyborg Age will be defined by discussions about ethics, neuroscience (a burgeoning field even today), robots and the digital divide. We will also have to begin to accept the idea that artificial intelligence technologies which we create may begin to be sentient—aware of themselves and conscious. The emergence of self-aware artificial intelligence entities would force us to consider core issues of personhood, humanity and rights.
At this point, the division between the vast amount of data we have access to and our physical brains will be very hard to distinguish. Neural and direct-to-organ technological interfaces will be either commonplace or at least commonly discussed, and network access will be pervasive, robust and incredibly reliable—at least in privileged areas. A person’s access to data and bandwidth, and how reliable and high-quality that access is, will directly correspond to the amount of socioeconomic privilege they have.
As it becomes more difficult to distinguish between people and the tech that enables their lives, fundamental questions of humanity and fairness come into focus. These questions are largely about relative issues, rather than functional or strategic ones. What is fair? What is natural? How we do we decide whether we should do the things we are now capable of? How and when do we stop before we modify ourselves too much? What is too much? At the same time, tech-enhanced systems and individuals will have changed our expectations of capacity and function so deeply that a machine or human on their own will seem archaic and incredibly limited, and our concept of what is human will adapt accordingly to include modifications which have become commonplace. This is already happening. For example, there is an expectation that professionals will have and know how to use smartphones to enhance their memory, access to data, and availability—it is hard to find an executive today who relies solely on desktop computers for access to email or carries a paper calendar for scheduling. In most domains, machine intelligence and robotic production methods will be accepted and preferred over the work and discretion of “pure humans”, but emotion and empathy will become more openly valued as qualities which are exclusive to humans. As a result, the Cyborg Age will necessitate many roles which put the emotional intelligence of humans to work filling the emotional gap in cyborg and artificial inteligence capabilities as coaches, counselors and empathy experts. These considerations may seem like science fiction now, but so did the idea of a smartphone which can translate signs and languages instantly even ten years ago.
Tensions of the Cyborg Age
What is natural?
How much do we modify biology?
How far is ‘too far’ to evolve?
How do we put on the brakes?
Roles Necessitated by the Cyborg Age
Wetware Designer, Technician
Characteristics of the Cyborg Age
Integrated cyborgs: we cannot separate ‘humans’ from ‘tech'—or doing so causes either to seem far less capable than cyborgs
The boundary between human and biological is being pushed and pierced
Machine intelligence is often seen as more reliable and accurate than humans, except regarding emotion
Pervasive robotics have changed the fundamental nature of work
AI sentience is a possibility—or a threat