One of my favorite web comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, tackled one of my favorite absurd future scenarios in yesterday’s installment. I do think there’s a serious issue under here, but I also think humor is probably the best strategy to avoid it becoming very not-funny in the future. The issue at stake is: what happens if humans become too reliant on cybernetic enhancements?
I think the first time I wrote about this was in a 2012 ReadWrite post called Do You Need To Go Cyborg To Keep Your Job? I like that headline because it condenses this vast topic into what I think is the one point that concerns everybody, not just high-fallutin’ technologists. If it becomes popular to enhance one’s own mind and body with new cyborg technologies, it quickly becomes an economic arms race that leaves behind anyone unwilling to participate. As I wrote in that 2012 post, “if your colleagues and competitors are all frying on Ritalin — or have an extra pair of super-strong titanium arms — whose going to hire plain old you?”
It’s a question that worries me. I’ve heard some people get really excited about high-tech life extension and mind expansion and body modification in a way that makes me pretty uncomfortable, personally. I’m not sure I would want to get some kind of brain surgery to give me super-fast digital processing power, for example. I don’t know what that would do to my mind. It might be objectively pretty impressive, but it could be subjectively horrible. But the catch-22 is, if I don’t do it, I’ll be crowded out of the job market by digitally enhanced super-geniuses.
After considering such a future for a few seconds, though, it begins to seem comical. I think that’s because I can’t take humans seriously enough to think they’d be able to succeed at engineering themselves into enlightened beings. And as the comic argues half-seriously, the machines might end up getting the better of us, rather than the other way around.