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The many faces of Digital Transformation – Societal Scenarios XIX

A thought provoking outline of possible evolution in the line of human machine convergence. Image credit: D. Pearson – Futurizon

Human machine convergence

One of the result of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative by FDC-IEEE was the recognition that technology evolution is affecting both machines (machine is used in a broad sense, to include robots, software bots, prosthetics, hacked DNA in living being like bacteria, new life forms …) and humans determining, over a period of 20 to 30 years, a convergence where the dividing line between human and machines will become blurred. This does not imply that machines become humans nor that humans become machine, just that the overall behaviour and intelligence will be resulting from an integration of both.

The forecast of a convergence derives from the trends of 

  • machines becoming more and more intelligent, able to interact with humans and leveraging on humans capabilities, and
  • humans making more and more use of machines to augment themselves.

That this integration is expected to take a long time frame should not lead to think that it is an issue not worth exploring now because:

  • the path has already started and the first signs of convergence are here and are starting to impact our lives;
  • the societal, political and economic implications are better faced now rather than as an afterthought.

The integration may actually take several forms, not mutually exclusive:

  • a flanking of humans and machines mediated by the cyberspace through Digital Twins
    The rapid uptake of Digital Twins and their first use to bring a person’s digital copy in the cyberspace will pave the wave to a smooth integration with machine. The complexity of the interactions can be mediated in the cyberspace by the digital twins, those of the machines and those of the humans. Industry 4.0 can be a first case in point, possibly followed by advanced surgery where coordination among human surgeons and robotic surgeons is essential. An area where seamless collaboration among humans and machines might have already been progressed is military where robot soldiers and human soldiers can form a team (but very few information is available)
  • an embedding of machines in humans (smart prosthetics, smart bacteria…)
    Smart prosthetics are starting to seamlessly interact with the human body (and viceversa) resulting in a seamless collaboration and convergence. Exoskeletons are starting to be adopted to augment human’s capabilities in assembly lines and this represents another example of convergence.
  • a projection of some human characteristics in a machine
    The foreseen evolution of cognitive digital twins will make possible to mirror a person’s knowledge in the cyberspace and to inject it into a machine.

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.