The Future is Here: The Soft Robotic Exosuit

aliens_powerloaderRobotic exoskeletons have come a long way, and are even breaking the mold. When one utters the term, it tends to conjure up images of a heavy suit with a metal frame that bestows the wearer super-human strength – as exemplified by Daewoo’s robot worker suits. And whereas those are certainly making an impact, there is a burgeoning market for flexible exoskeletons that would assist with everyday living.

Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed just such a device, a flexible fabric exoskeleton that earned them a $2.9 million grant by DARPA to continue developing the technology. Unlike the traditional exoskeleton concept, Harvard’s so-called “Soft Exosuit” is not designed to give the wearer vastly increase lifting capacity.

Exosuit-640x353Instead, the Soft Exosuit works with the musculature to reduce injuries, improve stamina, and enhance balance even for those with weakened muscles. In some ways, this approach to wearable robotics is the opposite of past exoskeletons. Rather than the human working within the abilities and constraints of the exoskeleton, the exoskeleton works with the natural movements of the human wearer.

The big challenge of this concept is designing a wearable machine that doesn’t get in the way. In order to address this, the Wyss Institute researchers went beyond the usual network of fabric straps that hold the suit in place around the user’s limbs. In addition, they carefully studied the way people walk and determined which muscles would benefit from the added forces offered by the Exosuit.

softexosuitWith a better understanding of the biomechanics involved, the team decided to go with a network of cables to transmit forces to the joints. Batteries and motors are mounted at the waist to avoid having any rigid components interfering with natural joint movement. This allows the wearer the freedom to move without having to manually control how the forces are applied.

Basically, the wearer does not have to push on a joystick, pull against restraints, or stick to a certain pace when walking with the Exosuit. The machine is supposed to work with the wearer, not the other way around. The designers integrated a network of strain sensors throughout the straps that transmit data back to the on-board microcomputer to interpret and apply supportive force with the cables.

Warrior_Web_Boston_Dynamics_sentDARPA is funding this project as part of the Warrior Web program, which seeks to reduce musculoskeletal injuries for military personnel. However, Harvard expects this technology to be useful in civilian applications as well. Anyone who needs to walk for long periods of time at work could benefit from the Soft Exosuit, which is less expensive and more comfortable that conventional exosuits; and with a little rescaling, could even be worn under clothing.

But the greatest impact of the Soft Exosuit is likely to be for those who suffer from a physical impairment and/or injuries. Someone that has trouble standing or walking could possibly attain normal mobility with the aid of this wearable robot. And people working their way through physiotherapy would find it very useful in assisting them with restoring their muscles and joints to their usual strength.

exosuit_cyberdyneHALThe team plans to collaborate with clinical partners to create a version of the exosuit for just this purpose. What the Wyss Institute has demonstrated so far has just been the general proof-of-concept for the Soft Exosuit. In time, and with further refinements, we could see all sorts of versions becoming available – from the militarized to the medical, from mobility assistance for seniors, to even astronauts looking to prevent atrophy.

And as always, technology that is initially designed to assist and address mobility issues is likely to give way to enhancement and augmentation. It’s therefore not hard to imagine a future where soft robotic exosuits are produced for every possible use, including recreation and transhumanism. Hell, it may even be foreseeable that an endoskeleton will be possible in the not-too-distant future, something implantable that can do the same job but be permanent…

Cool and scary! And be sure to check out this video from the Wyss Institute being tested:

 

 


Source:
extremetech.com
, wyss.harvard.edu, darpa.mil

The Future of Medicine: The Era of Artificial Hearts

05Between artificial knees, total hip replacements, cataract surgery, hearing aids, dentures, and cochlear implants, we are a society that is fast becoming transhuman. Basically, this means we are dedicated to improving human health through substitution and augmentation of our body parts. Lately, bioprinting has begun offering solutions for replacement organs; but so far, a perfectly healthy heart, has remained elusive.

Heart disease is the number one killer in North America, comparable only to strokes, and claiming nearly 600,000 lives every year in the US and 70,000 in Canada. But radical new medical technology may soon change that. There have been over 1,000 artificial heart transplant surgeries carried out in humans over the last 35 years, and over 11,000 more heart surgeries where valve pumps were installed have also been performed.

artificial-heart-abiocor-implantingAnd earlier this month, a major step was taken when the French company Carmat implanted a permanent artificial heart in a patient. This was the second time in history that this company performed a total artificial heart implant, the first time being back in December when they performed the implant surgery on a 76-year-old man in which no additional donor heart was sought. This was a major development for two reasons.

For one, robotic organs are still limited to acting as a temporary bridge to buy patients precious time until a suitable biological heart becomes available. Second, transplanted biological hearts, while often successful, are very difficult to come by due to a shortage of suitable organs. Over 100,000 people around the world at any given time are waiting for a heart and there simply are not enough healthy hearts available for the thousands who need them.

carmat_heartThis shortage has prompted numerous medical companies to begin looking into the development of artificial hearts, where the creation of a successful and permanent robotic heart could generate billions of dollars and help revolutionize medicine and health care. Far from being a stopgap or temporary measure, these new hearts would be designed to last many years, maybe someday extending patients lives indefinitely.

Carmat – led by co-founder and heart transplant specialist Dr. Alain Carpentier – spent 25 years developing the heart. The device weighs three times that of an average human heart, is made of soft “biomaterials,” and operates off a five-year lithium battery. The key difference between Carmat’s heart and past efforts is that Carmat’s is self-regulating, and actively seeks to mimic the real human heart, via an array of sophisticated sensors.

carmat-artificial-heartUnfortunately, the patient who received the first Carmat heart died prematurely only a few months after its installation. Early indications showed that there was a short circuit in the device, but Carmat is still investigating the details of the death. On September 5th, however, another patient in France received the Carmat heart, and according to French Minister Marisol Touraine the “intervention confirms that heart transplant procedures are entering a new era.”

More than just pumping blood, future artificial hearts are expected to bring numerous other advantages with them. Futurists and developers predict they will have computer chips and wi-fi capacity built into them, and people could be able to control their hearts with smart phones, tuning down its pumping capacity when they want to sleep, or tuning it up when they want to run marathons.

carmat_heart1The benefits are certainly apparent in this. With people able to tailor their own heart rates, they could control their stress reaction (thus eliminating the need for Xanax and beta blockers) and increase the rate of blood flow to ensure maximum physical performance. Future artificial hearts may also replace the need for some doctor visits and physicals, since it will be able to monitor health and vitals and relay that information to a database or device.

In fact, much of the wearable medical tech that is in vogue right now will likely become obsolete once the artificial heart arrives in its perfected form. Naturally, health experts would find this problematic, since our hearts respond to our surroundings for a reason, and such stimuli could very well have  unintended consequences. People tampering with their own heart rate could certainly do so irresponsibly, and end up causing damage other parts of their body.

carmat_heart2One major downside of artificial hearts is their exposure to being hacked thanks to their Wi-Fi capability. If organized criminals, an authoritarian government, or malignant hackers were dedicated enough, they could cause targeted heart failure. Viruses could also be sent into the heart’s software, or the password to the app controlling your heart could be stolen and misused.

Naturally, there are also some critics who worry that, beyond the efficacy of the device itself, an artificial heart is too large a step towards becoming a cyborg. This is certainly true when it comes to all artificial replacements, such as limbs and biomedical implants, technology which is already available. Whenever a new device or technique is revealed, the specter of “cyborgs” is raised with uncomfortable implications.

transhuman3However, the benefit of an artificial heart is that it will be hidden inside the body, and it will soon be better than the real thing. And given that it could mean the difference between life and death, there are likely to be millions of people who will want one and are even willing to electively line up for one once they become available. The biggest dilemma with the heart will probably be affordability.

Currently, the Carmat heart costs about $200,000. However, this is to be expected when a new technology is still in its early development phase. In a few years time, when the technology becomes more widely available, it will likely drop in price to the point that they become much more affordable. And in time, it will be joined by other biotechnological replacements that, while artificial, are an undeniably improvement on the real thing.

The era of the Transhumanism looms!

Source: motherboard.vice.com, carmatsa.com, cdc.gov, heartandstroke.com

Timeline of the Future…

hyperspace4I love to study this thing we call “the future”, and began to do so as a hobby the day I made the decision to become a sci-fi writer. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, its that the future is an intangible thing, a slippery beast we try to catch by the tail at any given moment that is constantly receding before us. And when predict it, we are saying more about the time in which we are living than anything that has yet to occur.

As William Gibson famously said: “…science fiction was always about the period in which it was written.” At every juncture in our history, what we perceive as being the future changes based on what’s going on at the time. And always, people love to bring up what has been predicted in the past and either fault or reward the authors for either “getting it right” or missing the mark.

BrightFutureThis would probably leave many people wondering what the point of it all is. Why not just wait and let the future tend to itself? Because it’s fun, that’s why! And as a science fiction writer, its an indispensable exercise. Hell, I’d argue its absolutely essential to society as a whole. As a friend of one once said, “science fiction is more of a vehicle than a genre.” The point is to make observations about society, life, history, and the rest.

And sometimes, just sometimes, predictive writers get it right. And lately, I’ve been inspired by sources like Future Timeline to take a look at the kinds of predictions I began making when I started writing and revising them. Not only have times changed and forced me to revise my own predictions, but my research into what makes humanity tick and what we’re up to has come a long way.

So here’s my own prediction tree, looking at the next few centuries and whats likely to happen…

21st Century:

2013-2050:

  • Ongoing recession in world economy, the United States ceases to be the greatest economic power
  • China, India, Russia and Brazil boast highest rates of growth despite continued rates of poverty
  • Oil prices spike due to disappearance of peak oil and costs of extracting tar sands
  • Solar power, wind, tidal power growing in use, slowly replacing fossil fuel and coal
  • First arcologies finished in China, Japan, Russia, India and the United States

arcology_lillypad

  • Humanity begins colonizing the Moon and mounts manned mission to Mars
  • Settlements constructed using native soil and 3D printing/sintering technology
  • NASA tows asteroid to near Earth and begins studies, leading to plans for asteroid mining
  • Population grows to 9 billion, with over 6 living in major cities across the all five continents
  • Climate Change leading to extensive drought and famine, as well as coastal storms, flooding and fires
  • Cybernetics, nanotech and biotech leading to the elimination of disabilities
  • 3D Construction and Computer-Assisted Design create inexpensive housing in developing world

europa_report

  • First exploratory mission to Europa mounted, discovers proof of basic life forms under the surface ice
  • Rome ordains first openly homosexual priests, an extremely controversial move that splits the church
  • First semi-sentient, Turing compatible AI’s are produced and put into service
  • Thin, transparent, flexible medical patches leading to age of “digital medicine”
  • Religious orders formed opposed to “augmentation”, “transhumanism” and androids
  • First true quantum computers roll off the assembly line

quantum-teleportation-star-trails-canary-islands-1-640x353

  • Creation of the worldwide quantum internet underway
  • Quantum cryptography leads to increased security, spamming and hacking begins to drop
  • Flexible, transparent smartphones, PDAs and tablets become the norm
  • Fully immersive VR environments now available for recreational, commercial and educational use
  • Carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere passes 600 ppm, efforts to curb emissions are redoubled
  • ISS is retired, replaced by multiple space stations servicing space shuttles and commercial firms
  • World’s first orbital colony created with a population of 400 people

2050-2100:

  • Global economy enters “Second Renaissance” as AI, nanomachinery, quantum computing, and clean energy lead to explosion in construction and development
  • Commercial space travel become a major growth industry with regular trips to the Moon
  • Implant technology removes the need for digital devices, technology now embeddable
  • Medical implants leading to elimination of neurological disorders and injuries
  • Synthetic food becoming the rage, 3D printers offering balanced nutrition with sustainability

3dfood2

  • Canada, Russia, Argentina, and Brazil become leading exporters of foodstuffs, fresh water and natural gas
  • Colonies on the Moon and Mars expand, new settlement missions plotted to Ganymede, Europa, Oberon and Titan
  • Quantum internet expanding into space with quantum satellites, allowing off-world connectivity to worldwide web
  • Self-sufficient buildings with water recycling, carbon capture and clean energy becomes the norm in all major cities
  • Second and third generation “Martians” and “Loonies” are born, giving rise to colonial identity

asteroid_foundry

  • Asteroid Belt becomes greatest source of minerals, robotic foundries use sintering to create manufactured products
  • Europe experiences record number of cold winters due to disruption of the Gulf Stream
  • Missions mounted to extra-Solar systems using telexploration probes and space penetrators
  • Average life expectancy now exceeds 100, healthy children expected to live to 120 years of age
  • NASA, ESA, CNSA, RFSA, and ISRO begin mounting missions to exoplanets using robot ships and antimatter engines
  • Private missions to exoplanets with cryogenically frozen volunteers and crowdfunded spaceships

daedalus_starship_630px

  • Severe refugee crises take place in South America, Southern Europe and South-East Asia
  • Militarized borders and sea lanes trigger multiple humanitarian crises
  • India and Pakistan go to war over Indus River as food shortages mount
  • China clamps down on separatists in western provinces of Xinjian and Tibet to protect source of the Yangtze and Yellow River
  • Biotechnology begins to grow, firms using bacteria to assemble structural materials

geminoid

  • Fully sentient AIs created and integrated into all aspects of life
  • Traditionalist communities form, people seeking to disconnect from modern world and eschew enhancement
  • Digital constructs become available, making neurological downloads available
  • Nanotech research leading to machinery and materials assembled at the atomic level
  • Traditional classrooms giving way to “virtual classrooms”, on-demand education by AI instructors
  • Medical science, augmentation, pharmaceuticals and uploads lead to the first generation of human “Immortals”

space_debris

  • Orbital colonies gives way to Orbital Nexus, with hundreds of habitats being established
  • Global population surpasses 12 billion despite widespread famine and displacement
  • Solar, wind, tidal, and fusion power replace oil and coal as the dominant power source worldwide
  • Census data shows half of world residents now have implants or augmentation of some kind
  • Research into the Alcubierre Drive begins to bear experimental results

alcubierre-warp-drive-overview22nd Century:

2100-2150:

  • Climate Change and global population begin to level off
  • First “Neural Collective” created, volunteers upload their thought patterns into matrix with others
  • Transhumanism becomes established religion, espousing the concept of transcendence
  • Widespread use of implants and augmentation leads to creation of new underclass called “organics”
  • Solar power industry in the Middle East and North Africa leading to growth in local economies
  • Biotech leads to growth of “glucose economy”, South American and Sub-Saharan economies leading in manufacture of biomaterials
  • Population in Solar Colonies and Orbital Nexus reaches 100,000 and continues to grow

asteroid_belt1

  • Off-world industry continues to grow as Asteroid Belt and colonies provide the majority of Earth’s mineral needs
  • Famine now widespread on all five continents, internalized food production in urban spaces continues
  • UN gives way to UNE, United Nations of Earth, which has near-universal representation
  • First test of Alcubierre FTL Drive successful, missions to neighboring systems planned
  • Tensions begin to mount in Solar Colonies as pressure mounts to produce more agricultural goods
  • Extinction rate of wild animals begins to drop off, efforts at ecological restoration continue
  • First attempts to creating world religion are mounted, met with limited success

networked_minds

  • Governments in most developed countries transitioning to “democratic anarchy”
  • Political process and involvement becoming digitized as representation becomes obsolete
  • “Super-sentience” emerges as people merge their neural patterns with each other or AIs
  • Law reformed to recognize neural constructs and AIs as individuals, entitled to legal rights
  • Biotech research merges with AI and nanotech to create first organic buildings with integrated intelligence

2150-2200:

  • Majority of the world’s population live in arcologies and self-sufficient environments
  • Census reveals over three quarters of world lives with implants or augmentation of some kind
  • Population of Orbital Nexus, off-world settlements surpasses 1 million
  • First traditionalist mission goes into space, seeking world insulated from rapid change and development
  • Labor tensions and off-world riots lead to creation of Solar policing force with mandate to “keep the peace”

Vladivostok-class_Frigate

  • First mission to extra=Solar planets arrive, robots begin surveying surface of Gliese 581 g, Gliese 667C c, HD 85512 b, HD 40307 g, Gliese 163 c, Tau Ceti e, Tau Ceti f
  • Deep space missions planned and executed with Alcubierre Drive to distant worlds
  • 1st Wave using relativistic engines and 2nd Wave using Alcubierre Drives meet up and begin colonizing exoplanets
  • Neighboring star systems within 25 light years begin to be explored
  • Terraforming begins on Mars, Venus and Europa using programmed strains of bacteria, nanobots, robots and satellites
  • Space Elevator and Slingatron built on the Moon, used to transport people to space and send goods to the surface

space_elevator_lunar1

  • Earth’s ecology begins to recover
  • Natural species are reintroduced through cloning and habitat recovery
  • Last reported famine on record, food production begins to move beyond urban farms
  • Colonies within 50 light years are established on Gliese 163 c, Gliese 581 g, Gliese 667C c, HD 85512 b, HD 40307 g, Tau Ceti e, Tau Ceti f
  • Off-world population reaches 5 million and continues to grow
  • Tensions between Earth and Solar Colonies continue, lead to demands for interplanetary governing body
  • Living, breathing cities become the norm on all settled worlds, entire communities build of integrated organic materials run by AIs and maintained by programmed DNA and machinery

self-aware-colony

23rd Century and Beyond:

Who the hell knows?

*Note: Predictions and dates are subject to revision based on ongoing developments and the author’s imagination. Not to be taken literally, and definitely open to input and suggestions.

The Future of Medicine: “Hacking” Neurological Disorders

brain-scan_530Officially, it’s known as “neurohacking” – a method of biohacking that seeks to manipulate or interfere with the structure and/or function of neurons and the central nervous system to improve or repair the human brain. In recent years, scientists and researchers have been looking at how Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) could be used for just such a purpose. And the results are encouraging, indicating that the technology could be used to correct for neurological disorders.

The key in this research has to do with the subthalamic nucleus (STN) – a component of the basal ganglia control system that is interconnected to the motor areas of the brain. Researchers initially hit upon the STN as a site for stimulation when studying monkeys with artificially induced movement disorders. When adding electrical stimulation to this center, the result was a complete elimination of debilitating tremors and involuntary movements.

DIY biohacker Anthony Johnson – aka. “Cyber AJ” – also recently released a dramatic video where he showed the effects of DBS on himself. As a Parkison’s sufferer, Johnson was able to demonstrate how the applications of a mild electrical stimulus from his Medtronic DBS to the STN region of his brain completely eliminated the tremors he has had to deal with ever since he was diagnosed.


But in spite of these positive returns, tests on humans have been slow-going and somewhat inconclusive. Basically, scientists have been unable to conclude why stimulating the STN would eliminate tremors, as the function of this region of the brain is still somewhat of a mystery. What’s more, they also determined that putting electrodes in any number of surrounding brain nuclei, or passing fiber tracts, seems to have similar beneficial effects.

In truth, when dealing with people who suffer from neurological disorders, any form of stimulation is likely to have a positive effect. Whether it is Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Tourettes, Autism, Aspergers, or neurological damage, electrical stimulation is likely to produce moments of lucidity, greater recall, and more focused attention. Good news for some, but until such time as we know how and in what ways the treatment needs to happen, lasting treatment will be difficult.

brain-activityLuckily, research conducted by the Movement Disorders Group at Oxford University, led by Peter Brown, has provided some degree of progress in this field. Since DBS was first discovered, they have been busily recording activity through what is essentially a brain-computer interface (BCI) in the hopes of amassing meaningful data from the brain as it undergoes stimulation moment-by-moment.

For starters, it is known that the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other such disorders fluctuate continuously and any form of smart control needs to be fast to be effective. Hence, DBS modules need to be responsive, and not simply left on all the time. Hence, in addition to their being electrodes that can provide helpful stimulus, there also need to be sensors that can detect when the brain is behaving erratically.

neuronsHere too, it was the Oxford group that came up with a solution. Rather than simply implanting more junk into the brain – expensive and potentially dangerous – Brown and his colleagues realized that the stimulation electrodes themselves can be used to take readings from the local areas of the brain and send signals to the DBS device to respond.

By combining BCI with DBS – lot of acronyms, I know! – the Oxford group and those like them have come away with many ideas for improvements, and are working towards an age where a one-size-fits-all DBS system will be replaced with a new series of personalized implants.

tcdsIn the meantime, a number of recreational possibilities also exist that do not involve electrodes in the brain. The tDCS headband is one example, a headset that provides transcranial direct current stimulation to the brain without the need for neurosurgery or any kind of brain implant. In addition to restoring neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to be flexible and enable learning and growth – it has also been demonstrated to promote deeper sleep and greater awareness in users.

But it is in the field of personalized medical implants, the kinds that can correct for neurological disorders, that the real potential really exists. In the long-run, such neurological prosthesis could not only going to lead to the elimination of everything from mental illness to learning disabilities, they would also be the first step towards true and lasting brain enhancement.

transhuman3It is a staple of both science fiction and futurism that merging the human brain with artificial components and processors is central to the dream of transhumanism. By making our brains smarter, faster, and correcting for any troubling hiccups that might otherwise slow us down, we would effectively be playing with an entirely new deck. And what we would be capable of inventing and producing would be beyond anything we currently have at our disposal.

Sources: Extremetech.com, (2)

New Video Shows Google Glasses in Action

GOOGLE-GLASS-LOGO1In a recently released teaser video, designed to expand Google Glass’ potential consumer base from the tech-savvy to what it refers to as “bold, creative individuals”. While the first video of their futuristic AR specs followed a New Yorker as they conducted mundane tasks through the city, this new clip hosts a dizzying array of activities designed to show just how versatile the product can be.

This includes people engaged in skydiving, horseback riding, catwalking at a fashion show, and performing ballet. Quite the mixed bag! All the while, we are shown what it would look like to do these activities while wearing a set of Google glasses. The purpose here is not only to show their functionality, but to give people a taste of what it an augmented world looks like.google_glass

And based on product information, videos and stillpics from the Google Glass homepage, it also appears that these new AR glasses will take advantage of the latest in flexible technology. Much like the new breeds of smartphones and PDAs which will be making the rounds later this year, these glasses are bendable, flexible, and therefore much more survivable than conventional glasses, which probably cost just as much!

Apparently, this is all in keeping with CEO and co-founder Larry Page’s vision of a world where Google products make their users smarter. In a 2004 interview, Page shared that vision with people, saying: “Imagine your brain is being augmented by Google.” These futurist sentiments may be a step closer now, thanks to a device that can provide on-the-spot information about whatever situation or environment we find ourselves in.

google_glass1One thing is for sure though. With the help of some AR specs, the middle man is effectively cut out. No longer are we required to aim our smartphones, perform image searches, or type things into a search engine (like Google!). Now we can just point, look, and wait for the glasses to identify what we are looking at and provide the requisite information.

Check out the video below:

AR Glasses Restore Sight to the Blind

projectglass01As I’m sure most readers are aware, blindness comes in many forms. It’s not simply a matter of the afflicted not being able to see. In fact, there are many degrees of blindness and in most cases, depth perception is limited. But as it turns out, researchers at the University of Yamanashi in Japan have found a way to improve depth perception for the visually challenged using simple augmented reality glasses.

The process involved a pair of Wrap 920 ARs, an off-the-shelf brand of glasses that allow their wearer to interface with their PC, watch video or surf the internet, all the while staying mobile and carrying out their daily chores. The team then recorded images as seen by the wearer from the angle of both eyes, processed it with a quad-core Windows 7 machine, and then merged the images as they would appear to the healthy eye.

AR_glassesEssentially, the glasses perform the task of rendering a scene as it would be seen through “binocular vision” – i.e. in 3D. By taking two images, merging them together and defining what is near and what is far by their relative resolution, they were able to free the wearer’s brain from having to it for them. This in turn allowed them to interact more freely and effectively with their test environment: a dinner table with chop sticks and food in small bowls, arguably a tricky meal to navigate!

Naturally, the technology is still in its infancy. For one, the processed imagery has a fairly low resolution and frame rate, and it requires the glasses to be connected to a laptop. Newer tech will provide better resolution, faster frames per second, and a larger viewport. In addiiton, mobile computing with smartphones and tablets ought to provide for a greater degree of portability, to the point where all the required technology is in the glasses themselves.

posthumanLooking ahead, it is possible that there could be a f0rm of AR glasses specially programmed to deliver this kind of vision correction. The glasses would then act as a prosthesis, giving people with visual impairment an increased level of visual acuity, bringing them one step closer to vision recovery. And since this is also a development which will blurring the lines between humans and computers even more, it’s arguably another step closer to transhumanism!

Source: Extremetech.com

Transhumans by 2030?

transhumanismThe issue of transhumanism, the rise of a new type of humanity characterized by man-machine interface and augmented intelligence, is being debated quite fervently in some circles right now. But it seems that groups other than Futurists and speculative fiction writers are joining the discussion. Recently, the National Intelligence Council, a US policy think-tank, released a 140 page report that outlined major trends and technological developments we should expect in the next 20 years.

The report, entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”, predicted several trends which are likely to come true in the near future. Amongst them is the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a growing middle class that will increasingly challenge governments, and ongoing shortages in water, food and energy. However, predictions were also made concerning a future where humans have been significantly modified by various technologies, what is often referred to as the dawn of the Transhuman Era.

how-nanotechnology-could-reengineer-usIntrinsic to this new era is the invention of implants, prosthetics, and powered exoskeletons which will become regular fixtures of human life. These will go beyond merely correcting for physical disabilities or injury, to the point where average humans are enhanced and become more productive. 2030 is key year here, because it is by this point that the authors predict that prosthetics will exceed organics, and people will begin getting them installed in order to augment themselves.

In addition, life extension therapies and medical advances which will be used predominantly by the elderly will become a means for otherwise healthy people to prolong their lives and maintain health and vitality for longer periods of time. Brain implants are expected to become a reality as well, ostensibly to allow people to have brain-controlled prosthetics, but also for the sake of enhanced memory and augmented thinking.

bionic_handAnd of course, bionics are an important factor in all this. Already, researchers have achieved breakthroughs with bionic limbs, but retinal attachments, artificial eyes, and even fully-functioning organs are expected before 2030. On top of that, improvements in drugs, such as neuropharmaceuticals – drugs that enhance memory, attention, speed of thought – and implants which assist in their delivery are expected to be making the rounds.

google_glassesFinally, there is the matter of virtual and augmented reality systems, which are already becoming a reality thanks to things like Project Glass and recent innovations in PDAs. As the report notes: “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.”

However, the big issue, according to the report, is cost and security. Most of these technologies will be not affordable to all people, especially for the first few years of their existence. This could result in a two-tiered society where the well-to-do live longer, healthier and have a competitive advantage over “organics”, people of lesser means who are identifiable by their lack of enhancements. Also, developers will need to be on their guard against hackers who might attempt to subvert or infect these devices with tailor-made viruses.

Naturally, the importance of maintaining uniform scientific progress was stressed, and the need for a regulatory framework is certainly needed. What the CSER recently recommended is certainly worth keeping in mind here, which was to ensure that some kind of regulatory framework be put in place before all of this becomes a reality. What’s more, public education is certainly necessary, so that the current and next generation of human beings knows what to expect and how to go about making informed choices therein.

To see the full report and learn more about the NIC, follow the link below:

National Intelligence Council: Who We Are

Source: IO9.com