What does it mean to be human in the 21st century? Futurists believe that if schools prepare pupils as technologies emerge, there is an opportunity to redefine humanity in the age of AI

We build what we value. And the digital innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will give us the tools to create our world the way we want it. This is how deep our relationship is with technology. And while it should ultimately empower us, it is up to society to figure out how much of our power we are willing to hand over to the digital space.

“Part of the promise of AI (artificial intelligence)/robotics has always been to liberate human beings from the ‘3Ds’ – dirty, difficult, and dangerous jobs – so that they can focus on creative, personal, and original activities,” says Tinglong Dai, a Carey Business School associate professor.Dai.

“I don’t necessarily see AI/robotics as substituting for human skills; I see more opportunities for them to complement our strengths.”

While there are concerns about technology and its impact on society such as invading privacy and destroying jobs, current and future innovations are mind boggling for most. But even so, as they develop so will humanlkind. There is a push by many futurists for schools to teach pupils what it means to be human in the 21st century. But as technologies emerge, they are very possibly going to redefine what it means to be human in a robotic space.

And much we change and adapt is no longer a virtual reality…


Today already, NFL players have sensors in their shoulder pads that stream data related to their movements to an AI computing hub that provides fans with insights into the game. 

Oculus Venues, launched last year, enables users to watch live events, such as sport, concerts and comedy shows around the world with many other people.

“VR offers the best of both worlds for sports fans, who want to be close to the action, but can’t physically be there,” says Madhu Muthukumar, in charge of product management at Oculus VR..

“For example, all NFL players have sensors on their shoulder pads and whenever they move that data is streamed to us and put though an AI programme which spits out key findings within seconds. Similarly, in the NBA, players are tracked 25 times a second. We are leveraging that mountain of data and AI to uncover engaging insights and providing fans with a data-driven storytelling experience that they have never had before,” he says in an interview with UK-based Raconteur special reports publisher.

Advancements in cloud computing, AI, big data and VR has created access to unlimited knowledge. Already now and for future generations, knowledge is being consumed in a much more sophisticated way than open libraries. It’s a level up from the adage of “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. These advancements are fast becoming tools to translate know-how into actual experiences, which for many is a far more effective way to learn.

And the benefits are cross cutting. In technology, data – which is the new currency of the modern world – is not yet useful until it is put into context. Smarter electronic devices are only smarter by virtue of their ability to systemise and automate the logic and decision-making abilities of humans. Machines that learn and adapt to calculate the best possible outcomes, given a situation and its variables, can command other devices in addition to processing human instructions – which is AI in full operation.


Biotechnology and nanotechnology are already in an incredible, and often controversial space. Designer babies and genetic engineering to change DNA so that illnesses such as asthma and diabetes are a thing of the past, are currently being investigated.

Another experiment are tiny sensors which will be the future of nanotechnology. Smart dust is a collection of tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS). They can detect conditions such as light, vibration, temperature and noise. On their own, they communicate this information back to a receiver. According to experts, eventually billions of 3D-printed smart dust cameras floating in the air will be able to keep check on human activity.

While steps are being taken all the time to make smart dust operational, researchers at the University of the Stuttgart in Germany published a paper this month on creating camera lenses the size of a grain of salt. According to the document, the new method not only demonstrates high-quality micro-lenses can be 3D printed, but it also solves roadblocks to current manufacturing methods.

Even more mind blowing is research from Berkley in California on advancing dust into StimDust. By stimulating neutral dust, more sophisticated electronics can be added to neural dust without sacrificing the technology’s tiny size or safety. The goal is to implant it the body through minimally invasive procedures to monitor and treat disease in a real-time, patient-specific approach. 


While the idea of barcoding humans continues to evoke outrage amongst most societies, our food will soon be implanted. This is due to radio frequency identification (RFID) technology which is based on wireless communication systems and offers easy integration into the internet cloud system. The potential of RFID tag sensor technologies has been studied in different industrial sectors including healthcare, food safety, environmental pollution and fake medicines.

According to a World Economic Forum report titled: Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology innovation in accelerating food systems – transformation, smart appliances and indoor or urban farming can enable consumers to eat healthy and affordable home-cooked meals with the convenience of processed ready-prepared foods. 

“Embedded microscopic electronic devices such as radiofrequency identification tags and genetic markers, as well as hyperspectral imaging, could be the barcodes of tomorrow. Used in combination with mobile phones, they could put information regarding the authenticity, freshness, ripeness, shelf life and nutritional content of food at people’s fingertips,” the document reads.

“Advanced analytics, along with nutrigenetics, could allow people to get nutritional advice tailored to their ability to digest certain foods, dietary and health needs, and taste preferences. Connectivity technologies such as social networks, peer-to-peer networks and online e-commerce could provide platforms to significantly influence consumption patterns and increase access to nutritious foods.”

This means that because consumers could be more aware of the environmental and nutritional implications of the production and consumption of certain foods, they may demand that their food meets minimum sustainability and health requirements.

While much debate rages over how neutral technology is, for now humans decide whether to use it for the benefit of all and the environment. But as fast as the digital space evolves, we will have to stay on top of our game to ensure that all those sci-fi movies from the 20th century already which predict a world led by robots don’t become a reality.

Welcome to the future.

Amy Musgrave