Having been deeply involved (okay, obsessed) with Social Media since 2005, I am somewhat jaded to discovering the next “new” thing as a lot of what I hear when I go to conferences or read blogs are iterations of things that have come before. That’s natural and fine, but I do like to be surprised and even shocked. Back in the day, at the first few Podcast and Portable Media Expo’s, for instance, running around the conference center with fellow podcasters felt like we were all part of a new religion espousing how DIY (Do It Yourself) media would transform the world. And it did. But now that we’re firmly entrenched in a landscape where everyone but the most committed luddites understands that Social Media is here to stay, I’ve been wondering what the next paradigm-shifting trend will be that’s at the same level as my adventures back six years ago.
Acclaimed scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweilcoined the term, “The Singularity” – a term that identifies an actual date in the year 2049 as the tipping point when computers actually become smarter than humans. This may seem far fetched, but the recent victory of IBM’s Watsoncomputer on Jeopardy garnered an enormous amount of press and spurned questions on the nature of intelligence. Can machines actually learn? A NOVA special on the making of Watson shows that the creators of the super computer would argue that’s the case. A technology called machine learning allowed Watson to actually increase the number of correct answers during practice Jeopardy games by hearing answers from other contestants and self-correcting ‘his’ future responses. And, say what you will—Watson worked. He beat his human contestants and now the technology behind the supercomputer will be focused on verticals like finance, telecom, and health.
Cyborg or Self-Help?
Todd Marks, CEO & President of Mindgrub led a packed panel at SXSW on the Singularity and brought up a compelling question for the audience in regard to our nature of humanity – when do we stop being human? He cited two compelling examples that may make you doubt your initial reaction to this question:
- Professional Athletes who are Amputees – apparently some athletic organizations are disallowing certain athletes to compete when their artificial limbs are considered an enhancement to their performance. Some metal or other structural formations of the limbs are seen to improve performance over competitors.
- Parkinson’s Patients – there has been success in ‘waking up’ certain portions of the brain in Parkinson’s patients that has actually delayed the onset of Parkinson’s incidents. Small chips are implanted in patient’s brains to turn on the electrodes that do the work.
Are these folks cyborgs because they combine human and machine parts? Also, think of yourself—if you’re using your iPhone to see/talk and your Bluetooth to hear, is the only reason you’re not a cyborg because all your equipment is external to your body? What would make you transition to have that technology become more a part of your body? Most futurists (and technologists) think you’ll be ‘wearing’ your smartphone on your eyes within five years via contact lenses since technology has made it possible to shrink the elements of your phone to wearable sizes.
TIME is Near
If you think this subject isn’t mainstream, think again. TIME magazine recently featured a cover story on the Singularity called, 2045 – The Year Man Becomes Immortal. Medical and other technologies are evolving at speeds that make it impossible for us to avoid the question of how we define our humanity in regards to the machines that we rely on more and more.
So what do you think. What makes YOU human?