What the Future Looks Like
I remember the first time I stepped into an escalator. It was fascinating and also quite frightening. It was a new experience and many among us were afraid of getting hurt by this technology that makes mobility easier. The same thing with the elevator. The first time I rode one I was amazed at the technology of transporting people to the highest floors of buildings in the fraction of the time it would take you to take the stairs.
My generation experienced unbelievable technological improvements — the fax machine, pagers, mobile phones, computers among them. It is a dizzying parade of advancements that does not seem to end. Such progress has brought excitement and also trepidation among those who fear the loss of human autonomy and, at least to science fiction enthusiasts, the rise of machines overtaking our world. Think of Terminator movies.
I particularly remember when in 1996, the world received the news about Dolly the sheep — the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult cell in Scotland. It was fascinating but some people raised the issue of morality. Are we playing God? Are technological advancements getting out of hand?
I thought about these when I saw two news items that are totally unrelated but pointed towards the future we seem to be headed to. Apple released its Vision Pro, which according to its website is “a spatial computer that blends digital content and apps into your physical space, and lets you navigate using your eyes, hands, and voice.” In other words, it is a gadget that gives us a completely immersive experience that has the potential to replace a reality with a simulated one.
The second news is more ground breaking. Elon Musk, the tech entrepreneur pushing the boundaries of what we can accomplish as humans, announced that his Neuralink company has successfully implanted one of its wireless brain chips in a human.
The BBC reported that the technology is called the brain-computer interface (BCI) where a small device is inserted in the skull which can read neuron activity and beam back a wireless signal to a receiving unit. Neuralink has previously claimed that monkeys implanted with the device were able to play a basic version of the video game Pong.
The implications to medicine is just astounding. Imagine how it can impact the quality of life of people with paralysis or blindness or Alzheimer’s. But the impacts go beyond medicine or even the ability to improve our memory immensely. But as impressive as this advancement is, there were concerns about the risks and possible abuse about its application to human life. Many sci-fi films have delve into this scenario. Is it possible for brain implants to be abused by governments or some evil person in order to manipulate people? Remember the reaction of some people who claim that the Covid-19 vaccines contained tracking microchips designed to violate their privacy.
There are indeed legitimate concerns about this and any other new technologies. One real and important issue is safety. Is it safe to open your brain and attach a device that can read neuron activity and beam back a wireless signal to a receiving unit? It is difficult to answer these questions at this point. Many of these technology are just emerging and we do not know yet the impacts on humanity.
I think it is a testament to the intelligence and the resilience of the human race that we have accomplished as much as we have at this point in our history. It blows my mind what we are able to do with technologies today compared to my time in the 60’s and 70’s. But I am glad that I was able to experience both periods — when things were simpler and now when things are more complicated, and exciting. You can say that we have enjoyed the best of both worlds.
I hope we continue this march towards technological advancement but I also hope that we can balance this by upholding our universal values and what makes us humans. Technology and humanity should be able to go hand in hand.