The Technology Transhumanists Want in Their Kids
Smart diapers, RFID chips, and more.
Image: David Lytle/Flickr
Technology seems to be disrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. However, with the exception of toddlers thumbing their way through smartphone apps and watching Sesame Street on YouTube, raising children isn't significantly different than it was 20 years ago.
I would bet my right arm, though, that such gradual change won't be the case in another 20 years. The transhumanist age of child rearing is dawning. I discovered this last year when a pediatrician checked my 24-hour-old infant's hearing with a soundless brainwave headset. Just three years before, in the same hospital with my first child, infant hearing tests were being done using the decade's old beeping device that you physically stick in the ear and wait for the munchkin to react.
In general, when adults see new technology available to themselves, they are often more curious than skeptical. But when they think of new tech for their children, parents can become downright defensive. Curiosity no longer prevails, and protection mechanisms kick in strongly. Despite this, society is on a path to embrace an ever increasing amount of bizarre tech to be used in the raising of its children—including some things literally inside children.
I'm excited by the technology and am looking into getting this type of implant for my four-year-old daughter
In fact, the 20-year outlook is so radical, that it seems science fiction-like. For example, NBC forecast that many Americans will get "chipped" by the year 2017. Right now, the majority of implanted chips people have are for restoring hearing, and in some cases treating mental disease, such as epilepsy. But biohackers are increasingly implanting RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips into themselves. Even X Prize Chairman and Singularity University co-founder Peter Diamandis did this on stage recently during a speech.
I'm excited by the technology and am looking into getting this type of implant for my four-year-old daughter. As a US presidential candidate who is sometimes threatened on Twitter and other social media, I want more control on the whereabouts of my child. The new RFID chips are tiny and harmless, but they can be tracked on a smartphone.
Of course, they will be also be useful for when my daughter gets older and tries to play hooky from school. This might sound excessively controlling, but expect millions of parents to think this same way—especially those who sign on to some of the strict Tiger Mom philosophy for their children. In fact, in the future, I think the biggest celebration of one's teens will not be birthdays or graduations, but when parents give their kids the right to turn off the tracking chip they have inside themselves—or have it removed entirely.
Of course, by then, no one will remove implants. This is because the new generation of implants (which are being developed and will be here in the next few years) will be for much more than just tracking. They will be medical wonders that people will use to get daily updates via their smartphones about their bodies, including heart rate, temperature, and hydration.
Already today, though, there is some child rearing transhumanist technology that is being used. For parents, the first year of life for their child is often the toughest, filled with hourly challenges to make sure the baby doesn't kill itself accidentally. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the greatest fear, a general term for when an infant dies in its first year of life.
About 2000 kids die from SIDS in the US every year. But new wearable technology is already helping to fight that. A sock called Owlet worn by an infant collects heart rate, oxygen, and sleep data—and then sends it to a smartphone or the cloud for other devices to access. TempTraq, a flexible patch that is stuck on one's child monitors the temperature of an infant—again sending updates to your smartphone. The patch debuted this year in the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Also at CES 2015, Intel debuted a car seat clip that lets parents know if they've accidentally left their child in the car, something that happens far more than you might think in America.
And of course, so-called smart diapers, some made by popular Huggies, are already used. In them, a sensor lets you know when your child is wet and needs changing. One company Pixie Scientific, that successfully closed an Indiegogo campaign, is working on a diaper and smart phone app let you know about whether one's child is having a urinary tract infection, prolonged dehydration, and even kidney problems.
Some technologies completely remove danger from children entirely. What parent hasn't worried about their kid getting in a car with a drunk at the wheel? MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is one of America's most popular nonprofits, and has been a major influence in keeping people away from the wheel when inebriated.
But MADD may not be around much longer. Driverless cars will save the lives of tens of thousands of kids and adults every year the more prevalent they become on the road. In fact, it's more than likely my children will never learn to drive. They won't need to. Cars will be automated completely.
But just how far will technology go to changing child rearing? Currently, the conflict between home, public, and private schooling is a half-century old debate. Which is better and which will give your child the largest advantage later in its life? The debate is becoming even more complicated with online learning, where people can, for example, take MIT courses from their computers and get the world's best educations. Furthermore, virtual reality will make it even more complex as one will be able to participate in each of the three education environments.
Yet, it's another debate that could be obsolete in 20 years. Brainwave headsets or more advanced cranial implant technology could literally be the death of education. Using mind uploading tech, people in the future may be able to download educations and skills directly into their minds and memories.
Sound impossible? It's not. Already, last year telepathy was accomplished between two people across an ocean. Billions of dollars are being poured in the EGG, or mind wave reading and stimulating technology. Eventually, we'll find just the right tech and algorithms that enable us to download education directly into the learning parts of our brains. Then playing that Mozart's 5th Symphony won't take 10 years to learn, but 10 seconds to sync and start playing. Imagine how much time we we might save? Sure, our kids won't have much discipline or a love of learning new things, but they'll sure know French grammar (and Chinese, Russian, and Arabic perfectly too).
Of course, no conversation on transhumanism and children would be complete without talking of designer babies. Last month, Chinese scientists broke ground with CRISPR technology of editing and modifying the DNA of embryos. The fact is their experiment literally has helped usher in the age of designer babies, something society has long known it was going to enter. In just years, we might posses the ability to edit in higher intelligences to our offspring—and edit out hereditary diseases. Of course, we'll also be able to choose any eye, hair, and skin color, as well as other traits we might want in our children.
So, is all this transhumanist child rearing tech fair to those who can't afford it?
The controversy with this technology is two-fold. Will conservative or religious people let us remake the human being into a more functional version of itself? And will all people be able to afford it? Editing a genome isn't going to be cheap, at first. Neither will driverless cars. Furthermore, I surmise the Ivy League undergrad education download is also going to be costly (although, it'll probably still be much cheaper than a physical education). So, is all this transhumanist child rearing tech fair to those who can't afford it?
The short answer is: Of course, not. But neither are the costs of AIDS treatments in the world today. Hundreds of thousands still die because they can't afford the proper technology and medicine. And it's a fact that wealthier people live far longer, fuller lives than poor people—about 25 percent more on average.
So what can we do to even the playing field? To begin with, let's not stop the technology. Instead, let's work on stopping the inequality and create programs that entitle all children to better health and child rearing innovation. As a society, let's come up with ways that make it so all peoples can benefit from the transhumanist tech that is changing our world and changing the way our children will be raised.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.