The NBIC convergence is already exacting serious consequences: John McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson of MIT have demonstrated how increasing automation across factory shop floors enabled by the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence has resulted in the impoverishment of less-qualified workers. Tyler Cowen of George Mason University similarly argues that, unlike earlier spells of technological disruptions, recent developments in artificial intelligence and robotics may render large swaths of the population permanently unemployable.
Other big trends point towards an additional set of towering challenges and opportunities for progress: the launch of wearable computers, the Internet of Everything, Big Data, augmented/virtual reality and advanced manufacturing all promise a fresh wave of upheavals in the way humans and machines cooperate, compete and merge. These technologies are opening up new markets in critical areas such as health, education, energy, and the environment with great promises. One potential risk is a widening digital divide between generations and economic classes, resulting in significant economic, social, and cognitive disadvantages for the less young and the less wealthy.
The rapid rise of artificial intelligence -enabled by super-computing, advances in machine learning techniques and availability of massive volumes of data- may disrupt our social contracts within the next decade. The most visible illustration of this current surge is the emergence of self-driving cars, which promise to revolutionize road transportation. In parallel, the plummeting cost of genome sequencing and the emergence of new gene editing technologies such as CRISPR Cas/9 have led many world-class experts to revisit existential topics such as human life expectancy, agriculture and controlled procreation. Many believe we are on the verge of a radical transformation of healthcare systems, from diagnosis, to treatment, to insurance.
Troubled by the speed and magnitude of the aforementioned developments, a growing number of global leaders and experts – including Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Georges Church and Stephen Hawking – have publicly voiced their concern.