Introduction Motivations and Goals

At the beginning of the NBIC workshop, the participants were challenged by Newt Gingrich to think outside of the box and to ambitiously consider the possible implications of the nano-info-bio-cogno convergence over the coming decades. We were also instructed to consider human dignity as an important issue, which tempered some of the cyborg speculations and other visions of humans with technology implants and augments that might seem unappealing to most people today. Thus, while social norms can shift significantly over several generations, we were primarily concerned with the world of our children and our own old-age years. We were also treated to a number of presentations describing state-of-the-art results in areas such as nanotechnology; learning technology; social acceptance of technology; designer drugs to combat diseases and other degenerative conditions; neurological implants; advanced aircraft designs highlighting smart, polymorphic (shape-shifting) materials; reports on aging, blindness, and other challenges; evolutionary software and robots; the needs of the defense department for the military of the future; augmented reality and virtual reality; and other useful perspectives on the topic of augmenting human performance. While it would be well beyond the scope of this paper to try to summarize all of these perspectives, I have tried to integrate ideas from these presentations into my own thinking about nano-info-bio-cogno convergence. Additionally, my perspective has been shaped by interactions with Doug Engelbart, whose pioneering work in the area of human augmentation systems stresses the importance of the co-evolution of technological and social systems. Because the social sciences will strongly influence which paths humans will ultimately explore as well as help us understand why, we are really concerned here with nano-bio-info-cogno-socio convergence.

Nano-bio-info-cogno-socio convergence assumes tremendous advances in each of the component science and technology areas:

1. Nanoscience advances in the coming decade will likely set the stage for a new generation of material science, biochemistry, and molecular electronics, as well as of new tools for measuring and manipulating the world at the level of individual atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology advances are poised to give humans the capabilities that bacteria have had for billions of years, the ability to create molecular machines that solve a wide range of problems on a global scale. Ultimately, these advancements will blur the distinction between natural and human-made objects.

2. Bioscience or life sciences will expand the mapping of the human genome to the human proteome, leveraging both to create new drugs and therapies to address a host of maladies of the past, and new threats on the horizon.

3. Information science advances will find many applications in the ongoing e-business transformation already underway, as well as pervasive communication and knowledge management tools to empower individuals. More importantly, information science will provide both the interlingua to knit the other technologies together and the raw computational power needed to store and manipulate mountains of new knowledge.

4. Cognitive science and neuroscience will continue to advance our understanding of the human information processing system and the way our brains work.

5. Social science advances (obtained from studies of real systems as well as simulations of complex adaptive systems composed of many interacting individuals) will provide fresh insights into the collective IQ of humans, as well as interspecies collective IQ and the spread of memes. A meme, which is a term coined by the author and zoologist Richard Dawkins, is "a habit, a technique, a twist of feeling, a sense of things, which easily flips from one brain to another." It is no coincidence that meme rhymes with gene, for one is about replicating ideas (from one brain to another brain) and the other is about replicating molecules (from one cell to another cell).

6. Thus, the central question of this paper is "how might the convergence of nano-bio-info-cogno-socio technologies be accomplished and used to improve human performance" or, in the words of one workshop participant, Sandia National Laboratory scientist Gerry Yonas, to "make us all healthier, wealthier, and wiser"?

7. To gain some traction on this question, a framework, here termed simply the Outside-Inside Framework, is proposed in the next section. This framework makes explicit four of the key ways that new technologies might be used to augment human performance: (a) outside the body (environmental); (b) outside the body (personal); (c) inside the body (temporary); (d) inside the body (permanent). This framework will be shown to be largely about how and where information is encoded and exchanged: (i) info: bits and the digital environment, (ii) cogno-socio: brains and memes and the social environments, (iii) nano-bio: bacteria and genes and the bioenvironment, (iv) nano-cogno: bulk atoms, designed artifacts, and the physical environments. In conclusion, near-term implications of NBICS technology convergence will be discussed.

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