June marked the halfway point of what has turned out to be an unprecedented year in most people’s lives. The massive changes wrought by the fallout of a global pandemic have left many of us searching for ways to adapt to our new reality. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of forces beyond our control, but as human beings we are uniquely equipped to problem solve and evolve to meet the challenges in our environment.

Technology can play a powerful role in speeding up this evolution in ways that equip us with the knowledge and tools needed to achieve our full potential. Of course, technology is an outgrowth of the human mind and can be used to augment both beneficial and destructive human traits and behaviors.

Personal Digital Empowerment

As we face a future of uncertainty and rapid change, it is critical that we examine the ways in which technology can be harnessed for good, to increase our wellbeing and confront the unprecedented challenges facing the global community. For this reason, we have centered the theme of our upcoming 2020 Think Tank event  on Personal Digital Empowerment: The Rise of the Centaur. To be a centaur means we have integrated technology into our lives to empower us to evolve as human beings to be able to live a more abundant and joyful life.

A goal of this event is to change the negative perception that future advances in technology will necessarily limit people’s freedom and opportunities. Together we will explore a range of ways in which technology can work to our benefit, including increased augmentation and quantification of the human body and by humans and AI working together.

The human body is the new frontier of technology’s user interface, transforming our experience of technology from device-based into a first-hand physical experience. Self-augmentation via the implantation of technology into the body already exists in the form of a heart pacemaker or Cochlear implant.

Science Fiction In Real Life

Today, implant technology is progressing in ways that many may think belong to the realm of science fiction. An implant under the skin of our hand or connected to our brain has the potential to restore, replace or upgrade a natural human capability, delivering cognitive or physical improvements in the form of memory boosting and vision enhancement, for example. These advances can help empower us as individuals in ways that improve our quality of life and enhance our productivity and creativity. This use of self-augmentation embodies the ideals of what it means to be a digital centaur.

We must, nevertheless, also explore the potential of implants to cause further divisions between society’s haves and have-nots while creating unforeseen psychological impacts on users.

The digital centaur has many tools at his or her disposal in addition to digital implants. Through wearable technology, sensors embedded in our clothes, watches, glasses, earpieces, or under the skin can track our movements and biometrics, allowing us to gather a steady stream of data on how our body and mind are functioning.

The goal with this is to pursue the “quantified self”, or the practice of self-tracking to provide the insights we need to make more well-informed life decisions. Greater data collection can translate into better health outcomes through the expansion of preventative medicine. Doctors could use self-tracking data to spot trends and make diagnoses before a condition manifests physically or mentally.

This could have important societal implications as well, such as in the case of a global pandemic like COVID-19. Aggregated health data collected from thousands of self-trackers could allow health officials to quickly spot and contain potential outbreaks of disease before they can spread. Wearables can also just make life more fun, for example through headsets or glasses equipped with virtual reality gaming and apps that let you travel the world from the comfort of your home.

Collaborating With AI

Beyond implanted and wearable technology, we can augment our human capabilities by harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) for our benefit. Instead of fearing AI, we must look for ways to combine the relative strengths of humans and intelligent machines to improve how we live and work. Indeed, researchers at Accenture found in their review of 1,500 companies that “firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together.”

Instead of replacing and displacing us, AI can equip people with tools to become more productive, creative and effective in what they do. Ultimately, whether you fear or fully embrace technology, or fall somewhere in between, the future of humankind will largely be shaped by how we continue to develop and use technology.

Stay tuned to Future Point of View’s social channels to learn more about our annual think tank where we will delve more deeply into how technology can empower us as individuals and as members of society.