Humankind in 2050
Elon Musk recently launched his Neuralink company. What Musk aims to achieve is actually a good indication of what tomorrow’s technology could look like. He wants to make direct contact with our brains in order to connect people with each other. The exchange of information without any speech or typing. That technology, in which electronics are applied within our brains, is now being developed.
Will humans become cyborgs by 2050? If they do, is that such a bad thing? Wouter Serdijn, Professor in Bio-Electronics at TU Delft, is thinking out loud.
What is going to happen actually makes logical sense from an evolutionary perspective. There will be further integration of humans and technology. Basically, people are large electrochemical machines. The slow process of information exchange within our bodies takes place by means of hormones and rapid exchange of information is achieved through electricity and neurotransmitters. It is possible to use electronics to influence the interaction between the two.
It is now already standard practice for people born deaf to be given a cochlear implant. By 2050, blind people will be fitted with retinal implants as a rule. It will look much better than it does today. Currently, it is still a type of camera and you can clearly tell that someone is disabled, but by then it will be fully integrated into the eyeball.
By 2050, we will have an even better understanding of how the human brain works. This will enable us to engage in improved interaction with the brain in order to offer even better treatments. Actually, the way we currently suppress medical disorders is quite cruel. This is why I hope to see a fully-fledged alternative for the chemical medicines that come with an arsenal of nasty side-effects. That is why we are, for example, working on injectable electronic medicines. That has to be the way forward.
My primary focus is on improving quality of life for people who are slightly disadvantaged from a medical perspective. The idea of using technology to improve ourselves, or even make ourselves bigger, is quite attractive. Even if there is no real medical need for it, as Elon Musk and others envisage. We will probably become integrated with the internet. What will the value of an individual person then be? Will privacy still exist in the collective? These are issues that we must monitor carefully.
We need to watch out for horror-film scenarios, without becoming technophobes. Yes, it is possible to influence all sensory, motor and empathic processes electrically. It is already possible to achieve it chemically and people seem to have few issues with that. Fifty years ago, people were still afraid of a television that could rewind. Yet we are now embracing interactive TV. We are going fast forward into the future. By 2050, I hope that we all live much more pleasant lives and grow old with integrated electronics. Then, looking back, you will no longer wish to return to 2017.
Text: Marieke Roggeveen
Photo: Marieke Roggeveen