National Intelligence Council Predicts Cyborg Enhancements and Augmented Reality

Picture: TenaciousMe (CC)

Remember daydreaming about robots and cyborgs as a kid? They’re almost here! Bad news, though: They’ll be killing machines. What could possibly go wrong? You’re welcome, future.

WIRED reports on some of the predictions of the National Intelligence Council:

We’ve seen experimental prosthetics in recent years that are connected to the human neurological system. The Council says the link between man and machine is about to get way more cyborg-like. “As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” the Council writes. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”

And if the machines can’t be embedded into the person, the person may embed himself in the robot. “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator,” the report adds. There’s no word about whether you’ll have to paint yourself blue to enjoy the benefits of this tech.

Keep reading.

15 Comments on "National Intelligence Council Predicts Cyborg Enhancements and Augmented Reality"

  1. So how is a health care system that’s broken for average Americans and that’s going to be broken into the foreseeable future thanks to the Obamacare fuckup going to deliver mass availability for these amazing SmartHuman enhancements? Health care monitoring / diagnostic devices that plug into a smartphone scale to mass availability, where are we getting a few hundred thousand neurosurgeons to implant biotech enhancements into brains, who’s going to pay for the specialized operating room setups they are going to require?

    “The wonders of the (imaginary) ‘free’ market” don’t work if the plan is to give expensive shit to everybody or even to make it affordable if installation requires lots of time from extremely expensive professional labor in heavily capitalized medical facilities on a one-to-one basis. Gadgets get cheap if built by the tens of millions. The professional labor required to put them into people’s heads will cost the same per-person for quantity one, or quantity 10 million.

    This stuff is going to be for the elites and those top researchers these elites figure can enhance their profits, places like google might include the equivalent of neurally implanted Google Glasses to enhance employee productivity.

    What we get is “technology pie in the sky, by and by”.

    What’s valid in that report (3D-printed organs, printed cities) is based on work that’s already in early-stage progress, we don’t need “Futurists” to forecast this. Futurists are cheerleaders for Silicon Valley capitalism in the same sense that right-wing pundits are cheerleaders for business in general. I wouldn’t trust a right-wing pundit to run a hot-dog stand if my own profits depended on it. The few futurists successful at high-tech companies *do* believe. That they will receive the benefits personally of the future they are creating.

    At the expense of everyone else including the “professional futurists” who will be on the outside looking in when biotech enhancements are A Thing You Can Buy. They won’t get the “if you can afford it” part until they find that they can’t. Those people aren’t running high-tech companies for the same reason right-wing pundits don’t run real businesses.

    They’re good for turning up interesting new science and technology as context-free bright, shiny objects without understanding that the press releases they link to come from universities who probably won’t get the funding to develop these projects unless they can get outside corporate funding, or from venture-capital funded startups with a 1-in-8 success rate. This is useful to me, but I also know how to do the research needed to see which bright shiny objects will become Real Things You Can Buy. A question it wouldn’t occur to them to ask because if it’s linked to through Kurzweil’s AI futurist aggregator, It Must Be True.

    They don’t understand enough about the present to make their futurist projections remotely close to useful, but that doesn’t matter. They’re in the business of propagandizing the aging hipster “creatives” subculture for the status quo present (NO NEW TAXES ON THE TECHNORICH!!! OR THE MIRACLES OF THE FUTURE WILL GO AWAY!!!), not telling us the bad news about the most likely futures we’re going to really live in largely thanks to the ability of those technorich to evade paying their fair share of the upkeep for the society that made it possible for them to get rich. They’re much like mainstream classical economists who managed to fail to predict major financial meltdowns. Useless for prediction, but useful to their wealthy patrons. For a while.

    Left the scene for the same reason I “left the left”. (I’m no longer even a registered Democrat.) When a scene is *designed* to produce results opposite to its nominal goals which I generally support, I bail the fuck out even if I like a lot of the people in it. I am in favor of longer-lived healthier and smarter humans for everyone who wants to be optimized. I favor survival of technological civilization.

    But this movement will make these goals *less* likely, not more likely by turning off the brains of the people in it with respect to information their wealthy sponsors would rather the people they’ve pwn3d don’t think about. The issues which will determine whether or not anyone other than the wealthy few get biotech enhancements. The issues which will determine whether or not technological civilization exists, which is required to have a future that’s fit for anybody to live in.

    Appropriate that this ran in Wired. I remember them forecasting “The Long Boom” and the “end of economic cycles” just before the whole thing went boom.

    Speaking as a taxpayer, I’d rather people doing future projections that our national security is supposed to depend on would go further than pointing and clicking Singularity/Transhumanism websites and watching TED talks to base those reports on. A more scientific methodology is really in order. Aren’t there any gypsy fortunetellers inside the Beltway? Does anyone remember how to read entrails?

    Seriously, I’d rather have seen NIC doing actual research including cost projections and analysis of where funding for these procedures might come from which might tell us just how available this tech is going to be.

    If you want to see what good futurist work looks like, dig up the DOD funded report a few years back discussing the military/foreign policy impact of global warming.

    • I love your cynical and realistic perspectives on these issues. The future is murder. Technology is a double edged sword and both sides will be used. This is what positive futurists and singulatarians WILLFULLY deny or downplay. My only hope is that the good edge of the sword will be able to mitigate the murderous edge of the sword. Because if it doesn’t…we are headed for destruction on an unprecedented scale and effect.

      • Generally, modern futurist rank and file and many of their advocates are bright, well meaning people who don’t understand how politics or economics or technological capitalism or ecosystems work and have at best, no better than a public education-based knowledge of history, and usually lack hands-on experience with technology startups, venture capitalists, and making technology.

        What’s left is mystical faith in a fantasy “THE FUTURE!!!” Party Line sold to them by organizations funded by Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs who are NOT well-intentioned who want to politically neuter nerds and hipster counterculture “creatives” who might join Anonymous or conventional progressive political movements, or otherwise might ask awkward questions about how the status quo distribution of wealth and power might affect any real future they might actually want to live in if they’re left to think for themselves.

        Those that have political identities generally are sufficiently unsophisticated to buy into “left”centrism, another way to sidetrack people from thinking about real issues. Those who are into political activism usually never get further than “Internet Freedom” without asking just what it is they can use “Internet Freedom” for that can make people’s lives better. White children of privilege generally don’t need to ask questions like that for their own benefit, hipster creatives got theirs. The kids and people of color don’t buy into “THE FUTURE!!!”

        Having worked in several tech startups (including med tech and AI) and having studied enough politics and economics and history to make myself a decent amateur policy wonk, I do NOT share this mystical faith and am not especially welcome among Transhumans and Singularitarians who value the capacity for faith over the capability for rational analysis.

        Ironic given that some make a fetish of rationality, but if they were simply rational and applied their rationality to their own unreality tunnel, they might find themselves booted out of their fantasy role-playing group.

        My tech experience is electronic hardware, NOT marketing/communications, I make Real Things, not fantasy.

        Who funds the Singularity movement? By and large, people who KNOW they can afford the goodies their movement promises to everybody and whose personal vision of the future for everybody else begins and ends with “NO NEW TAXES”, government subsidies and contracts, importation of cheap tech labor from overseas to drive their tech labor costs down, and cutbacks in infrastructure (like education and scientific research) that does not personally and immediately benefit them in order to make the rest of their political agenda look workable. Look up the major funders on OpenSecrets for some of the details relating to their political spending.If you’ve got lots of time, look into their spending on political lobbying. How much of this reflects the stated priorities of the “futurist” movements they pay the bills for?

        Is it rational to believe that they fund futurism for the benefit of all humanity?

        Though in fairness, they, too have mystical faith. In their ability to use the wealth they extract from the rest of us to buy their way out of the economic and ecological disasters their form of capitalism promises the rest of us in the real world on behalf of themselves and their children. Anyone who’s read “Collapse” by Jared Diamond or knows enough history to know how empires fall isn’t going to share their mystical faith, either.

    • VaudeVillain | Dec 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm |

      You may be right, this technology may never be available to any but the wealthiest of people.

      Then again, that’s what they said about indoor plumbing (outhouses are pretty rare in the West these days), automobiles (now the bourgeoisie aspire *not* to own them), telephones (also cellular telephones… which for many in the West have completely replaced the former), computers (the one you used to make your comment was written on a machine exponentially more powerful than the ones which put astronauts on the moon), and a whole host of other technologies now so commonplace we hardly even notice them.

      I have no doubt that the ultra wealthy will get every shiny new thing first, just like they have since the dawn of human civilization, but I can’t share your concern that it will never make it to the rest of us, because somehow it always seems to find a way.

      • I don’t share your mystical faith in “the power of the free market” and “technology capitalism” to make everything that’s technology cheap and affordable. Everything you mention is a retail consumer item whose prices dropped as manufacturing volume increased. Supply and demand don’t work the same way in medicine.

        The price of services from medical professionals and medical institutions has gone UP with time, not down. Part of this is that the price of medical education has gone up. Another part of this is that the capital investment required to provide medical services has gone up drastically. Throw in Big Pharma and the financialization of medical care.

        Or simply google for “the spiraling cost of medical care”.

        • VaudeVillain | Dec 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm |

          Mystical faith? Not really. There is a pretty clear and consistent pattern of technologies starting prohibitively expensive, then becoming cheaper as time goes on. It even holds true in medicine. Eyeglasses were once astronomically expensive, so were aspirin, antibiotics, dialysis, pacemakers, antiretroviral drugs, and a whole host of other treatments and devices.

          Medical care is quite expensive, and there are several reasons that is unlikely to change, but the cost of tech isn’t nearly so big as the costs of highly skilled and specialized labor (ie. doctors), infrastructure (ie. hospitals) and profit margin (ie. health insurers and for-profit health care). Any particular advance will inevitably, eventually, become cheap enough for nearly everyone to have access (albeit at a cost); the cost of currently cutting-edge care, however, will not.

          tl;dr, it depends on whether you’re talking about specific tech in the future, or what constitutes the highest available tech at any given time in the future. The former will become affordable with time, the latter will never become affordable.

          • Sorry, I mistook you for a modern futurist. Agreed that these things are actually likely to become affordable with time, but IMO, mass availability timeframes are for this are going to be *far* longer than futurists are promising us now.

            You might find this interesting reading:

          • VaudeVillain | Dec 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm |

            Well yes, but that’s at least in part because they like to promise us things will happen tomorrow when they’re more likely to happen in 10 years.

            I think it will also depend in large part on precisely what the tech in question is and what it requires.

            Cybernetic limbs that require custom fitted parts and deep nervous integration are always going to be pricey, simply because the material capitol required to manufacture such a thing AND the time required to install it will always be great. Much like the price of an automobile is currently about as low as it can get.

            If someone wanted a cellular phone installed in their head (for some people this would pretty much just free up a hand), we could probably do that now for a relatively low price provided they weren’t interested in looking so pretty. If they wanted it to dial based on brainwave reads… well, that would be a different story.

          • Cell phone? Not possible now, big problem with implantable electronics power supply. I’d guess a Google Glasses neural I/O to external cell phone – 10 year timeframe for availability on Google’s medical plan. As for intelligence enhancement… even implanting a low-end PC equivalent like the Raspberry PI is something I would not recommend trying… and anything capable of providing real intelligence enhancement… it’s going to be a while.

            I expect the price of cybernetic limbs to drop a lot faster than you do, external hardware is far easier and safer to design than internal, and the demand is going to be big enough that conventional consumer electronics demand/supply curves will control. Big military market as well as civilian. Also note that by and large, the I/O is going to be nerves attached to body extremities, *not* inside the human brain.

            One of my areas of expertise is electronic design.

          • VaudeVillain | Dec 13, 2012 at 1:44 am |

            Hadn’t thought about the power supply. Is there some reason that a battery pack couldn’t be properly enclosed for implantation? It would still require an external charger, and the idea of a chemical battery literally inside of a body is… um… reckless… but the whole thing is largely ill-advised to start.

            Genuine intelligence enhancement I wouldn’t count on ever, at least not as an implant. If anything, improved search and database manipulation will allow for faster access to obscure data and quick calculations… the parts of human intelligence that are, while certainly impressive, the least unique or defining.

            You’re probably right that the cost of cybernetic limbs would drop quickly, but I suspect that the price would floor out higher than many other items. It’s just a lot of machinery. I agree brain implantation is, if it ever becomes viable, much further off than implants to the extremities. Frankly, the brain is very complicated, very densely packed, and there is no real incentive to muck around with it directly rather than using the (very good) wiring already provided.

            Anything controlled directly by the brain I would expect to see as a completely external device that looks for brain activity patterns. I’ve seen a few proof-of-concept devices that do such things, they are crude, simplistic, and restricted to very general patterns with a fairly high latency, but nonetheless it might work for certain applications.

          • Rechargable chemical batteries wear out, and regular surgery to replace them doesn’t seem like a great idea. However, ultracaps don’t, carbon nanotube ultracaps with the right encapsulation might be an interesting alternative. Charging them using inductive setups like we’re beginning to see for cell phones might work.

            We are beginning to see direct I/O to the human brain, visual apps via the optic nerve, consumer EEG headsets, etc. Non-invasive approaches might be possible, but I’m not ready to discuss them at this point.

            Also note that all that’s really necessary in/around the human brain is probably I/O and sensors, lots of room in the abdomen for stuff with actual computational power, for instance with wired connections in-between. Can’t discuss this much more in a sensible way until more research is done, but that there are interesting electronic design possibilities are obvious, though there are certain very obvious legal concerns here.

            We are also beginning to see a human biohack scene, but so far, it’s toy applications like magnetic implants for fingers to allow sensing magnetic / EM fields – which I don’t recommend because … magnetic implant meet MRI… and the user can’t take for granted that she will be conscious if taken to an ER after an accident, and implanted LED clock displays which are more high-risk cosmetics than anything else. It would be interesting to work on something that is actually useful in this area.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Dec 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm |

    the machines don’t have to be inside to be part of a human
    most people are Borged-up to the max as it is
    you can’t go anywhere without the Borg equipment pack:
    the smart phone, music player, internet xylophone are always with thee

    The iPhone is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
    He leadeth me beside the still waters.
    He restoreth my soul:
    He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’ sake.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
    Thy iTunes and iPhone staff, they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine vendors;
    Thou annointest my head with groovy stuff; My cup runneth over.

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
    and I will dwell in the House of the Android forever.

    • Outside of Apple ads, will an iPhone *really* increase your IQ by 20 points? Or make it easy to do complex math equations people have to sit through advanced math classes to learn how to do otherwise?That’s the biotech future the futurist community is talking about. Which will be delivered to the small minority who can afford it, and you will NOT be buying it at Walmart.

      • BuzzCoastin | Dec 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm |

        true, the life extending cyborg technologies will be an elite perk
        but the androidization of humans began with the wheel
        all Borg technologies are double-edged swords
        the services and disservices almost equally distributed
        with most humans blithely unaware of the disservices

  3. Wow! I had a dream about this just last night. Freaky indeed!

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