In the last half-century, technology cycles have maintained relatively steady, turning over roughly every decade. From mainframe computing (60s) to mini computing (70s), personal computing (80s), desktop computing (90s), and mobile computing (00s), advancement was rather linear. However, with the introduction of wearable devices to the public in the past few years (Nike+ Fuelband, Sony Smartwatch, Google Glass to name a few), the newest wave of computing is arriving 4-5 years sooner than expected.
This acceleration of technology begs the question: what’s next? Furthermore, just how quickly will this trend continue to gain steam? Mary Meeker’s 2013 Internet Trends Report highlighted the raw numbers behind mobile and Internet growth around the world, but it’s also important to consider the accompanying social and ethical implications that arise out of humans getting closer and closer to their tech.
Consider the sketch above of a toddler playing with an iPhone. What is the experience of growing up on smart devices? Gone are the traditional physical interactions with books, newspapers, even computer mouses — this generation will only understand and be comfortable with technology that’s at furthest just a thin layer of glass away from their fingertips. With that in mind, it becomes reasonable to soon expect a world where tech jumps from wearable to within: gadgets becoming implemented inside our bodies. By the time today’s young kids become adults, the wearable watches and glasses with revolutionary potential now will likely have given way to even more advanced biotechnologies.
Whether that means ingesting special pills, getting tech tattoos, or inserting chips under your skin, the possibilities of symbiotic tech are already being explored. What’s amazing about this kind of technology is how it signals measured progress toward the Singularity, the theoretical point at which the computing power of machines surpasses that of the human brain. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil expect this to happen sometime around 2045 — which is still far away, but not that far.
The philosophical and moral dilemmas surrounding symbiotic tech are sure to be debated at great length as humans and technology meld closer and closer to one another. In a few decades, tech embedded in the human body may well be a very common occurrence, vastly expanding human potential and calling into question the very definition of “human.” Furthermore, there are legitimate concerns — black markets, privacy/tracking issues, and further widening of the poverty gap, for example. However, it’s important to note that these issues are always relative to the time in which they arise. As technology cycles accelerate, so too will privacy practices, law enforcement, and so on.
It’s unclear whether the Singularity will happen as current futurists predict it, or exactly how symbiotic tech will affect the everyday life of those who elect to use it. One thing that’s not in doubt though is the ever-increasing intimacy of our relationship to technology. Let’s see how the love-affair evolves.