Are Cyborgs Humanity's Next Evolutionary Phase?
In one sense, humans are already cyborgs. That's to say, that we're so closely tied to electronic devices at all times, that we largely couldn't maintain the lives that we live without their help.
However, while may humans already look somewhat like cyborgs to the humans of past, we have a long way to go before most of us are using mechanical implants to extend our abilities.
Of course, technology is already helping millions around the world hear again with hearing aid implants and allows amputees to walk and receive sensory input through artificial limbs. Cyborg tech for the general public is so close I can taste it... or maybe my cyborg tongue can taste it...
All this aside, understanding what's next for human cyborgs is first going to mean that we need to define exactly what a cyborg is.
What are cyborgs?
Technically speaking, a cyborg is any organic being, that utilizes biomechanic parts integrated with their biological ones.
Under this definition, there are millions of cyborgs already in existence today, but that's not really a satisfactory answer. If we modify the definition to include only healthy humans that integrate biomechanics and biological components in order to extend their abilities beyond normal human limitations, there are far, far fewer people that fit that criteria.
For example, an artist by the name of Moon Ribas had a sensor implanted in her elbow that allows her to feel seismic activity. By no means was there any necessity involved in that decision. No one needs to physically feel seismic activity that occurs across the world. But you can, thanks to cyborg tech.
Under our refined definition, Ribas is a cyborg. Albeit, her cyborg capabilities are trivially useful, perhaps only at cocktail parties attended by seismologists as a party trick – but she's still a cyborg.
Nonetheless, the capability to create cyborgs is clearly already here.
Is a world of cyborgs really a good thing?
If we can take any lessons from the world of science fiction, it's that a world of cyborgs presents a number of potential negatives.
For one, it would turn human bodies into hackable pieces of tech. It could also take away what it means to be human. If we consider the definition of human to be based on how we experience the world through our organic senses, then taking away or altering that perspective might make us more like computers and less like humans.
The argument against the expansion of cyborg technology is strong. Elon Musk, along with other technology leaders, has warned against the growth of artificial intelligence, a necessary part of creating sophisticated cyborg technology.
The biggest threat to a human-cyborg future is that which surrounds the areas of privacy and security. While many of us may be okay with companies seeing our browser history, most of use should probably be a more than a little concerned with the ability for others to know our thoughts or control our physical movements.
Being an engineer myself, I often feel somewhat like a machine - making decisions based on logic every day, but the world would probably not be the greatest place if everyone functioned like that in all aspects of our lives. One fear is that AI-driven cyborg technology will remove human empathy and reduce morality to a series algorithms based on logic and statistics.
These fears aside, in what ways are we likely to see cyborg tech incorporated into daily life in the future?
The ways in which we can become cyborgs
Wearables are one of the ways in which we're already moving towards becoming cyborgs.
These devices being used to monitor our health and our fitness, as well as provide insights into our daily lives. Although they are currently designed as removable accessories, in the future, health and fitness monitoring could be done through an implant. Your Apple Watch could do everything it does today if it were covered in a layer of skin, recharging using energy from your body, or by holding your wrist over a wireless charger every once and a while.
Along these same lines, cyborg technology will likely emerge as a way to help people avoid dangers in the workplace and elsewhere. AI is already quite good at predictive analysis. Imagine if you were walking down the road and a little voice popped up in your ear that said turning right gives you a 25% less chance of getting injured or maimed while on this stroll. When you read that, did you think "I need that" and said "I'll never be able to leave the house again" at the same time?
More mundanely, cyborg-esque implants could also help us make payments at the store and serve as a key to unlock our front doors.
The first mass-adopted-cyborg technology that we are likely to see is some type of implant. It is likely to be static, and won't influence what we see or directly how we live life, but it will almost certainly collect endless amounts of data that can give us recommendations and insights about life.
People are already implanting themselves with similar chips all around the world. Utilizing NFC, or near field communication, these can transmit information through the skin with ease.
After chips, we may someday see cyborg technology in the form of nanotechnology pills or devices that can change your DNA to protect you from diseases or ailments. CRISPR has already been used to edit the human genome, why not utilize this tech in an AI-controlled implant? I can think of a plethora of reasons not to, but people are still going to do it, I promise.
Finally, cyborg technology could even help us to control our thoughts. We may someday be able to manually turn up our empathy, or turn down our procrastination. Imagine what we could accomplish if we had control over these feelings? But again, would we still even be humans at that point?
So, to answer the question posed by the title of this article, yes, cyborg technology is the next step in human evolution. The problem will be to ensure that it is us, and not the technology, that controls the pace and the changes. One thing is certain, cyborg-type technology is likely not going away.