Companies today are strategizing about future investments and technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, or growth around new business models. While many of these trends will make for solid investments for the next 5-10 years, fewer companies are considering the revolutionary convergence of disparate trends pulled from technology, behavioral and societal changes, and medical advances to understand how they will converge to transform society. This transformation will be messy, complex, and sometimes scary, but signals already point to a future of humanity that will blur our identities into “transhumanism.”
To understand this topic, our Visionary Innovation Group looked at three fundamental pillars of humanity and how they will evolve over the coming 10-15 years: our bodies, our thought, and our behavior. After identifying the driving forces that will transform these fundamental pillars, we extracted key themes emerging from their convergence. Ultimately our goal was to determine the ways in which the changing nature of humanity and transhumanism would affect individuals, society, businesses, and government.
A few of the trends that emerged from this study include the following seven trends. We hope they will spark discussion and innovation at your organizations.
- Our bodies will be augmented
The coming years will usher in a number of body augmentation capabilities that will enable humans to be smarter, stronger, and more capable than we are today. Wearables will be one form of body augmentation, but they will far surpass the fitness trackers of today. In the future, we can expect the arrival of contact lenses that can take pictures or video, universal language translator earbuds that allow us to communicate anywhere in the world, and exosuits that increase physical strength. We will also see increased use of implants ranging from brain microchips and neural lace to mind-controlled prosthesis and subdermal RFID chips that allow users to unlock doors or computer passwords with the wave of a hand. However, the most powerful body augmentation will come from biological augmentation as a result of increased insight into our genomes, advances in IVF technology that may allow us to select the most intelligent embryos, and powerful CRISPR gene-editing technology which may one day give us the ability to eliminate all heritable diseases. [i]
These body augmentation capabilities will give rise to humans that are more resilient, optimized and continually monitored. They will also lead to implications around which job opportunities are available to those with and without augmented abilities, as well as impacting sports competition with hierarchies based on body augmentation. We already see the early days of this with questions around leg prosthesis and whether they provide runners with increased speed compared to that of an average human. At the same time, augmented bodies will usher in risks such as espionage potential via contact lens camera hacks, or even more worryingly, risk of a stratified human race based on those who can afford augmentations and those who cannot.
- Our thought processes will be faster and more transferable
Both wearable and implantable brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are in development from organizations that include Elon Musk’s Neuralink, Facebook, and DARPA. These devices will dramatically alter the ways in which we communicate with each other, as well as digital devices. Today, when I speak with others, I am limited by the speed with which I can speak and the words on the tip of my tongue. When I interface with a computer, I am limited by the speed that I can type. BMIs will change all of this… to enabling communication at the speed of thought in its full, unfiltered state. Mark Zuckerberg has described the following scenario: Today, when we share our vacation experiences, we upload photos and videos. With BMIs, I can share my full sensory and emotional vacation experience with my friends and family. [ii]
- Gamification and behavioral science will increase human productivity
Early innovators such as UBER are already harnessing the incredible combined power of behavioral science, gamification, and AI. Uber’s behavioral science techniques include cueing up the next drive as the default option, not revealing the profitability of that ride (which is an uncertainty technique that is most often used in gambling), and giving drivers awards such as “Above and Beyond” that spur dopamine release. Gamification techniques used by the company include a graphical interface that brings a video-game like quality to the drive, as well as prompting goals that are always just out of reach to encourage continued pursuit.[iii]
Even governments have taken up these tactics with behavioral science units in both the UK and US. While these groups are focused on socially beneficial programs, they must be monitored to ensure they do not drift into more controlling engagements. In addition to applying these techniques to employees and citizens, it is easy to see how they will be increasingly be applied to consumers to drive more frequent and volume-driven purchases. By 2030 we can expect that behavioral scientists will be in demand in corporate HR, strategy, and consulting departments.
- We will be more empathetic
The adoption of virtual reality can play an influential role in our ability to understand perspectives other than our own at the current moment. For example, VR could be used to understand the plight of refugees, giving us the opportunity to step into their shoes, which may make us more likely to take action or donate money.[iv] Other examples may include stepping into the shoes of our future selves, and looking at the lives we will live 40-50 years down the road if we save $200 a month vs. $2000. This application can bring home the need to save over the short term desire to spend. BMIs may also advance our ability to empathize if we are able to understand someone else’s full perspective straight from their own brain, rather than if they are trying to communicate it and misspeak or their intention is misinterpreted by the listener.
- We will see the emergence of extreme personalization and customisation
We already see an advanced degree of personalization in marketing practices, but this will be extended in the future to touch virtually all aspects of our lives. For example, in addition to location and past purchase history data, marketers may be able to use emotional filters based on our activity to change the tone of their message on the spot in response to our current mood. Personalization will also extend to our homes, as we are currently seeing with smart home devices that can set “moods” with lighting and music. Eventually, we may see AI personalization affect our career trajectory, playing a guiding role in the positions we are offered based on our personal strengths. It is inevitable that our diets and medical treatment will be far more personalized based on the information that our genome reveals about us. Personalisation will eventually give way to customisation at mass scale where products and services will be completely configured to personal needs and preferences.
- Business practices will shift significantly
We will see the rise of AI in our career settings as described in much work focused on smart factories, industrial IOT, and related topics. Most employees will have an AI counterpart with which they collaborate or through which their work is amplified. Some futurists predict that by 2026 companies will have an AI machine as a member of their board of directors[v]. Integration of BMI into workplaces will usher in heightened cybersecurity concerns, and we may see eventual scenarios in which companies are sponsoring nootropic supplements and neurostimulation devices to improve employee focus and increase the speed of new skills acquisition.
- Conversations focused on our societal values will gain a great deal of attention
As these widespread and revolutionary technologies come at us from every angle and affect our bodies, thought processes, and behaviors, society will engage in growing philosophical debate around what our values are as individuals, as a country, and as a species. What do we value most? Is it intelligence, self-fulfillment, success, happiness, quality of life for all, or something else? As we increasingly have the tools to engineer any of these outcomes, some will have to take priority over others. For example, if one country decides that they want to create a nation of super-intelligent and physically augmented citizens, will other countries decide they have no choice but to follow suit? These and related questions that get at the heart of who we are as humans and what we value in our society will have tremendous ramifications.
Are you ready to be augmented into a super human? Frost & Sullivan explores these themes and many others in detail in a recently published study, “Transhumanism: How humans will think, behave, experience, and perform in the future, and the implications to businesses.” If you would like to explore this topic in more detail, you can access the study here.
This article was written with contributions from Lauren Taylor, Principal Consultant in Frost & Sullivan’s Visionary Innovation Group.