We might recognise that the previous discussion of genetic enhancements is also being driven by technology, although the changes are biological, primarily to humanity’s genetic DNA blueprint. However, there is also the possibility that humanity will seek enhancements in terms of a ‘fusing’ of biology and technology encompassing both brain and physical functions. Clearly, this potential path could also have far reaching implications on the nature of social structures, if different sections of society start to have increasingly different abilities, both mental and physical.
What technology could trigger this change?
The issue of AI-robotic automation has already been discussed, but primarily in terms of an externalised ability to augment cognitive and physical functions within the wider description of the human ecosystem as a whole rather than an individual. However, future technology developments may open up the possibility of integrating technology into the human form, such that it may allow a direct brain-computer interface to be created. If so, such an interface might also allow the human physiology to be enhanced with a range of prosthetic enhancements, which may also lead to further stratification of society in terms of abilities. Of course, today, this is just speculation for while prosthetics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they are still fundamentally limited in scope due to the inability of the human mind to have full control over the replacement or augmented prosthetics. Whether future developments will allow neural implants to gain increasing mental control of a prosthetic to the same level as an existing human appendage is still speculative at this stage, but becoming increasingly possible. However, even incremental developments of neural implants may open up the possibility of not only human cognitive abilities being enhanced by AI, but also human physical abilities. Today, many will reject this idea and see it as a loss of what makes us human, but again this may be a subjective position based on circumstances. Even today, many readily accept physical prosthetics in order to overcome a physical disability in the hope that it will allow a more independent life, irrespective of the aesthetics of these early prosthetics.
Note: Developments over the next few hundred years may come to ‘blur’ the transition between human biology and prosthetic technology, such that potential enhancements become increasingly attractive to some sections of society. This may be particularly relevant to those individuals who may choose to permanently live off-world, where the surrounding environment will undoubtedly be extremely hostile to the human physiology.
An earlier discussion entitled ‘Prosthetic Anatomy ’ considered the possibility of more extreme forms being developed to meet the challenges of medical conditions, extreme professions and hostiles environment, which this discussion will not repeat. An even wider scope of possibilities was discussed under the heading ‘Genetic and Prosthetic Immortality’, which may also help to illustrate the potential scope that may eventually come to change the very nature of humanity. However, while such possibilities are not the focus of this discussion, it would be foolish to dismiss the potential impact that technology enhancements may have on the evolution of human society.
Note: In the context of the social evolution over the last 50 years or so, the main catalysts of change might be linked to the spread of globalism and multiculturism combined with earlier technology innovations, such as email and the Internet. Such changes have created an inter-dependency of national economies requiring a ‘slightly’ more conciliatory approach to international politics underpinned by the ability to transmit uncensored information between individuals across national borders. However, as suggested, the scope of future social evolution may now be accelerating faster than anybody might reasonably predict.
A previous discussion entitled Beyond Darwin outlined a three-stage model by which humanity might evolved if technology enhancements were increasingly accepted. Within the hybrid AI model, these enhancements were described as evolutionary steps with an extended and fictious ‘homo’ genus, which led to a fragmentation of humanity divided by abilities, both mental and physical. While the three-stage model extends over some 500 years, which is beyond the scope of the current ‘ brave new worlds’ discussion, we might still consider the social implications of the first and second stages, which to some extent overlap in terms of development timeframes.
What technology enhancements are implied in the first stage?
In part, the first-stage evolution is essentially just an earlier discussion of the impact of computers will continue to have on human society, specifically in the form of weak-AI system. In this context, it was argued that humanity has already fragmented into two sub-groups, i.e. homo sapiens and homo computerus , where each lived in fundamentally different social structures. However, at this point, it might be argued that the nature of the first-stage is hardly a speculative prediction as many aspects of the description are already observable, which the previous discussion of AI-Robotic Developments simply re-affirmed in terms of the technology enhancement now being pursued. If you accept this basic proposition, then you may also accept that what we understand by 21st century humanity is becoming something distinct from all previous generations of humanity.
So what changes in the second stage?
This stage proceeds on the more speculative assumption that a brain-computer interface will be incrementally developed over the timescale of the next 100-200 years, which is a little beyond the overall scope of this discussion. However, it is already known that research into neural implants is actively being pursued, which we might reasonably assume will only progress in sophistication over the next 100 years. While the enhancement abilities made possible by a brain-computer interface are still speculative, we might make an analogous comparison of the cognitive abilities of an individual in the 19th century and an individual in the 21st century having access to the worldwide web database via their smartphones and Google search. While we might assume these individuals have the same IQ, their ability to function in two very different social structures might be recognised as an example of the scope of social evolution that has already taken place. Therefore, the suggestion that a brain-computer interface might be ‘fused’ with the human physiology to provide an apparently enhanced cognitive ability would presumably only lead to a further stratification of human society in terms of those with and without this enhanced ability. While the scope of these technology enhancements may lead off in many different directions, it is sufficient for this discussion that the effects on future social evolution could be even more profound in the next century than the last.