Human augmentation will change our futures: MYOB

Predictions of cyborgs, holograms and neural-linked artificial intelligence are a bit exaggerated according to an expert.
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Predictions of cyborgs, holograms and neural-linked artificial intelligence are a bit exaggerated according to an expert.

Imagine sitting down at a restaurant and having a chef prepare the meal you have been thinking about without you having to order it.

Or downloading a language app that will have you speaking like a local in a foreign country.

These are some of the technological developments that MYOB predicts will change the world of work, according to its Future of Business Report: The Augmented Human.

But University of Auckland computer science lecturer Dr Paul Ralph says neither of those things, plus many other predictions, are likely to happen in our lifetimes, if at all.

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MYOB chief technology officer and futurist Simon Raik-Allen says the blending of biology and technology to provide physical and mental enhancements to humans is inevitable and it will have a profound impact on the business world.

"Imagine a version of today's app store – the brain-app store or the body-app store – which you can connect to in order to download the latest developments in intelligence, mental performance, or simply entertainment.

"Got an important business meeting in China? Download the language app and speak like a local with an accent add-on."

Raik-Allen says as hairy and audacious as the report's predictions are, they are based on technology currently being developed or already in use.

"Just a few years ago, none of us could conceive of carrying around the amount of computing power we do today in our smart devices. Now, most of us can't be without it," he says.

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But lecturer Ralph says people only needed to look back on history to see predictions about the future were often unrealised - just think about all the flying cars we don't have.

On the other hand, the concepts of Twitter and Wikipedia sounded "completely bonkers" a few decades ago.

"No one should put too much stock into predictions of technology in the future," Ralph says.

Taking the restaurant example, Ralph says the idea was inherently problematic because it would require people giving private corporations access to their thoughts.

And the possibility of being able to communicate fluently in another language just by downloading an app? 

"This is complete nonsense. Absolute drivel. That's not going to happen, not in our lifetimes. No way," Ralph says.

The reason for that comes down to a lack of a complete understanding of how the brain works and the sheer difficulty of writing something into a human brain.

While technology exists to allow computers to recognise brain waves, flipping the equation around and editing someone's brain to download knowledge is infinitely harder.

Ralph says people can read all they want about how to throw a punch or do a handstand but that did not mean they would know how to do those things immediately. 

"People imagine like The Matrix, remember Neo had this thing jacked into his neck and he knew Kung Fu? No, no, no, no, no, we are way, way away from that," he says.

"We don't even know where to start. Going to Mars, which we still haven't done, is orders of magnitude easier than changing a memory."

 - Stuff

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