The ultimate future of our social wellbeing and how it is influenced by technology is an exciting but scary thought. With new technologies emerging mostly for commerce and not for the greater good of society, could the very things that make us human come under threat?
There are two paths of differing social technologies, the real and the virtual. These paths are likely to become more apparent in the future with new technologies set to either enhance or replace our human-to-human connections.
The first and most obvious technologies that will affect social reality are those that redefine reality itself. Virtual Reality (VR) has had a 30 year history but has only recently taken a massive leap forward. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus for a staggering $2 billion in 2014 puts the cutting edge of VR technology within the hands of the worlds biggest social network. The purchase and valuation was more than just an investment in modern tech…it was insight into Facebook’s future strategy.
Facebook clearly sees a future in which we can connect with each other in a virtual way with the convenience of not having to leave the comfort of our own spaces. We will be able to have virtual face-to-face gatherings of our friends or meetings with work colleagues regardless of where we reside. We will meet in virtual locations, whether that be a virtual representation of a real space or in Homer Simpson’s living room. The things we communicate to each other will be virtually brought into the space to support our conversations in real-time. There are, without any doubts, some very beneficial results to society through the introduction of virtual social technology. The best examples being the sharing of the world’s best education and medical advice to anyone, anywhere that has a device.
Virtual reality, just to clarify, is…. well, virtual! There is no reality in virtual reality. VR therefore inherits the very same problems as traditional social of the current age in that it disconnects us from physical human-to-human experiences. Luckily, for us real social advocates, there is Augmented Reality (AR). AR will co-exist with VR and offer us much of the same supporting benefits but without the full takeover of our senses. Computer generated visuals and sounds will be augmented (overlaid) onto our real-world environment to make the best of our real life experience.
AR has the clear disadvantage to VR in that virtual simulations cannot be created and human connections need to be physically present. It does however, have the advantage that the devices (most likely wearable tech to start with) will always be on and most importantly, will facilitate our real social connections instead of virtually replacing them.
Unfortunately, other emerging technologies do not offer as much hope in pushing the real social agenda. Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, drones, advanced biotech and robotics all have the capacity and arguably the intention of replacing things humans once did. Even sex, the most intimate of human-to-human experiences, is not far off being replaced by technology and thats for both the fun bit as well as the reproduction.
So what we are left with is a huge moral dilemma! If there is a future where we can be born artificially and delivered by drone, get educated, socialise, work and go on holiday using VR, buy all our goods online and have them 3D printed and even have a partner (or 2) that is actually a robot, why would we ever leave our homes? We would just be permanently and remotely plugged in!
Now you may be thinking this is all a little far fetched but we have already had a taste of what might happen with Second Life, a space in which people learn, socialise and even do business within a virtual world….and this has been going on since 2003! Some of the more extreme users have admitted their virtual digital lives are more important and fulfilling to them than their real ones….reality is just for eating, sleeping and excreting!
The end to our humanity as we know it (assuming we haven’t nuked ourselves or gone down ‘The Terminator’ route), is the convergence of all this tech to such an advanced level that we are able to reach a state of Hyper Reality, a space that once plugged directly into our brains, makes it impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what is simulated. Our bodies become vessels for the mind (much like the film ‘The Matrix’ but of our own free-will). It might seem farcical but some of the brightest minds on our planet actually think we may already be living in this world, with the world as we know it being the virtual one. Some, including tech billionaire Elon Musk are known to be funding projects to get us out of it. It seems plausible to me too. Its inevitable that tech will evolve to this level in the future so assuming it can happen in the future, there is a very high chance its already been done.
If we are (or will be) living in a simulation so real we can’t tell the difference through our senses, then the benefit of real social ceases to exist…or does it? Are there inexplicable, spiritual energies that connect us to other life-forms? In many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions the soul is the incorporeal essence of a living being that could never be replicated by technology. Maybe Hyper Reality is the catalyst for us to find out the true meaning of life?
We should always be positive about our future, after all we are the ones that define it. We therefore think our social future will end up being determined by human ethics. Its been 20 years since the cloning of ‘Dolly the sheep’ but there has been no human cloning and its illegal in almost every country in the world. When something threatens our very real existence there will be some kind of revolution if we haven’t already prevented its likelihood. We may be talking hundreds of years into the future but this path has already started now with the current social technologies that have disconnected human-to-human contact. For us there is no better time to save humanity than the present.