Tech billionaire Elon Musk believes that humanity is quickly moving toward a man-machine hybridization, where humans are becoming cyborgs as they grow ever more dependent on technology to go about their daily lives. And as technology pushes most vocations toward greater mechanization, he sees a future where biological intelligence and digital intelligence begin to merge. In fact, Musk believes humans are already part cyborgs.
News.au.com reported this week that the mind behind PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX revealed a world growing ever more dependent on the technology being developed and that such dependency will necessitate an ever-increasing move for human beings to retain control over said technology by becoming more mechanically and digitally enhanced. Elon Musk, speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, told the 4,000 people gathered there that, in many ways, our present state of dependency on technology has already made us cyborgs.
“To some degree we are already a cyborg — you think of all the digital tools that you have — your phone, your computer. The applications that you have. The fact that you can ask a question and instantly get an answer from Google and other things.”
Although he did not mention it, humans are becoming cyborgs in the area of robotics as well. Developments in the cognitively controlled areas of prosthetics are seeing more and more people with artificial limbs or physical enhancements that are get their commands from the user’s brain.
But Elon Musk sees a future where the cognitive workings of the brain will become digital.
Musk explained, “You already have a digital tertiary layer. Think of the limbic system — the animal brain and the cortex as the thinking part of the brain, and your digital self as a third layer. If you die your digital ghost is still around. All of their emails, and social media, that still lives if they die.”
As time progresses, Musk believes that the biological will slowly give way to the digital, especially where intelligence enters the equation.
“Over time we will see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,” he said. “It is all about the bandwidth of the brain. The digital extension of yourself.”
Musk also believes that the problem humans already face is in output. “We do most of our output through our thumbs which is very slow,” he noted. So something will be needed to facilitate faster communication between humans and machines. “Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something which helps achieve symbiosis between human and machine intelligence, which solves a control and usefulness problem.”
As for the “usefulness problem,” Musk also revealed that increased use of robots and computers, not to mention advances made in Artificial Intelligence (AI), will produce more underemployed and unemployed humans, perhaps as much as 15 percent of the overall workplace. This will occur as most cars and trucks become autonomous (read: driverless). He also believes that it will occur within the next two decades, calling it a “game changer for society,” where people will begin to losing their direction and purpose in life.
“We need to figure out new roles — what do those people do? It will be very disruptive and very quick. That disruption will take place over 20 years,” he said. “But 20 years to have 12 — 15 percent of the workforce unemployed is a short time.”
One solution to the problem of unemployment will be a move toward a type of “universal income.” But that only solves part of the problem.
“The harder challenge is how do people then have meaning — because a lot of people derive their meaning from their employment. If you are not needed, if there is not a need for your labor. What’s the meaning? ‘Do you have meaning, are you useless?’ That is a much harder problem to deal with.”
And as cyborgs with enhanced cognitive capacities, there will be plenty of time to contemplate one’s usefulness in an AI-driven world. But will a life without meaning or usefulness mean the same to cyborgs, or will the definition of a meaningful life alter along with the changes in what it means to be a digitally extended human?
[Featured Image by Atelier Sommerland/Shutterstock]