March 27, 2014 – As we move into an era where we are increasingly dependent on our devices, even being without your phone for a few hours can feel rather disorientating. Now imagine that same scenario ten years from now when these same technologies are even further embedded into the fabric in our lives.
Science fiction novels and works of pop culture play out these promising and often scary scenarios, but in reality humans are rapidly leveraging the advances in computational size, processing speed, and sensor technology to augment our natural abilities.
Far from dystopian, the future of this hybrid human and machine mix offers the incredible possibility to replace or correct for limitations caused by degenerative conditions or other physical and mental shortfalls. A trend that could be called “Augmented Sensory Perception” is rising from early experiments that closely align and even integrate technologies with the human body to enhance existing perceptions and faculties. Whether through biomedical research or DIY ‘hacks’, these innovations are designed to overcome personal challenges, while pushing the boundary in terms of what is possible.
Intel’s futurist Brian David Johnson spends a lot of time talking with researchers, science fiction writers and roboticists to understand how technologies might further enmeshed into our lives. Despite being increasingly device dependent, he believes tomorrow’s future we will remain humans centric and mixed with emotional experiences and desires.
“The stories we tell about the future frame the constructs for what actually becomes reality; so it is up to us to articulate the narrative we want to see unfold,” he said. With that in mind, he looked into the future through the lens of today’s growing trend of wearable technologies.
What shifts are driving the next wave of technology development?
As we approach the year 2020, the size of computational power begins to approach zero and you can turn anything into a computer. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Can you do it? Can you augment your clothes or your body?” The question becomes what do you want to do, and why do you want to do it? It’s not just one chip or device. It’s a bunch of devices working together; devices that are in your purse, and on/in your person.
What is the ultimate goal of these technology-related experiences?
The relationship you have with your technology is no longer command and control. That doesn’t mean it’s a human relationship, but only that your technology will know you and it will understand you.
The question is how can we use this technology to not only make people more productive, but to make them healthier, happier and entertain them more. If we set the bar at that height, we’ll come up with awesome technology, but we’ll also be able to do so much more. Ultimately the goal is to use this technology to make people’s lives better.
Talk to us more about this idea of relational computing?
As human beings we are really good at relationships. We’ve had scientists who have been studying human relationships for longer than computers scientists have been studying computers, so we’ve got this deep, rich area of knowledge that we can tap into for requirements.
You have to know who a person is; that they exist in a culture and a relationship. In that way, it becomes very personal. For a long time, we’ve been talking about personal computing. To be understood as an individual is one of the things that’s very inherent to us as human beings. Being an optimist, I think having this relationship‑based interaction with technology actually should make this interaction much more human.
How does this relate to augmenting our bodies?
Remember humans have been augmenting themselves with tools for centuries. Our tools become extensions of ourselves and are imbued with our humanity, our sense of values, and with our culture. If these tools start going into our bodies, we start to understand them better and this means that they’re making our lives better.
Now these tools are fixing what’s been lost, or they’re enhancing something we need them to and giving us things that they couldn’t have given us before. Some of that’s health, but also some of it is self‑expression. Think about tattoos. There is no reason for somebody to take ink and put it inside of their bodies under their skin.
It’s a form of self‑expression. At one end, you have a paraplegic or a quadriplegic using technology to make their lives better. But at the other end, you have somebody who is putting a tattoo on their body as a form of self‑expression. It’s this great range of self-expression.
As the technologies you put onto your body to augment or otherwise, know you as an individual, it will actually understand you. So the next step becomes, what are you attempting to augment and why?
How do these technologies become mainstream?
I think what we’re seeing today, and what we will continue to see for the next five to ten years is that human beings are changing the story about how we will live with this new technology.The future is not a set point on the horizon that we’re all running towards, helpless to influence. The future is built by people every day.
One of the most powerful things I discovered is that if we change the story people tell themselves about the future they’re going to live in, they will change the future. We need to tell those new stories, art and science fiction because they are radically different and that’s how we start to understand.
Then we have more conversations, and those conversations manifest themselves in works of art, new performances, and new stories in the press. We slowly, bit by bit, begin to change what that vision of the future is, and then those technologies will come into the mainstream. We have to imagine what those futures are going to be, and then the rest is just engineering.
How do we ensure the best possible future?
We need to be mindful of our responsibility to these tools. We can use science fiction to portray consequences, to map out not only the future that we want, but the future that we want to avoid.
There’s always going to be unintended consequences, but we can be diligent about it, and ask ourselves, “What can we do from a technology standpoint to avoid those futures?”
We have so much, that when it comes to those consequences it’s actually about human beings; the technology doesn’t get to decide. Most of the time it’s not a technology discussion, it’s a people discussion.