Enhancing humans: Becoming a cyborg could end up as a privilege of the wealthy

|

What is the greatest achievement of evolution? Here are some popular choices: the development of the genetic code in primitive microorganisms; the ability to thrive on oxygen (which previously had been toxic to most of Earth’s life forms); the emergence of eukaryotic cells; multicellular organisms; or, very recently, the development of the human brain, which more than tripped in size over the last 5 million years. But several future-minded thinkers believe that the biggest advances are yet to come.

For billions of years, all of the beneficial innovations of life on Earth came from changes in the genes, imparted to future generations by the sieve of natural selection and other evolutionary forces. In our ancestors, intelligence was a survival advantage, so the brain got bigger and soon we were using it to invent technologies, which improved life by altering the environment outside of the body.

Now, with our knowledge of biology at the cellular and molecular level growing by leaps and bounds, and with our computer and electronics technology exponentiating, great thinkers are considering the emergence of high scale artificial intelligence (AI) and what it could mean for humanity. Intelligent, sentient robots could be coming and people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk want to make sure that AI develops in a way that’s not harmful to humans. We want machines to replace us in certain functions–particularly dangerous tasks like pulling people out of fires–but with safeguards built in so that even when AI exceeds that of humans it won’t replace our species, or seek to enslave us.

As AI advances, machine technology is expected to merge with humans, as it has already begun to do. Today, it’s routine for people to have implanted drug infusion pumps, cardiac pacemakers, and other devices, and the day is coming when artificial organs–machine hearts, livers, and kidneys–will not only be available, but preferable to a donor organ. Along with that will come true, fully-functinal and cosmetically appealing bionic limbs, eyes, and ears, and brain implants and interfaces could be possible to give people a boost in memory capacity and even information. Imagine having the Internet connected directly to your brain.

The options for human enhancement seem endless and Hebrew University’s Professor Yuval Noah Harari believes that many humans will eventually take on new forms.

I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so Homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic. It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking. But we will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us.

Regarding “nothing has really changed in four billion years biologically speaking”, on this point Harari is completely wrong. In the last four billion years, life emerged on Earth, learned how to thrive in oxygen instead of dying from it, and through biological evolution the cosmos learned to taste, smell, see, hear, and speak. In our corner of space, the cosmos started thinking about itself in the form of sentient human beings. Since human divergence with apes a few million years ago, brain size has more than tripled and independently of size the brain has become far more complex. Only a million years ago, though boasting brains 2/3 the size of ours, our ancestors still could not speak, because the spinal canal was too narrow for the needed control of breathing and other muscles. The changes enabling speech, writing, and a plethora of other physical and mental skills were anatomical. They developed as a result of Darwinian evolution, and so, “biologically speaking”, in four billion years, everything has changed.

But Harari is right that we’re moving into an age of human enhancement, and he’s fairly hopeful that there will be positive consequences. In particular, he expects the cyborgazation of humans to end religion. That may be a tall order at Hebrew University, located in Jerusalem, where people still come from all over the planet to pray to a stone wall, but Harari is thinking in terms of centuries. In Western Europe, North America, and other developed countries, people are dropping organized religion. The new religion, Harari observes, is technology and a blind belief in the infinite power of innovation.

As long as humans believed they relied more and more on these gods they were controllable. But what we see in the last few centuries is humans becoming more powerful and they no longer need the crutches of the gods. Now we are saying we do not need God, just technology. The most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not the Middle East, it’s Silicon Valley where they are developing a techno-religion. They believe even death is just a technological problem to be solved.

The challenge is that the technology will cost money. Harari warns that the future–the bionic body parts and all the enhancements to prolong human life–could end up as a privilege of only the wealthiest segment of society.

David Warmflash is an astrobiologist, physician and science writer. Follow @CosmicEvolution to read what he is saying on Twitter.

  • Brad Arnold

    While this article is written from a anthropocentric perspective, I think the most profound change will be the emergence of mechanical minds superior to human. Predictably, all superior technology (and wealth) will emerge from artificial super intelligence (ASI), including cyberization, genetic improvements, and perhaps most importantly abundance. What isn’t easily imagined in the current economy based upon scarcity and the human mind, is that there will emerge an economy based upon abundance and ASI. The idea that only the rich will benefit from radical life extension technology makes sense now, but is ridiculous after the Singularity.

    • tora tsume

      Dear Ayn Rand, thank you for your contributions. You and that other chosen person from your homeland. Where would we be without that dichotomy of views?

  • paul bunyan

    this article proves what the bible has been saying all the while , it unavoidable, this is what the antichrist will use all the homosexuality the women and technology .ha!

  • Albionic American

    Billionaires are just “wealth futurists,” in that they are the early adopters of what will become the standards of living available to ordinary people a few decades later. Ferdinand Braudel points this out in his book The Structures of Everyday Life.

    Thomas Donaldson also had some interesting things to say about the future of wealth in this essay published back in the 1970’s:

    https://www.scribd.com/document/59655111/History-to-3400-AD

  • I think this will have quite serious problems that will be hard to overcome. You see, if you can read out of a brain, you can signal into it. If you are deep enough, you can utterly control that brain. Those “god-like-cyborgs” will be puppets more likely than they will be masters. Give me 20 electrodes into someone’s brain and I’ll turn them into my vassal.

  • thefermiparadox

    Upgrade me too!

  • David Ashton

    Nietzsche – from the Last Man to the Overman?
    Given the hedonism of the wealthy sex-robots will be available to suit every taste – indeed this development is on its way already.
    The wealthy used to have domestic servants, why not robots?
    The richer you are the more you can buy of anything – from houses to holidays – so is the answer enforced equality?
    What will we do when robots put us out of work?
    What will the savages do in their millions?

  • This are some of my thoughts regarding the future of “us”.

    Homo Immortalis Omnipotent

    Living in “Infinite Space-Time”! No more “human created secondhand God’s”!

    The function assigned to GOD is now available through understanding
    the Universe we are part of. We will be the Engineers of our own body chemistry, in the Infinity of Space-Time we can live forever.

    Biotechnology will control the “aging process” (we don’t wear out, but are DNA programmed to age), and “involuntary death” will not exist any more.

    Science, Gene Engineering, Nano Technology, Epigenesis, Astrophysics
    etc. and Extra Terrestrial Migration will allow for “Goal Oriented Evolution”, leading to HOMO IMMORTALIS OMNIPOTENT.

    The fact that you are reading this is a good sign.

    Many people know that we all have to die, so anything that may undermine that believe will be avoided.

    If this would be information confirming that there is life after death, which is something many of us deem possible, we would be more inclined to believe it. The reason is, that once we have formed a believe and have been influenced accordingly, we are more reluctant to reevaluate our acceptance of it.

    Since I grew up in a katholik environment I was sure that by following the rules, I would go to heaven and presumable not be dead.

    I am now over seventy years old and have lived and loved on five Continents. With the information and experiences I have been exposed to, I have come to the conclusion, that science will make it possible that we can keep on living here, instead of dying and going to heaven.

    You may be inclined to believe in some form of life in heaven, because that is the opinion of confirmed authorities. I can assure you, that looking for information based on up to date science, leading to youthfulness and the avoidance of death, will not do any harm, but may give you more time to do so.

    You probably ask, what is this about?

    It is like a quantum leap. A move to a new state of being. In the material world it would be like the jump from the atom to a mineral. Or from a multicellular organism to a cerebral animal. Or from a culture that depends on an “idealized self projected image (God)”, to provide protection and escape from annihilation , to a society that uses science and technology to solve the problems of sickness and death.

    The tools that propelled us from primates to “Homo sapiens sapiens”, will now be developed, so we will evolve to Homo Immortalis Omnipotent.

    Of course there will be opposition from institutions that now have the monopoly on “Life after death”. They should not worry, because our need for entertainment will always exist. Even sincere moral and religious disapproval should not divert us from taking this next step in evolution.

    Just like the hydrogen atom did not know that it would become the planet we now live on, even though it already contained the basic code leading to the status quo. We will realize that the abilities that we have assigned to our God’s, are now for us to acquire.

    The only limit is our imagination! Freedom from death now