The man-machine symbiosis is no longer a hypothesis but something certain, and to get there we will have to go through five phases.
In March 2017 Elon Musk announced his umpteenth mission to empower humanity: a neural interface that is inserted directly into the brain with the aim of improving our cognitive skills and facilitating communication between humans and computers.
This is the last piece in the five stages of evolution towards the complete fusion between man and machines, as illustrated in the book Merge: The closing gap between technology and us published by PHD.
The first stage of this journey dates back to the period from 1950 to 1995: it is the moment when we begin to create and interact with the world of digital information. In 1951 the first personal computer, the UNIVAC I , was put on sale, a device that weighed 7.3 tons and which made it possible to use and modify digital data.
The real breakthrough in the circulation of information, however, occurred in 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee decided to make all the information of CERN easily accessible to the people who worked there: the World Wide Web was born – the very same that we can consult today on the top of Everest or even from Mars.
With the subsequent opening of the web to the entire world, anyone could produce content that was going to be positioned within the new digital space, thus generating problems in untangling themselves in this new informative world.
The organisation of information through search engines, browsers, operating systems and applications thus marks the beginning of the second phase. Once you have created a digital world that combines the real world, consisting of information, new interfaces are created to communicate with it.
Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator become real windows on the digital world and search engines like Google – which since its foundation in 1998 began a real rise thanks to its algorithm for selecting content in the search pages – are becoming our mental support, helping us to access information in an increasingly timely and accurate way.
And it is in this second phase, we read in ‘Merge’, that the online world begins to be perceived “as the third lobe of our brain” and the smartphone becomes the emblem of our relationship with technology playing the role of new digital limb. The two bodies, digital and physical, are getting closer and closer.
In the third phase the computing power developed over the years is combined with the mass production and collection of data, thus generating the definitive consecration of the AI algorithms (AI). This is the phase we are currently experiencing.
Access to the Internet, as stated in the book, has brought with it an important side effect: data. We are in fact facing the emergence of completely new data streams that are ingested and digested by AIs in search of new patterns and meanings. Image recognition algorithms, text translation, and understanding of our voices: in every sector we are seeing an explosion of AI jobs.
These algorithms that today are still rudimentary and do not always behave as we would like, will be so perfected in the fourth phase – from 2020 to 2035 – to the point where they can anticipate our desires and always know our preferences. Already they are on the market in intelligent systems that have the task of managing our agendas or even chatbots able to buy products online for us.
If before we had to open a window on the information contained in the digital sphere, doing research directly to meet our every need, in this way the direction of communication is reversed. AIs promise to identify in advance what we need and offer it directly both through chatbot and voice assistants and systems in virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
This evolution and gradual interpenetration of technology in our brain activity will see its maximum consecration in the last phase of evolution described in the book.
As anticipated by Musk’s project, it seems that we will live in a time when man will no longer be distinguishable from the devices he uses, physically and metaphorically. Thanks to neural grafts we will succeed in freeing ourselves from the biological limits of our body. Several companies are working on similar projects, even Facebook is working on a system to share our thinking by drawing directly from our mind, without the need to have physical interfaces.
After having created the digital world, having populated it with contents and intelligent agents able to assist us in our daily actions, it seems that we are therefore destined to merge completely with our creation.