September 19, 2013
The Hybrid Age
By Parag Khanna
Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum, 2009

Hardly any corner of modern life remains untouched by technology. International relations strategist Parag Khanna argues that the world must prepare for a “Hybrid Age” where humans become even more integrated with the machines they create.

To survive in tomorrow’s world, people will need to have a high technology quotient (TQ). Just as the IQ became a yardstick of intelligence in the 20th century, the TQ will become a measurement of how well we meet the technological upheaval of the 21st.

The coming era will see a quantum leap in the sophistication of the technology we use. Proficiency in these technologies will therefore be a prerequisite for success.

The percentage of jobs requiring high-tech knowledge has already exploded. As a recent Canadian report pointed out, for example, “Your local coffee-shop barista not only serves your coffee, but is also expected to troubleshoot the Wi-Fi.”

In tomorrow’s world, your coffee-shop barista may do more than just troubleshoot the Wi-Fi – he or she may be biologically wired into it.

In tomorrow’s world, your coffee-shop barista may do more than just troubleshoot the Wi-Fi – he or she may be biologically wired into it.

We are at the dawn of the Hybrid Age. In this new era, technology will merge with the human mind, and with our bodies. Genetics will become data and we will be able to program our own biology.

Consider the examples we have already seen. Biomechatronics combines biology, electrical engineering, and mechanics, and has led to highly advanced prosthetics that possess a strength, flexibility, and resilience superior to human muscle and bone.

Through brain–computer interfaces, we can exactly identify how, for instance, a certain eye movement triggers certain neural areas – and we can translate these readings into actions. Hundreds of thousands of people have witnessed the potential of this technology through a YouTube video from the University of Pittsburgh in which a monkey moves a robotic arm that is operated by reading its brain signals.

We have inserted proteins into the brains of mice to increase their cognitive abilities or change their moods. The possibility of using neuroscience, chemistry, biology, and computer sciences to modify the workings of the human mind no longer exists only in the realm of science fiction.

Kids need to learn what technology is, what it means, and how to deal with its benefits and dangers.

When shaping our children’s education, we must focus on cultivating high TQs. Kids need to learn what technology is, what it means, and how to deal with its benefits and dangers. The process must start at a very young age.

Without high TQs, we won’t be able to manage tomorrow’s technological challenges and may end up wasting opportunities. There are rooms full of computers gathering dust in Afghanistan, for instance, because teachers there weren’t trained to use them.

When properly managed, technology can provide huge benefits. Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway, has developed a simple device called the Slingshot that purifies water through boiling and condensation. It has the potential to provide safe drinking water for millions of people in developing countries.

The mobile phone is another example. It’s the fastest-spreading technology in history. It allows people to interact, coordinate, and organize with an efficiency they have never enjoyed before.

We need high TQs because technology is a macro force – a structural process whose diffusion is rapid and all-embracing. It impacts our economics, our politics, our social relations, and the way we live. And it will continue to change our world in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Parag KhannaParag Khanna is a geopolitical expert and was named a "Young Global Leader" in 2009 by the World Economic Forum. In 2008, he was named one of Esquire’s “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century,” and featured in WIRED magazine’s “Smart List.” Previously, he served in the foreign policy advisory group to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign. During 2007 he served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a senior geopolitical adviser to United States Special Operations Forces.