Are We On The Cusp Of The Next Cycle In Human Evolution?
Technology is seeping into every aspect of our daily lives. Smart fridges tell us when we run out of regular items, smart watches maintain our step count and Alexa enabled anyone with USD 100 to spare have his/her own 24/7 personal assistant. But one area in which technology will not only revolutionise our way of living but also evolve us as a species is healthcare.
Health tech is a very broad term for systems, procedures, devices and medicines that solve or improve our health and quality of life. However, when mentioned, we often think of only the devices and so let’s take a closer look at them. Start from the basic monitoring devices such as the ‘loaded’ smart watches that not only serve as pedometers, and timekeepers, but also observe your heart rate and sleep rhythm to detect sleep apnoea. In fact many of them moved beyond diagnostics and monitoring and embarked on healthcare solutions via personalised artificial intelligence. For example, Neogia smart watch was designed to monitor the sleep pattern of the user, detect sleep apnoea and normalise the user’s sleep cycle via its AI doctor who would have learned the daily habits of the individual in question. Needless to say, a human doctor is not necessarily part of the process.
Smart monitors advanced considerably beyond Neogia. They no longer are only wearable but progressed to skin tattoo electronic patches that are capable of regulating chronic diseases like diabetes to reach the ultimate in pervasive health technology through physical implants. According to the published paper of Dr. Daniel Leff, Clinical Lecturer of Surgery, H.M.D. biomedical engineer and Dr. Javier Andreu-Perez Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning both at Imperial College London, “Technical advances have supported the evolution of the pervasive health paradigm toward preventative, predictive, personalized, and participatory medicine.”
In essence we will be sharing our bodies with an entire system in which realtime data is continuously uploaded into the cloud and connected to The Internet of Things (IOT) for the rest of our natural lives. Eventually, these devices will not only send us continuous alerts when we diverge off the “healthy path”, they will be able to penalise us when we fail to follow the recommended routine. For example, my current health app. sends me SMS messages when I exceed my daily permissible calories intake for 2 consecutive days or when I miss out on the daily steps goal. My current health insurance policy has an incentive scheme whereby members with sustained health record are rewarded with lower premiums at the next renewal period. When these two are connected along with my wearable to IOT, it is easy to see how a penalty scheme can be formulated. All in the name of a sustainable healthcare system.
On a brighter note, health tech enabled many physically challenged people to continue with their lives and integrate into society. Perhaps the best example is the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking who against all odds and with the help of advanced health tech lived and worked as a functioning member of society despite his terminal paralysis.
Today health devices can provide the individual with capabilities far beyond the average being; a state that historian and international speaker Yuval Harari refers to as super-man. He argues in his international best seller and award-winning book Homo Deus that those who will marry their personal identity (physical, social, mental etc.) with intelligent machines connected to the IOT and permanently monitored by powerful algorithms will develop into god-like beings with vast amounts of knowledge and superhuman capabilities. As they will be able to monitor and improve their biometrics (through gene editing and predictive analysis) those evolved humans, can be stronger, fitter, smarter, faster etc.
In short, humans are about to embark on the next wave in evolution history and it all may stem from health technology. Are we ready?