Consider this. Nearly every large animal on this planet is stronger than us. Almost every predator has claws, or venom, or sharp teeth. But humans have two advantages that have enabled us to survive and thrive – a large brain, and hands that can pick up and manipulate objects. At the very dawn of pre-history we were busy making stone tools, turning animal skins into clothing, and decorating our own bodies with things that we’d made. We just can’t help it. We have to make things. Give any human a physical object and they will try to do something with it.
In the modern world, we are constantly surrounded by machines and inventions – from the clothes we wear, to the houses we live in, to the cars, trains and planes we travel around in, to the computers and other electronic devices we use for work and leisure. In this article, I want to consider this special relationship between humans and the machines we create. I want to look at where this relationship with our creations is heading.
There are a few animals that build machines to help them in their daily lives – birds build nests, bees build hives, etc – but humans are inextricably linked to their creations like no other creature. We have a uniquely symbiotic relationship with technology, and you could say that technology isn’t an add-on optional feature, but a core function of what it is to be human.
The modern world is very technologically advanced and we are deeply dependent on the machines around us. There’s no doubting the direction the world is going, and it’s only a matter of time before robots do nearly all the manual jobs, and computers do a lot of the intellectual work for us. Where does that leave humans? Doomed to be replaced by the machines we create, or even become their slaves, like Stephen Hawking and others have warned?
I don’t think so. I think the future will look very much like the past – humans and our machines in an ongoing effort to make the world a better place, more suited to our needs. We’re not in competition with our tools – we’re part of a team. And if the past is a guide to the future, we won’t be rendered obsolete by machines – we will entwine ourselves ever closer with our creations, until we merge into a seamless whole. The divide between man and machine is set to narrow and perhaps even disappear.
Just like tattoos, hair extensions and contact lenses, intelligent machines will become a part of us. Smartphones, smart watches and Google Glass point the way. As computers become more portable and more intelligent, we will want to integrate ever closer with them. After all, if we created an artificial super-intelligence, what would be better – to put it to work as our slave or to harness it to expand our own intellectual and creative powers?
If you think this won’t happen, or that we can avoid creating such machines, I urge you to think again. The history of mankind is a history of the machine. Machines aren’t something incidental or external to us. They lie at our very core.
But our creations aren’t something to be feared. They don’t make us less human, they make us more human.