But if de Garis is a Cosmist with a heavy conscience, Warwick is more toward the Terran end of the spectrum. Just not all the way. Rather, he writes, “I would consider myself more as a Cyborgian,” someone who technologically upgrades one’s body to become “part machine, part human.”
He doesn’t have his wires crossed. Warwick received lots of attention a decade ago, thanks to the inroads made by his “Project Cyborg,” in which an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip was implanted into his arm, allowing him to have domain over certain nearby computer-controlled devices. A few years later, a more advanced neural interface tapped into his nervous system: he was able to control a colleague’s arm motion via his own, and even communicated, rudimentarily, via telepathy with his wife.
In books such as I, Cyborg and March of the Machines: The Breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence, Warwick tries to suss out a future where becoming something other than human will become an almost-necessary adaptation.
“I believe ‘intelligence’ to be the key,” he writes in an e-mail from Prague. “Humans are mainly in the driving seat on Earth because, intellectually, we can outperform other creatures. But we are developing more and more intelligent machines — machines that are intelligent in the areas that matter,” such as defense systems, finance, and food production. “With networking, this intellectual power is becoming more dangerous — and we’ve become more dependent on it — and we can’t switch it off.”
The answer, then, is to get cracking: to beat the robots to the proverbial punch. “Either intelligent, networked machines will ultimately ‘take over’ or humans will have to upgrade our intellectual abilities, literally link our brains into the network, become Cyborgs,” says Warwick. “The future on Earth will be one dominated either by intelligent machines or by Cyborgs. Humans as we know them today will be a sub-species.”
VIDEO: A demonstration of a voiceless telephone call
In fact, in many ways, we’ve started our cyborgian transformation in earnest already. And few people seem to mind. Just look at the YouTube clip from a couple months back showing a demonstration at Texas Instruments in which a wireless neckband facilitates the first voiceless cell-phone call — intercepting nerve signals and allowing the wearer to “talk” without opening his or her mouth.
And that’s not to mention the ever-increasing array of “cyborg” technology that exists and is accepted all around us, such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, retinal implants and deep-brain stimulators, says James Clement, executive director of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA). “We don’t look at people who use prosthetic legs or who have cochlear ear implants or these neuropacemakers and say, ‘They’re not human. They’re cyborgs. They’re something different.’ ”
The WTA believes that technology, “used ethically, can allow individuals to extend beyond their normally evolved genetic capabilities,” says Clement. “We can dramatically enhance cognitive, biological, and mood capabilities in humans through nanotechnology, biotechnology, [and] artificial intelligence.”
He doesn’t pretend to know precisely what the future holds. “Any prediction that goes beyond 20 to 30 years is basically meaningless,” he says. “We are moving at such a fast pace of technological change that I don’t believe anyone can predict how we’re going to incorporate these changes in our lives.”