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The New Senses of Symbiotic Humanity (1)
By JoŽl de Rosnay
Director of Forecasting and Assessment
City of Science and Industry, Paris


What will the people of the future be like? Biologists, futurologists, and science fiction writers have been grappling with this challenging question for centuries. For some, the human of the future will be a "superman," whose brain will surpass the brain of our day in numbers of neurons, and who will possess phenomenal intellectual capacities. These humans will have large heads and tiny legs (thanks to mechanized movement) and no teeth (from the consumption of concentrated food). This caricature of humanity could be further elaborated, but biological evolution, as against that of the technosphere, is not fast enough to produce such significant changes. Others argue the human beings of the future will be bionic, made up of interchangeable electronic and computer parts, with custom-built senses and organs and enhanced sight and hearing systems. Able to hear at a distance of hundreds of yards, to see in the dark, and to leap and run like gazelles, bionic men and women were popularized all over the world by an American TV series.

Scientists and science fiction writers have imagined cybernetic humans (cyborgs), half human, half robot, like RoboCop or Terminator. Bruce Mazlish has predicted the arrival of "combots" (computer-robots), a new generation of intelligent beings produced by humans that would then be self-reproducing and live in relationship with us, as a new kind of species cohabiting with biological humanity. Hans Moravec believes that the robots of the future will have such a high level of intelligence that they will be able to dissuade us from "pulling the plug" if we want to turn them off. Emotionally appealing and integrated into our lives, they will exert the kind of pressure on us that pets do. These visions of the future usually focus on the individual. I prefer to consider humanity, society, and the technosphere as a coevolutionary whole. For me, humanity in the future will be symbiotic humanity, not very different physically and mentally from twentieth-century humans but with extraordinary means of knowledge and action thanks to their biological, psychological, or biotic connections with the cybiont.

I have described the gradual coevolution of humanity with the biosphere (mainly through agriculture and, more recently, biotechnologies), with the technosphere (by means of machines, industry, trade, and the economy), and with the noosphere (through computers and broad communications networks). I have stressed the importance of interfaces between humans and mechanical or electronic machines. But the emergence of biotics makes it possible to envision even more direct interfaces between humans and their machines, and the creation of new bodies and new senses.

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