Make room for robots: TED ebook maps out an emerging human-tech co-evolution

Posted by: Jim Daly

Technology futurists Ayesha and Parag Khanna say that we are rapidly moving from a co-existence with technology to a point of co-evolution with it. In their new TED ebook, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, they argue that we have entered the Hybrid Age, where technology is ubiquitous (with trillions of sensors coating our environment), intelligent (devices communicating with each other as well as with us), and social (encouraging us to develop emotional relationships with it). In the Hybrid Age, technology no longer just processes our instruction; it has its own agency, and we respond to it as much as it responds to us. What it means for societies and individuals, as well as communities and nations, is truly world changing. How will we respond and adapt? We recently spoke with co-author Parag Khanna—who will further discuss these ideas at the upcoming TEDGlobal 2012 conference in Edinburgh—to discover what’s in store.

Hybrid reality—what’s that?

Every day, information technology is merging with and accelerating fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuroscience, exponentially increasing their power to reshape our lives. Right now, we are at the beginning of an era in which we as humans will co-evolve, and not just co-exist, with the powerful tech that surrounds us. We call this the Hybrid Age, wherein technology is increasingly ubiquitous, intelligent, and social, from sensors coating the urban environment to robots in our homes.

We have co-existed with technology for some time now. What has changed?

Hybrid reality will affect all greater aspects of our lives, making our economy, health care system, educational institutions, and governance far more generative, by which we mean that individuals will be able to leverage technology to connect to each other far more efficiently and provide services to each other. The Internet itself is a generative system, and our social institutions will come to resemble it. Generativity will drive paradigmatic changes. Education will be redefined from knowledge acquisition to knowledge creation; health care, from treatment to enhancement; economics, from predetermined to user-generated value; governance, from power to authority; and civic scale, from country to city.

You lay out a plan for thriving in this age. How?

To thrive in the Hybrid Age requires being able to anticipate not just the upcoming technologies, but their impact on our social systems and the opportunities they create. We provide a guide to improving your technik, your capacity to harness emerging technologies. For instance: how to save for physical enhancement, take advantage of virtual currencies, protect your data from hacking, and other increasingly “normal” aspects of our lives in a technologically saturated world.

What was it like working together as a husband-and-wife team?

Great. Our role models are Alvin and Heidi Toffler, who traveled around the world and wrote numerous books together. We’ve spent time with them and been inspired by their methodology and creative thinking. There’s so little they didn’t foresee as far back as 40 years ago.

Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization is part of the TED Books series, which is available for the Kindle and Nook as well as on Apple’s iBookstore.

Comments (9)

  • Pingback: Goodbye to the information age, hello to the hybrid | Tim

  • commented on Mar 18 2013

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  • Verity Dogood commented on Aug 27 2012

    While we need to recognize that some of these ideas will come true and some are seemingly inevitable, we must also be cognizant of the raging technophilia it represents.

    Technology is a tool, not THE solution. Technology will not necessarily save us and no- the problem is NOT that we simply aren’t using enough technology. Smart devices do not innately result in smart uses. Should one believe we should trust technology to this degree, one need only ask an airplane pilot what happens when you turn over all control to the machine.

    Plus, what does this say about the very real digital divide? Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument will further define the haves from the have nots. Those can afford and those who are left out. The six million dollar people (‘we have the technology to rebuild him, make him better’), if you will, from the 6¢ masses.

    Also, the Khanna’s do not present much that is new. True they make rather captivating “predictions.” But many others with far better bona fides have been doing the same for quite some time.
    For example, Doug Englebart, inventor of the mouse, GUI, video conferencing – a flat out genius – wrote extensively about augmenting human capabilities over 50 years ago:
    He also penned a very provocative article in the Medical literature two years ago discussing the ethical dilemmas of pursuing this course of action.

    BUt to a certain extent the Khanna’s are right – this is an evolution, not a revolution, It has already begun and will continue. As one example, look at the increase in joint replacement and prosthetics. It isn’t that much of a leap to begin to give those devices – an accepted blending of biology and technology – additional capabilities and “intelligence.”

    Sadly it may be too late to do much about it, for if you can identify it as a “futurist” it has already begun.

  • commented on Jun 16 2012

    I find the idea of combining human beings with machines disagreeable. I however love the idea of artificial intelligence co-existing with us and working with us as a team.

  • Pingback: The future of computer human interface, BrainGate « Building systems that WORK

  • josm atyb commented on Jun 15 2012

    yep you need to communicate with..

  • Pingback: Hình thể, máy móc, cảm xúc, thời đại lai ghép và kỹ thuật sinh học với đời sống con người « Tâm Ngã

  • amy zhou commented on Jun 14 2012

    i like robots
    it take us much convenience

  • commented on Jun 12 2012

    This is transhumanism folks. Step up and get your RFID chip today! It will be so cool to be microchipped like a farm animal. Don’t worry about corporate greed, government crime and the Orwellian police state control grid. Making your life EVEN MORE dependent on technology which is owned and controlled by giant military industrial corporations will somehow mean that evil, corruption, tyranny, abuse of power and greed just won’t exist any more – despite the fact that these things have plagued civilisations since the dawn of time!

    Just plug yourself into the matrix and relax, and allow us to track your every move – for your own safety of course. Let us listen to your private conversations through your household appliances connected up to your smart grid (I wish I was joking) – come on, it will be fun!

    Per – lease. Let’s see if we can accomplish the following goals over the next 10 years BEFORE we start putting behaviour modifying microchips into our brains.

    1. A free uncensored internet for another decade.
    2. An end to rule through threats of use of violence
    3. An end to wars
    4. An end to poverty
    5. An end to corporate monopolies (big pharma, big agra, big banksters etc) and corporate crime, protected and bailed out by governments
    6. An end to the government’s monopoly on the initiation of violence against us
    7. A voluntary free, peaceful society which are not controlled by compartmentalised hierarchies of coercion and violence

    I mean come on. Orwell and Huxley knew what they were talking about. HEED THEIR WARNINGS. Huxley was a member of the Fabian Society for goodness sake!

    The Age of Transitions (google it, watch it).