TechKNOW Tomorrow – Human Augmentation With Technology

Image by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash.

One of my favourite superheroes today is Captain America. While this is for many reasons, the one that sticks out to me is the story of the underdog, defying physical limitations to follow your dreams and beliefs no matter who opposes you. Captain America demonstrates that with a strong enough will, you can make anything possible, that willpower and determination are just as vital to survival as might and constitution.

This willpower is present in many scientists, engineers, and innovators who have studied and developed technologies for human augmentation. In a way, we defy nature in order to enhance the human body. For example, we’ve already found methods to increase the longevity of human life. And just like Captain America’s enhancement thanks to super soldier serum, humans are currently studying – and making breakthroughs in research on – how we can augment our own bodies.

Technologies for Augmenting Humans

As we head further into the 2020s, it’s becoming clear we are currently in a technological revolution. A huge portion of that technology lies in enhancement: “the human augmentation market will be worth approximately 400 billion dollars by 2027“. But what does human augmentation mean exactly? The idea is to improve upon our natural genetics and skills in some way, to spawn the next revolution in humanity – Humanity 2.0.

A cool example of human augmentation is Naked Prosthetics, a company that builds finger prosthetics for accident or amputation victims. The realistic movement from these prosthetics allow the wearer more mobility and they function much like real fingers, unlike previous generic prosthetics.

Video by Naked Prosthetics via YouTube.

Hearing aids and voice synthesizers are also good examples of human augmentation. That said, the future holds a lot more promise for technologies that not only replace what we’ve lost, but also exceed what we’re currently capable of.

Elon Musk, owner of Space X and Tesla, has cofounded another company called Neuralink, which is seeking to create a device that “would implant tiny electrodes into the brain to give humans the ability of direct computing“. It would allow our brains to solve complex problems that only today’s supercomputers are capable of.

Another technology in its infancy are robotic mech suits that would allow us to lift heavier objects without risk of injury to problem areas like the back. They could even potentially save lives (e.g., a person trapped under rubble). Additionally, artificial blood cells, a technology that “evolved with mammals that can hold their breath underwater by storing oxygen, . . . will increase endurance, stamina, and deep diving“, making diving easier for a species that was never meant to live underwater.

In the military, Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR) allows soldiers to easily distinguish between friendly and enemy forces, which will soon replace the need for night vision goggles and GPS systems. TAR will allow higher intelligence between soldiers in the field and officers at bases, helping to ensure less casualties in military operations.

The final example of technology augmenting humans we’ll be looking at is a gene splicing method called CRISPR, a new method that “greatly improves scientists’ ability to accurately and efficiently “edit” the human genome, in both embryos and adults“. With CRISPR, we may start seeing cures to practically any disease imaginable. Likewise, parents may also soon have the option for designer babies – embryos with their genomes edited to make ‘perfect babies’ with whatever genes the parents desire.

Pros and Cons of Human Augmentation

Many of the advantages involved with human augmentation are likely clear from the examples given above. The eradication of diseases and terminal conditions would allow us to live longer and healthier lives. Improved prosthetics and exoskeletons will grant a higher quality of life to amputees and disabled individuals. Gene modification will eventually prevent health issues we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to treat. Smart glasses or contact lenses can already allow visually impaired or colour deficient users the ability to see the world as others do. Ear buds can translate languages on the fly. The list goes on and on.

Image by Harry Quan on Unsplash.

What human augmentation will provide is a world of inclusivity, increased safety, and improved health. On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to these enhancements that are worth consideration.

One of the primary concerns with human augmentation is whether it’s ethical: how do we “reconcile the interests of the individual and those of society in the event of conflict“?. In other words, what works for one person won’t have the same effect on a collective group. This is likely because “companies developing human augmentation technology will prioritize profit over providing their customers with genuine benefits“. Those who can’t afford augmentation technologies are threatened to be left behind, further solidifying the inequalities between the classes in society.

The ethics of animal testing are also a major concern. Many augmentation technologies, particularly ones focused on implants, are tested on animals beforehand to make sure they’re ready for human testing.

Another disadvantage is that the failure of “augmentation technologies could result in serious injuries or fatalities“. For example, a defect in an exoskeleton suit could result in a serious back injury while an employee is trying to lift an extremely heavy object.

Finally, one thing that we all have to remember is that “companies developing human augmentation technology will prioritize profit over providing their customers with genuine benefits“. As the demand for human augmentation rises, so does the possibility of a technological race on commercial products meant to enhance humanity.

Despite the advancements we’re making in human augmentation technology, there are many issues we must be aware of. That said, the potential for equality among all of us exists because of this technology (e.g., smart glasses that allow visually impaired people to see). Regulation and affordability will determine where the world will head in relation to human augmentation technology and whether we can achieve a more inclusive society for everyone.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Unfortunately, our services will no longer be available after March 31, 2022. However, our class presentations, handouts, and activities will all remain available on the Community Sector Council website for you to continue practicing your digital literacy skills. You can also check out some of these resources to keep on top of technology and to find answers to specific questions you may have.

From all of us here at techKNOWtutors, thank you for your support of our program and take care! Stay in the techKNOW!

TechKNOW Tomorrow – Technology’s Role in Increasing Life Longevity

Image by Peter Conlan via Unsplash.

If evolution has taught us anything, it’s that most humans have a strong will to live. We’ve always created stories about immortality, and many of us strive to leave a legacy behind in some manner. Inheritance, fame, and children are great examples of this.

That said, this obsession with living longer in some way has manifested in actually trying to extend our lifespans, something especially evident over the last 150 years: “before the advent of what we would think of as modern medicine, the average lifespan of humans was about 40 years . . . Modern medicine has effectively doubled the average lifespan in a little over a century“.

How has this remarkable progress been realized in such a short period of human history? Technology.

Causes of Death

In order to discover ways to live longer, we first have to learn why we’re dying in the first place. Diseases and other medical issues seem to be the main causes of death as we age based on global statistics collected by the World Health Organization (2000-2019).

Accidents, while previously a major factor of death, are now largely avoided thanks to the employment of safety equipment and regulations, robot automation, and drones that can reach dangerous areas. Think of drones that enter tight spaces filled with toxic gases or robots designed to defuse bombs, for instance. These ultimately save lives.

Due to diseases and other medical conditions, the global average for women is 76 years of age and 71 years of age for men.

It’s important to note that these stats are primarily gathered through technology of some sort, whether through medical diagnosis or global communication systems. This means that technology has allowed us to identify how humans die, but it also determines something else – how we can live longer.

Increasing Life Longevity

Knowing the primary causes of death for humans across the globe allows scientists and innovators to research and implement methods to increase the average lifespan. This is why we should consider what technology is doing with genetic forecasts.

Amit Khera, a cardiologist at the Broad Institute at Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of many researchers working on accurate polygenic scores that “can now identify as much risk for disease as the rare genetic flaws that have preoccupied physicians until now“. In other words, it’s like a report card that states your chances of developing numerous different medical conditions or diseases. This technology already exists, though it hasn’t been released to the public.

Image by JAFAR AHMED via Unsplash.

Another technology that’s still in development may have doctors “use the metabolites in blood samples to predict the likelihood of a person surviving another five to ten years” using biomarkers found in blood. This would aid with clinical trials and determining whether surgery is worth the risk on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, artificial intelligence (A.I.) may soon be able to accurately assess health risks and even determine a patient’s chances of dying. After analyzing ten years of previous medical data, the University of Nottingham recently concluded that “the predictions of early death that were made by AI algorithms were “significantly more accurate” than predictions delivered by a model that did not use machine learning“. In a similar fashion, Google’s Medical Brain team was able to more accurately predict a patient’s chances of death than the hospital’s own Early Warning Score. “Moving forward, Google wants to work on A.I. tools that can predict not only death risk, but also symptoms and diseases“.

While these technologies are incredibly morbid, they have the potential to prevent more serious conditions or diseases later on (e.g., cancer). Equally important is that much of the technology currently in place in healthcare, as well as what’s currently being developed, seems to be primarily focused on medical breakthroughs and cures that will ultimately extend our lives.

Financial analysts believe that “genome sequencers such as Illumina, high-tech players such as Alphabet, and biotech companies such as Novartis are on the cusp of “bringing unprecedented increases to the quality and length of human lifespans”“. Companies like these contribute to advances in many areas including disease research/cures, drug development, A.I. that enables precision medicine, and gene therapy.

For example, mRNA vaccines are a safer option to traditional vaccines as they don’t use elements of dangerous pathogens, but rather a messaging system that tells the body how to protect itself against a pathogen.

Image by Tyler Nix via Unsplash.

On a similar note, think of the obsession with gadgets and apps that monitor your steps or heart rate like Fitbit’s smart watch, or even video games that encourage activity like the Wii Fit. The line between useful consumer products and entertainment properties is increasingly becoming blurry as we become more focused on maintaining good health.

So as we brace for the future, how long might we possibly live for? While some scientists continue to research methods of extending our lives even longer, they note that the human body has limitations and can’t continue to function forever. This means that immortality in the traditional sense is definitely not an option.

That said, “other scientists are pursuing “rejuvenation technologies” that will allow people to act and feel younger longer; some are studying removing toxins from the body that they believe contribute to the problems of ageing“. With the potential to eliminate diseases or serious conditions entirely, the leading causes of death that we saw above might become non-existent one day!

Of course, even if we are one day able to omit the things that usually kill us (cancer, diseases, tragic accidents, war), “our body’s capacity to restore equilibrium to its myriad structural and metabolic systems after disruptions . . . sets the maximum life span for humans at somewhere between 120 and 150 years“.

Ultimately, despite our continuing efforts to ‘become immortal’, there’s a limit to the number of years that scientific and medical breakthroughs can extend our lives. “A long life span is not the same as a long health span“. The very fact that we can’t avoid death, however, shouldn’t be something we fear; instead, we should use this knowledge to guide us into making the most of the time we do have left.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Unfortunately, our services will no longer be available after March 31, 2022. However, our class presentations, handouts, and activities will all remain available on the Community Sector Council website for you to continue practicing your digital literacy skills. You can also check out some of these resources to keep on top of technology and to find answers to specific questions you may have.

From all of us here at techKNOWtutors, thank you for your support of our program and take care! Stay in the techKNOW!

TechKNOW Tomorrow – The Rise and Fall of Apple’s iPod

Image by Christine Sandu via Unsplash.

As technology continues to progress rapidly, it’s easy to forget the past technology that helped make our future possible. For example, we take music for granted today thanks to platforms like Spotify and YouTube that allow us to stream practically any music from smart speakers and our phones, but music wasn’t always so readily available.

The internet changed everything in the ’90s. Music could be downloaded as a file instead of listened to from a stereo system. More importantly, music could be transferred from a computer to an MP3 player, replacing traditional CD players and allowing a truly portable experience.

That said, it wasn’t until 2001 that the next evolution in “music-on-the-go” appeared – Apple’s iPod.

The Rise

While MP3 players existed during the late ’90s, internet speeds were far too slow at the time to support multiple music downloads. To make things even worse, there was a lack of software to transfer songs onto an MP3 player in the first place. By 2001, both of these problems had finally been solved.

Image by Ben Szymanski via Unsplash.

The first iPod was light and compact, yet had the ability to store up to 2000 songs! The scroll wheel was a unique feature that allowed us to quickly and easily navigate an entire library of music. With iTunes, a piece of media management software released by Apple, we could organize music into playlists and transfer songs onto an iPod with little hassle.

Apple’s iPod would later dominate the market thanks to a sleek and thin design, the ability to store an entire music collection, and the simplicity of its device. Of course, its high price and computer limitation (iTunes was originally only available for Mac users) prevented many people from immediately adopting it, but it was the most straightforward and powerful MP3 player of its time.

Fast-forward to 2003 as “Apple announced the iTunes Music Store, an online retail hub where customers could browse and purchase music for 99 cents per song“. Instead of downloading songs illegally and risking malware, iTunes offered an affordable way to own music that could easily be transferred to an iPod.

The world was slowly becoming more and more digital as computers were found in practically every household. The iPod continued to lead the market in portable music players for several years and tens of millions of sales. But something in 2007 changed everything.

The Fall

In 2007, Apple released the very first iPhone, which was essentially three devices in one: an iPod, a high tech phone, and a portable internet communicator. “The rise of the iPhone and the fall of the iPod have a direct relationship“. Starting in 2008, iPod sales began to decline sharply as the iPhone increased in popularity.

Image by Youssef Sarhan via Unsplash.

In 2009, Apple’s FCO stated, “We expect our traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves with the iPod Touch and the iPhone“. By 2011, iPhone sales were higher than those of iPod sales, a trend that would continue throughout the 2010s.

That said, 2017 was the final nail in the iPod’s coffin. Due to earning less than 2% of Apple’s gross revenue, the company decided to discontinue the iPod Nano and Shuffle, the last of Apple’s devices that lacked internet connectivity. Today, a single model of the iPod Touch is still sold by Apple, though a new release hasn’t been announced or hinted at in three years.

The reason the iPod fell was because Apple created its own competition. As we progress through the 2020s, the age of the single-purpose gadget is clearly over. Our smartphones can do practically anything a laptop can do, connect to the internet anywhere, and still make calls and send text messages as a phone should. It’s just a matter of time before the smartphone is replaced with something even more intuitive, flexible, and futuristic.

. . .

At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Unfortunately, our services will no longer be available after March 31, 2022. However, our class presentations, handouts, and activities will all remain available on the Community Sector Council website for you to continue practicing your digital literacy skills. You can also check out some of these resources to keep on top of technology and to find answers to specific questions you may have.

From all of us here at techKNOWtutors, thank you for your support of our program and take care! Stay in the techKNOW!