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AI, Transhumanism and the Next Technological Age

The relationship between technology and the self has always been strained. We’re happy to embrace its major societal advances, as well as the convenience it brings to our own lives. However, fear of the unintended consequences of what we’ve unleashed has a habit of creeping into our collective psyche.

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Just look at your smart phone. This powerful device continues to embed itself deep into our lives and society. Entrenched societal norms and governments are being challenged by the speed of information being shared across the globe on this device. Its constant influence dominates our social discourse and greatly shapes how many of us view people and world.

It’s also the hub for powerful wearables like the popular Apple Watch. Advanced biometrics and health data, once only in the realm of healthcare providers, are now at our fingertips in real time.

This creates an interesting dynamic. On one hand, quickly advancing technologies may be the solution to some of the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change and degenerative aging. On the other, as we surrender what it is to be human to technology, at what point do we lose our sense of self?

Fear of Artificial Intelligence

The thought of AI (artificial intelligence) achieving superhuman intelligence keeps futurists like Elon Musk awake at night. This fear was shared by the likes of the late physicist Stephen Hawkins. On the other hand, Google’s chief engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees AI as no more or less a threat than any other technology.

Like many things, the truth probably falls somewhere between these extremes. It’s hard not to entertain the thought that a virtual entity powering so much of our connected world that we cannot compete with it. It takes our jobs, renders us obsolete and then self-perpetuates until we lose the ability to control it.

We easily imagine it because the fear of being overwhelmed by technology and progress has always been around. It’s usually triggered by major societal shifts, like the one we are experiencing now.

History and Media has Shaped Our Anxiety

Think back a minute to your history class of the Industrial Revolution. The era brought massive change to our society and gave rise to industrial saboteurs who feared being replaced by mechanization. The birth of the Computer Age brought similar fears of being replaced by “thinking” machines.

With the speed technology advances today, it’s no wonder our thoughts now turn to the AI achieving singularity (self-awareness). Will it be our savior or morph into a dystopian villain?

Science fiction is filled with plots that play to this anxiety. I have to think that Skynet in the movie Terminator has influenced many of our opinions. It depicts a powerful AI that took over the world and built robots to exterminate humans. For older folks, it was the emotionless voice of the sentient computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey that chills down their spines.

At the core of these stories is a persistent, nagging fear: The next technological advance we make could be the one that ultimately leaves humanity behind.

Transhumanism: The Next Step in Evolution

Society has reached a level of technological capacity that will surpass humans’ ability to keep pace through natural means. Rather than fear it, the philosophical movement of transhumanism (H+) is ready to embrace advanced sciences and technologies to “direct” evolution.

Its goal is to apply them to human biology to create a new, better posthuman condition. In layman’s terms, it essentially means implanting technology into our bodies to make us better.

An Old Idea Coming to Life

The fundamental idea of melding advanced technology with human biology is not new. Modern thought on transhumanism reaches back almost a century to 1924.

Science fiction writers and Hollywood producers also found it a fertile playground. A quick application of technology to enhance our body’s limitations is all the hero needed to prevail! On the other side, technology is the monster to overcome. But, it was always set in a future or galaxy far, far away.

What it did accomplish in the real world is to introduce and to some degree normalize the concept of transhumanism to the general population

If You Can’t Beat Them, is it Time to Join Them?

Bits and pieces of transhumanism are already here. Artificial limbs controlled by your brain are getting more sophisticated with each passing year, with some surgically implanted to the bone. Bionic eye prototypes have been created and implanted in humans for testing.

Closer to the mainstream, sprinter Oscar Pistorious’ two lower-leg prosthetic carbon running blades created a stir more than a decade ago. This opened a big debate over the fairness of using prosthetic enhancements in sports.

Also, think about how many times you interact with your smart phone in a 24-hour period. We do it so much that scientists have discovered it is rewiring our brains. They have quickly become an extension of us.

In an increasingly complex and technological world, you may argue this is a good thing. Our biology is just adapting to the environment as we have done for millions of years.

Transhumanism is simply pushing to take our bodies further. For instance, your smart phone is with you around the clock. So why not just embed that technology into your body to interact directly with your brain?

You’ll gain things like enhanced peer-to-peer communication, real-time vital sign monitoring and virus/disease early warning, access to information at will (via augmented reality), improved digital security and a medium for seamless financial transactions. The list of potential benefits goes on.

The Tipping Point

That fine line—between mastering technology and being mastered by it—is where humans will always struggle. No individual wants to feel they are lesser than any man-made system or technology.

The technological leap of transhumanism will no doubt foment that fear and anxiety. This won’t be helped by wealthy early adopters, creating inequities between the technology-upgraded “haves” and poorer “have nots.” Hopefully, society can overcome this through scale along proven technological mass adoption curves.

So the question becomes at what point do the benefits of transhumanism outweigh our innate fear of change? We’re closer than you think.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink Ambitions

As if Tesla and SpaceX weren’t enough to keep him busy, Elon Musk is also dipping into transhumanism. His Neuralink tech demo this past September outlined plans to create a small and easily upgradable brain-machine interface for the masses.

He claims health benefits like solving paralysis, addiction, anxiety, brain damage and a host of other problems, and eventual interaction between your brain and AI. Although the underlying tech is not new, he aims to make it smaller, more easily applied (well, in a hole in your skull) and upgradeable.

Knowing his history with ambitious projects, I wouldn’t bet against him. The Verge has a great video discussing the Neuralink event, neuroscience and the tech.

For a Deeper Dive into Transhumanism

I highly recommend checking out the humanityplus.org The site provides a substantial, central account of responsible transumanism by leading transhumanists. The site’s FAQ page is a fantastic read. Enjoy!

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5 Major Healthcare Advances to Expect Over the Next Decade

Discover 5 healthcare advances you can expect in the next 10 years. These technologies will revolutionize how we care for our health.

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Top 5 Healthcare Advancements

It’s hard to believe, but healthcare is about to experience another huge shift. In the next 10 years, there will be massive advances in technology and biotech that will change how we access and receive care. Here are five healthcare advances you can expect to become commonplace:

Technology Advances Driving Health Outcomes

1. The dramatic increase in the use of AI

Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a rapid pace, so it’s no surprise that it’s finding its way into healthcare. On the macro scale, AI’s deep learning algorithms are scanning millions of health records to uncover disease trends and the most effective treatments. These will inform hospital and government programs on the best investments they can make to improve public health.

On the personal side, AI will surpass doctors’ ability to detect many diseases. Everything from reading patient x-rays to diagnosing mental health conditions will be done more accurately by machines.

This doesn’t mean we’ll all be replaced by robots, but AI will help free up doctors’ time so they can focus on more complex cases and provide better care.

2. The rise of virtual reality

Virtual reality is already being used for everything from training new surgeons to providing therapy for patients with PTSD, phobias and chronic pain. As the technology improves, it will become a more common approach to care.

One big advance will be using virtual reality as a tool for remote surgery. This will enable surgeons to operate on patients in other parts of the country or even the world. The first successful remote surgery was performed in 2001, but the technology has come a long way since then.

3. Telemedicine will become the norm

Telemedicine is already becoming more popular. In the next decade, it will become commonplace. This is because it’s more convenient and often more affordable than traditional in-person care.

We saw its benefits during the Covid pandemic lockdowns when hospitals were overloaded and in-person visits became risky. Health systems learned basic care could easily be handled remotely via a video call. AI also will begin monitoring these calls to help the doctor gather information like respiration rate, eye dilation, skin conditions and more to help diagnosis.

With advances in technology, you also will be able to consult with specialists from anywhere in the world and receive a broader spectrum of care. All without ever leaving your home.

Biotech Advances will Bring Care to the Genetic Level

4. Genetic sequencing of patients

The use of cutting-edge technology such as genetic sequencing and machine-learning algorithms allows researchers to gain new insights into diseases and create innovative treatments that were not previously possible. For example, through advanced sequencing techniques, doctors can now better understand how and why certain individuals are more prone to certain diseases.

5. Personalized medicines

Armed with with this knowledge, doctors will tailor treatments to a patient’s unique genetic profile, resulting in improved outcomes and reduced side effects. The potential benefits of these targeted therapies are wide-ranging, from new treatment options for rare diseases to more effective cancer prevention strategies.

Additionally, there has been much progress made in developing new diagnostic tools that can help clinicians better identify risk factors and disease markers, allowing them to provide a more targeted approach to care.

Overall, it is clear that technology and biotech advancements will continue to drive dramatic improvements in the healthcare landscape in the years ahead. These advances will not only make healthcare more effective and efficient, but also more accessible and affordable for everyone.

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Are EVs Essentially Robots on Wheels?

Our cars are about to gain the ability to drive themselves, but what does that mean for us as drivers and passengers? Should we be concerned with the physical limitations of a car’s occupants or should we just stick our heads in our phones and let the AI take over?

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Amazon Zoox Robot Taxi

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular with each passing day. Around the world car manufacturers are doubling down that the leading edge of the age of electric transportation is finally upon us. 

But, are EVs really just robots on wheels? And, are consumers ready to accept our physical limitations to fully hand over driving–and by extension so many other tasks–to robots?

Is Self-driving Technology Ready?

There’s an important question that must be answered about this technology. Are we ready to trust it yet? We’ve seen too many high-profile cases of self-driving cars getting into accidents, even if it wasn’t their fault. 

To reach mass adoption, and thus larger investment and more rapid advancement of this technology, it needs to be better out of the gate.

Tesla full self driving beta

Image credit: NotATeslaApp.com

Public Acceptance is Half the Battle

Interestingly enough, we’ve all seen high-profile, self-driving car scenarios on YouTube where drivers were doing everything but paying attention to the road. Some were found in the back seat, others watching videos or having sex, still others were asleep as their virtual driver sped along. 

None of these point to people not trusting the AI robot driver taking over the wheel. If anything, it shows too much trust at this stage. But with 1.35 million people being killed in car accidents annually around the world, the argument that humans—not robots—are better behind the wheel is getting harder to justify.

Uncanny Valley Skews Perception & Fear

Tesla full self driving in the real world

There’s a concept in robotics called the “uncanny valley.” It posits that as robots become more and more human-like in their appearance, people will have an increasingly negative reaction to them. The theory goes that we are hardwired for this reaction because it was beneficial for survival. If you couldn’t tell if something was friend or foe, your body automatically prepared for it to be harmful. 

There’s a reason people reacted favorably to Honda Motor Company’s ASIMO humanoid robot. It was short, a bit cuddly and, by painstaking design, had a non-threatening face. It became the most recognizable robot in the world for more than two decades.

Then there’s Boston Dynamics’ famous four-legged robot Spot. The thing is downright creepy, especially when you see it open doors, walk up stairs or even run across a field. It’s too animal-like for comfort and our mind reacts accordingly.

At What Point do Cars Become Robots?

Today’s cars are not necessarily threatening, at least to the driver. To a pedestrian in front of one speeding along, however, it’s another story.

This can apply to self-driving cars. We are used to seeing cars as inanimate tools. But, when they become animate and start making choices for us that we probably wouldn’t personally make as humans, that’s where robotics integration with humans will get interesting.

Zook - Amazon's self driving taxi

Will there be a day when sliding into the backseat of an AI-driven machine is as commonplace as catching an Uber or a Lyft is today? Some experts say yes, but it will take time. “People are going to have to get used to the idea that these things can drive better than we can,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Navigant Research. “It’s going to be a long road.”

As EV mandates increase, more self-driving technology buried deep in our cars will be waiting to be switched on by manufacturers and governments. It’s clear that road is getting shorter by the day.

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Tesla Gigafactory: Robotics and the New Age of Automation

As we hurtle into a new age of automation, what does that mean for the future of work? Tesla’s Gigafactory provides a glimpse.

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There’s a manufacturing giant in town, and it goes by the name of Tesla Gigafactory. This behemoth is a testament to the power of modern technology and robotics. With it, Elon Musk has shown that we are entering into a new age of automation. His factories utilize a host of cutting-edge robotics, all working together to create something amazing. 

What does this mean for the future? Will we see more factories like this one, and will automation take over other industries as well? 

Huge Facilities Drive Rising Output

About 5.3 million square feet of manufacturing and office space is housed at Tesla’s Fremont, California location. It has the potential to output 600,000 EVs, while the company’s Shanghai plant can reach about 1 million vehicles. These two factories, among the eight Tesla factories around the world, are currently the main manufacturing plants for the company.

But these large footprints are just the start. The real difference-maker is the number of robots working inside.

We’re not talking about a dozen or so bots here. Tesla has 700 cutting-edge robots on the factory floor in each of its two main plants. With this level of automation, it’s no wonder its Gigafactories have the potential to produce more cars with fewer people than traditional car manufacturers. 

Tesla Gigafactory Austin Robots

Level of Automation Sets Tesla Apart

As a newcomer to the entrenched automobile industry, Elon Musk approached automation as a blank slate. His goal from the start was to build the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. 

Compare this to automakers with over a century of legacy manufacturing investment in facilities, processes, and labor. These can hold them back from making major leaps and investments into future technologies. 

The level of automation employed by Tesla is what sets it apart from its competitors. Other automakers are quickly playing catch-up in the EV production war. One-by-one you see them announce huge investments in electric vehicle design and production. But they have a long way to go to reach the scale and efficiency of Tesla’s highly automated Gigafactories.

Elon Musk noted during Tesla’s Q1 2021 earnings call:

Elon Musk at Tesla Austin

“A lot will think of Tesla as a car company or as an energy company. I think long term, people will think of Tesla as much as an AI robotics company as we are a car company or an energy company.”

This is the future of manufacturing, and it’s only going to become more commonplace in the years to come.

What Does it Mean for The Future of Work?

More robots mean less need for human labor. But we’re a long way off from a self-sustaining factory that, anecdotally, needs only one person to make sure the electricity keeps flowing! 

This revolution will force us to challenge our outdated views of what work means and the hours we spend doing it. 

We’re on the cusp of a new age of automation, and it’s one that will change the way we work forever. Thanks to companies like Tesla, we’re moving closer to a future where robots, AI and humans will be highly efficient and effective partners in the workplace.

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