By Ayesha & Parag Khanna
When Stanford’s Department of Bioengineering moves into a dazzling new facility on the university’ fabled quad in 2014, it will mark another milestone in the term “Silicon Valley” becoming a misnomer. The multi-disciplinary center has over the past decade been home to numerous breakthroughs, with a growing number of researchers focused on the potential for self-assembling bio-robots and nano-scale automation. As Drew Endy, one of the department’s top young faculty members puts it, “Silicon Valley will soon be as much about carbon, nitrogen and phosphate.”
Endy’s giddy comment is revealing not only about the new arenas of science and discovery receiving large-scale investment today, but also how we should move away from conflating all technology with IT in our popular discourse. Whether or not Facebook’s IPO was a fizzle, or whether there is a tech bubble in finance, technology with a big “T” is entering a golden age of innovation we call the Hybrid Age.
Two major patterns make the Hybrid Age a unique emerging era born at the frontier of the Information Age. First, humans are co-evolving with technology, making ourselves the template for scientific advances in medicine, prosthetics, neuroscience, and other fields. Secondly, we are becoming a man-machine civilization, as robots, avatars, and even humanoids become ordinary social and professional actors in our lives. Taken together, technology increasingly shapes us as much as we shape it.
As we accelerate into this Hybrid Age, it’s worth taking stock of our individual preparedness for the future. Instead of IQ or EQ, we believe all members of society need higher TQ – technology quotient – to adapt to rapidly changing technological conditions.
Consider the following quiz, a few rapid response questions whose answers may not seem as far-fetched as you might think:
1. What would be your preferred task for a dexterous home robot? (a) Cleaning the floors and bathrooms (b) Minding the children (c) Driving the car (d) Sexual intercourse
2. Which part of your body would you most like to enhance through augmentation? (a) Eyes (b) Arms/legs (c) Genitals (d) Brain
3. What would be your ideal job ten years from now? (a) Software architect (b) Virtual services broker (c) Robot designer (d) Avatar coach
4. What will be the surest education path to professional success in the future? (a) Harvard (b) MIT Open Courseware (c) Thiel Fellowship (d) Udacity
5. Where will talent most concentrate in the years ahead? (a) Silicon Valley (b) Northern European welfare states (c) Special economic zones in the Persian Gulf (d) Chinese mega-cities
6. Which will be the world’s first $1 trillion company? (a) Apple (b) Google (c) 3D printing device manufacturer (d) Genetic enhancement company
7. Which currency will dominate future economic transactions? (a) US Dollar (b) Euro (c) Chinese RMB (d) BitCoin
8. Which of your identities will be most productive in the future? (a) Physical self (b) Virtual avatar (c) Robot agent (d) Genetic doppelganger
While there is no formal measure of TQ, these questions are intended to shed light on the many facets of our lives technology will touch in the coming years. There are no right or wrong answers, but how you respond may suggest as much about your technological values and priorities as your preparedness for the future.
If you answered (a) to most questions, then you need to register immediately for the next Singularity Summit. If (b) was your most frequent response, then you’re forward thinking, but keep an eye out for disruptive technologies. If (c) came naturally to you for most questions, then you’re an audacious risk taker and certifiably future-ready. And if you answered (d) across the board, then even the future won’t be exciting enough for you.
Ready or not, the Hybrid Age is coming!
Ayesha & Parag Khanna are Co-Directors of the Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory group focused on human-technology coevolution. Ayesha also directs the Future Cities Group at the London School of Economics and is a faculty advisor of Singularity University. Parag is also a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Visiting Fellow of LSE IDEAS. Their new book is Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization (TED Books, 2012).