And by the time people are in a position to begin colonising other planets, mankind will be a technologically-augmented species, Bob Flint, the technology director with BPs Digital Innovation Organisation, predicted. The recent BBC One drama series Years and Years touched on such concepts, with one character voicing her desire to become transhuman - in other words, dramatically enhanced by technology - and Mr Flint said the concept was perhaps not as far-fetched as it might sound. Mr Flint, who will present his ideas during a talk entitled The Upgradeable Human at the New Scientist Live festival at Londons ExCel centre, said: Humankinds development is a story of using technology to add to our capabilities think clothing and spectacles, or more recently pacemakers and laser eye surgery.
We can imagine augmenting our strength, stamina, senses and even intelligence
Now, with technology becoming incredibly powerful through digital, the possibilities are becoming exponentially greater. We can imagine augmenting our strength, stamina, senses and even intelligence.
It was yesterday announced that a French man, known has Thiabault, had managed to walk in the exoskeleton in a pioneering experiment carried out by scientists at the University of Grenoble in France.
As a result, the next few decades could see an increasing blurring of the lines between man and machine, Mr Flint said.
He explained: Wearables are an early example of this trend, but new technology is emerging which can be incorporated more seamlessly into the body, heralding an era where humans and machines will be closely integrated.
Eventually, its possible humans may be able to move beyond the evolutionary process by selecting digital upgrades that overcome the constraints of biology and allow each of us to choose powerful new abilities, which can be used in our personal and working lives.
Such concepts have been featured in modern sci-fi shows including Charlie Brookers Black Mirror, and the aforementioned Years and Years, written by Russell T Davies and even as far back as the Six Million Dollar Man in the 1970s.
Mr Flint said: I loved Years and Years, and thought it was great to see TV drama exploring some very futuristic concepts.
Personally, I think were some way from the transhumanism that is mentioned (one of the characters wanted to upload her personality and experiences to become a purely digital being, which would need huge advances in computing).
Im actually talking about the opposite idea, using digital technology to give our human selves greater powers - this is possible now.
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Im just predicting it will become easier, cheaper and much less noticeable in the near future.
I think the bigger issue is not so much whether this will be technically possible there are lots of research projects and early products which signpost the direction of travel.
Its more whether upgrading ourselves will be seen as socially acceptable. This is hard to call, but I think that if it gives us an advantage, maybe in work, sport or socially, then eventually it will simply be regarded as a normal thing to do.
There are all sorts of major ethical questions here, some of the ones weve come across are: will human upgrades only be available to the very rich? How will the most deserving get hold of necessary technology even if they dont have the means to pay for it?
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What does privacy mean in an age where technology can collect lots of personal information on our physical or mental state? How do we hang onto the rights to our own data?
If a company is looking to hire a new member of staff, how should they treat the technically augmented versus the non-augmented applicants? Is the playing field ever going to be level again?
We really need a public conversation on these issues, so we can decide what regulation or legal change we may need in this area.
For example, the Royal Society has recently kicked off a public dialogue on neural interfaces, which is a great start.
Looking further into the future, Mr Flint believed technological enhancements may also help humans conquer space.
He explained: I know theres a big debate about whether its preferable for humans to lead the exploration of other worlds, or robots.
Certainly, robotic methods are going to be easier (and less costly) in the short term, as you dont need to create habitable conditions on board the spacecraft or on the planet you land on.
But eventually, if humankind is going to become an interplanetary species, well need to get good at moving life across vast tracts of space.
I actually dont think that having an upgraded human is mandatory to enable this. But I do think that the timescales will coincide in other words, we will be a technologically-augmented species anyway, by the time we seriously attempt to colonise other worlds.
The Upgradeable Human is on the Humans stage on October 10 between 10.45am and 11.25am.
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