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Will The Co-Evolution Of Humans And Machines Change Our Lives?

PSFK chats with Parag and Ayesha Khanna to get their take on how the coming 'Hybrid Age' will develop and how we can avoid an all out battle between...

According to Technology Futurists Parag and Ayesha Khanna, civilization is on the verge of a new trajectory, where instead of simply co-existing with technology, humans are starting to co-evolve with it. This dramatic shift is what defines, the Hybrid Age, the subject of the Khannas’ new book, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology CivilizationIn it, they  explore the impacts of a world where technology is increasingly ubiquitous, intelligent and social.

We had a chance to catch up with Parag and Ayesha and get their thoughts on how this co-evolution will improve our quality of life and how we can avoid an all out battle between humans and machines. Following the interview, they’ve also given us the opportunity to share an excerpt from the book.

Tell us a little more about Hybrid Reality – we’re in the Information Age right now, what is the Hybrid Age?

The Hybrid Age is the frontier of the Information Age. Our historical eras are additive: look at how so much of the world is just now industrializing! So as information technologies merge with biology, physics, neuroscience and a host of other disciplines, we have to look beyond just IT into what new pattern of socio-technical relations is emerging. For us, the Hybrid Age reveals itself as technologies merge with each other and we increasingly integrate with technology – both at the same time.

What are the key factors driving this shift?

The drivers are technologies that are more ubiquitous, intelligent, social and integrated than ever before. Integration refers to the physical human-technology nexus referred to earlier. Ubiquity is about smart sensors and other innovations essentially coating our habitats, particularly dense and modern cities, relaying information seamlessly through the Internet of Things. Intelligent and social go hand-in-hand, but are different. The fact that our relationship with technology is now a two-way street is manifest both in trends such as artificial intelligence as well as the increasingly emotional relationships we are developing with robots.

As we look ahead at the relationship between human and machine, how soon do you see implantable technology becoming widely adopted? Are we 5 or 20 years away?

There are numerous examples of such implants already growing from trials to wider deployment, whether bio-sensors that send signals based on the body’s receptivity to medicine dosages to synthetically printed organs that could address the shortfall in liver transplants, and also brain-computer interfaces which are currently assisting the disabled but can certainly augment anyone as their testing becomes more widespread. Each may take its own course, but no doubt within a decade we’ll be much further along in scale than we are now.

How will this closer relationship with technology help improve people’s lives?

We believe in a healthy co-evolution with technology. New bio-technologies could improve our ability to concentrate and achieve our goals and even live longer and healthier lives. Driverless cars could allow us to spend more time with family and reduce automobile accidents. Mobile phones are becoming platforms for tele-medicine. The list goes on and on. There are downsides, drawbacks, trade-offs and unintended consequences to every technology, but fearing the consequences doesn’t prevent them from emerging. We have to anticipate these consequences and work to minimize the downside.

Is it possible to ‘check’ the power of technology? In the Hybrid Reality, will technology ‘control’ us?

We are still very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to technology. It may seem like a race between rapidly emerging innovations and our awareness of their impact, but the latter is ever more attainable given the rapidly broadening access to information and deepening discourse about the social implications of technology. That’s what the Hybrid Reality Institute is all about.

An excerpt from the book follows below:

The Hybrid Age will unfold in the first truly global era. East and West, North and South, are now talking, trading and competing with each other on increasingly equal terms. For many it feels as close to a fresh—if sobering—start as one could imagine. For the United States, centuries of exceptionalism and hegemony are usurped by a world of ever-shifting alliances; China grasps for global influence far greater than any previous dynasty; Arab conspiratorial legacies give way to the sober reality of self-reliance; Africa and Latin America are for the first time players rather than pawns on the world’s chessboard. Transportation and communication networks have achieved nearly universal scale and are the conveyor belts for technological diffusion.

In the 1970’s, the Tofflers estimated that several million people around the world were “living in the future”: They flew intercontinentally, traded on capital markets, used fax machines, and were becoming postnational “Davos men.” By those standards, today several million people in Tokyo alone ”live in the future,” and many millions belong to the global commuter class. To envision life in the Hybrid Age, it helps to travel and be imaginative, but it is even more useful to observe children, who are uninhibited in their creative interactions with technology. Half the world’s population is under the age of 25. Today’s millennials (or Generation Y) are referred to as “digital natives,” but it is Generation Z (today’s toddlers) for whom the flux of hybrid reality will be normal. Today they play with coins and keyboards; tomorrow those will be artifacts. “Something has changed in the relationship between young and old,” wrote the Tofflers. In the Hybrid Age, we need translation across generations more than across cultures. Each of us has a biological age and a technological age—often in inverse proportion. Much like product generations, today one biological generation can contain four or five psychological ones with respect to technology. It is the young who are the earliest adopters of new technologies and develop fluency in the their techniques and idioms.

Thanks Parag and Ayesha!

Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization

The Hybrid Reality Institute

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