Speaking computers already exist. Thinking computers, or what is commonly referred to as the "Super Computer," is soon approaching reality and will comprise more intelligence than any human or known genius on the planet, while humans become more mechanical.
We already have microchip architects who are racing to increasingly squeeze information onto wafer-thin silicon, as discussed in Part 1 of this series. A few pioneering biochemists are plotting a computer revolution that could make obsolete the most advanced circuits dreamed up in the back rooms at Intel and Motorola.
One scenario projects a bio-computer, implanted in the brain, that will sprout nerve projection. The host’s neurons would link up with these spindly outgrowths, sending out electrochemical pulses in the brain’s own language. The implant would then ideally combine the brain’s ability to relate incoming data to reason with electronic speed and efficiency.
After this is successful, the next step is to create computers with emotion. Hollywood has visited this concept in the film Bicentennial Man, in which a robot, played by Robin Williams, who wants to become human desperately searches to change his appearance as he gains human emotions. You will also recognize this in Data, the artificial life form from the robot in Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose entire existence seems dedicated to becoming increasingly human.
The fight of robots to be recognized as human may not be far off. What is means to be "human" will take on a new meaning and its definition may need to be expanded to include other "life" forms unthinkable to us now.
Meanwhile, while computers may become more human, humans may become more like computers.
Scientists have already created a bionic chip that mixes human cells with layers of silicon, used in research to treat disease. The chip, which traps a cell within three layers of silicon, acts to complete an electrical circuit, and can be altered through a process called electroporation.
The inventors, Yong Huang and Boris Rubinsky of the University of California at Berkeley, developed a micro-electroporation chip that incorporates a live, biological cell in the electrical circuit.
Electroporation is used extensively in genetic engineering and other forms of research on cells. It uses an electrical current to open pores in the membranes that surround cells, allowing scientists to insert new genes or other compounds.
Scientists believe that due to the low cost of the chip and the possibility to automate the process under computer control, under a microscope researchers can watch the process, which could be used to treat diseased cells and by placing them in the body. The future holds the possibility of scientists, with the ability to watch instantaneous cell repair in a human body.
This is reminiscent of the famous scene in the Sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage in which a miniaturized surgical team, among them Raquel Welch, is inserted, submarine and all, into a vein of a dying man.
Katrina and new technology
Unforeseen disasters and consequences often push technology to the forefront and change the landscape of society forever. They are the wildcards that Futurists speak about. Hurricane Katrina is no exemption.
Hundreds of people are still looking for loved ones, including children that are missing or feared kidnapped or dead. There is a growing outcry from the public, and concern in the court system, that only slightly more than 25 percent of sexual offenders have alerted authorities of their location since the devastation.
In these past three months, I have highlighted many new technologies, including bar-coding and tracking humans. The topic has already been discussed on talk shows as to why this new technology hasn’t been used to safeguard the population and to keep track of sexual offenders, and when the technology will be mandatory in the U.S. prison system.
Much will be debated and we will push the technological frontier faster than what many will deem prudent, as a knee-jerk reaction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina is a tipping point for governmental agencies, businesses and industries, including areas such as human tracking, alternative fuel sources, and recovery and emergency preparedness, just to name the obvious.
Most in government and in law enforcement never expected the results to be as devastating nor so costly. All Americans will feel the ripple effect and the impact to our society, not just financially.
Local authorities believed they were prepared. However, they never counted on the what-ifs, the unintended consequences, and psychological and human reactions of people caught in a life-and-death situation.
This is a glaring example as to why Futurists are so important in our society and desperately needed. Futurists could have assisted all sectors of business, industry and government – years before and during the crisis – to foresee and help plan for the unexpected.
As of writing this column, not one Futurist, to my knowledge, has been interviewed by the media nor asked about the shifts that could occur in our country and the world due to Katrina. Puzzling isn’t it?