You Experience #5 – Digital Self
Man and Technology are merging, in fact converging. First by processing and storing increasingly personal data, then by bringing technology physically closer to our bodies, and finally by creating things that think together with us. From the wearables and the ‘quantified self’, to the body implants of the trans-humanists; toward the dream of embedded artificial intelligence, the opportunities for business disruption are limitless. Imagine the possibilities when technology starts to augment our human nature and our very being. What if there is less and less difference between You and your Digital Self?
Health and fitness gadgets are measuring the rhythm of our life, our body. They measure us to help us be healthy. Continued miniaturization has made it possible to move from standalone computers to portables, to smartphones, smart glasses, smart watches, smart bands and smart contact lenses. Where will it stop? Soon, doctors might inject us with a smart chip that continuously measures our blood pressure, chemical contents, oxygen level and who knows what more, scanning for the very first signs of a disease.
Whatever ethical discussions that are –rightfully – going on: if it can be done, it will be done. Better health, better senses, better physical performance or better thoughts: all through history we’ve taken up everything available to achieve these goals through food, machines, chemicals and so on. This will continue, now leveraging the latest technology, as cyber-physical connections aim to enhance us. Technology becomes an extension of man and – in a certain way - man becomes an extension of technology.
Connecting humans directly to the digital realm makes data available that was previously hidden. The amount but especially the type of data is changing: from abstract and almost anonymous data, to storing our likes and dislikes, our social interactions, our sentiment and now our impulses and – who knows - our inner thoughts. Digital brain-reading, capturing thoughts, is already becoming a reality. Many researchers make great progress in analyzing brain patterns, enabling brain-to-brain communication, to directly read visual nerves, to measure the moods and thoughts that were until recently hidden.
Meanwhile, IT is shifting too. We used to build core to applications store and retrieve data. Nowadays, we focus more and more on interaction with customers, employees and partners. And now we are enriching it with empathic computing – aiming to create the best interaction, leveraging physical and intellectual context, history and patterns.
As always, cross-pollination leads to acceleration. For example, better and smaller control systems lead to new applications of robotics that were beyond our reach before. It makes seemingly futuristic things possible as smart replacement limbs for amputees, upright walking robots and flying drones. We now are starting to see the first truly autonomous robots, swarming around us to clean, deliver packages or do surveillance.
Replacing a missing hand with a robotic one makes perfect sense. To make it somewhat smart and connect it to nerves or the brain for seamless operation is also logical. To replace an eye and feed visual information into the brain helps people navigate the world. Slowly but surely we are learning about the inner workings of nerves and brain.
From the hard technology side, we’re getting better at dealing intelligently with data, finding patterns, establishing correlations and predicting the future. With cognitive systems like IBM Watson and other learning machines, systems that think seem within reach.
There will be a time when both ends meet: when the technological advance of machine learning plugs directly into the latest understanding of our brain. Then the computer becomes a prosthesis for our brain, seamlessly taking over those functions that it is better at and by that enhancing our intelligence.
Thinking ‘things’ have long been the realm of science fiction and doomsday movies, but the reality turns out to be much more mundane. It will show in increasingly accurate decision support, better recommendations, more natural, frictionless interfaces and more intuitive interactions. Thinking computers will help make sense of the overload of data that is bombarding us and make better choices. Enterprises that see the potential of this marriage between man and machine earlier than others can achieve great benefits, allowing them to create disruptive business models that were beyond imagination until recently. It may happen first in healthcare, insurance, retail, security and defense.
But in the end, there is no way to predict what happens next. When machines really ‘think’ and become one with us, it will change mankind more than the invention of fire. There are dreams of copying our brains to disk, so that we can live forever. There are dreams of globally connected minds living in harmony. There are dreams of globally tuned supply and demand of everything. There are dreams of mankind expanding into the universe. There are dreams of hope and ambition.
There are dreams…
Your experts: Erik van Ommeren
and Arnd Brugman
Part of Capgemini's TechnoVision 2015 update series. See the overview here.