Tech In Your Body - Let The Seduction Begin

https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_gruber_how_ai_can_enhance_our_memory_work_and_social_lives?utm_campaign=&utm_medium=on.ted.com-static&utm_content=awesm-publisher&awesm=on.ted.com_IndustrialInternet&utm_source=t.co

Please watch that video as an introduction to this blog post. It’s 9+ minutes, which I recognize will instantly turn most of your off from reading the rest of this for the TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t read for those not familiar with the term) problem. But for those of you who choose to stay. Here’s what I took away from this:

  1. This is some smooth presenting. You introduce technology that so clearly helps people who are disabled live better lives.
  2. He does a great job of highlighting the fallibility of memory and the associated downside of human memory
  3. He makes you disappointed in yourself for your failures, namely forgetfulness of all kinds

So what are my concerns with having tech in your body or most importantly in your brain.

  1. You will be hackable. Seriously. Someone at some point will be able to control your mind, how you think, and how you act. You may doubt this, but, there are those who believe that the voting population of the US was manipulated in the last election and that didn’t even involve embedded technology.
  2. Your every thought will now exist somewhere on a hard drive. Imperfect memory is a gift, not a liability. As much as we wish we remembered the good memories, its the forgotten bad memories that are probably more important to our mental health
  3. Talk about privacy — this is the definition of NO privacy. Not only will we be surrounded by thousands of instruments listening and recording everything we do with the IoT, but now it’s in our head and our memory
  4. Imagine if you are opposed to the government on ANY level. James Comey recently said, you have NO privacy. Could the government snoop around in your head? Is your head now admissible evidence against you?
  5. The wealthiest companies and the most skillful hackers will ALWAYS have access to you, your brain, your memories. It is impossible for security to stay ahead of countries, companies and nefarious actors.
  6. Apple wants you to buy their tech. Apple is a company, driven by profit. They aren’t trying to fix the world. If some customers feel better off, they enjoy those stories and make sure that the world knows about them, but in the end, Apple is a company and companies are beholden to their shareholders. This is about profit. Interestingly, sometimes these companies fool themselves, convincing themselves of their altruism, but it won’t last. The bottom line eventually drives all decisions.
  7. This will dramatically increase income inequality. Only the most wealthy will find this technology available to them initially and most likely it will make them wealthier
  8. Those uncomfortable with putting tech in their bodies will become a persecuted minority

Transhumanism and augementation are not new. Work on prostheses connected to the brain has been improving dramatically. Take Professor Hugh Herr of MIT, stranded on Mt. Washington, loses the lower half of both legs and works for decades to develop prosthetic legs for himself which he can control with his mind. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work. And it is amazing. Anytime a human being, loses some of their abilities, whether that be through birth or accident and is able to have them restored to human level function — it is a glorious story. If only it stopped there, read this excerpt from a recent article on Prof Herr written by Sally Helgesen, published in Strategy + Business…

But the scope of Herr’s interests and ambitions takes him beyond the desire to simply redress lost function. He’s become an evangelist for the notion that augmentation can also be used to expand capacity for those with intact bodies and functioning minds: wearables that enable human eyes to see infrared waves; tools that permit individuals to design and sculpt their own bodies, either for aesthetic reasons or to enhance athletic or professional performance. — Sally Helgesen, on Prof Hugh Herr

And this is where I get uncomfortable. Likely this is my own discomfort as I believe that many will choose to augment themselves in the future. Many people want to be superhuman, even if it is only in a narrow function. It’s a seductive offer. People like to be better than others. Oh, there is one catch, Prof Hugh Herr’s prostheses cost many millions of dollars, but I’m sure everyone has that lying around.

I am not opposed to augmentation or transhumanism. I can’t stop it. Maybe I should want to stop it based on these concerns, but I recognize that people have a right to make these decisions for themselves. The disabled can’t be prevented from being returned to human standard function levels. If Prof Herr wants to make super climbing legs for himself, he has that right. And just in case you think brain tech is a generation ahead of us, please note that brain tech already exists and is being enhanced daily.

Spinal Injury Patients Could Regain Mobility Through Brain-Computer Interfaces
In Brief Researchers are developing an implantable brain chip to bypass problems in the spinal cord and using a brain…futurism.com

I am concerned that as technology moves inside our bodies, we won’t be able to distinguish natural humans from the cyborgs, when we need to legally. Whether it be for athletic competitions, like Oscar Pistorius at the London Olympics, or Jeopardy! in the future. Certainly a person with a perfect memory (or bionic thumb) can’t be allowed to compete with a natural human — the competition would be a farce. These examples are fairly whimsical, but I am using them rather than the more disturbing versions where natural humans and augmented humans will be interested to know who-is-who.

I am further concerned about increasing income inequality. Augmentation today and in the near future will only be for the wealthiest. The newest class of brain enhancements will be expensive, it is the nature of R&D and the capitalist model that they will begin to recoup their costs. So will we be helping humanity or will the rich be extending their lead, I suspect you know the answer to that question. Imagine the parent about to send their child off to University. Already committed to spending hundred of thousands of dollars on that education. Won’t you feel compelled to purchase that “perfect memory” device from Apple to ensure that investment gets maximized? What about the competition from other students who are likely getting their “perfect memories”, are you the cheap parent that can’t afford to get your child the very best? Are you trying to let him/her fail? It’s a beautiful sales model and one that will certainly work. I think the risks to your humanity are too great.

Lastly, I am concerned that transhumanism will create two classes of humans, the augmented and the natural. The augmented will be superior to the natural and we have numerous examples in history of how a population that believes itself superior treats the inferior. This is the genuine problem because it will divide humanity. It has to. You can’t compete at work, you probably won’t have work. The lives of the super-human will be better and they will be in control. Could a natural human be forced to augment? Told it is for your own good, it is the next phase in human evolution? Eventually, for failure to augment, you might be deemed worthless and unemployable. Could you be outcast? I know this sounds like science-fiction, but I disagree. This is an extension of human relationships since time immemorial. Superior groups have a longer track record of overwhelming weaker entities, whether that be based on: military might (Greeks), organization (Romans), the enlighment/colonization/Age of Discovery (Western Europe), nationalism (Nazi- Germany), economic-strength (US), superior forces impose their will on the weak, embarrassingly often “for their own good”. It is not difficult to see it play out. Science and Technology already feels superior, you can hear in Mr. Gruber’s talk. Certainly I am talking about nothing different or unique here, except that it is based on forecast. I argue this is an obvious course of events, time is the only variable. For further thoughts on this division of humanity you can read my previous blog post:

Technology + The Human Body = Insurmountable Societal Challenge?
Picture this world for a moment. You are out of work. Technology is moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. In…medium.com

ForHumanity believes in the right to augment. But our most important efforts will be to create a world for natural humans to thrive in and I suspect that we will spend the rest of my life fighting an uphill battle for that. Each of you has the right to augment, especially if you are augmenting to return to human level standards. But once augmentation goes beyond the natural human, like science and technology are planning, then we have a problem. I’ve enumerated a series of concerns without highlighting the positive. I felt Mr. Gruber did an excellent job on the positives. But his sales pitch was so smooth, it made me distinctly uncomfortable and I needed to explain why. I hope this helps you consider tech in your body and make an informed decision when the time comes.