Ayesha Khanna is the founder and director of the Hybrid Reality Institute , a unique research and advisory group focused on the co-evolution of humans and technology. She is a Faculty Advisor at Singularity University (a university in Silicon Valley focused on a future when machines outsmart humans), on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Lifeboat Foundation (an NGO helping humanity survive existential risks of powerful technologies) and directs the Future Cities group at the London School of Economics. Khanna discusses the Hybrid Age — on which TED will be bringing out her book in June — with ET in San Francisco. Excerpts
Technology has been around since man invented the wheel, if not earlier. What is new in the Hybrid Age? And when did this Age begin?
Yes, technology has been around since the Stone Age and more recently through the Information Age wherein large amounts of information are produced on mobile devices and computers. Each time technology has changed, our lives have changed as well. We still tend to think that we are in the Information Age. But we are at the frontier of the Information Age and are now entering the Hybrid Age, an era of humanmachine interdependence.
This is primarily because of the integration and the convergence of different kinds of technologies such as big data, computing power, and regenerative medicine. In the Hybrid Age, machines will be all around us and embedded in our lives. They will be on everything from our clothes to our skin.
We have never been surrounded by so much technology ever before! Responsive environments around us will respond to each of us intelligently because they will know us. For instance, your car will know you and automatically take you to your kids’ school, putting on music and temperature of your preference.
Can you give specific scenarios of life in the Hybrid Age and where it will take us?
The multiple biometric devices — measuring our blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns — that are beginning to take over, are just the first step. Soon we could have sensor-enabled biomedical pills that we swallow and which send us emails. Human machine integrations will be so deep that we will become like cyborgs — beings that are both biological and artificial.
We will have all of these bionic implants that will help us lead long lives and drastically improve the capacities of a normal human being. We will be able to live until 150 years or more. So, not only will our environment become hybrid — with smart transport, smart cities and self-driving cars. — but we ourselves are moving towards that direction. Second, all of these machines around us will become more intelligent. They will look for patterns which will help us lead better lives.
The iPhone’s voice assistant Siri is a good early example of this. Technology will also get increasingly social which is new because for the first time, with virtual avatars , we will see artificial intelligence that will start to mimic human emotions. And we will build emotional relationships because we are hardwired as human beings to feel empathy. The embedding of machines into us will happen in a way that will seem very natural to us.
What are the social, economic and political implications of this?
The Hybrid Age is being led by elites. Certain technologies are very expensive and give people undue advantages. Cognitive enhancers are a good example and are already being used by soldiers and being further developed in academia. The question is whether such elitist technologies will increase socio-economic divides? Or will it increase the numbers of the stagnating middle class in the West? The internet of things and smart cities will be the next big tech wave after the current social media boom that we are going through right now.
As with PayPal and Square, we will see a lot more of peer-to-peer payments as well as various kinds of currencies. It will be all about the soft architecture of space, all of which will be an intelligent, highlypersonalised environment. The ability to compute, things to be stored in the cloud, analysing that data in the cloud will impact transport, parking, housing, food, education and pretty much every aspect in a city. So much so that in 50 years, large parts of economies could be automated and provide jobs and education as needed.