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Could Human Enhancement Prevent Robots from Taking Jobs?

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington

The chorus of voices arguing that “robots will take our jobs” have many complaints but few solutions – which is a growing concern given that automation is already impacting jobs and clearly a critical societal driving force of the very near future. But rather than sit back and decry the robots’ encroachment on the working world while accepting it’s inevitability, should we be fighting back and how might we do it? Can we use science and technology advances to compete and enhance our way to future job security? This article looks at how enhanced humans may turn the “replaced by robots” debate on its head.

Thanks to advances in biology, genetics, pharmaceuticals, wearable technology, neurotech, and wireless connectivity, it is increasingly conceivable, and scientifically possible, that humanity—rather than being overshadowed by the rise of AI—might be ready to surpass all previous real or imagined limitations of our brains and bodies. The range of enhancements can range from chemical, genetic, and neurological augmentation of the body’s basic architecture through to physical and electronic developments to extend our capabilities and a range of treatments to extend life expectancy. If such dramatic enhancements – as supported by the transhumanist movement – were used to expand the capability and value of human workers massively, robots may not have the job decimating impact that so many predict. Of course there are many who are quite happy with the prospect of infinite human leisure in a world run by robots.

Sensory Augmentation

In the next ten to fifteen years, we could see the emergence of a new normal, where people can routinely obtain a range of extreme sensory augmentations. An example might be the smart contact lenses that are already emerging, which can effectively transform the human eye into a visual interface. Another development might include augmented hearing, which would help address the fact that as most humans age, we naturally lose the ability to hear higher frequencies. In the future, we may be able to reverse this, or even enhance human hearing beyond the normal range via aural implants directly connected to our brains.

To avoid sick days, employees could have an augmented immunity bubble of subcutaneous implants that would detect pathogens in the immediate environment and provide antibodies to protect from specific contagious diseases. On a bigger scale, this enhancement might make most public health measures irrelevant as coughing, sneezing, and touching may no longer pose a risk. Handwashing and vaccines could become unnecessary, while a global antibiotic crisis could also be averted.

How about emotional intelligence and social skills? Future hiring committees in companies working with co-bots will need soft skills in human staff. Heightened emotional sensitivity could be achieved through deep brain stimulation. Furthermore, workplace injury and accidents might be averted if humans obtain total control of how much physical sensations affect them. We could turn a dial to increase touch sensitivity during intimate moments, or while playing a car chase computer game, but dial down our sensitivity in anticipation of physical pain or hard, repetitive labor.

Super Organisms

One of the prime goals of many in the Transhumanist movement is to take evolution to its next level and create organisms that blur the boundaries between humans, robots, and AI. The intention is to create enhanced lifeforms with a range of superhuman capabilities, able to form into telepathically connected collectives where each organism is an extension and representation of the whole. An example would be the hive mind of the Borg in Star Trek. Such a truly human social network would potentially outshine any mixed reality workplace or distributed autonomous organization (DAO) operating on code alone.

Radical Life Extension and Cryogenics

Those involved in the pursuit of radical life extension often refer to “curing death” as their raison d’être. Aging is viewed as an unnecessary evil, a mere medical problem waiting to be solved. Being able to live 125 years or more with comfort and good health seems to be the current vision for life extension proponents, who advocate for pharmaceutical, dietary, and lifestyle adaptations to achieve longer than natural life spans.

Rather than extend life, cryogenics is a potentially transformative breakthrough that puts life on pause, to restart later in time, decades or centuries from now. The idea behind cryogenic freezing is that, in the future, medical technology will be able to reanimate a body which has been preserved in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures. The elderly and the terminally ill are the most likely candidates for cryo, although there could be elective preservation conducted for personal reasons in the future. Of course, we have no idea whether we’ll ever have the technology to re-awaken the physical body and restore memory and consciousness, much less pick up where you left off at your old job. No matter how many decades pass, many proponents argue that it’s safe to guess that cryo-human will be at an advantage here, since access to organic knowledge, memories, and consciousness will always supersede the artificial intelligence of machines.

Permanent Job Security

In the future, as automation disrupts many industries and sectors, jobs will be at risk. But healthy employment is one of the most important quality of life indicators and an expression of properly applied human capital. Transhumanism and human enhancement technologies may generate new strategies to defend jobs from roboticization.  Augmented senses, blurring the line between humans and machines, and extended lifespans may be among the more controversial but plausible answers to humans having—and keeping—an edge on machines in the future.


This article was published in FutureScapes. To subscribe, click here.

Image: by geralt


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