Educating the Wise Cyborgs of the Future


When we think of wisdom, we often think of ancient philosophers, mystics, or spiritual leaders. Wisdom is associated with the past. Yet some intellectual leaders are challenging us to reconsider wisdom in the context of the technological evolution of the future.

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With the rise of exponential technologies like virtual reality, big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics, people are gaining access to increasingly powerful tools. These tools are neither malevolent nor benevolent on their own; human values and decision-making influence how they are used.

In future-themed discussions we often focus on technological progress far more than on intellectual and moral advancements. In reality, the virtuous insights that future humans possess will be even more powerful than their technological tools.

Tom Lombardo and Ray Todd Blackwood are advocating for exactly this. In their interdisciplinary paper “Educating the Wise Cyborg of the Future,” they propose a new definition of wisdom—one that is relevant in the context of the future of humanity.

We Are Already Cyborgs

The core purpose of Lombardo and Blackwood’s paper is to explore revolutionary educational models that will prepare humans, soon-to-be-cyborgs, for the future. The idea of educating such “cyborgs” may sound like science fiction, but if you pay attention to yourself and the world around you, cyborgs came into being a long time ago.

Techno-philosophers like Jason Silva point out that our tech devices are an abstract form of brain-machine interfaces. We use smartphones to store and retrieve information, perform calculations, and communicate with each other. Our devices are an extension of our minds.

According to philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers’ theory of the extended mind, we use this technology to expand the boundaries of our minds. We use tools like machine learning to enhance our cognitive skills or powerful telescopes to enhance our visual reach. Such is how technology has become a part of our exoskeletons, allowing us to push beyond our biological limitations.

In other words, you are already a cyborg. You have been all along.

Such an abstract definition of cyborgs is both relevant and thought-provoking. But it won’t stay abstract for much longer. The past few years have seen remarkable developments in both the hardware and software of brain-machine interfaces. Experts are designing more intricate electrodes while programming better algorithms to interpret the neural signals. Scientists have already succeeded in enabling paralyzed patients to type with their minds, and are even allowing people to communicate purely through brainwaves. Technologists like Ray Kurzweil believe that by 2030 we will connect the neocortex of our brains to the cloud via nanobots.

Given these trends, humans will continue to be increasingly cyborg-like. Our future schools may not necessarily educate people as we are today, but rather will be educating a new species of human-machine hybrid.

Wisdom-Based Education

Whether you take an abstract or literal definition of a cyborg, we need to completely revamp our educational models. Even if you don’t buy into the scenario where humans integrate powerful brain-machine interfaces into our minds, there is still a desperate need for wisdom-based education to equip current generations to tackle 21st-century issues.

With an emphasis on isolated subjects, standardized assessments, and content knowledge, our current educational models were designed for the industrial era, with the intended goal of creating masses of efficient factory workers—not to empower critical thinkers, innovators, or wise cyborgs.

Currently, the goal of higher education is to provide students with the degree that society tells them they need, and ostensibly to prepare them for the workforce. In contrast, Lombardo and Blackwood argue that wisdom should be the central goal of higher education, and they elaborate on how we can practically make this happen. Lombardo has developed a comprehensive two-year foundational education program for incoming university students aimed at the development of wisdom.

What does such an educational model look like? Lombardo and Blackwood  break wisdom down into individual traits and capacities, each of which can be developed and measured independently or in combination with others. The authors lay out an expansive list of traits that can influence our decision-making as we strive to tackle global challenges and pave a more exciting future. These include big-picture thinking, curiosity, wonder, compassion, self-transcendence, love of learning, optimism, and courage.

As the authors point out, “given the complex and transforming nature of the world we live in, the development of wisdom provides a holistic, perspicacious, and ethically informed foundation for understanding the world, identifying its critical problems and positive opportunities, and constructively addressing its challenges.”

After all, many of the challenges we see in our world today boil down to out-dated ways of thinking, be they regressive mindsets, superficial value systems, or egocentric mindsets. The development of wisdom would immunize future societies against such debilitating values; imagine what our world would be like if wisdom was ingrained in all leaders and participating members of society.

The Wise Cyborg

Lombardo and Blackwood invite us to imagine how the wise cyborgs of the future would live their lives. What would happen if the powerful human-machine hybrids of tomorrow were also purpose-driven, compassionate, and ethical?

They would perceive the evolving digital world through a lens of wonder, awe, and curiosity. They would use digital information as a tool for problem-solving and a source of infinite knowledge. They would leverage immersive mediums like virtual reality to enhance creative expression and experimentation. They would continue to adapt and thrive in an unpredictable world of accelerating change.

Our media often depict a dystopian future for our species. It is worth considering a radically positive yet plausible scenario where instead of the machines taking over, we converge with them into wise cyborgs. This is just a glimpse of what is possible if we combine transcendent wisdom with powerful exponential technologies.

For The First Time, a US Company Is Implanting Microchips in Its Employees


We’re always hearing how robots are going to take our jobs, but there might be a way of preventing that grim future from happening: by becoming workplace cyborgs first.

A company in Wisconsin has become the first in the US to roll out microchip implants for all its employees, and says it’s expecting over 50 of its staff members to be voluntarily ‘chipped’ next week.

The initiative, which is entirely optional for employees at snack stall supplier Three Square Market (32M), will implant radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in staff members’ hands in between their thumb and forefinger.

Once tagged with the implant, which is about the size of a grain of rice, 32M says its employees will be able to perform a range of common office tasks with an effortless wave of their hand.

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals,” says 32M CEO, Todd Westby.

The chips make use of near-field communication (NFC), and are similar to ones already in use in things like contactless credit cards, mobile payment systems, and animal tag implants.

The same kind of human implants made headlines when they were extended to employees at Swedish company Epicenter earlier in the year, but this is the first time they’ve been offered in the US across an organisation as large as 32M, which has 85 employees.

According to Westby, when staff were informed of the program, they reacted with a mixture of reluctance and excitement, but ultimately more than half elected to take part.

The costs of the implant amount to US$300 per chip – which the company says it will pay on the employees’ behalf – and the rollout could well be a sign of things to come, meaning employees would no longer need to carry around keys, ID cards, or smartphones to operate or authenticate with other systems.

As for security concerns and whether people ought to be worried about their employer tracking their movements, Westby says the chips don’t include a GPS component and are secure against hacking.

“There’s really nothing to hack in it because it is encrypted just like credit cards are,” he told ABC News.

“The chances of hacking into it are almost non-existent because it’s not connected to the internet. The only way for somebody to get connectivity to it is to basically chop off your hand.”

As if to prove the safety of the technology, the CEO says his wife and children will also receive the implants next week, coinciding with a “chip party” being held at the company’s headquarters in River Falls, Wisconsin.

If employees later change their minds, they’ll be able to have the implant removed – but that might not be enough to alleviate Big Brother-style privacy concerns held in some quarters.

While the chips might not track workers’ location by GPS, they nonetheless could give employers a huge amount of data about what employees do and when – like how often they take breaks or use the bathroom, what kind of snacks they buy, and so on.

On its own, that information might seem fairly harmless, but it’s possible that handing over even that level of information to your employer could one day pose problems – not to mention how the privacy issues could swell as the technology evolves.

“Many things start off with the best of intentions but sometimes intentions turn,” chairman and founder of data protection firm CyberScout Adam Levin told ABC News.

“We’ve survived thousands of years as a species without being microchipped, is there any particular need to do it now? … Everyone has a decision to make; that is, how much privacy and security are they willing to trade for convenience?”

For their part, the leaders of the companies kickstarting this workplace transition don’t seem to see what all the fuss is about.

“People ask me, ‘Are you chipped?’ and I say, ‘Yes, why not?'” Epicenter CEO Fredric Kaijser told Associated Press back in April.

“And they all get excited about privacy issues and what that means and so forth. And for me it’s just a matter of I like to try new things and just see it as more of an enabler and what that would bring into the future.”

In the meantime, 32M’s inaugural chip party is being held next Tuesday.

Clear your schedule, would-be cyborgs.

The World’s First Cyborg Artist Can Detect Earthquakes With Her Arm


We’ve come a long way since the word “cyborg” was first coined in 1960 by scientists Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline who used it as a short form of “cybernetic organism.” In an article first published in the Astronautics journal, they defined it as a man-machine system that can live in different environments than humans normally could not and with additional senses. But what else?

Women are cyborgs, too, like the Catalan cyborg artist Moon Ribas, who has an online sensor implanted in her left arm. The dancer and choreographer can feel earthquakes in real time, which she calls her “sixth sense.” She had a tiny cybernetic implant grafted into her left elbow in 2013. Whenever she senses an earthquake through an online seismograph, her arm vibrates. Depending on the scale of an earthquake on the Richter scale, she’ll get a weaker or stronger vibration as a way to sense what she calls “the heartbeat of our planet.”

Ribas became a cyborg primarily to take contemporary dance to the next level, like Waiting for Earthquakes, a stage performance where she literally waits until she gets a vibration in her arm then allows it to lead her dance movements. Since her chip can sense earthquakes that are as little as one on the Richter scale, which people cannot feel (they’re called ‘microquakes’ and they are often around volcanoes before they erupt). She typically has an earthquake vibration in her arm every 10 minutes, as there are roughly 50 earthquakes a day. But if not, her dance performance has her standing still on a stage, similar to waiting in a waiting room.

After three years of having her arm sensor, Ribas now wants to add a location sensor on her left arm that enables her to sense how close an earthquake is to her, which intensifies the closer the earthquake is to her. She will also get two vibrating chips implanted in the bottom of her feet. “After awhile I realized it would make more sense to feel earthquakes through my feet because they actually touch the earth,” she said on the phone from Barcelona. “The prototype has already been made, I can wear it permanently.”

Maybe getting a cyborg chip is like getting a tattoo: Once you start, you can’t stop? But it isn’t about becoming more superhuman or machine-like. “I have an interest in sci-fi, but nature is already amazing—some animals can see ultraviolet and infra-red, while some jellyfish never die. If we apply these things to our reality, our understanding of the planet will also change.”

On her feet, Ribas will be able to feel the seismic activity of the moon, also known as moonquakes (it’s just a coincidence her name is Moon). But she’ll still be able to feel the earth. “My arm will vibrate with the earth and my feet will be on the moon,” she said.

There was previously a lunar seismograph on the moon but it was stopped in 1977, now it has been replaced by a data-gathering satellite. “I have to connect to the satellite and find a way to get light data in real time,” said Ribas. “I have to contact NASA or I want to find a way to get my own satellite up there.”

Along with her partner, Neil Harbisson, a cyborg who has a Wi-Fi-enabled antenna in his skull to hear light frequencies, they’re working to grow the cyborg art movement. This summer, they launched Cyborg Nest, a cyborg productcompany which sells subdermal implants which is the first step to becoming a cyborg.

They’re also doing an open call for collaborators called Cyborg Futures, which aims to promote cyborg art, and they’re encouraging others to become cyborgs with the Cyborg Foundation, which defends cyborg rights. “It’s about the right and the freedom to choose the senses you want to have,” she said. “I have the right to change my body.”

Despite some backlash from medical ethicists and religious groups, Ribas doesn’t plan to stop her work anytime soon. “We get threats saying we are against humanity,” said Ribas. “We see it as something that creates more empathy to the earth and humanity, it creates more respect.”

Meet the Cyborg Beetles, Real Insects That Are Controlled Like Robots


The future is crawling towards us on six legs. Motherboard traveled to Singapore to meet with Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer at Nanyang Technological University. Sato and his team are turning live beetles into cyborgs by electrically controlling their motor functions.

Having studied the beetles’ muscle configuration, neural networks, and leg control, the researchers wired the insects so that they could be controlled by a switchboard. In doing so, the researchers could manipulate the different walking gaits, speeds, flying direction, and other forms of motion.

Essentially, the beetles became like robots with no control over their own motor functioning. Interestingly, though the researchers control the beetles through wiring, their energy still comes naturally from the food they eat. Hence, the muscles are driven by the insects themselves, but they have no willpower over how their muscles move.

Moreover, turning beetles into cyborgs seems to not be that harmful to them. Their natural lifespan is three to six months, and even with the researchers’ interference, they can survive for several months. According to the researchers, a beetle has never died right after stimulation.

And while this technology may seem crazy, the implications are very practical. Sensors that detect heat, and hence people, can be placed on the beetles, so that they can be manipulated to move toward a person. This can be helpful when searching for someone, such as in a criminal investigation or finding a terrorist.

The researchers are very serious about ensuring that whatever the applications are for this technology, that they go toward peaceful purposes. And who knows how far it could go? With this much progress manipulating the motor functions of creatures as small as beetles, perhaps it can be used for even bigger animal targets.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/tgLjhT7S15U

Meet the Cyborg Beetles, Real Insects That Are Controlled Like Robots


The future is crawling towards us on six legs. Motherboard traveled to Singapore to meet with Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer at Nanyang Technological University. Sato and his team are turning live beetles into cyborgs by electrically controlling their motor functions.

Having studied the beetles’ muscle configuration, neural networks, and leg control, the researchers wired the insects so that they could be controlled by a switchboard. In doing so, the researchers could manipulate the different walking gaits, speeds, flying direction, and other forms of motion.

Essentially, the beetles became like robots with no control over their own motor functioning. Interestingly, though the researchers control the beetles through wiring, their energy still comes naturally from the food they eat. Hence, the muscles are driven by the insects themselves, but they have no willpower over how their muscles move.

Moreover, turning beetles into cyborgs seems to not be that harmful to them. Their natural lifespan is three to six months, and even with the researchers’ interference, they can survive for several months. According to the researchers, a beetle has never died right after stimulation.

And while this technology may seem crazy, the implications are very practical. Sensors that detect heat, and hence people, can be placed on the beetles, so that they can be manipulated to move toward a person. This can be helpful when searching for someone, such as in a criminal investigation or finding a terrorist.

The researchers are very serious about ensuring that whatever the applications are for this technology, that they go toward peaceful purposes. And who knows how far it could go? With this much progress manipulating the motor functions of creatures as small as beetles, perhaps it can be used for even bigger animal targets.

GM’s Roboglove Will Turn Workers Into Cyborgs


THERE’S NO BETTER way to start a job interview than with a firm handshake. It’s a clear sign that you’re confident, capable, and ready to work like John Henry on PCP.

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So imagine the impression you’ll make wearing Roboglove, a power-assisted gauntlet General Motors wants to give its factory workers. It may look like something in a Power Ranger costume, but it’s inspired by a real-life space robot.

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NASA and GM built Robonaut 2 for tasks too dangerous or demeaning for humans on the International Space Station. The super creepy humanoid was strong enough to lift 40 pounds and dexterous enough to tap out texts on an iPhone.

GM’s now working with Swedish med-tech company Bioservo to adapt the Robonaut’s grip to gloves. Pressure sensors and actuators mimic nerves and muscles, so the glove knows when the hand inside is picking something up. It’s gentle enough to handle eggs but firm enough to maintain a strong grip, so you aren’t wasting energy holding your hammer.

Just when the glove might see production, and how it GM might use it in factories, remains to be seen. But there’s no question this steel-driving hand would make spinning a wrench on the assembly line a whole lot easier.