AI, Humans, and SciFi

Whether you’re team Musk or Team Zuckerberg in the whole AI debate, one thing we should be excited about is incorporating the power of machine computing in our own brains as well as other human augmentation.

Yes, while a lot of the AI debate is mostly around humans vs. machines, there is a very likely scenario of humans being part machines. Sounds like a Sci-Fi? It’s already happening!


Gartner describes the field of human augmentation (sometimes referred to as “Human 2.0” or Human Performance Enhancement HPE) as the focus on creating cognitive and physical improvements as an integral part of the human body. An example is using active control systems to create limb prosthetics with characteristics that can exceed the highest natural human performance.

While examples abound in physical improvements (check out the Cyborg Olympics), what captures the imagination are the promises in the cognitive space. If you believe famed futurist Ray Kurzweil, we will have nanobots implanted in our brains by 2030.

“Kurzweil predicts that in the 2030s, human brains will be able to connect to the cloud, allowing us to send emails and photos directly to the brain and to back up our thoughts and memories. This will be possible, he says, via nanobots — tiny robots from DNA strands — swimming around in the capillaries of our brain. He sees the extension of our brain into predominantly nonbiological thinking as the next step in the evolution of humans — just as learning to use tools was for our ancestors.”

He further adds “they could also expand our capacity for emotions and creativity, and this ability to expand our brains with the information held in the cloud will combine with the power of artificial intelligence to make humans more ‘God-like’”.

As exciting and/or scary as this might sound, we are still away from this particular future. However, creating Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) is the main goal of Elon Musk’s Neuralink project and Brian Johnson’s Kernel.

That said, I wasn’t kidding when I say there are already “Scifi-like” technologies that already (can) improve human biology. Below are examples:

“The advisory committee drew a red line at genetic enhancements — like higher intelligence. “Genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people,” said Alta Charo, co-chair of the NAS’s study committee and professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.”

  • WT2: Realtime Language Translation- Sure there are still a few kinks, but it’s easy to see this technology work close to 100% and easily embedded to the body. For fans of HGTTG, here is our Babelfish!
  • Implants to boost the brain’s memory- DARPA reported that people given brain implants that delivered targeted shocks to their mind’s memory center scored better on memory tests. They have an aggressive goal of designing and experimenting with humans by 2021 an implantable brain-interface to enable recording and stimulation from the sensory cortex.
  • Halo: Device to boost part of the brain that controls muscle movement- Adopted by athletes and artists, the device promises to boost strength, explosiveness, endurance, and muscle memory.
  • Video recorder eye implant- This filmmaker replaced his damaged eye with an eye camera. Google and Sony also filed patents to develop smart contact lenses that can record and play back video, among other things.

So what does these all mean?

One, I think we live in a very exciting time and that we need to prepare for the future by thinking more than a few years ahead.

Two, that preparation means always learning and perhaps pushing ourselves to always imagine and reimagine the future.

I strongly agree with this HBR article that business leaders need to read more science fiction. The writer mentioned that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have brought in science fiction writers as consultants.

In this coming world of super computing and AI, I want to end with this interview with Albert Einstein.

Albert: “I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.”

Interviewer: “Then you trust more to your imagination than to your knowledge?”

Albert: “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

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