E-Homo S
apiens: Already at the Door

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, by Alexander Narinyani) — Man has entered a new phase of evolution. As we enter the gateway to the information technology world, that world is also entering us.

Within the next decade or two – which means most people alive will still be here to see for themselves – what we now know as Homo sapiens will transform into E-Homo sapiens, a new species so integrated into a new IT environment that, though similar biologically to its predecessor, it will be totally different qualitatively.

E-Homo sapiens will not emerge out of nowhere: we who are living today are already a transitional species, not yet what we will become in a short time but already completely different from what we were 20 years ago. This is a new stage of civilization, which will affect every aspect of mankind – our bodies, personalities, lifestyles, and even our souls.

Though fears raised by fans of The Matrix are of course exaggerated, today’s electronics will very soon give way to bio-, nano-, geno-, and other ever more sophisticated -tronics we have yet to imagine. This will go hand in hand with the introduction of "aid gadgets," from microchips to armies of microrobots, who will radically re-engineer the human organism. This transformation, which is already happening today and is very likely to become evident tomorrow, probably deserves a thorough and well-focused debate.

As most aspects of the problem are well beyond the scope of this short article, it will only draw a dim outline of the coming global e-civilization, hopefully setting the stage for further debate. On the one hand, E-Homo sapiens will see a new ocean of opportunity in education, communication, personal growth and physical evolution, and on the other they will become more and more dependent on the paternalistic environment – to the point where they are totally controlled by it.

Other topics that will be affected by the advent of this new man – culture, intellectual activities, politics, war, etc. – are also very interesting and will doubtless deserve space in a broader E-Homo sapiens debate, should it begin.

Today, many people might compare the loss of computer data with physical injury. Indeed, the loss of contact information and personal archives – texts, pictures, music – is seen as the loss of a meaningful part of one’s self. But the computers we use today are still primitive, a combination of an advanced typewriter, communication machine, and game console. What they will evolve into within a decade will possibly merit the name e-secretary, doctor, or teacher; then, the loss of data will be almost unbearable.

Moreover, the IT revolution of tomorrow is already in the making, largely through the mobile channel. What is now a Personal Digital Assistant will, with time, converge even more with the computer to become our e-Partner, if not e-Shadow.

By mid-century, each E-Homo sapiens, if technology continues to progress steadily, will receive a personal IT-cocoon at birth, which will grow with the human, help him develop and expand his abilities, and will be deleted only after his death. An average E-Homo sapiens will easily be able to obtain, through global search, calculation, and expert assessment capabilities, a kind of knowledge only research institutions have access to today.

Microrobots inside E-Homo sapiens’ body will optimize and streamline the work of each and every organ and function. The body will become ideally shaped without all that old-fashioned bodybuilding, fitness, and such. Medicine will do what so far has seemed impossible: rehabilitate the permanently disabled, replace damaged eyes, hands, arms – even hearts. Psychological adjustments will be equally widespread as people will want to limit natural aggression, block pain, put themselves in the right frame of mind for work, etc. In short, computers will have complete control over every cell of the human body.

This is where the downside appears. There are, and will be, fears that this control might turn into manipulation. Worse, manipulation, in the case of overlapping individual and public interests, will be as hard to define as ever.

Actually, an e-civilization is bound to be anti-utopian: as Homos transform into E-Homo sapiens, they will become increasingly transparent to others – and so increasingly susceptible to various influences, if only "for their own good."

One big toehold of digital reality in today’s world is cinema: digital effects, already less expensive and more spectacular than most landscape shooting, will soon expand into the human sphere, probably making human actors as exotic in movies as digital dinosaurs were just a few years ago. Mass culture has every prerequisite to become the first stage where the human race will begin its total self-computerization.

The senses of touch and smell will go digital too, as will the emotional side of life. People of the future will be able to communicate with their loved ones – or well-made imitations, at least – wherever they might be. Less and less real experience will be required for jobs. Thus, student drivers will be able to take virtual drives through the heaviest traffic and even experience accidents – without actually having to recover for months at a hospital afterwards. In fact, any experiment on live subjects will be relevant only as long as they have not been so thoroughly studied as to make possible an exact computer model.

E-business, armed with fearsome abbreviations like B2B, ERP and CRM, is rapidly expanding in the white-collar world towards a fully transparent global economy, in which business leaders will know everything about one another and will seek a competitive edge only in acquiring the earliest and most effective upgrades to their critical software.

Bureaucracy, already an obstacle to development, will die to be later reincarnated as e-bureaucracy – without offices, desks, and stripped of many decision-making powers. Civil servants will give way to files and databases.

None of these topics is alien to us today. However, sometimes putting all the facts together gives you a completely new picture of the whole.

E-Homo sapiens is not something to sneeze at. It is already at the door, and it is, in fact, we who are doing much of the knocking. The point of this article is to help us hear the knock. Forewarned is forearmed.

Alexander Narinyani is the chief executive of the Russian Research Institute of Artificial Intelligence.