This article was originally published on Datafloq.
If you want evidence that future technology is going to be radically transformative, just look at the 1990s. They were crazy.
There was such a surge in neuroscience research that one American president dubbed it “the decade of the brain.” This period also saw the propagation of the modern internet, forever changing the way people interacted with information.
That was just 20 short years ago. I remember this time fondly because I felt a distinctly positive impact from this rise of technology. The internet was my personal Library of Alexandria. I came of age with easy access to WIRED Magazine, the Whole Earth Catalog, and most of the world’s published books. As a curious kid interested in science and technology, I started consuming content that painted this subject matter in a different, more mature light.
I read work by people who described technology as something that’s co-evolving alongside humanity. I learned about emergent topics like “transhumanism” and “superintelligence,” words that entered my vocabulary early on and later informed my education and career. I studied math and computer science at school, then co-founded an artificial intelligence startup in the manufacturing space.
I wanted to follow my curiosity and expand my education in ways that the library’s physical card catalog couldn’t accommodate, so I dove into the internet and started searching. Whatever course I was on before, technology changed it forever.
That early exposure to new ideas made it easy to comprehend the complicated topics spilling out of these new technological niches. It begged a strange question: if I was using computers to become a smarter person, was I some sort of cyborg?
I don’t like the term “cyborg.”
This word can refer to any technological enhancement that improves human life, but there’s a lot of baggage attached to it. Cyborgs are too closely associated with far-flung apocalyptic sci-fi, so it muddies the water when we try to have a serious conversation about how humans and technology interact with each other.
In a world free of science fiction semantics, “cyborg” would refer to anyone using technology to increase the amount of work they can do in a day. But this flashy word summons images of people with high-powered robot arms attached to their shoulders, or telephoto lenses embedded in their eyeballs. We need non-threatening language to help us understand the symbiotic relationship between man and machine. That’s why I prefer the image of the mythological centaur, as opposed to the Hollywood-fueled concept of a cyborg.
Centaurs evoke supernatural strength and stamina packed in a (mostly) human-shaped container. That’s why I think they’re a better image for discussing AI augmentation.
Cyborgs and centaurs are going to be very common
People are competitive achievers in search of an edge. If an affordable piece of technology gives someone a professional advantage, that person is highly likely to make it part of his or her routine. The alternative would simply be to continue doing things in an inefficient, old-fashioned way. Who’s going to want that?
Most people adopt technology if it leads to less hard work and more free time. If something is helpful and familiar — like Google — we tend to apply it to every aspect of our lives. There is a certain inevitability to how people interact with technology. We tend to develop it to the fullest extent, squeezing all possible convenience out of it. This has already started with the devices we use each day, and it’s getting more widespread. Artificially intelligent apps and software will one day break away from the computer screen and start to interface directly with our minds and bodies. This is what transhumanism is all about — using technology to unlock maximum human potential.
We are already on the path for everyone to become centaurs.
Augmented humans will be better equipped to deal with reality
Robust AI will excel at getting humans into “flow,” a natural state of mind where time seems to stop and productivity shoots through the roof. People who augment their abilities with AI tools are going to solve higher quality problems than those who don’t. Because they’ve automated their low-level busy work to zero, there’s no place to go but up.
Our mental limits are more interesting than our physical limits. Studies on elite athletes show that their physical performance is also closely related to their mindset — even if a Red Bull athlete trains daily, it’s his or her thinking that carries them through impressive feats. They can achieve things that seem impossible because their cognition is so different from everyone else’s.
As artificial intelligence technology matures, it will ease cognitive barriers and raise the speed limit for human thought. When we can more easily slip into a flow state, it’s easier to find the epiphanies and eureka moments we’re hunting for.
The future is going to belong to people who use technology to augment their problem-solving abilities. Just don’t call them “cyborgs,” please.