In 2013 I walked into the Chicago Public Library and stumbled across an entire floor of computer terminals, primarily used it seemed for accessing the Internet by people who didn't have an alternative way to do so. In itself this wouldn't have surprised me until I saw that perhaps 90% of the patrons were black or latino. I learned that Chicago had a significant case of the "digital divide", an inequality of access to information and communication technologies by groups of individuals. This is quite often a socioeconomic divide, which in Chicago correlates closely to the black and latino populations.
In a world where most services and information have moved online, being unable to get online represents an obvious problem. These groups are already disadvantaged, and now the very knowledge they could use to help improve their lot is being put somewhere where they can't get to it. Education, welfare support and jobs are all things that these groups need the most, yet they are the least able to reach them.
"The digital divide also impacts children's ability to learn and grow in low-income school districts. Without Internet access, students are unable to cultivate necessary tech skills in order to understand today's dynamic economy." - Digital Divide: The Technology Gap between the Rich and Poor
There are a number of groups that work hard to close the gap, but at the current speed of change the gap grows wider than the solutions can deal with.
The Google Glass project (the first real wearable consumer augmented reality project) may have been considered a failure by many (even resulting in the wearers being referred to as Glassholes and experiencing widespread abuse from creeped-out strangers), but it gave many their first glimpse of what is to come.
I would argue that Glass failed because the world wasn't ready for a camera pointing at them, even if it wasn't recording, and that if it had just been the heads-up-display, there would have been less problems. Think back to 2003 when the first bluetooth headsets emerged and we had a few years of snickering and wondering if the person seemingly talking to himself was crazy or just conducting an international conference call! Today they are widely adopted and aren't given much of a second thought. If Glass had been 'glasses with a private information screen' rather than 'glasses that could be invading someone else's privacy' things would be different.
Innovation and adoption will get us passed these hesitations and into a brand new world.
The technology of the future capable of dividing society will not be the hardware in your glasses, or on your wrist, it will be the hardware integrated into your own wetware (your biological self). It will be computational processors and memory chips that supplement your brain, it will be electronic fibers in your muscles for superhuman strength and speed, it will be a replacement lens in your eye that gives you incredible vision and a concealed heads up display.
Self-healing // Enhanced smell and taste // Full range hearing // Telepathy // Remote viewing // Creativity // Embedded knowledge // Complete light spectrum vision // Mind Reading // Instant learning
As the technology advances, some will choose to adopt, and some will not. Some will see every new step as exciting and progressive and feel like wondrous contributions are being made to society. Some will turn their backs and choose to stay au naturel. Many will call it a crime or a sin against humanity, or both, and fight it. Many will want it all but don't have the means to afford any of it.
You now have a runaway group who are Augmented and more capable in countless ways - and a group of Realists who just missed the evolution bus.
This scenario is not just about access to basic services and better education, but is about real physical and mental capabilities. We say today that the 'rich get richer while the poor get poorer', well in the future the Augmented will get faster and smarter, while the Realists get relatively slower and dumber.
Consider in Homo Deus:A Brief History of Tomorrow (the follow up to Sapiens), the argument is made that the invention of writinghas had one of the single, most dramatic impacts on people, paving the way for humanity to be divided into two distinct groups - the educated and the dumb.
A futuristic society of Augmented and Realists is complex to comprehend, although I would liken it to living in a world that is populated by people with real super powers. Your day to day live continues quite normally whilst the X-Men walk about you. Society will try and adapt and control, placing limits on development, but unless it also builds a more capable police force, it might not stand much chance.
I could see a kill switch being a legal requirement with the authorities having a remote capability to shut any individual down. Perhaps anyone violating a rule book like Asimov's Laws of Robotics could be curtailed. I can feel sticker shock coming on from the price of super powers being a lack of free will.
Hackers take on a new level of menace. This isn't your facebook account getting compromised, this is your own senses, perhaps your life. Maybe that sounds dramatic; I don't think so. Just recently 500,000 pacemakers were recalled because they had no security protection onboard and could be vulnerable to being manipulated remotely through their wifi connection (although it took a lot of equipment and a very specific setup).
What will become of the Realists, they must surely look like the underdogs at this point? Are they destined to be wiped out by a superior race? Will they live amongst the Augmented, or will they choose to live elsewhere? Will they have a say in the matter? It would seem to depend on what purpose they would serve, because they would be incapable of defending themselves.
In Isaac Asimov's "A Feeling of Power", the ability to do simple math without computers is a lost art, until a need arises during war to find an advantage over the enemy. A lowly technician reverse engineers math from the great computers, calling it Graphitics, and the advantage is found through humans being able to do math again. Perhaps the Realists will have a purpose; retro always seems to be in fashion.
Some will say that ethics and laws are the safety net against this future. I don't think so, but I will explore that idea in a future article. But think for a moment, there was a time just a few decades ago when gene editing of embryos was unthinkable, something way beyond a line of decency that we couldn't even see over the horizon. Yet at the time of writing, scientists just confirmed they edited a gene in a human embryo to remove a life-ending mutation. Like most new shocking ideas, familiarity and time take us by the hand and quietly walk us into the future.