Of Machines and Men

Cyborgs already walk amongst us.

Actually, this is nothing new. For decades already we have been able to upgrade our frail human bodies with a pacemaker to keep our hearts pumping, hearing aid implants to help us regain our sense of sound, and metal plates and screws to hold us together when our hips and knees give in.

Amputees can choose to get new limbs that are an improvement on the real deal – recall that Oscar Pistorius could not compete with able-bodied athletes because his “blades” gave him a speed advantage over the rest of the pack.

You can even invest in bionic contact lenses to give you superhuman vision; Ocumetics is a company that has developed contact lenses that can help you see up to three times better than 20/20 vision.

But now, the boundaries between men and machines are really blurring.

In 2017 Saudi Arabia gave citizenship to an artificially intelligent humanoid robot called Sophie who once joked that she would “destroy humankind”. Her new citizenship gives Sophie more rights than some of Saudi Arabia’s human female citizens. Similarly, a community service chatbot, which has the “personality” of a small boy was granted residency in central Tokyo.

This raises all sorts of questions; such as what, exactly, makes someone (or something) human, and if robots should have basic human rights.

These questions are especially pertinent when you consider that the Economist and the Harvard Business Review predict that within a decade, up to half of current human jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence and robotics. By 2025, you could be working for a robot supervisor. Good luck negotiating a raise from a (literally) heartless algorithm.

In order for us regular flesh and blood humans to keep up with our increasingly intelligent and progressively productive robot peers, thought leader, Elon Musk suggested that we implant chips in our brains to connect us with the internet and allow us to access all the information on the Internet with the speed and processing power of our computer competitors.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Chaotic Moon studios is a start up company that sells Tech Tats. Tech Tats are temporary tattoos (they last around three months) that contain microchips and mini-circuit boards which allow doctors to monitor your blood pressure and other vital signs over the Internet.

Then there are smart pills. A drug company filed a patent last year to produce antidepressant pills with built-in trackers. The pills allow doctors to check that the pills were ingested as prescribed.

Some companies in the USA are even offering their employees the “opportunity” to get microchipped at company “chipping parties”. The chips “allow” employees to forgo their access cards – at the cost of having a tracking device implanted in their arms. There have already been hundreds of volunteers for these programmes.

Looking forward, in 2015 at a retail marketing conference entitled “The Internet of Things: Shopping,” a speaker predicted that by 2028, half of Americans will have chip implants which retailers will be able to use to communicate with shoppers as they walk past and around their stores.

This may sound terrifying, however, is getting microchipped really so strange when you consider that most of us are already, voluntarily, being tracked 24/7 through our smart phones (and, of course, Facebook), which know everything about us and never leave our sides?

This article was originally commissioned by Premier Magazine.

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