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Column: Gerd Leonhard – Science Fiction or Science Fact?

Two major forces are at work in the realm of exponential technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human genome engineering. AI can be simply defined as creating – machines (software or robots) that are intelligent and capable of self-learning and therefore more like thinking machines.

The companion game changer to AI involves altering human DNA to put an end to some, if not all, diseases, reprogram our bodies, and possibly put an end to death. AI, of course, would be a critical enabler of such reprogramming. The power of AI is widely projected to grow twice as fast as all other technologies, exceeding Moore’s Law and the growth of computing power in general.

These two game changers and their scientific neighbors, such as machine learning and genomic medicine, will have a huge impact on what humans can, and will, be in less than 20 years. Machines will do things that were once the sole domain of human workers, blue collar and white collar alike, such as understanding languages, complex image recognition, or enabling us to use our bodies in highly flexible and adaptive ways. No doubt, by then we will be utterly dependent on machines in every aspect of our lives.

Gerd Leonhard on Megashifts

Two major forces are at work in the realm of exponential technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human genome engineering.

Gerd Leonhard is the founder and CEO of The Futures Agency. He is based in Zurich. His new book, Technology vs. Humanity, is out now published by Fast Future Publishing.


We are also likely to see a rapid merging of humans and machines through new types of interfaces such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), holograms, implants, and brain–computer interfaces (BCI), plus body parts engineered with nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

By far the greatest danger of artificial intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.

Eliezer Yudkowsky

Sure, real-life human contact and face-to-face interaction was never, and will never be, replaceable by virtual meetings – au contraire, during the 2020 crisis we realized how important personal and social interaction is. As we suffered through the tough period of “social distancing” during those three terrible months in the spring of 2020, many of us (me included) started to crave for actual human contact more than anything else. Yet, we adapted because we simply couldn’t go, and now meeting, talking, collaborating, learning, and conferencing remotely is the new normal.

If and when things such as nanobots in our bloodstream or communications implants in our brains become possible, who will decide what is human? I argue that technology does not, and probably should not, have ethics, but what will happen with our norms, social contracts, values, and morals when machines run everything for us?

For the foreseeable future, despite the claims of AI evangelists, I believe machine intelligence will not include emotional intelligence or ethical concerns because machines are not sentient – they are duplicators and simulators. Yet, eventually, machines will be able to read, analyze, and possibly understand our value systems, social contracts, ethics, and beliefs, but they will never be able to exist in, or be a part of, the world as we are (what German philosophers like to call “Dasein”).

But, regardless, will we live in a world where data and algorithms triumph over what I call “androrithms” – all that stuff that makes us human? We often see the humble beginnings of a huge opportunity or threat and then, in an instant, it will either be gone and forgotten, or here and now, and much bigger than imagined. Think of solar energy, autonomous vehicles, digital currencies, and the blockchain. All took a long time to play out but suddenly they are here and they are roaring. History tells us that those who adapt too slowly or fail to foresee the pivot points will suffer the consequences. Wait-and-see is very likely going to mean waiting to become irrelevant, or simply to be ignored. We will need a new strategy for defining and retaining what makes us human in this rapidly digitizing world.

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