As we move into the 21st century, one thing which is simultaneously exciting and scary to me is the development of technologies that interface with humans more directly, and more intimately. I still haven’t seen anyone walking down the street with a Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens, but if history is anything to go by, in ten years they will be commonplace, in twenty years they will be given away for free in cereal boxes, and in thirty years, the devices won’t be cool enough to give away, or kids just won’t be eating cereal any more.
Wearing a device for hours a day that affects how you see the world is a close connection to the technology, certainly. But other devices that connect more directly to the brain and to the human experience are becoming more real every month. How exploitable will these devices be? If they’re connected to our brains and bodies, does that mean humans will be manipulated by their creators or others with nefarious intentions?
Years ago, scientists were doing experiments where bonobos would learn to move a robotic arm with just their mind and some electrodes. That’s pretty impressive stuff, but nothing compared to what will be possible in the near future. In 2014, scientists re-routed some brain signals to help a man control his paralysed limb once again. A chip was implanted surgically in his brain, precisely placed to the area that controls his arm movements, to transmit the signals to the previously incapacitated limb.
One related device that’s already commercially available is the Emotiv EPOC, a device that reads your brainwaves with sufficient clarity to enable you to control your computer, record your emotions, and play computer games just by putting a hunk of junk on your head, and thinking.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil states that eventually we will be able to get nanobots to enter our bodies and reprogram our genes to something superior, or enter our brains to back up all of our stored memories. In the more immediate future, nanobots will take the form of cybernetic bloodcells, allowing us to hold our breath for ten minutes or an hour, and regenerate quicker.
Of course, nanobots in our bloodstream bring us one step closer to making Martin Short’s best science-fiction film a reality.
The more paranoid among us have suggested that when direct interface technologies become more common, the human race will be more and more susceptible to mass mind control. A frequency emitted by a nanotechnological device, flowing through your bloodstream, could alter the emotions and therefore condition people into certain reactions, making this type of nanotechnology the greatest mind control device since the television.
Yet, the important thing to remember when projecting into the future, is that there are multiple macro trends, multiple technologies and movements happening at once. Failure to take this into account leads to errors such as, projecting an increased amount of horse-drawn carriages, overlooking the significance that steam and combustion engines would have, and predicting that by 1894 every street of London will be nine feet deep in horse manure.
The macro trends that will affect us most in the near future are things like open-source software, open-source hardware facilitated by 3D printing, and other forms of decentralisation. These developments will mean that people will rely less and less on large technology companies such as Microsoft and Apple, opting instead to use software and hardware that’s created, not by employees of a company, but instead by regular people who are (more or less) just interested in making something cool. Because the technology is not controlled by any particular entity, that means there are less points of failure, and less chances for any ominous organisation to insert exploits.
And so, perhaps in a few decades, we will be able to use a nano 3D printer to create a device whose source file has already been confirmed by several organisations, giving us faith that, anybody who uses it won’t be manipulated emotionally through an ominous backdoor.