Expanding Humanity’s Limits (part 1 or 2)

 I delivered a speech at SXSW in Austin on “Expanding Humanity’s Limits.”
How does technology expand humanity’s limits? How does it expand our minds and bodies?
Over 30 years ago, I served as the director of a band called Shonen Knife. During this time, it was my challenge to expand the expression of music. Digitization, which was already beginning at this time, has expanded humanity’s potential. During my time at MIT Media Lab 15 years ago, I was working on devices including the Sega Dreamcast and Poo-Chi the Robot Dog. This was my attempt at trying to break ground in the field of smart devices and AI.
Even back then, we already had high hopes for wearable devices, AI, robots, and IoT technology. Today, they have finally become widespread. Our minds and bodies, which have been expanded by smartphones, the internet, and social media over the past 15 years, are about to reach a new level.
At this time, I was doing work in Japan to see to what extent smart media could extend our minds, passion, and expression. With IT-wielding teenagers at its core, Japan is the world’s hot spot for information transmission.
Hatsune Miku is made up of three components. The first is technology, or the Vocaloid software that allows you to input lyrics and music to make the idol sing. The second is expression. It is an open culture where cute anime characters are made.
The final component is that she was raised by everyone via social media. People uploaded their pictures, songs, performances, dances, and other forms of expression to create the Hatsune Mike that we know today. Japan’s current strategy is to use these three components of technology, expression, and internet participation for overseas developments.
However, the point that I would like to make is that technology has already moved onto the next level. Cars are now self-driving thanks to IoT technology. This changes not only the automotive industry, but also businesses and lifestyles. Some theorize that robots and AI will eventually shoulder half of our workload. Currently, 70% of financial transactions are handled by AI.
Siri is already much more knowledgeable than I am. I admit, the personal assistant on my smartphone is smarter than me. This must mean that two smartphones talking together can get a job done. Some people are scared of the prospect of having their jobs taken away by machines, but I wonder what I would do with all of that free time on my hands. What exists out there that cannot be replaced by machines?
One answer is sports. Sports are fun because we move our own bodies to play them and they are exercise. Watching two robots compete against each other would not be very interesting. We should make a new sport with our new technology.
This is why we launched the Superhuman Sports project as we head towards 2020.
Markus Rehm is a German long jump para-athlete. He won the gold medal at the London Paralympics. He set a record for the sport with his jump of 8m40cm. His jump was longer than that of the London Olympic gold medalist’s, which was 8m31cm.
This is an age where prosthetic limb technology allows the disabled to perform better at sports than the non-disabled.
Both Olympians and Paralympians are superhumans. However, I would like to become a superhuman too, and you probably do as well. Think back to your childhood, when you played outside in the fields and tried your hardest to fire a Kamehameha from your palms. What if we could use technology to make that possible?
Humanity has used technology to expand the limits of our bodies. First, we tried to expand the limits of our limbs. We invented canes, prosthetic limbs, lifesavers, boats, cars, airplanes, and rockets. These inventions let us travel faster and further.
We also tried to expand the limits of our senses of sight and hearing. We invented glasses, hearing aids, speakers, phones, television, and the internet. These inventions let us communicate faster and further.
We keep expanding outwards as so. Next, we will take all of these technologies and put them inside of our bodies, and then be forced to ask ourselves exactly what our expanded bodies are. One answer is found in “Superhuman Sports.”
Superhuman sports refers to sports played by athletes who have put new IT and robotics technologies into their body, making them a fusion of human and machine. I would like for us to be able to run on water, or play soccer in midair. Soccer, rugby, and baseball were all sports invented during the 19th century agrarian society. Now is the time for us to make a new sport to represent the information society of the 21st century.
Anyone can become a superhuman with the aid of super prosthetic limbs or advanced wheelchairs. Even children can run faster than Usain Bolt by simply wearing a machine. I also want to develop equipment. For example, a baseball that even someone like me could use to throw an unhittable pitch. Or a bow and arrow for archery that can hit targets kilometers away.
I also want to develop new methods of watching sports. For example, we could fly a drones over marathon runners, allowing viewers to watch them on their run.
I formed the Superhuman Sports Society, which I am a co-representative of,  to help promote this vision. The society has three main activities: Planning, Playing, and Promoting superhuman sports.
Our goal is to hold an international superhuman pentathlon to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We also plan to increase player population. Around 1,000 people have taken the opportunity to try our superhuman sports so far, but I want to multiply this number many-fold and reach 10 million players.
Scientists from the robotics, sports science, and game communities have joined our society. Our community also welcomes artists, athletes, and businesses alike.
Our members from various backgrounds work together to develop these superhuman sports, holding events such as the Superhuman Sports Hackathon.


Designing a super leisurely society

The spread of AI will bring forth a super leisurely society. We must find new ways to live that do not involve labor.
There is much that we can do: eat and drink, love, art, study, or even volunteer.

Having said this, it is unrealistic to think that all of our work will be taken over by AI and robots. As predicted by some, it is best to assume that only half of our workload will be taken from us.
The theme of this discussion is massive: will this super leisurely society function as an economic system?

When we say that half of our workload will be taken from us, we mean AI and robots will take over half of production. With us only having to do half of our jobs, and assuming that the world’s production output and GDP will stay the same, will society continue to function? This may be actually a problem of distribution rather than one of production.

One answer to this problem is a basic income system.

For this system, all citizens are provided a basic income regardless of their employment status. It has received attention in recent years as a bold policy designed for a super-aging society with ballooning social welfare costs, but the rise of AI and robots has also influenced the trend.

In June 2016, Switzerland had a national referendum on adopting the basic income system. For their program, adults would receive a monthly income of 2500 Swiss francs (approx. 275,000 JPY). This income would also be paid to foreigners. In exchange for implementing this system, the Swiss government planned to eliminate pension plans and unemployment allowance. The proposal was shot down with approximately 80% of voters voting against it. The arguments for basic income were ambiguous and the government itself opposed it.

However, I believe that a basic income system has potential. Because it is a bold measure that will completely change the current social security system, its feasibility must be analyzed. The first formula to work out is how much of a basic income must be paid in order to eliminate social security benefits.

Next, we would need to find out what effect paying all citizens a basic income would have on their willingness to work, and what effect it would have on the economy. Should it turn out to be feasible, then maybe AI and robots can go ahead and take our jobs, and only those who want to work will.

Professor Shigeki Morinobu of Chuo University has collected data for his study on this very matter. His results show that it would require 60 trillion JPY of taxes to pay each citizen 100,000 JPY a month. Remarkably, he also delved into policies that could be effective for procuring the funds. The sciences and humanities must come together to debate theories like these, AI technology, socio-economies, and find a solution that works for all parties.

How will we realize this AI society?
Murray Shanahan writes in his book The Technological Singularity that for an AI society to come about, a major social and political will is required.
Setting aside whether or not the future of AI is a bright one, I agree with him. I also believe that the time has come for us have a serious discussion about the issue and make key decisions.

In The Technological Singularity, Shanahan examines the possibilities held by digital personal assistants and discusses giving rights and personalities to AIs. It reminded me of when Ken Akamatsu brought up the subject of AI personalities at the Intellectual Property Headquarters.

How will AI personalities work when you consider that AIs will be copied, divided, and combined? What is there to be said about how civil rights are tied to the government? All of this is covered in the book. Designing the system is anything but easy.

From the topic of emulating brains, we reach the topic of uploading our consciences. This could very well lead to the creation of lifespan extending devices. Shanahan touches upon this, noting both the possibilities and dangers.

While most of AI technology still resides in theory, we must anticipate its implementation and mobilize our expertise from the areas of sociology, economics, politics, philosophy, religion, and other disciplines. It is no longer simply a problem for the researchers; it is a problem for everyone now.
A labor-less society and basic income. We must take our knowledge of disciplines such as economics and politics, have an international debate, and figure out the workings of a realistic system.


Awaiting the super leisurely society

There is a fear regarding the super smart society, also known as Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0, made by AI, IoT, and robots.
People worry that AI may go out of control like HAL. They talk about how some bots are already starting to spew hate speech. There are even cases where robots have hurt or killed humans.
But the scariest aspect of all is the theory that the popularization of AI, IoT, and robotics will steal half of the world’s jobs. This has been predicted by a number of influential studies, giving the theory credibility. 70% of financial transactions are already handled by AI, showing that the supposed takeover may have already begun.
However, economics teaches us that when old jobs are lost, new jobs take their place. MIT Professor Erik Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s book “Race Against the Machine” has a long-term optimistic view of the situation, comparing it with the Industrial Revolution’s Luddite movement.
Many jobs were made by the popularization of the steam engine and electricity in the two phases of the Industrial Revolution. Brynjolfsson theorizes that the third phase, which brought computers and the internet, will create jobs in the long term as well.
Other books make claims about certain jobs that will soon be lost. It is easy to think of jobs that are not competitive. However, it is difficult to imagine what new jobs can be created. This is because these jobs do not exist yet. For humanity’s survival, we must have the power to create these new jobs. Perhaps AI will do that job for us.
However, will AI and robots truly create more work for us? If they were to replace a human worker, then an AI would function as the brain while the robot would function as the body. Is so, then would this not break the previous trends seen with technology and simply result in less work for us?
The farmers who previously tilled their fields with hoes obtained tractors and agrochemicals, making it significantly easier for them to produce large amounts of crops. AI and robots will shoulder our burdens, allowing us to gain income without so much as lifting a finger. We should see this not as having our jobs stolen from us, but being freed from our jobs instead. It is an important implication.
Frankly speaking, that is what I forward to.

I have given a presentation on this at workshop for children, and told them, “If AI and robots do half of our work, then we will just double up. What jobs will the future have?” But in truth, I actually wonder what society would be like if none of us had to work.

It would be a super leisurely society.

Murray Shanahan is the author of The Technological Singularity. In his book, he gives his view as a professor of Cognitive Robotics on the future of AI. Shanahan carefully analyzes AI technology with approaches from the fields of neuroscience and robotics. After thoroughly analyzing brain emulation and copying from the perspectives of physiology and informatics, he discusses the impact that AI will have.

This is Shanahan’s explanation: The total amount of paid labor is guaranteed to decrease in the future. We will reach an age where products and services can be spread through even the poorest levels of society. In this age, everyone will have an equal opportunity at education. It will be an age of unprecedented cultural expression.
I look forward it.