Technology

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.