We're All Cyborgs Now

F8fb7cd486fb7c046de276f9a1f5981f?s=47 Sami Niemelä
October 22, 2011

We're All Cyborgs Now

My talk from Playful 11 in London where I argue we all might be cyborgs already. I talk about how we cognitively project ourselves to our surroundings and possessions, and why everything will be about software, designed behaviour and superpowers.


Sami Niemelä

October 22, 2011


  1. We’re All Cyborgs Now. Playful ’11: The Shape of Things

    to Come sami@nordkapp.fi @samin Hello, Playful. My name is Sami and it’s a honor to be here. I'm a designer and — as probably most designers are— endlessly fascinated about the near future and the new things it brings upon us. Let’s have a show of hands - how many of you wears contact lenses? Had a laser surgery? Don't worry, I'm not going to ask about artificial hip or limbs. - how many has an iPhone?
  2. We’re all cyborgs now. So, I think we're all cyborgs

    already. Consider it done, let's move on to other things like quantum levitation, hoverboards and so forth. What I am going to share with you today is a collection of insights, ideas and some open ended things about where we are now and where we might be heading. Bit of layman cybernetics, interaction design, superpowers we have and all that. There's three main themes I'll be going through: - Cybernetics and the future that didn't quite arrive - Designing behaviour - Our new found superpowers
  3. What I’m not talking about here is the usual, shiny

    science fiction future.In 1985 Professor Donna Haraway published the essay Cyborg Manifesto where she argued that the the metaphysical and physical attachments humanity has with even the most basic technologies have already made us cyborgs. Some people do indeed claim simple mechanic medical implants such as pacemakers and even contact lenses makes a cyborg. I am not sure if this is the case but recent developments in biomechanics is definitely something to watch. Transhumanists — a philosophical movement—predict that us human beings may eventually be able to transform ourselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".
  4. paro http:/ /www.parorobots.com/ What I’m interested in is more like

    this: more abstracted behaviour and artificial beings that we find comfort, mirror ourself and humanize. The borderline between cybernetics and robotics is fairly fuzzy here so bare with me.
  5. paro http:/ /www.parorobots.com/ Things that interest me are the questions

    like can we define minimum viable cybernetics here, for example. This is Tengu at he’s lovely. More about him later on.
  6. Let’s have a peek into the future that didn’t quite

    arrive. The idea of cybernetics, artificial intelligence and all that is not new. In the 1950s, British cybernetic researchers estimated that designing and building a real replica of the human brain is actually just a matter of time. Not quite so. Despite them actually managing to build a circuit board modelled after a turtle’s brain, 60 years later, it turns out artificial intelligence is super hard. It's very deceivingly simple if-this-then-that logic, but the systems are very complex. The OG big data.
  7. Even though we though the future would be shiny and

    designed, it’s not and won’t probably ever be. Instead it will remain be wonderfully broken, seams bursting out the weirdness. When the seams get mixed with the projections of ourself, sometimes things get a bit odd.
  8. Post-physical? spotify radio Jordi Parra, http:/ /zenona.com/ And it's going

    to get more weird. The border b/w physical and digital is fading, really fast. We're in the eye of the storm of convergence right now. Digital eats the analog in our lives. Direct interaction on touch screens o er more emotionally engaging experiences. Our world is already full of pieces of digital prosthetics, in our possession and in the environment all around us.
  9. Like Chris before me wonderfully demonstrated, if you've ever watched

    a baby interact with an iPad, you have watched a massive behavioral paradigm shift in action. My two year old is completely fixated to the iPad, and therefore all glowing rectangles are touch surfaces to him. To him, glossy magazines are just simply broken screens.
  10. In the first world, we can now access almost anything

    from anywhere. This basically makes the iPhone the augmentation of your life—past, future and present. It is basically an extension of yourself. Leaving it home means sudden isolation from the routines and the world you live in. Digital services transform into just things that are there 24/7. Some possibly come with a weird, physically printed artefact attached.
  11. image credit http:/ /tinyurl.com/6yo36sb Us humans are very good on

    finding humaniny elsewhere. We are hardwired to empatise with inanimate things — for example see faces everywhere. In a way, these objects around us are becoming cognitive avatars of ourselves. We project them personality, emotions ja behaviour. We make them our friends… or enemies.
  12. The new world that talks back to us. What’s happening

    in larger numbers, the world around us talks back to us. What is important to understand here is that 1) these objects increasingly respond to our dialogue. 2) all that behaviour will be—needs to be— fabricated, in other words — designed.
  13. Let's look briefly in robotics. Obviously there are quite a

    bunch of robots around, doing the things robots do. Cleaning, carrying heavy weights, shooting things from long distance and playing ping pong, for example. So far, most of these robots are very simple, almost analogue. They have a one or a few simple tasks to take care of. Physically they seem to be either from somewhere between a broomstick, mechanical bull or stolen from a Chris Cunningham music video. In the deep utilitarian end of things this works just fine, but when they try to behave like humans, things get a bit weird. It's basically the uncanny valley of behaviour right here.
  14. ERICSSON SOCIAL WEB OF THINGS CONCEPT http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5AuzQXBsG4 ERICSSON SOCIAL

    WEB OF THINGS CONCEPT http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5AuzQXBsG4 Making inanimate things behave like humans is actually pretty damn hard. There are some fairly provocative examples out there what might happen. Should every single thing at your house would have needs and feelings? Would you like to have an emo couch or the more rational one. Is this a question you want to think about?
  15. The Larger Context(s) graph Ville Tikka / wevolve.us And the

    thing is, as a designers, makers, we have to realize the cultures always adapt slower than technology advances.
  16. Most often it's the physical products that fail in this.

    Domestic applicances like microwaves, cars and so forth. Physical products that come out at the end of manufacturing like somewhere.
  17. Not surprinsingly, the best examples of designed behaviour so far

    are the simple, almost analogue things that allow us to freely project ourselves into them. Kids love Roombas. For many families it’s like an artificial dog that does the cleaning instead of just making a mess. Electronic toys are wonderful at this— Tengu is lovely. This is our designer Kate meeting Tengu for the first time.
  18. At the same time, consumer electronics are really becoming fairly

    ubiquitous in our lives and actually driving all kinds of development right now. For example, cars will be mostly of and about software. This is basically Moore's law in action: today's consumer electronics are massively more powerful than, say, enteprise systems ten years ago. Massive change (on enterprise scale). The UIs, along with most of the system will become instances on a screen, a detached manifestation of what actually goes on under the hood. Completely upgradeable. Already there are cars that recognize you by the key and adjust accordingly. Think of this, wireless sensors, passive NFC and multiply it by ten.
  19. And what worries me ever so slightly, the things we’ve

    designed tried so far haven’t really caught up just yet. It’s not that we haven't tried. All of a sudden, websites and software want to be our friends and talk back to us.
  20. To be fair, all is not lost. One of the

    most recent, best, and talked about examples of designed everyday behaviour is Apple's Siri. But even it’s magic is actually based on a killer speech recognition— the rest is just a lot of hard work in the form of manually typed answers to multiple keyword triggers. Machines just don't have the quick social intel to figure this out themselves yet.
  21. http:/ /img.cheathappens.com/walls/incredibles_2_8.jpg The new cybernetic So I think we're facing

    a new kind of cybernetic here. It's not bad at all. The new cybernetic gives us special powers, before unseen and -experienced. We can now take a peek behind the streetcorner or another side of the world with Google Street View. MS Photosynth and it's successor, Read Write World takes this even further. We can now dive into panoramas inside a 3D view. We can control objects through the view from their own eyes.
  22. SUWAPPU http:/ /www.getsuwappu.com/ Even Augmented reality can be thought as

    a form of very rudimentary cybernetic. It quite e ectively uses technology and the internet to reveal things concealed from us before.
  23. 1995‘s cyberpunk cult classic Strange Days introduced us to the

    idea of Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, aka SQUID. It was based on a idea that you could record, play and share back someone else's experience directly in and out of your cerebral cortex. We're getting there — digital cameras are becoming the primary tool to augment a past experience.
  24. GOPRO http:/ /gopro.com The best example of this are the

    first person sports action cameras like GoPro. They basically are magic rabbit holes into someone else’s experience.
  25. HELSINKI CITY PUBLIC TRANSPORT VISUALIZED http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGllzWt0acU As we all

    know, there are a few significant macro trends: The data we produce as the byproduct of our lives increases. The data our environment produces increases. Opportunities to use it increase, too. Ubiquitous computing makes our possessions aware of their surroundings, and the other way around. And that's not all, we can already replace a lot of physical things with just an iPhone app.
  26. It is already possible to mechanically construct a bionic arm.

    At some stage, the manufactured—or modifed parts of our body will become aware. Of our gadgets, maybe of themselves. Evidently, things start to talk to each other. With this in mind, Singularity will probably creep up on us. It might even happen without anyone noticing. Like, damn, my left elbow is actually making decisions now but I like it.
  27. © Paramount Pictures The upside of this all is that

    we all become superhumans. We might already have. We can access all the information of the world, anywhere. Our tribes are cultural, not local. I would love to be at high school right now.
  28. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility

    it will be ever so important to remember there is and will not be such thing as seamless. Instead, things will be beautifully broken, with seams visbile everywhere.
  29. “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

    ” —MALCOLM X But I believe the payback is well awesome. It’s going to be all all right. In those seams lies opportunity to make great things. We're literally on the verge of a third industrial revolution, smart grids and real distributed computing and intelligence. This new new opens up all kinds of opportunities for serious and not so serious play. The future is as bright as we make it. I’d like to end with a quote by Malcom X that fits this quite well. The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. Game on. Let’s do it.
  30. — www.nordkapp.fi — @Nordkapp Thanks sami@nordkapp.fi @samin Thanks all!