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Augmented Machines and Augmented Humans are converging IX

The Cyberspace can be seen as a brain augmentation, extending the individual phenotype.

Extended phenotype modification – cognitive

Improving alertness, focus is clearly contributing to improving the cognitive capability of a person (coffee is still playing a big role in this… ) but it is not really changing the rules of the game. However, in the last few years we have started to see a real boosting of our cognitive capabilities by flanking the cyberspace to our brain.

The amount of data, information, knowledge existing in the cyberspace is so huge that it won’t be an overstatement saying it is unlimited. At the same time the easiness of accessing this supplementary “brain” makes it part of our extended phenotype.

In the coming years these easiness will keep increasing and it will also make the flanking even more effective, seamless and customised to the person and to the specific context, here and now.

We can say that the equation: “brain+computer = enhanced brain” has become true.

Cognitive augmentation has started with education and has improved with the use of computers, more recently with the seamless use of smartphones to access the cyberspace and will be further improved with

  • the presence of digital twins (contextualisation and personalisation)
  • the use of artificial intelligence to distil knowledge and create information
  • the use of swarm intelligence leading to the emergence of applicable knowledge
  • the creation and adoption of seamless interfaces (augmented reality)

Interestingly, as it happened in the past (and nowadays, of course) with mass education, these flanking of the cyberspace to the cognitive space provided by the brains is extending the phenotype of enterprises, communities and the whole world societies to an extent that can be compared to the invention of writing first and to the movable printer characters of the XV century. Actually a few sociologists are claiming that the growing pervasiveness of the cyberspace in our society is going to have an even greater impact on our species  cognition capabilities.

The development of closely tied societies has shifted the relevance of knowledge from the individual to the society, today companies are looking for areas where education and experience level is high, rather than to the knowledge of a specific individual, implicitly recognising that the exposure to knowledge is even more important than the knowledge possessed by a single individual.

One of the reason is the explosion of knowledge that can no longer be captured by a single individual.

The possibility to access a distributed knowledge may change this. Companies like Unanimous AI harvest knowledge from people and complement it with knowledge harvested and created by Artificial Intelligence. In the specific, Unanimous AI is looking at medical knowledge, an area where both scientific and pragmatic knowledge is crucial and where both are expanding beyond the capability of a single MD to manage.

By collecting experiences (practical knowledge) and autonomously browsing hundreds of thousands of articles in all medical areas, correlating them and distilling information to apply to specific cases, Unanimous AI provides (through a seamless interface) a powerful consulting mechanism to MDs around US to bring the collective practical experience and scientific knowledge to the specific case they have.

Similar approaches are being taken in a variety of industries and the paradigm of Industry 4.0 is aligned to this, by having a flanking of atoms and bits throughout the value chain, aggregating the competence of several companies, from row material harvesters to the end customers (included).

At FDC, as part of the studies carried out in the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative, there is a proposal to create  cognitive Digital Twins to provide a tool to people accessing the Explore repository for customising the information and knowledge to their “here and now” needs. This can be a first step in a revolution of knowledge management, transforming knowledge from a product (hard to manage and slow to adsorb) into an effective service both at individual (professional) and at company/institution level.

Indeed, several sociologists are pointing to the flanking of the cyberspace as an epigenetic factor that is influencing the individual, the culture, the society as a whole and the ambient we are living in (hence the epigenetics effects).

More and more effective, seamless communications (welcome 5G!) is bringing minds together through a connection with data and through artificial intelligence and autonomous, evolving and self-learning systems is creating a new species (from an evolutionary perspective).

This is a sort of collective augmentation, leading to the emergence of a collective intelligence through a society-wide extended phenotype. In this AI is going to play an important role and, as I will discuss in the next post, it is likely to provide the glue for a symbioses of humans and machines.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.