In between zombie outbreaks and ape-ocracies, one particularly dark vision of the future keeps cropping up: the machine uprising. When it comes to the technology of tomorrow, our media tells us it's either going to be used for evil, or do that evil itself. But so far, our most advanced technology isn't making our world into a dystopia, it's making it into a bizarre science-fiction adventure. Before things look like Terminator, they're going through a phase more like Hitchhikers'.
Right now, if you Googled "who will be driving me to work in five years?" the most accurate response would be "Me, fool!" Google is just one of a few companies that have already put self-driving cars on the road, which means the next time you flip somebody off in traffic, you may be antagonizing one of our future machine overlords.
The eventual takeover of self-driving vehicles is going to outright change the world. There are countless benefits, such as increased efficiency and the end of Fast And Furious movies, but by far the greatest result would be a near-elimination of vehicle-related deaths. Of course, there are some downsides, too, like the near-elimination of vehicle-related deaths.
As it turns out, there are some folks out there who rely on car accidents to get by, and we're not just talking about the douchebags who make those Faces Of Death videos. A huge percentage of organ donations come from accident fatalities, so lowering accident rates will remove hospitals' largest supplier of fresh body parts this side of backyard wrestling. The availability of all vital organ donations is already critically low, with waiting lists unmanageably long, so a big dip in second-hand lungs and livers is going to kick things into crisis mode. That's right, people not dying is going to lead to other people dying.
Not having any organs available is actually a more terrifying future than a robot apocalypse, because it results in a massive demand for the kinds of body parts that people can't quite live without. We've seen black markets pop up for Beanie Babies, so there's no way the theft and distribution of organs won't grow out of control. One possible solution is the legalization of selling one's own organs, like a kidney or a hunk of one's intestine, for cold, hard cash. In summary: Robot cars will kill us by saving us from each other. It's true, despite making even less sense than Terminator: Genisys.
There's been an upswing in the theft of medical data lately. Unlike financial data, which allows thieves to directly steal your money, medical data is often used to indirectly steal your money, via blackmail. And it's about to get much more sinister, as DNA testing becomes a routine part of healthcare. Knowing someone's blood type is already quite intimate; knowing someone's genetic predisposition to Angelman syndrome is stalking-them-from-their-own-attic intimate. Your genetic code could tell someone how likely it is you'll get cancer, or develop alcoholism, or give birth to a kid with a goofy face. That's the sort of information most people will feel uneasy about their doctors having, never mind a scummy criminal with a laptop open in the back of a van. Imagine being blackmailed with the knowledge that you'll be prone to dementia in your later years, or that your heart might explode one day. Further understanding of genetic information could even reveal some mortifying personal details, like a predisposition for creating novelty Twitter accounts. The horror!
It might not just be cyber-criminals illicitly getting their hands on your most private biological data. Once that information is available, would it be reasonable for employers to ask to see the DNA scans of a potential employee, in order to avoid investing in a person who might be prone to spontaneous combustion or restless legs syndrome? The Chicago Bulls think so, because they tried to make Eddy Curry take a DNA test to prove he didn't have a heart defect before they would extend his contract. He refused and was traded, and that was twelve years ago. Since then, the technology has improved and the questions have become tougher. Who has the right to know the secrets of your genetic code? Hospitals should probably know before they accept your donated organs, right? What about a potential marriage partner? Do they have the right to know what kind of faulty meatbag they're attaching themselves to? This sounds like a high-brow science-fiction concept, but it's an ethical issue we're already facing today. House Republicans are introducing bills to give away your genetic rights before you even understand what they are. And we haven't even touched on the notion of creating genetic copies of a person to destroy their life; an idea we're tentatively calling "clonemailing."
Drones are primarily used for blowing up foreign locations and delivering Frasier DVDs right to your doorstep, and they may actually be restructuring our society. But we're talking about one of those fun, utopian restructurings of society, and not some sort of Marxist-Leninist, uprising-of-the-proletariat-type thing, right? Could it be that drones are going to do what the Russians, Cubans, and Chinese couldn't, and spread communism worldwide, changing society forever?
Well, that's exactly the prediction of futurist Astro Teller. But what would he know about the future? He's just the head of Google X, Google's semi-secret research-and-development company.
His thinking is that drones won't just make pizza delivery cheaper -- near-instantaneous access to anything a flying PlayStation could reasonably carry will be an absolute game changer. Why own anything you use less than constantly, when a small fee rents it for a few hours, and all delivered to your door by a robot that won't even judge what you're wearing? We're talking stuff like power tools, yard equipment, dental floss. Drones may vindicate your college roommate in the Che Guevara t-shirt who said we were evolving past the concept of ownership. Soon Amazon may be delivering us communism for $19.99 a month.
This all adds up to good news for consumers and social equality, and bad news for the Home Depots of the world, who will soon go the way of Blockbuster Video and Trump Steaks. Most of all, it's weird news for those of us who might find it unsettling to one day look up into the sky and see hundreds of lawnmowers flying around, possibly bringing us other lawnmowers.
The advancements in prosthetic and cybernetic technology have helped disabled people achieve a higher quality of life, and unless you live in one of the very dark corners of Reddit, that is unquestionably a wonderful thing. Technology has been called the great equalizer, and that's most true when it's put to work giving the paralyzed the ability to walk, or the blind the gift of sight. However, at some point we're going to have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of tech we want every Tom, Dick, and Harry (Osborn) to have. In some arenas, prosthetic technology is quickly outstripping the abilities of our own stock limbs, so it's feasible that having a fake arm or leg will soon be equivalent to having superpowers. So, what happens when people start wanting to augment their perfectly functional limbs with bionic parts?
There are some social implications to consider here. If it's an open market on robot legs, then they're probably only going to be available to the super-rich. At least at the start. Batman and Iron Man notwithstanding, the idea of a society divided between the poor and the literally superpowered rich elites doesn't sound great to most of us. If this becomes prevalent enough, the split between mech-enhanced people and "normies" will become the big societal divide of the century. How long willl it be before we hear new robot-related slurs and see "no normies need apply" signs in windows?
The sporting world is where this hits first, because humanity has stupid priorities. Will cybernetics be allowed in professional sports, or the Olympics? The easy answer is no, but there's actually some room for debate. What if robotic enhancements are the only way for an athlete to recover from an injury that would otherwise keep them out of the sport? Baseball already has Tommy John surgery, which is basically the restructuring of one's body parts in order to let them whip a baseball with superhuman speed once again. Advances in nutrition, training, and medical technology have been pushing the limits of human ability for generations, and the line between those and upcoming enhancements may grow less clear-cut as they get closer. If there were a technology to minimize the long-term health effects of being a professional boxer, who would deny athletes that protection? Of course, we mean a technology other than "stop being a professional boxer."
Nerds and corporate Twitter accounts alike were devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher in late 2016. Tragic as her death was, it quickly moved into the realm of creepy, thanks to her appearance in Rogue One. The appearance of her face, we should say, since Fisher herself did not shoot scenes for Rogue One, and was instead replaced by a younger version of herself, digitally grafted onto the face of another actress -- a scenario that has Nicolas Cage movie written all over it. Fisher's premature death left fans debating the morality of digitally resurrecting her for the remaining Star Wars sequels -- a conversation they felt perfectly comfortable having before her funeral had even occurred because ... they respected her so much?
The debate over the ethics of resurrecting dead actors for movies about space laser-fights is undoubtedly an important one. But the ability to create convincing video of someone doing or saying things they didn't might have some implications beyond the star wars. Peter Cushing was brought back to the land of the living through a near-replica of his face and voice, gleaned entirely from old footage and new technology. This tech is only getting better, with recent advancements promising to reproduce the full spectrum of a person's voice from a limited sample of them speaking. This sounds cool and all, until you realize that any dork with the right equipment could produce a clip of anyone saying anything at anytime. Or, as you would say: "That's effed up, man, and, by the way, I think Hitler had some good ideas!" What's that? You would never say that? We've got an audio file that says otherwise. How much would that be worth to you, by the by?
This issue has already entered the political scene in Pakistan and in Canada, where notorious crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford was under fire for a video that showed him, if you can believe it, smoking crack. His supporters produced videos showing how a convincing forgery could have been made, as evidence that we shouldn't believe that was actually him smoking crack on video (Spoiler Alert: It totally was!). The news has actually been faked out by several, non-crack-addled forgeries -- including most UFO clips and an infamous shot of an eagle abducting a baby.
Fun fact: We will instantly believe a video of an eagle abducting anything.
How different would the 2016 election campaign have been, if a forged video of Donald Trump actually assaulting a woman had come out, instead of just an audio clip of him bragging about it? Stop laughing -- somebody might have cared! This is theoretical!
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For more reasons we're, thankfully, far off from having robot overlords, check out 6 Futuristic Technologies That Are Huge Disappointments and 5 Breakthroughs In Tech (That Make Us Look Really Dumb).
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