Many experts predict that humanity merging with machines is an inevitability, while many others suggest that it is already happening to some extent. Our lives are already augmented by technology to such a degree that it would be difficult to live without it, but aside from a few rare medical cases, we have not literally merged with machines just yet.
According to a study released this month by the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, that could all change very soon. The study predicted that technological enhancements to the ear, brain eye and muscles could be “technically feasible by 2050 or earlier.”
The report, “Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD” included results from a year long research project overseen by a study group from the Department of Defense Biotechnologies for Health and Human Performance Council.
By 2050, the team believes that the following capabilities will be achieved:
- Ocular enhancements to imaging, sight and situational awareness
- Restoration and programmed muscular control through an optogenetic bodysuit sensor web
- Auditory enhancement for communication and protection
- Direct neural enhancement of the human brain for two-way data transfer.
The researchers believe that direct neural enhancements will be one of the primary innovations to revolutionize combat in the years to come. They suggested in the study that brain implants could be used to allow cyber soldiers to control remote drones with their minds, or even enable communication with other soldiers in the field, brain to brain. The researchers noted that the development of this technology will begin in the military, but will eventually be expanded to the civilian market. In fact, market development and military development will likely work in tandem, as even today there are many technological developments on the consumer market that are eventually used to help advance military projects.
The study also pointed to the obvious fact that these technologies will bring unprecedented ethical dilemmas, however, the researchers seem to believe that images of dystopian futures are the product of media misinformation. The researchers advocate for a more positive representation of this type of technology in popular culture, especially in books, television and film.
The Department of Defense is also incredibly concerned about the possibility of countries that are not a part of the NATO alliance developing these types of technologies. The fact that China has made significant advancements in this field is a point of anxiety for the Pentagon, especially considering that they can advance more quickly because there are fewer regulations to limit research and development. To ensure that the US military is prepared for any threats from foreign militaries who may develop cyborg capabilities of their own, the researchers suggest war games to determine the best tactics and techniques to fight back against augmented soldiers.
A portion of the study was dedicated to the potential safety concerns posed by implementing this technology and advocated cautious but swift progression in research and development. For this to happen it is necessary to have a legal and ethical framework for the industry before it takes on a life of its own.