Tag Archives: augmented human

Corporate Sci-Fi.

Note: Also published on LinkedIn

 

Why your company needs to play in the future.

As a professor of design and a design fiction researcher, I write academic papers and blog weekly about the future. I teach about the future of design, and I create future scenarios, sometimes with my students, that provoke us to look at what we are doing, what we are making, why we are making it and the ramifications that are inevitable. Primarily I try to focus both designers and decision makers on the steps they can take today to keep from being blindsided tomorrow. Futurists seem to be all the rage these days telling us to prepare for the Singularity, autonomous everything, or that robots will take our jobs. Recently, Jennifer Doudna, co-inventor of the gene editing technique called CrisprCas9 has been making the rounds and sounding the alarm that technology is moving so fast that we aren’t going to be able to contain a host of unforeseen (and foreseen) circumstances inside Pandora’s box. This concern should be prevalent, however, beyond just the bioengineering fields and extend into virtually anywhere that technology is racing forward fueled by venture capital and the desperate need to stay on top of whatever space in which we are playing. There is a lot at stake. Technology has already redefined privacy, behavioral wellness, personal autonomy, healthcare, labor, and maybe even our humanness, just to name a few.

Several recent articles have highlighted the changing world of design and how the pressure is on designers to make user adoption more like user addiction to ensure the success of a product or app. The world of behavioral economics is becoming a new arena in which we are using algorithms to manipulate users. Some designers are passing the buck to the clients or corporations that employ them for the questionable ethics of addictive products; others feel compelled to step aside and work on less lucrative projects or apply their skills to social causes. Most really care and want to help. But designers are uniquely positioned and trained to tackle these wicked problems—if we would collaborate with them.

Beyond the companies that might be deliberately trying to manipulate us, are those that unknowingly, or at least unintentionally, transform our behaviors in ways that are potentially harmful. Traditionally, we seek to hold someone responsible when a product or service is faulty, the physician for malpractice, the designer or manufacturer when a toy causes injury, a garment falls apart, or an appliance self-destructs. But as we move toward systemic designs that are less physical and more emotional, behavioral, or biological, design faults may not be so easy to identify and their repercussions noticeable only after serious issues have arisen. In fact, we launch many of the apps and operating systems used today with admitted errors and bugs. Designers rely on real-life testing to identify problems, issue patches, revisions, and versions.

In the realm of nanotechnology, while scientists and thought leaders have proposed guidelines and best-practices, research and development teams in labs around the world race forward without regulation creating molecule-sized structures, machines, and substances with no idea whether they are safe or what might be long-term effects of exposure to these elements. In biotechnology, while folks like Jennifer Doudna appeal to a morally ethical cadre of researchers to tread carefully in the realm of genetic engineering (especially when it comes to inheritable gene manipulation) we do not universally share those morals and ethics. Recent headlines attest to the fact that some scientists are bent on moving forward regardless of the implications.

Some technologies such as our smartphones have become equally invasive technology, yet they are now considered mundane. In just ten years since the introduction of the iPhone, we have transformed behaviors, upended our modes of communication, redefined privacy, distracted our attentions, distorted reality and manipulated a predicted 2.3 billion users as of 2017. [1] It is worth contemplating that this disruption is not from a faulty product, but rather one that can only be considered wildly successful.

There are a plethora of additional technologies that are poised to refine our worlds yet again including artificial intelligence, ubiquitous surveillance, human augmentation, robotics, virtual, augmented and mixed reality and the pervasive Internet of Things. Many of these technologies make their way into our experiences through the promise of better living, medical breakthroughs, or a safer and more secure life. But too often we ignore the potential downsides, the unintended consequences, or the systemic ripple-effects that these technologies spawn. Why?

In many cases, we do not want to stand in the way of progress. In others, we believe that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, yet this is the same thinking that has spawned some of our most complex and daunting systems, from nuclear weapons to air travel and the internal combustion engine. Each of these began with the best of intentions and, in many ways were as successful and initially beneficial as they could be. At the same time, they advanced and proliferated far more rapidly than we were prepared to accommodate. Dirty bombs are a reality we did not expect. The alluring efficiency with which we can fly from one city to another has nevertheless spawned a gnarly network of air traffic, baggage logistics, and anti-terrorism measures that are arguably more elaborate than getting an aircraft off the ground. Traffic, freeways, infrastructure, safety, and the drain on natural resources are complexities never imagined with the revolution of personal transportation. We didn’t see the entailments of success.

This is not always true. There have often been scientists and thought leaders who were waving the yellow flag of caution. I have written about how, “back in 1975, scientists and researchers got together at Asilomar because they saw the handwriting on the wall. They drew up a set of resolutions to make sure that one day the promise of Bioengineering (still a glimmer in their eyes) would not get out of hand.”[2] Indeed, researchers like Jennifer Doudna continue to carry the banner. A similar conference took place earlier this year to alert us to the potential dangers of technology and earlier this year another to put forth recommendations and guidelines to ensure that when machines are smarter than we are they carry on in a beneficent role. Too often, however, it is the scientists and visionaries who attend these conferences. [3] Noticeably absent, though not always, is corporate leadership.

Nevertheless, in this country, there remains no safeguarding regulation for nanotech, nor bioengineering, nor AI research. It is a free-for-all, and all of which could have massive disruption not only to our lifestyles but also our culture, our behavior, and our humanness. Who is responsible?

For nearly 40 years there has been an environmental movement that has spread globally. Good stewardship is a good idea. But it wasn’t until most corporations saw a way for it to make economic sense that they began to focus on it and then promote it as their contribution to society, their responsibility, and their civic duty. As well intentioned as they may be (and many are) much more are not paying attention to the effect of their technological achievements on our human condition.

We design most technologies with a combination of perceived user need and commercial potential. In many cases, these are coupled with more altruistic motivations such as a “do no harm” commitment to the environment and fair labor practices. As we move toward the capability to change ourselves in fundamental ways, are we also giving significant thought to the behaviors that we will engender by such innovations, or the resulting implications for society, culture, and the interconnectedness of everything?

Enter Humane Technology

Ultimately we will have to demand this level of thought, beginning with ourselves. But we should not fight this alone. Corporations concerned with appearing sensitive and proactive toward the environment and social justice need to add a new pillar to their edifice as responsible global citizens: humane technology.

Humane technology considers the socio-behavioral ramifications of products and services: digital dependencies, and addictions, job loss, genetic repercussions, the human impact from nanotechnologies, AI, and the Internet of Things.

To whom do we turn when a 14-year-old becomes addicted to her smartphone or obsessed with her social media popularity? We could condemn the parents for lack of supervision, but many of them are equally distracted. Who is responsible for the misuse of a drone to vandalize property or fire a gun or the anticipated 1 billion drones flying around by 2030? [4] Who will answer for the repercussions of artificial intelligence that spouts hate speech? Where will the buck stop when genetic profiling becomes a requirement for getting insured or getting a job?

While the backlash against these types of unintended consequences or unforeseen circumstances are not yet widespread and citizens have not taken to the streets in mass protests, behavioral and social changes like these may be imminent as a result of dozens of transformational technologies currently under development in labs and R&D departments across the globe. Who is looking at the unforeseen or the unintended? Who is paying attention and who is turning a blind eye?

It was possible to have anticipated texting and driving. It is possible to anticipate a host of horrific side effects from nanotechnology to both humans and the environment. It’s possible to tag the ever-present bad actor to any number of new technologies. It is possible to identify when the race to master artificial intelligence may be coming at the expense of making it safe or drawing the line. In fact, it is a marketing opportunity for corporate interests to take the lead and the leverage their efforts to preempt adverse side effects as a distinctive advantage.

Emphasizing humane technology is an automatic benefit for an ethical company, and for those more concerned with profit than ethics, (just between you and me) it offers the opportunity for a better brand image and (at least) the appearance of social concern. Whatever the motivation, we are looking at a future where we are either prepared for what happens next, or we are caught napping.

This responsibility should start with anticipatory methodologies that examine the social, cultural and behavioral ramifications, and unintended consequences of what we create. Designers and those trained in design research are excellent collaborators. My brand of design fiction is intended to take us into the future in an immersive and visceral way to provoke the necessary discussion and debate that anticipate the storm should there be one, but promising utopia is rarely the tinder to fuel a provocation. Design fiction embraces the art critical thinking and thought problems as a means of anticipating conflict and complexity before these become problems to be solved.

Ultimately we have to depart from the idea that technology will be the magic pill to solve the ills of humanity, design fiction, and other anticipatory methodologies can help to acknowledge our humanness and our propensity to foul things up. If we do not self-regulate, regulation will inevitably follow, probably spurred on by some unspeakable tragedy. There is an opportunity, now for the corporation to step up to the future with a responsible, thoughtful compassion for our humanity.

 

 

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/330695/number-of-smartphone-users-worldwide/

2. http://theenvisionist.com/2017/08/04/now-2/

3. http://theenvisionist.com/2017/03/24/genius-panel-concerned/

4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-31/world-of-drones-congress-brisbane-futurist-thomas-frey/8859008

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6 everyday things that have disappeared in the 22nd century.

As you know, The Lightstream Chronicles is a cyberpunk graphic novel set in the year 2159. A lot has changed. Last week we looked at 10 futuristic technologies that are more or less ubiquitous in that time. This week we’ll look at 5 things that have nearly disappeared.

1. Death

In the 22nd century, death is optional. Medicine has eliminated nearly all forms of disease see (#6) and genetics has isolated the gene that causes aging. The aging gene can be switched on and off (usually in a human’s 2nd decade), through a simple medical procedure. Living forever is not for everyone, however. The suicide rate in New Asia is extremely high. Apparently, after a hundred years some people actually get bored with it all. Taking a dive off the Top City Spanner or jumping in front of a mag lev train are the most popular methods of suicide. Some humans can choose natural death over an unlimited lifespan. They are known as agers. They may take advantage of replacement organs, or other enhancements but avoid the genetic tinkering to stop the aging process. Average life expectancy of an ager is around 148 years. Despite the most popular enhancements, agers often find themselves as social oddities.

2. Religion

As the result of a brief, but bloody war executed by drones and initiated from rivalries in the Middle East (known as the Drone Wars), millions died. Religion and politics were blamed but politics survived. Religious assembly became illegal and all faiths were included, and while individuals are permitted to believe or worship anything they want, it must be kept private; no evangelizing or congregating is permitted. An individual can still visit a priest, mullah, or rabbi but it must be one-on-one. When it comes to morality, (that could be item number 7 in this list) the government has had to legislate to stave off a widespread moral decay. For more than 60 years the ban on religion has been tightly monitored, however in the last few years it has not been as rigidly enforced. Those who practice their faith in private are “tagged” as such in their profiles and they tend to come under more scrutiny than non-religious. The government knows everything.

3. Privacy

This brings us to privacy. I’ve written extensively about the Mesh network that sees everything. It was developed as a deterrent to crime and is quite successful at that most of the time. The network enables “impartial” software to monitor anything that constitutes “suspicious” activity. What constitutes suspicious activity? The law of the land is contained in the multi-volume, Hong Kong Protocols where most of what is considered illegal is that which infringes on the rights of another. Therefore, almost anything that is individual, or consensual is within the law. For the system to work, however, it needs to see everything. Most of the public has grown accustomed to the idea that every waking and sleeping moment of their lives, including their thoughts can be, and is monitored. According to recent polls, the public takes comfort in government assurance that no humans are interpreting their activity, and hence, not making any judgments on their behavior no matter how bizarre.

4. Reality

Reality has taken a big hit. Most of the population spends dozens of hours a week living in their minds via the V, (virtual immersions). These programmed immersions are infinitely detailed, environmental and sensory simulations. When you’re in the V, there is no discernible difference from the real world. Participation can occur with the users identity, or by assuming another from limitless combinations of gender, race, and species, and may entail a full range of experiences from a simple day on the beach to the aberrant and perverse. Immersions are highly regulated by the New Asia government. Certain immersive programs are required to have timeout algorithms to prevent a condition known as OB state in which the mind is unable to re-adjust to reality and surface from the immersion, a side effect for individuals who are immersed for more than 24 hours. Certain content is age-restricted and users must receive annual mental and bio statistical fitness assessments to renew their access — all of which is monitored by the government.

And if that isn’t enough to jog your faith in what is real, another departure comes in the area of all things replicated. Replication of inanimate objects is widespread for food, beverages and hard goods. Many insist that there is a difference between a real and replicated apple, thus, “pure-stuffs” are still sold but they are very expensive and scarce. Replication is based on duplicating molecular “fingerprints” of actual objects. With the escalating population and less people dying, replication has saved the world from starvation.
5. Humans

Though this might also fall under the category of reality check, #4  is the lack of real humans; in the technical sense, they very hard to find. For a time, the word post-human, or transhuman was in vogue, but this dissipated. Now the only discernible difference between humans and synthetics seems to be DNA. Everyone is enhanced to some degree. Enhancement itself, has come to mean, “…considerable intervention… beyond the basic human faculties and senses…” There are a host of human enhancements, and nano-level implants that have become common place mostly to adjust brain function and regulate body chemistry; spike adrenalin, induce sleep, reduce stress, enhance sexual activity, release pheromones, communicate telepathically, enhance athletics, muscle tone, elimination of excess fat, etc. Everyone can have the body they want, including more fingers, toes, or other innovative additions, and if it isn’t available from their own DNA, it can be spliced in the lab to enable the growth of fur, a tail, or other combinations.

6. Disease and illness

Though many diseases in the 21st century were thought to be genetic in origin, medicine turned its focus to the cellular level. This provided the cancer breakthrough and eventually almost anything that can wreak havoc on the human body, particularly at the cellular level, has been brought under control. This includes cancer, neurological, and muscle diseases, organ failures, and old age. Then genetic engineering fine-tuned the genome to enable zero-defect births and isolated the genes that cause aging.

Since most cellular damage is done through abuse and environmental toxins many people may still choose to smoke, or put other damaging substances into their bodies with the assurance that diseased lungs, livers and kidneys can be grown in the lab from their own DNA and replaced on an outpatient basis.

Taxes are still collected.

 

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