Hybrid Humans

by Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, is the author of The Second World, How to Run the World, and Hybrid Reality.

SINGAPORE – The election of a new pope always sparks debate about the tension between tradition and modernity in the Catholic Church. Perhaps more interesting is the ongoing modernization of the language in which those debates are conducted: Latin. 

While Catholic doctrines have evolved slowly, the Latin vocabulary has been expanding steadily in recent years, reflecting the surge of neologisms (new words, usages, and expressions) that has accompanied technology’s increasingly prominent role in people’s daily lives. The addition of terms like telephonium albo televisifico coniunctum (video telepresence) and usus agonisticus medicamenti stupecfactivi (performance-enhancing drugs) has helped to spark a revival of Latin education in the West, despite growing competition from Mandarin.

Likewise, the English language’s ability to produce and absorb neologisms is an important reason why it will endure as the world’s lingua franca. The Oxford English Dictionary, now updated quarterly, revised more than 1,900 entries in its March 2011 edition, and added new terms, such as “subdomain,” “dataveillance,” and “geotagging.” 

Humans use language to make sense not only of specific concepts, but also of larger scientific, social, and historical movements. With technology changing the face – and pace – of such movements, devising terms that capture its far-reaching impact on human life is becoming increasingly important.

For example, according to Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, medical and nutritional advances since the Industrial Revolution have accelerated and directed the evolutionary process, making modern humans a fundamentally different species from Homo sapiens. In 2011, bio-technology investor Juan Enriquez coined the term Homo evolutis to denote this shift. 

But do widely accepted labels like “Information Age” and “knowledge-based society” adequately describe the global movement that is underway?

Technology-fueled development is causing historical eras to become cumulative, rather than linear. As the world enters the Information Age, most countries are still experiencing the Agricultural and Industrial Ages. In order to describe emerging socio-technological patterns – including the merging of scientific disciplines and the fusion of human life with progress in these fields – the current era should be called the “Hybrid Age.” 

It is an age, most tellingly, of proliferating new terminology. For example, we now have “synthetic biology” to describe a hybrid of biology and chemical engineering in which scientists create biological systems that are not found in nature. Man-made cells can now be inserted into humans. In 2010, the biologist Craig Venter created the first fully synthetic and self-replicating cell.

In another hybrid discipline, “molecular computing,” organic or artificial enzymes are programmed to conduct complex calculations faster than silicon chips. The field could provide an avenue, alongside 3D silicon chips, for maintaining – or even accelerating – the pace of Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on the integrated circuits used by computers doubles every two years. 

Humans’ biological hybridization with technology also requires new vocabulary. At the MIT Media Lab, double-amputee Hugh Herr has pioneered “biomechatronics,” which combines biology, mechanical engineering, and electronics to invent efficient, lifelike prosthetics. Some believe that Herr’s work heralds an age of bionic superhumans.

Moving from muscles to the mind, brain-computer interface technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, giving rise to “neuro-prosthetics,” which has already enabled paraplegics to navigate a computer mouse with their thoughts and monkeys to operate a giant robotic arm. Scientists are now working to pinpoint the neuro-chemistry of thought and emotions so accurately that new technologies could be developed to allow humans to communicate them silently. 

With scientists working tirelessly to refine such technologies, the public must become more knowledgeable about their socioeconomic implications. Neither of the existing paradigms for assessing individual potential – intelligence quotient and emotional quotient – can assess a person’s ability to compete against the growing “robo-collar” workforce.

Industrial robots are now displacing Foxconn workers making iPhones in China; Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot reduces the need for surgical assistants in operating rooms; and the Engkey robot teaching English in South Korea may gradually fill the 30,000 teaching positions that Westerners there currently occupy. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms are replacing currency traders, paralegals, and even news reporters. 

Competing with the increasingly competent robotic labor force will require people to enhance their “technology quotient.” Societies and governments must drive this shift by boosting technology’s role in both the form and content of educational curricula. Improved technological capacity would not only help citizens to compete for jobs; it would help countries thrive in the new global environment of increasing hybridization.

The rise and fall of empires has long been considered a geopolitical matter, based on factors such as military assets, resource endowments, and population size. Likewise, geo-economic calculations of relative GDP, terms of trade, and foreign-exchange reserves carry significant weight in determining the balance of power. But all of these metrics fail to account for factors like research and development, technological innovation, and commercialization, which are now more indicative of future success than nuclear arsenals or economic size. Indeed, the Hybrid Age is shaping up to be an era of “geo-technology.” 

The stakes of geo-technological competition are higher than ever. Cyberwarfare is proving to be as threatening to political and economic stability as conventional military conflict. At the same time, technologies like water filtration systems, drought-resistant seeds, renewable energy, and the Internet have the potential to fulfill the basic needs of a crowded planet better than any empire could.

Many historical periods have been named after imperial hegemons: Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. Some believe that, with the rise of China, Pax Sinica is next. But these eras have been characterized by conquest and exploitation, not peace. Perhaps what comes next will be a fundamental break from the past, a truly modern era of Pax Technologica.


 

Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2013.
www.project-syndicate.org

 



Parag Khanna


Parag Khanna (born 1977 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India) is an Indian American author and international relations expert. He is the author of How to Run the World: Charting the Course to the Next Renaissance (2011), and The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008), both published by Random House, and co-author of "Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization" (2012), published by TED Books. Khanna attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Freie Universität Berlin, majoring in international affairs and then earning a Master of Arts in Security Studies. He received his PhD in international relations at the London School of Economics. Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, which he says he was drawn to because of its radical centrist orientation.

Book Description


Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization by Parag Khanna

 May 21, 2012
Technology futurists Ayesha and Parag Khanna (whom Esquire magazine calls one of the 75 people who will influence the 21st century) declare that we are rapidly moving from a point of co-existence with technology to a phase of co-evolution with it. In the Hybrid Age, 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). 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 this means for societies and individuals, as well as communities and nations, is truly world changing. How will we respond and adapt?


Book Description


Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriques and Steve Gullans

 January 26, 2011
There have been at least 25 prototype humans. We are but one more model, and there is no evidence evolution has stopped. So unless you think Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern are the be all and end all of creation, and it just does not get any better, then one has to ask what is next? Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, two of the world's most eminent science authors, researchers, and entrepreneurs, answer this by taking you into a world where humans increasingly shape their environment, their own selves, and other species. It is a world where our bodies harbor 100 times more microbial cells than human cells, a place where a gene cocktail may allow many more to climb an 8,000 meter peak without oxygen, and where, given the right drug, one could have a 77 percent chance of becoming a centenarian. By the end you will see a broad, and sometimes scary, map of life science driven change. Not just our bodies will be altered but our core religious, government, and social structures as humankind makes the transition to a new species, a Homo evolutis, which directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species.




  

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 12.07.2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Added 12.07.2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Added 10.07.2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Added 10.07.2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Added 09.07.2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Added 09.07.2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Added 03.07.2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Added 03.07.2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Added 26.06.2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally. 
Added 26.06.2018
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.
Added 26.06.2018
The sights and sounds of Central American children being ripped from their parents by US Border Patrol officers have, by now, spread across the globe. The experience has been traumatizing to its victims and deeply painful to watch. It has also done incalculable damage to the very idea of America. This is June when we are supposed to be celebrating "Immigrant Heritage Month". Each year, I have taken this opportunity to recall my family's immigrant story - the opportunity and freedom they sought, the hardships they endured, and the remarkable progress they made in just one generation. 
Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.