Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hybrid Humans

SINGAPORE – The election of a new pope always sparks debate about the tension between tradition and modernity in the Catholic Church. Perhaps more interesting is the ongoing modernization of the language in which those debates are conducted: Latin.

While Catholic doctrines have evolved slowly, the Latin vocabulary has been expanding steadily in recent years, reflecting the surge of neologisms (new words, usages, and expressions) that has accompanied technology’s increasingly prominent role in people’s daily lives. The addition of terms like telephonium albo televisifico coniunctum (video telepresence) and usus agonisticus medicamenti stupecfactivi (performance-enhancing drugs) has helped to spark a revival of Latin education in the West, despite growing competition from Mandarin.

Likewise, the English language’s ability to produce and absorb neologisms is an important reason why it will endure as the world’s lingua franca. The Oxford English Dictionary, now updated quarterly, revised more than 1,900 entries in its March 2011 edition, and added new terms, such as “subdomain,” “dataveillance,” and “geotagging.”

Humans use language to make sense not only of specific concepts, but also of larger scientific, social, and historical movements. With technology changing the face – and pace – of such movements, devising terms that capture its far-reaching impact on human life is becoming increasingly important.

For example, according to Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, medical and nutritional advances since the Industrial Revolution have accelerated and directed the evolutionary process, making modern humans a fundamentally different species from Homo sapiens. In 2011, bio-technology investor Juan Enriquez coined the term Homo evolutis to denote this shift.

But do widely accepted labels like “Information Age” and “knowledge-based society” adequately describe the global movement that is underway?

Technology-fueled development is causing historical eras to become cumulative, rather than linear. As the world enters the Information Age, most countries are still experiencing the Agricultural and Industrial Ages. In order to describe emerging socio-technological patterns – including the merging of scientific disciplines and the fusion of human life with progress in these fields – the current era should be called the “Hybrid Age.”

It is an age, most tellingly, of proliferating new terminology. For example, we now have “synthetic biology” to describe a hybrid of biology and chemical engineering in which scientists create biological systems that are not found in nature. Man-made cells can now be inserted into humans. In 2010, the biologist Craig Venter created the first fully synthetic and self-replicating cell.

In another hybrid discipline, “molecular computing,” organic or artificial enzymes are programmed to conduct complex calculations faster than silicon chips. The field could provide an avenue, alongside 3D silicon chips, for maintaining – or even accelerating – the pace of Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on the integrated circuits used by computers doubles every two years.

Humans’ biological hybridization with technology also requires new vocabulary. At the MIT Media Lab, double-amputee Hugh Herr has pioneered “biomechatronics,” which combines biology, mechanical engineering, and electronics to invent efficient, lifelike prosthetics. Some believe that Herr’s work heralds an age of bionic superhumans.

Moving from muscles to the mind, brain-computer interface technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, giving rise to “neuro-prosthetics,” which has already enabled paraplegics to navigate a computer mouse with their thoughts and monkeys to operate a giant robotic arm. Scientists are now working to pinpoint the neuro-chemistry of thought and emotions so accurately that new technologies could be developed to allow humans to communicate them silently.

With scientists working tirelessly to refine such technologies, the public must become more knowledgeable about their socioeconomic implications. Neither of the existing paradigms for assessing individual potential – intelligence quotient and emotional quotient – can assess a person’s ability to compete against the growing “robo-collar” workforce.

Industrial robots are now displacing Foxconn workers making iPhones in China; Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot reduces the need for surgical assistants in operating rooms; and the Engkey robot teaching English in South Korea may gradually fill the 30,000 teaching positions that Westerners there currently occupy. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms are replacing currency traders, paralegals, and even news reporters.

Competing with the increasingly competent robotic labor force will require people to enhance their “technology quotient.” Societies and governments must drive this shift by boosting technology’s role in both the form and content of educational curricula. Improved technological capacity would not only help citizens to compete for jobs; it would help countries thrive in the new global environment of increasing hybridization.

The rise and fall of empires has long been considered a geopolitical matter, based on factors such as military assets, resource endowments, and population size. Likewise, geo-economic calculations of relative GDP, terms of trade, and foreign-exchange reserves carry significant weight in determining the balance of power. But all of these metrics fail to account for factors like research and development, technological innovation, and commercialization, which are now more indicative of future success than nuclear arsenals or economic size. Indeed, the Hybrid Age is shaping up to be an era of “geo-technology.”

The stakes of geo-technological competition are higher than ever. Cyberwarfare is proving to be as threatening to political and economic stability as conventional military conflict. At the same time, technologies like water filtration systems, drought-resistant seeds, renewable energy, and the Internet have the potential to fulfill the basic needs of a crowded planet better than any empire could.

Many historical periods have been named after imperial hegemons: Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. Some believe that, with the rise of China, Pax Sinica is next. But these eras have been characterized by conquest and exploitation, not peace. Perhaps what comes next will be a fundamental break from the past, a truly modern era of Pax Technologica.

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    1. CommentedChris Elliott

      There are 300 billion inhabited planets in the known multi-verse. There is every type of life form you could imagine including cyber/humanoid, mechanical AI ... and many are millions of years older than the genetically engineered colonist who the planet earth. many are spiritually cohesive and many are not. Closer to home biological hybrids have been arriving in the 3D reality exclusively since 1990. Often called Indigos and Starseeds they have arrived hard-wired and filtered differently to previous homo sapiens, they are for all intents a different species, already and hybrid of an hybrid and they are that way so we can learn from them that we do not have to function and will not function in future in the limited programmed ways of past 'civilizations. So before we start replacing organic parts with cybertronics we should better understand the present 3D Operating System we are leaving behind and the future 5D OS which manifests reality instantly and there is no delay as in 3D, so there is no place for a fear consciousness. That is what you felt when you read this piece written without the full knowledge of human history.

    2. CommentedEdward Ponderer

      The writer presents a beautiful Utopian vision. It could be so, we could make it so, but we are missing a critical link between the sunset of our present civilization, the sunrise of a truly brave new world. This is a conscious rider for the horse.

      Without this, three monkey-wrench demons are left hard at work.

      The first is automation not improving people's lives, but ruining them. Interestingly, Einstein already wrote a couple of essays about this problem in the mid-20th Century -- an his point is truly coming home to roost in our own era. The work force being pushed out is not being "retrained." The purpose of industry retooling is not to change low-paying lesser skilled jobs into higher-paying higher-paying, higher skilled jobs -- its to eliminate cost --personnel, period. For as long as that retraining may last, the "Maytag repairman" for robot jobs are not as plentiful, certainly not as stable, as the one's lost. The end result is the paradox of overproduction and people who can't afford product.

      The second is Murphy's law, which really can be understood as natural entropy ("noise") magnified by system non-linearity and complexity and tightness of element coupling, into deterministic chaos. It is noteworthy that from mathematical studies in the 1980s of the very generic system of internal and external interaction -- he Hopfield Net -- it was shown that for large systems of N nodes (N >100), the number of parasitic states vs. useful states varies approximately as 2 to the power of N, divided by N. This translates into an ever-growing number of side effects and direct consequences that can't be predicted. The parasitic synergy of man-made technological systems, socio-economic systems, and natural systems (climate, biological, etc.) is becoming extremely dangerous -- and then throw terrorism, rogue states, and human greed into the mix... Again per Einstein, the human mind is capable of developing systems whose negative consequences are at least an order of magnitude beyond the capacity of that mind. We are as dangerous children, full able to get ourselves into situations that we can't get out of.

      The third was first pointed out by Bertram Russell about a century ago -- the limits of our senses. This combines with our limited mental data processing capability (we can consciously hold only about 7 pieces of distinct pieces of information in our mind simultaneously), to produce a severe limitation. While our we have the tool to sense a great deal more, and the computers to handle that data -- well, its good that the computers have a clear picture. Only we can't get it into our heads. The only thing that the computers can do for us is locate symmetries where matters can be simplified to where we can digest them. This is like being lost in an orange grove seeing no rhyme or reason to the distribution of trees, until a just the correct angle, the rows all align. Unfortunately as proven by algorithmic information theory, once you reach a systems minimum complexity -- no way you turn it is going to help make it any simpler.

      So the rider is not unconscious because Humanity's present industrial and government management and/or the workers on the factory floor are asleep. Rather, individually or in small groups, with ultimately only immediate self interest at heart, they are totally incompetent to the task.

      It is just when such crises occur in Nature that members of a community are o specialized and interdependent to survive independently, that they snap into a natural altruism that ultimately bond into a higher form able to handle the complex challenges that the formerly loose community could not.

      If we are to live anything like the bright vision that has been presented before us in this article, we must successfully overcome our own Human crisis -- introduce and integral education and develop a society that consciously agrees to the mutual responsibility that our interdependence is naturally imposing upon us. We have all the pedantic, psychological, and media tools necessary to develop the new behavioral economics of altruism that will be necessary. When Humanity becomes whole in this manner, the rider awakened, it will perceive with 14 billion eyes and cell cameras, feed into its internet neural network of emotional and intellectual centers, and feel and understand what is happening. Through a hierarchy of round tables, continuously weighted best decisions will be made in real time, and definitive -- properly distributed actions will take place to maintain homeostasis , keeping the horse on track one step ahead of Murphy's law.

      And that's really what it comes down to regarding the writer's vision -- shall we be ones step ahead of Murphy's law, or one step behind. Does this issue really make for two possible futures? Yes. One is called heaven, the other is called hell. So I would recommend that Humanity gets up and smells the coffee...

    3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      It is understandable that the writer, the Director of Hybrid Reality Institute is excited by the projects he himself is working on.
      Unfortunately I do not share his optimism.
      I do not doubt that most of the advances he describes could be truly useful for humanity, useful for productivity or healthcare for example.
      The problem is not with the inventions, new breakthroughs (although here we have to be careful, as humanity has never invented anything new, "out of nothing", we are doing our best when we copy nature), but how, for what purpose they are used.
      In other words there is nothing wrong with the products, the problem is with the users and the purpose for which they were created.
      This world would be a beautiful, peaceful place if humanity remained within the framework of the natural system we are all part of.
      If all the beautiful inventions were used for our necessities, making human life better while keeping us adapted to nature, humanity would have already propelled onto much higher level of existence.
      But instead humanity has been working, producing, inventing in order to satisfy the excessive, exploitative needs of the self centered human ego, that has been driving our evolution so far.
      Everything we ever intended was used either for profit or for weapons, or both.
      And the greatest problem is that this egoistic, excessive, exploitative development drove us to the threshold of global disasters on multiple fronts.
      What we call global crisis is a total system failure, today we cannot even repair, revive systems we ourselves built since they do not belong to the natural system we exist in, they have no natural foundations.
      We live in a natural system that is infinitely larger than us and has very strict, unbending rules we are obliged to follow.
      If humanity does not make the next stage "Pax Naturalis",
      we might not have any future to look forward to.

    4. CommentedLeo Arouet

      Los avances científicos necesitan de nuevos términos y significados para las nuevas acciones y creaciones actualmente. Es emocionante saber que muchos de estos inventos mejorarán la salud de las personas en un futuro ya muy cercano.