Is it a human right to have everything you want? 

The CBC recently published an article online about a new breakthrough in vision improvement that could provide patients with 20/20 vision x3. Like cataract surgery today that removes an old yellowed lens from the eye and replaces it with a new, plastic optometric-correct lens, the inventor, an optometrist from British Columbia, says the 8-minute procedure will give recipients better than 20/20 vision for the rest of their lives no matter how old they are.

bionic-lens-20150518
Better than 20/20. Maybe it starts here.

As soon as clinical trials are complete and the regulatory hurdles are leaped the articles says the implant could be available in as early as two years. Let me be the first to say, “Sign me up!” I’ve had glasses for 20 years and just recently made the move to contacts. Both are a hassle, and the improvement is anything but consistent. Neither solution provides 24-hour correction, and you’re lucky to get 20/20. So, rationally speaking, it’s a major improvement in vision, convenience and probably your safety. On top of that, the CBC article concludes noting the inventor/optometrist has set up a foundation,

“…Which would donate money to organizations providing eye surgery in developing countries to improve people’s quality of life.

“Perfect eyesight should be a human right,” he says.”

Now I hate to break the poignancy of this moment, but it’s my job. Should perfect eyesight be a human right? How about perfect hearing, ideal body weight, genius IQ, super longevity, cranial Internet access, freedom from disease, illness, and perfect health? It’s hard to deny that any of these are good. If you follow my graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles, you know that society has indeed opted for all of it and more: enhanced mood control, faster learning, better sex, deeper sleep, freedom from anxiety, stress, worry, bad memories, and making stupid comments. They are all human rights, right? Or is it just human nature to have unlimited expectations and demand instant gratification? It begins with one implant (not unlike the first nip or tuck or a new tattoo) and then becomes an endless litany of new and improved. But if you posit the argument that these enhancements are desirable, then you are also acknowledging that the current state of humanness is not. Are our shortcomings, disappointments, pain, testing, and struggles to be jettisoned forever? Once we can control everything about ourselves that we don’t like, where will we stop? Will we be happier? Or will there alway be that extra thing that we simply must have. Perhaps this is the real definition of human nature: never satisfied.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

As I have written about before, all of this is a small section of a greater organism that is growing in technology. So as complicated as the whole idea of human augmentation is to think about, it’s much more complicated. While we cobble together new additions on the old house, there are technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) that will surpass our shortcomings better than our replacement part enhancements. If you haven’t read Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, you should. We are rapidly approaching a time when the impossible will be possible and we will be staring at it slack-jawed and asking how we got here and why? It can paint a dismal picture, but it is a picture we should look at and study. These are the questions of our time.

And so, I create fictional scenarios, firmly convinced that the more disturbing and visceral this picture the more we will take notice and ask questions before blithely moving forward. This is where I see the heart of design fiction, speculative futures, and—I think the more powerful—experiential interventions. It will be something to talk about in a future blog.

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Robots will be able to do almost anything, including what you do.

There seems to be a lot of talk these days about what our working future may look like. A few weeks ago I wrote about some of Faith Popcorn’s predictions. Quoting from the Popcorn slide deck,

“Work, as we know it, is dying. Careers and offices: Over. The robots are marching in, taking more and more skilled jobs. To keep humans from becoming totally obsolete, the government must intervene, incentivizing companies to keep people on the payroll. Otherwise, robots would job-eliminate them. For the class of highly-trained elite works, however, things have never been better. Maneuvering from project to project, these free-agents thrive. Employers, eager to secure their human talent, lavish them with luxurious benefits and unprecedented flexibility.  The gap between the Have’s and Have-Nots has never been wider.”

Now, I consider Popcorn to be a marketing futurist, she’s in the business to help brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I agree with almost all of her predictions. But she’s not the only one talking about the future of work. In a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review (forwarded to me by a colleague) Rise Of The  Robots | Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford pretty much agrees. According to the review, “Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams.” Increasingly devices, like 3D printers or drones can do work that used to require a full-blown manufacturing plant or what was heretofore simply impossible. Ford’s book goes on to chronicle dozens of instances like this. The reviewer, Barbara Ehrenreich, states, “In ‘Rise of the Robots,’ Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work.”

In another article in Fast Company, Gwen Moran surveys a couple of PhD’s, one from MIT and another who’s executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management. The latter, Mark Schmit agrees that there will be a disparity in the work force. “this winner/loser scenario predicts a widening wealth gap, Schmit says. Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace, he says.” On the other end of the spectrum some see the future as more promising. The aforementioned MIT prof, Erik Brynjolfsson, “…thinks that technology has the potential for “shared prosperity,” giving us richer lives with more leisure time and freedom to do the types of work we like to do. But that’s going to require collaboration and a unified effort among developers, workers, governments, and other stakeholders…Machines could carry out tasks while programmed intelligence could act as our “digital agents” in the creation and sharing of products and knowledge.”

I’ve been re-accessing Stuart Candy’s PhD dissertation The Futures of Everyday Life, recently and he surfaces a great quote from science fiction writer Warren Ellis which itself was surfaced through Bruce Sterling’s State of the World Address at SXSW in 2006. It is,

“[T]here’s a middle distance between the complete collapse of infrastructure and some weird geek dream of electronically knowing where all your stuff is. Between apocalyptic politics and Nerd-vana, is the human dimension. How this stuff is taken on board, by smart people, at street level. … That’s where the story lies… in this spread of possible futures, and the people, on the ground, facing them. The story has to be about people trying to steer, or condemn other people, toward one future or another, using everything in their power. That’s a big story. “1

This is relevant for design, too, the topic of last week’s blog. It all ties into the future of the future, the stuff I research and blog about.  It’s about speculation and design fiction and other things on the fringes of our thinking. The problem is that I don’t think that enough people are thinking about it. I think it is still too fringe. What do people do after they read Mark Ford? Does it change anything? In a moment of original thinking I penned the following thought, and as is usually the case subsequently heard it stated in other words by other researchers:

If we could visit the future ”in person,” how would it affect us upon our return? How vigorously would we engage our redefined present?

It is why we need more design fiction and the kind that shakes us up in the process.

Comments welcome.

1 http://www.warrenellis.com

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Falling asleep in the future. 

Prologues to Season 4 : : The Lighstream Chronicles : : Dreamstate

Season 4 Prologue ix-x: Backstory

Every now an then it makes sense to keep readers updated on the scientific and technological developments that were both behavioral and cultural influences in the 22nd century. This addendum could to the 2159backstory link on The LIghtstream Chronicles site.

It wasn’t until 2047 that technological manipulation of the body’s endocrine system became commonplace. Prior to that, pharmaceuticals were the primary mode of stimulating hormone production in the body, but that solution never seemed to alleviate the side effects that so often accompanied pharma-based protocols. Nevertheless, it was the the well funded pharmaceutical industry, perhaps seeing the writing-on-the-wall that helped to pioneer the chips that ultimately became the regulators that enabled precision balance of the body’s chemistry.

Implanting chips into the body was in full swing by the late 2020’s but and this often meant that the body required numerous implants to balance and regulate different processes. The chemchip as it was called in 2047 was the first handle multiple functions. Chip#5061189 (the original first device was about the size of a postage stamp and was inserted below the skin in the lumbar region of the back. From here, it was able to trigger or inhibit the adrenal glands, hypothalamus, ovaries, pancreas, parathyroid, pineal gland, pituitary gland, testes, thymus and thyroid. Programs were written and updated seamlessly to coincide with various life stages and individual preferences. These early implants had a significant affect on overall health and wellness.

Gradually however, these chips required maintenance and did not work in synergy with other chipsets that were becoming prevalent throughout the body. A series of technological developments over the next 12 to 15 years began to consolidate individual chip functions into what became known as the chipset. You can read more about how the chipset works.

 

dreamstate
Just relax, we’ll take it from here.

Of course, technology marches on, so by the 22nd century the augmented human is an extremely sophisticated combination of technology builds on a “natural” human elements. Hence, we have the sleep program. This can be anything the user wants it to be from floating weightless in an imagined, liquid, greenspace to a field of tall grass. Then, regulation of the the body chemistry can manipulate the body chemistry and trick the body into thinking it has had 8 hours of sleep in only 3. Think of how much more work you could get done.

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Technological Darwinism. Is it inevitable?

Continuing on the thread from last week. I’ve been noticing lately how many older citizens are staring at their smart phones. All my examples of older are from the 60+ generation. I saw a traffic cop the other day staring down at his iPhone, a grandmother in the grocery store, another waiting for a bus, and another paying for her Starbucks using the phone app. It wasn’t too many years ago that many older Americans washed their hands of dealing with computers, the idea of email, or doing a Google search. Now they have iPads, they’re on Facebook, and texting is commonplace. It makes me wonder where the tipping point was. When did they finally cave in?

You’ve probably guessed why I’m asking. It’s fascinating to me to see that even things that we swear up and down against, we often end up embracing in one form or another just because we will get left behind if we don’t—way behind. That not only goes for technology, but also social mores, fashion, and other cultural behaviors.

So, skipping a few years into the future, what former sensitive subjects will we have embraced? Cloning? 3+ genetic parents? Implanted chips? Ubiquitous surveillance? Augmented bodies? Genetically enhanced bodies, body parts or brains? How about turning off the biological clock and living another 100 years? Trans-species genetics? Maybe public nakedness, or killing the people you hate in virtually reality. The possibilities are endless.

For example, if increased alertness is critical for certain jobs and that is attainable by a simple, painless chip implanted in the back of your neck, would you do it? Could employers require it?

If everybody is doing it will you do it, too? Perhaps you say no now, but will you eventually cave in?

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