By Dean Carroll
Technology has often been the catalyst for evolutionary leaps when it comes to the history of the human race – whether we are talking about the first tools to create fire and mass farming many millennia ago or the internet and social networks of today. But are we ready for the next steps on the evolutionary scale, where technology becomes almost invisible but overwhelmingly powerful in our lives?
These advances might include contact lenses that allow us to look at the internet without touching a computer, bathroom mirrors with sensors that evaluate our health as we brush our teeth in the morning, self-driving maglev cars, elevators to space, pocket DNA-testing machines, three dimensional printers, hologram televisions, ear implants that translate foreign languages into our own native tongue, nano-machines in our bodies to fight infection and disease as well as companions – and workers – that can best be described as artificial intelligence cyborgs.
In fact, Professor Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future: the inventions that will transform our lives writes in all seriousness about humans attaining the power of “the gods we once worshipped and feared” by 2100 – when almost every object, living or not, could have hidden computers with the potential to be controlled by human thought alone. “Our tools will not be wands and potions but the science of computers, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum theory,” writes Kaku.
With this in mind, we should begin a public debate on Radio Frequency Identification – or RFID tag technology – being used in humans. Professor Nada Kakabadse and Professor Andrew Kakabadse have speculated about RFID becoming a “profound technology” due to its small and unobtrusive size, which will allow it to become indistinguishable from the fabric of everyday life. However, they warn: “But when technology pierces the skin and invades the sovereign state of the human body – it enters a domain awash with ethical, moral, political and philosophical controversy.
“We know that RFID technologies promise enormous benefits in areas ranging from security and health monitoring to business efficiency. But there is a dark side to the technology – a potential for abuse. To those with no love of individual freedom and self-determination – it opens up seductive new vistas for control, manipulation and oppression.
“Who owns the implanted microchip? Are the benefits for the implanted individual proportionate to the rights foregone? Who has access to the information transmitted? Is consent to the implant fully informed? Who guarantees the individual’s rights against violation? How medically safe and technically secure is the technology? The wider use of RFID implants in humans may be inevitable, but it should not go unchallenged. A full debate is needed about the ethical and health issues, to ensure deployment of implants comply with Article 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It asserts the right to ‘life, liberty and security of person’.”
So as we move into this Brave New World, which is way beyond anything imagined by Aldous Huxley in his 1931 landmark futurist novel of the same name, society must decide just how much it is willing to give away in pursuit of the next technological big bang. The rise of the omnipotent machines must be accompanied by the rise of public awareness and the strengthened regulation. Otherwise, we could be on a very sinister evolutionary path indeed. It is highly likely that those first pioneering fire watchers had similar thoughts all those millennia ago; we must not let our great ancestors down by sleepwalking into a technological nightmare of our own making.
Dean Carroll is editor of Policy Review