In today’s world, where imagination is the mother of invention!

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘imagination’ is the ability to form mental pictures of people or things, or to have new ideas. We, humans, are at the top of the evolutionary ladder because of our sixth sense, the ability to think. Imagination is creativity in action. It conjures our experiences and knowledge of the world around us and combines them with the completely unknown to make something unique. In the words of JK Rowling, “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Our imagination has led us to an exhilarating future where technology has created greater opportunities in the workforce. This can be seen from the development of augmented reality architecture, 3D printers to neuro-engineering advances and hyperloop operations, driverless operating systems to interplanetary transport systems. Parallelly, we have employed our imagination to envision dystopian futures seeing the submission of humanity to robots. One thing is certain, effects of imagination could be both beneficial and detrimental, so, what happens when this cognitive process goes too far?

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology renders it possible for machines to adjust/adapt to new inputs and perform human-like activities by relying heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. Every industry has a high demand for AI capabilities –legal assistance, patent searches and medical research using data processing and question answering systems as well as health care, banking, retail and manufacturing. “Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping a civilization flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.”– Max Tegmark.

Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates have recently expressed concern about the threats posed by AI, joined by many leading AI researchers. This is because AI has the potential to become more intelligent than any human, we have no sure-fire way of predicting how it will behave. It’s likely that, in less than a century from now, machines will outsmart humans – not just at chess or trivia questions but at just about everything, from mathematics and engineering to science and medicine. Even as AI and automation bring benefits to business and society, we will need to prepare for major disruptions to work. About half of the activities carried out by workers could be automated- more than 2000 work activities across more than 800 occupations. They include data collection and data processing amongst other
physical activities in highly predictable and structured environments. Studies have found that around 15 per cent (400 million workers) of the global workforce, could be displaced by automation in the period 2016–2030.

While discussing the more daunting aspect of AI and threat on such technological
imagination on the very existence of humanity, another uncanny yet extremely interesting side to this reality is cloning- a topic we are partially familiar with. In 1996, Dolly became the first animal to be cloned successfully. Since then, bio-enhancement and genetic engineering have expanded to a variety of species. For example, scientists tried bringing the Pyrenean ibex, an animal that became extinct in 2000, by using DNA samples from Celia, the last ibex. This has also sparked a possibility that it will soon be possible to reproduce long-dead species, such as woolly mammoths and even dinosaurs. This aspect makes progress in cloning both useful and terrifying. Scientists have made a groundbreaking development- in 2018, they managed to clone monkey the first non-human primates. Are we on the verge cloning humans too, which is illegal in a few states?

All of the aspects discussed above can be perfectly summed up in this television series called ‘Black Mirror’ which portrays the possibility of technology overcoming the human imagination. The technologies featured in some of the episodes are not commonplace, but not far-fetched. In the episode ‘Black Museum’ of Season 4, Mr Brooker has turned his dark imagination to the digitization of consciousness itself — what people will do with it, and to human minds that have been rendered into zeros and ones. Where some futurists might see the potential for immortality or richly augmented brains, “Black Mirror” sees the opportunity for people to commit their usual cruelty and selfishness, creatively and in perpetuity.

As deduced from above, technological progress is giving birth to a concept which many analysts refer to as the “imagination economy”. According to Riya Bidshahri, this is defined as “an economy where intuitive and creative thinking create economic value after logical and rational thinking have been outsourced to other economies”.

The Imagination Age defines the current period, as a transition between the fading Industrial Era and the upcoming Intelligence Era. Here, humans can rapidly prototype and test ideas to optimise our systems and lives. This is not merely based on generating utopian visions to create illusions of the crises and challenges we face. The glaring question of the Imagination Age is: will humans be able to create an environment for co-sustainability with technology or is the prediction of a technological catastrophe going to come to life? This requires a major change in the way mankind is developing and viewing technology- something separate from humans.

Imagination must be encouraged, right from the primary levels, to equip a child’s cognitive thinking to face challenges that the dreadful future holds. But, at the same time, imagination must be guided and manoeuvred in a certain way to serve for totalitarian benefit. We need to ensure a sustainable future encompassing ethics, policy framework and creation of purposeful jobs. Imagination and innovation must be properly harvested and streamlined to contribute to human progress, albeit technological, creative or intellectual.

– Adhya Faldu