Machines have come a long way over the last 20 years and it would be naive to think they will not continue to advance with the same leaps and bounds in the next 20 years. I think some of these advancements will be amazing and will allow us to really achieve great things, but one area is a little strange to me. The push to merge humans and machines is becoming a highly discussed topic. I regularly see ideas of how this integration could develop and it will only be a matter of time until the line between human and machine is almost unrecognisable.
Exoskeletons are something that has been a regular in many Hollywood blockbusters (one with Matt Damon in from a few years ago rings a bell - Elysium). Whether you have seen the movie or not it doesn’t matter but I liked it. It had some pretty awesome fight scenes in it, Matt Damon can do the action stuff that’s for sure. However, the extent of integration that this exoskeleton had with Matt's character was very impressive to say the least, and although the movie was obviously science fiction these types of suits are starting to be tested and integrated into our lives more and more.
We have systems in use today that are allowing paraplegics to rise up out of their wheelchairs and walk again. Yes, they are still very clunky and not even close to the normal function of movement that the wearer would have had before they lost the use of their legs but it can be certain that these exoskeletons are moving forward quickly and are making massive strides forward so it is certain that it won't be long until users will be able to function as well as they did prior to the injuries with these suits (Honestly though they may not need to if they can find a way to fix this medically). however, even if medically these suits or exoskeletons are not needed the advancements in soft exosuits that are designed with artificial muscles and ability to reduce the wearer's fatigue and strain.
Military (you had to know they were already using these, right?) they are fitting out soldiers with exosuits that can enable them to run with massive loads of equipment for hours with very minimal fatigue. This means they can be better protected and have all of the equipment they may need to handle any situation, no compromise and no fatigue problems. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Medical lift aids are allowing nurses or even patients themselves into and out of bed, showers giving them easy mobility for situations that may have previously required two people to manually help them in these situations. These situations would have also made the carers prone to injuries themselves and if they are hurt how can they help someone they are caring for into a shower or into a wheelchair they wouldn't be able to. These exoskeletons or exosuits make the wearer as strong as 3-5 men with the ability to lift, so they can pick up the patient as though they were lifting up say a small child. No injuries, no strain just simple and effective help with minimal risks to all involved. Perfect scenario if you ask me.
I believe all of these scenarios are great and they can benefit many areas of our lives but currently, battery storage is a definite problem that will need to be resolved before they will be able to become extremely effective in many fields. Possibly even some improvements in power consumption could allow them to be more integrated into more industries that require a high level of physical labour.
Even Elon Musk is getting into the game for further integrations between humans and machines. Elon is working towards a type of neural lace concept, now this is a pretty complicated idea he has and I will try not to butcher it too much here but in its simplest form Elon wants to connect our brains direct to quantum computers to basically eradicate the roadblock that our bodies put on us, basically when we communicate to computers at the fastest speed we can type or maybe talk. This is so slow in comparison to the processing power of our brains or some of the most advanced computer systems today so why not cut the roadblock out and directly communicate between our brains and the computers we wanted to do our desired tasks or compute our most extravagant calculations.
If this type of direct link could be created, it could drive technology forward drastically. Seriously the possibilities are just mind-boggling and honestly, Elon is one of those people that could probably bring it all together if he can juggle all of the projects he is running with at this time with autonomous cars, space flight, solar and batteries. I hope that he can pull it all together and succeed but we need to see more than the awesome tech here, what about the risks? If humans and machines get this direct link and we have a get real AI what is to stop the machine taking control of the human? Or image the damage malicious actors could inflict on the world when they can act as fast as they think.
That whole thought scares me, some of the malicious actors out there are really smart people that when provided almost a direct channel to the systems of the world could do scary and amazing things that no matter what we do could not be stopped. I think security is tuff in today's technology era I can only imagine what it will be like when you really can't see what part is human and what is the machine.
One concern with Elon’s neural lace concept is that currently, the plan involves the user to have surgery to implant chips in their brains. That's a little ridiculous and a bit scary if you ask me, they need to come up with a much less invasive option for that communication channel don't you think.
Neural links and exosuits are not the only blends between man and machine. People are embedding chips under their skin to make payments or public transport easier (you will not get me doing that) then we have athletic suits that are like a second skin that keeps us cool or warm when our body needs it, monitors our vitals. I even believe one option had a defibrillator built in case of cardiac arrest.
We have robotic arms and legs that have direct brain links that users can control like our limbs we were born with, they are even making them capable of letting the user feel touch. They are really doing great work in these areas but is it sad that every time I see something like this I automatically think about how I could hack them, what security protections do they have in place if any at all?
Don’t get me wrong here I think all of these advancements have great potential and can help make life easier, but we need to ensure that we do them right in the first instance, protect them properly, don’t take shortcuts or it will only take one opportunity for a malicious actor to take advantage of a weakness. (as I wrote that line I was smiling as I had an image in my head of remotely taking over an exosuits and forcing the wearer to do the chicken dance or something).
So, let's ensure that we push the boundaries of what is capable with the merge of human and machines but don't let it be at the cost of security. I am certain that we can do both without to much hassle (oh and I am still having a giggle to myself about the chicken dance idea).