How technology and automation will impact human evolutionSumit Agrawal
Technology, be it the driver-less cars or the ubiquitous smartphone, is impacting every sphere of our life.
Technology-driven automation is omnipresent and pervading our lives like never before.
From robots and chatbots to virtual/augmented reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and beyond, the physical space is littered with digital influence.
The impact of increased automation is already upon us and influencing our lives in all possible ways. Up till now technology adoption has never been so rapid, versatile and secular but the presence of connectivity has enabled this growth.
The focus of this narrative will be to explore how exactly human life gets affected because of these inevitable technology trends. There are six such changes that look imminent.
Impact on genetics
The newer technologies are enabling embryonic assessments in early stages, hence alleviating the need for morphological assessments where high degree of human skills was required. The issue is that morphological grading by humans leads to wide inter- and intra-operator variation. These long-standing difficulties may now be improved by using advances in AI. Thus, mathematical variables derived from time-lapse images of embryo development may now be used such that an algorithm can classify images of an embryo's development automatically, and so remove the human variable from the crucial task of morphological assessment.
This was also highlighted in study presented on July 4, 2017 at the 33rd Annual Meeting of ESHRE in Geneva. Start-up Deep Genomics is leveraging AI to help decode the meaning of the genome and their learning software is developing the ability to try and predict the effects of a mutation based on its analyses of hundreds of thousands of examples of other mutations — even if there's not already a record of what those mutations do. Another example is the case of actress Angelina Jolie where she had a one recessive gene in her genome that was predicted using deep learning algorithms on her DNA sequence using the data from past studies, which predicted that she is susceptible to breast cancer. She underwent pre-emptive mastectomy to prevent herself from cancer. The confluence of medicine and technology will bring unprecedented transformations in human life.
Impact on handwriting and anatomy of the hand
Another biological victim of the digital automation will be ubiquitous handwriting skills. Already most of the content that’s getting produced and published is digital. Handwriting skills have already suffered as most of the content gets digitally typed and then printed if at all needed in the physical format. Dematerialisation has already inflicted the damage on the physical copy. It is now rare to write something on paper except when it’s your own signature, which is also digitally available now. Handwriting is almost nostalgic now. More and more people are digitally publishing the content online with handwritten notes becoming virtually non-existent. When was the last time you wrote a handwritten letter or note to your friends? The growth of virtual assistants like Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana that can translate the verbal instructions into written word will further deteriorate the physical handwriting practice whatever is left so far. This may impact the anatomy of hand including the fingers, which may become less flexible, and thinner to aid typing. Maybe in the future the meta-carpel and carpel joints undergo significant changes as they are no longer used for writing purposes.
Impact on the eyes and the underlying vision
The third biological influence will be on the eyes. The sheer amount of information flow that’s happening is coming from social media apps, devices, digital displays or the web, which is exerting enormous strain on the eyes. Reading has exponentially multiplied, as is typical of information age where status quo is consistently challenged. The knowledge bust that’s happening is fuelling the information fire. With faster and better technology, development and evolution is becoming possible in every sphere of our life, be it medicine, law, science, engineering, education, hence necessitating the constant need to upgrade and update. The concomitant impact of it will be largely borne by eyes. With so much to read and ingest, the shape of our eyes may get adapted over a period; they may become enlarged or may be more bulged. In fact, the underlying neuron system powering the vision may undergo subtle changes as well because of the way the things will be perceived and seen in the VR, AR-infected world.
Impact on neck and backbone
Another impact is going to be on the neck and the backbone. With the advent of smartphone the average time we are spending on the device is about 180 minutes. Yes, that’s correct: three hours per day. We are continuously stretching our necks for longer periods of time, which is therefore bent most of the time. Now most of things can be actioned, can be monitored or searched on phone, which is reducing physical movements all the time. For example, you can monitor your employees working remotely on your phone using the GPS and camera, thereby obviating the need for physically moving yourself. This is not only forcing your neck to constantly gobble up the data that’s being ejected on your smartphone screens but also increasing your seating time, making you more sedentary than ever. Seating continuously for longer periods of time puts pressure on the spinal cord and the vertebrae. Hence all these lifestyle changes will have an anatomical impact on our spinal cord and neck in the time to come. As a result, the spine may become more rounded and short. It may be so that in future humans have few extra movements in neck due to some extra cervical spine joints.
Impact on memory
With the problem of plenty, memory will be worst affected. As more and more information is produced collaboratively and co-operatively on social platforms lesser and lesser will be retained. Also, with advanced search algorithms by our side, who needs to worry about remembering something? Learning by rote will be extinct in future. This will impact the memorability of human beings as lesser effort will be given to remember anything. The incentives that existed in the past to learn mathematical tables or capitals of the countries have ceased to exist. Society is now rewarding people who have application skills, who can combine expertise in multiple subjects to yield insights and solve layered business problems. The demand for people who can blurt out facts has completely evaporated. The processing that’s required to memorise things will weaken during time, leading to complete adaptation of the neurons and brain functions that govern memory.
Impact on our religious belief system
With so much data floating around us and machine learning algorithms parsing them, AI is getting adaptive by the day. The rich data that’s getting ingested is only leading to more informed choices and better decisions. The role of luck, or the unknown is getting subsumed by intelligent analytics or processed data that was earlier not available. The traditional belief structures rooted in religion of God are getting displaced by more data-centric approach or 'Dataism', as Yuval Harari calls it. So much structured and unstructured data is getting generated—be it location data, emails, OCR processed reports, Facebook posts or likes, WhatsApp messages, tweets etc.—which enables algorithms to do the data analysis and decipher the subterranean trends, patterns and phenomena underlying these data sets, paving the way for better understanding of society and things around us. As more and more evidentiary proofs are available for our actions, the needle of our belief will keep swerving away from the universality of God.