U.S. Spies See Superhumans, Instant Cities by 2030
Noah Shachtman

Artificial limbs like these could be only the beginning of man-machine interfaces, the National Intelligence Council predicts. Photo: DoD

3-D printed organs. Brain chips providing superhuman abilities. Megacities, built from scratch. The U.S. intelligence community is taking a look at the world of 2030. And it is very, very sci-fi.

Every four or five years, the futurists at the National Intelligence Council take a stab at forecasting what the globe will be like two decades hence; the idea is to give some long-term, strategic guidance to the folks shaping America’s security and economic policies. (Full disclosure: I was once brought in as a consultant to evaluate one of the NIC’s interim reports.) On Monday, the Council released its newest findings, Global Trends 2030. Many of the prognostications are rather unsurprising: rising tides, a bigger data cloud, an aging population, and, of course, more drones. But tucked into the predictable predictions are some rather eye-opening assertions. Especially in the medical realm.

We’ve seen experimental prosthetics in recent years that are connected to the human neurological system. The Council says the link between man and machine is about to get way more cyborg-like. “As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” the Council writes. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”

And if the machines can’t be embedded into the person, the person may embed himself in the robot. “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator,” the report adds. There’s no word about whether you’ll have to paint yourself blue to enjoy the benefits of this tech.

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Categories: Transhumanism

5 replies »

  1. Giant 3D building printers and printing biological organs? Expect those, the early stages of that experimental work are already in progress.

    Future neurotech? Who’s going to be able to afford “medically unnecessary” neural enhancement biotech that’s really, really expensive? Will it be covered by ObamaCare? Will it be covered by good corporate health care programs if any still exist in 2030?

    Anyone willing to say that anyone other than elites and top-level researchers that corporations can show a profit on by enhancing their intelligence is going to get this stuff is invited to tell us exactly how this technology will be delivered at affordable prices to the masses.

    This is stuff you won’t be buying at a big box, this is stuff that will be purchased through major research hospitals and implanted by neurosurgeons, at prices that include FDA approval for implants whose costs will be spread among the few who can afford it. Can you afford a $1M+ medical bill?

    Corporate medical plans might cover the equivalent of a smartphone interface implant where the case can be made that it’ll improve employee efficiency.

    The smaller scale stuff might be affordable for those who can afford high-end cosmetic surgery or who can get it on a basis of “medically necessary”, limb and eye replacement are good examples.

    Real cyborgs? “Billionaires: Russian Mogul Wants to Upload Your Brains Into Immortality” (2030 timeframe)

  2. Unfortunately, in spite of rhetoric pointing out all the wondrous improvements to our current and future lives via technology, I suspect that only a privileged few might have access to such complex innovation, or that at the very least it will cost your average tax paying citizen an arm and a leg to enjoy. Not to mention the fact that, while most stories covering such innovations tend to paint them as benign and even downright miraculous, there’s definitely a seedy underbelly to it all. In this story they touched on the dangerous possibility of bio technology falling into the wrong hands and becoming weaponized, as though it might be perfectly safe were it only to remain under the control of a few select “good guys”, like if America had remained the only country with access to nuclear technology. And they build drones to monitor and kill all of the world’s bad people, but that’s really all for the best because the world can’t become a better place until the bad people are gone, and because drones save the priceless lives of our human soldiers not to mention hopefully saving us taxpayers a real bundle on our military’s insurance premiums. And one fine day, just imagine, they’ll be able to replace our damaged organs and revitalize our cells to keep people young and alive indefinitely, so that a privileged elite might forever stay in office to rule over us until the end of time, which they’re working on. And when we feel sad or anxious about this, they’ll remind us that such is only due to chemical signals spawned by a primitive biological computer in our heads, which thankfully can be corrected by a simple chip that will monitor our brain’s electrical impulses and adjust accordingly. Or, failing that, we can just continue pumping our bodies with drugs that allow us feel like human beings rather than cogs in some infernal machine damning us to its unfeeling processes. And when we have lifted this as high as we are able, it will value us no more. And all that it offered will be stripped from us, as we from ourselves. And they’ll strap a little Jewish boy like a piece of kosher ham inbetween two other unfortunates to poop into each other’s mouths and power an I-pad, because that’s the obvious direction things must head in order for people to better enjoy their otherwise empty and meaningless lives through cyber technology, and because in the future they’ll say, “fuck batteries, we’ll use human centipedes to power our shit!” And all of this I have seen, Wednesdays on channel thirty seven at ten, nine central. And I did laugh to view it.

  3. The fact that intelligence agencies are taking this seriously is revealing. I don’t agree with the comments above saying the technology will be unaffordable. In fact, most technologies start off being very expensive but become mainstream with time. For instance, mobile phones. So all of that high-tech stuff will end up being available not only to the elites, given enough time.

    • That’s true, actually. Now that you mentioned it, I’ve noticed the cost of healthcare plummeting over the tears as the technology becomes more advanced. Because its just the same as something like a computer, or a mobile phone, and the demand weighs directly against its supply to lower expenses.

  4. The price of neurosurgery doesn’t seem to be dropping with time. In fact, if anything, prices are going up as the kind of monitoring and diagnostic gear to be found in operating rooms go up. Part of this is availability.

    There aren’t that many neurosurgeons, and you are suggesting that if there’s demand, neurosurgeons will appear from nowhere according to the demands of the free market. There aren’t enough on the planet to support mass access to this technology in the USA even if anyone is willing to pay for “medically unnecessary” procedures.

    The price of electronic devices drops rapidly with volume. Of which there isn’t going to be much for the first or second generations of the devices, particularly when one adds in the cost of FDA approval.

    Neurosurgical implants made in hundreds or maybe thousands per year and consumer electronics made by the tens of millions per year are not equivalent.

    All the fact that a US intelligence agency was willing to pay for this tells us is that the “futurists” doing the study clicked into mass-market Singularity websites instead of doing actual research including cost projections and analysis of where funding for these procedures might come from which might tell us just how available this tech is going to be.

    If you want to see what good futurist work looks like, dig up the DOD funded report a few years back discussing the military/foreign policy impact of global warming.

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