Hello, every­one. Thank you so much for invit­ing me here. The city is absolute­ly beau­ti­ful. I’m going to tell you about cyborg anthro­pol­o­gy and the evap­o­ra­tion of inter­face. I only have a lit­tle bit of time, so I’m going to go into it pret­ty quick­ly and give some examples.

So, first off, who­ev­er has a cell­phone hold it up right now. Alright, those who held it up first are more cyborg-like than the oth­ers in the audi­ence. In fact, we’re all cyborgs. But not the type of cyborgs that you think. We’re not Robocop or any­thing like that. A per­son called David Hess talked about the idea that we’re all low-tech cyborgs, that every time you look at a screen and you inter­face with some­thing exter­nal to your­self that holds infor­ma­tion that your eyes can inter­act with, you’re kind of a low-tech cyborg. Even though it’s not meld­ed into your skull or inter­act­ing direct­ly with your brain, it is inter­act­ing with you through an inter­face of your eyes or your hands, and there­fore you’re a cyborg.

So, the term cyborg came from a 1960 paper on space trav­el. It was called an organ­ism to which exoge­nous com­po­nents have been added for the pur­pose of adapt­ing to new ambi­ent envi­ron­ments. Physically, this was talk­ing about an astro­naut in space. Because what kind of a hos­tile envi­ron­ment is space? It’s very dif­fi­cult. You can’t breathe out there. So the idea of mak­ing a space suit was allow­ing some­body to evolve out­side them­selves, to adapt to this very dif­fi­cult environment.

The first tools extend­ed the capa­bil­i­ty of our fists. So, the idea of hav­ing a a ham­mer or a knife allowed us to have an exter­nal tooth or an exter­nal fist that we could evolve out­side of our­selves, as a phys­i­cal exten­sion of self, to be much bet­ter than we could be as actu­al humans. But now we have these men­tal aug­men­ta­tions, allow­ing us to store mem­o­ries on our brains and our essences in these devices. 

Soon, per­haps, it will be impos­si­ble to tell where human ends and machines begins.
Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang, 214.

Maureen McHugh has said soon that per­haps it may be impos­si­ble to tell where humans end and machines begin. When you look at your online pro­file, is that real­ly you? It’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of you that can be act­ed on when you’re not there. But where do you end and the machine begins? The thing is that humans and tech­nol­o­gy have coe­volved with each oth­er over time, being very very cocre­ative. We have sur­vived because of tech­nol­o­gy, and tech­nol­o­gy has sur­vived because of us.

So, a tra­di­tion­al anthro­pol­o­gist goes out to anoth­er coun­try and looks at the natives and says, Hmm, how inter­est­ing their cul­tures are. How curi­ous their tech­niques. Look at these tools and these cus­toms.” And it’s all very much that the anthro­pol­o­gist is an oth­er” per­son and they go back to what­ev­er coun­try they came from and talk to peo­ple about these inter­est­ing peo­ple. But the cyborg anthro­pol­o­gist looks at the the world around them and says, How curi­ous these peo­ple are. They have these lit­tle devices in their pock­ets that cry, and you have to pick them up, and you have to soothe them back to sleep. And at night you have to plug them in and take care of them. And then every two years they break down on you, so you have to get new devices.”

So, these Macy meet­ings start­ed in 1941, and they were about a bunch of sci­en­tists and anthro­pol­o­gists com­ing togeth­er, real­iz­ing that tech­nol­o­gy is going to be an extreme­ly big deal in the future. And they tried to con­vince a bunch of peo­ple of this. But it was very ear­ly on. Mainframe com­put­ers were bare­ly get­ting a start.

Cyborg Anthropology, Gary Lee Downey, Joseph Dumit, and Sarah Williams

It took until 1992 for cyborg anthro­pol­o­gy to be an actu­al sub­sec­tion of the anthro­pol­o­gy of sci­ence. So let’s talk about the present day. In the present day, we have these devices out­side of our­selves, and they help us com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er. But also, we’re car­ry­ing around these devices that are larg­er on the inside than they are on the out­side. So when­ev­er you car­ry around a lap­top, it has all this space inside of it, and all this space con­nect­ed to the cloud, and you nev­er see it. Whenever you put a file in a sys­tem, it doesn’t make your com­put­er heav­ier. Although if you put a file in a file cab­i­net, it would make the file cab­i­net much heavier.

If you take your eight years of pic­tures that you stored up in a lap­top and actu­al­ly print it out, this is what it would actu­al­ly look like. This was a cam­paign for Maxtor hard dri­ves where they print­ed out eight years of somebody’s pho­tos. Because it’s eas­i­er to put some­thing in to a space than it is to take it out. So we’re car­ry­ing around these kind of Mary Poppins bags, where we can take any­thing out that we want.

So, when you start putting mem­o­ries into a com­put­er out­side of your­self, you start to have these hyper­links mem­o­ries. And what hap­pens when you have hyper­link mem­o­ries is it’s not just think­ing in your brain, Oh, where did I put that mem­o­ry?” and you try to think of a word to trig­ger the mem­o­ry. You have to actu­al­ly think of a word to trig­ger a mem­o­ry. So for instance on your email account if you want to find an email, you have to actu­al­ly type that word instead of just think about it in your brain.

And that makes us into these kind of per­sis­tent pale­on­tol­o­gists, dig­ging through all of our old data try­ing to find out the thing that we left there that’s been buried by hun­dreds and hun­dreds of emails. So we’re all becom­ing these kind of pale­on­to­log­i­cal machines that are going out and dig­ging through every­thing all the time. And if there’s too much of that and too much sed­i­ment gets laid down and too many emails, we start to have these kind of pan­ic attacks. There’s too many emails, there’s too much infor­ma­tion com­ing in.

This brings me to the idea of pros­thet­ics and their dis­con­tents. We have all these exter­nal pros­thet­ic devices. And actu­al­ly Freud this book called Civilization and its Discontents, and he warned of this future in which we would have ill-fitting pros­thet­ics that were pret­ty good, but they weren’t all-the-time good. And so we kind of as humans live in this mild dystopia. It’s not a com­plete dystopia world because if it was we’d get very angry and revolt. But it’s just mild enough that we have some com­plaints. So, when­ev­er you have a device and it freezes up on you. You know, your exter­nal bring freez­ing up on you. It’s a big problem.

One of the oth­er prob­lems is that your exter­nal brains last much short­er than your actu­al brain does. So, it would last only for two years and then you have to throw it out. And it makes big piles of junk. I mean, humans are very curi­ous crea­tures. They have all these exter­nal objects then they shed them just like leaves of trees. But when a tree sheds its leaves, it makes room for new trees. When we shed our tech­nol­o­gy, it makes room for more technology.

And the plan­et also has a bunch of junk around it. There’s about eight thou­sand satel­lites up there that you can see on Google Earth. And only six hun­dred of them are cur­rent­ly work­ing. But these allow us to con­nect to each oth­er and talk to each oth­er. So even our own plan­et has become a cyborg.

The oth­er thing is that humans tend to make these kind of snail-like crea­tures that they dri­ve in, and they’re com­plete­ly dis­con­nect­ed from each oth­er when they’re dri­ving down the road. They’re kind of like space­ships. You can’t actu­al­ly walk on a high­way because you’d get run over by a car. It’s only for kind of advanced cyborgs that want to extend them­selves and go very fast. But the prob­lem is that when we’re stuck in cars we’re kind of on pause. We’re machines, and we’re not able to talk to each oth­er even though we’re hav­ing the same annoy­ing expe­ri­ence of being in traffic.

So when the cell phone came out, it start­ed con­nect­ing peo­ple in these iso­lat­ed envi­ron­ments. It start­ed giv­ing peo­ple some­thing to do when they were on pause, when they were hang­ing out in air­ports, when they were hang­ing in these non-spaces where there were no friends and no fam­i­ly, where they kind of felt like machines. In a way, it allowed them to be more human.

So, there’s this idea of ambi­ent inti­ma­cy that it’s not that you’re con­nect­ed to every­thing all the time, but you always have the abil­i­ty to con­nect to some­one. And if you were to look at all the peo­ple in your phone right now, it would prob­a­bly look like this. All the peo­ple that you have access to right now in the tiny machine that you hold in your hand via email, via Twitter, via Facebook, via any of the oth­er social net­works that you have via your phone. It’s like a tiny vil­lage in your pock­et that you’re car­ry­ing around all the time. And even if you’re in an iso­lat­ed place you can sud­den­ly reach out and have con­tact with somebody.

So let’s go into becom­ing a cyborg. Now kids have a kind of sec­ond self before they’re even born, that they learn to deal with. But this self becomes more impor­tant than your DNA. So peo­ple are going to grow up in this world where this can act for you when you’re not even there. People can click on you, your sec­ondary self, your online pres­ence, with­out you being there. So you have this abil­i­ty to con­struct what­ev­er you want it to be. 

Just as you have to wash your hair in the morn­ing and look pre­sentable, you have to do the same thing with your dig­i­tal self. There’s a lot of peo­ple who for­get to update their online sta­tus, and they feel guilty about it. And they say say, Oh no, my sta­tus is old.” And they keep wor­ry­ing about their online pres­ence and what it looks like. And this is going to become increas­ing­ly impor­tant, your your pre­sen­ta­tion of self in dig­i­tal life. 

So, as you become more of cyborg, the the delin­eations between work and play become more dif­fi­cult to define. Reality is not always fun. You have to wait in line, and you have to wait in traf­fic. You’re put on hold a lot. You’re doing these very annoy­ing things that humans shouldn’t be doing, and sit­ting there in envi­ron­ments in which humans shouldn’t real­ly be in. But sud­den­ly there’s this lay­er on top of real­i­ty, where you can check in and you get a few points. And you can rate real­i­ty. And you can make it so that you can have a good expe­ri­ence next time.

And the oth­er thing is that you get accel­er­at­ed rewards. Say you get four years in col­lege and you get out. And your reward is grad­u­a­tion. Say you know you want a pro­mo­tion and it takes you six months to a year to get a pro­mo­tion. If you play Farmville and you click on some­thing, you get an imme­di­ate reward. You get either some sort of point bonus, or some­thing that makes you feel like there’s an inter­ac­tion. And for a lot of peo­ple, the rewards in real life are slow­er than the ones online. So they’re more attract­ed to these inter­faces. And the oth­er thing is, if you’re liv­ing in a small apart­ment and you don’t have much room to do some­thing, you can be pow­er­ful in these envi­ron­ments and actu­al­ly do some­thing. It’s kind of a free­ing thing to do. 

So basi­cal­ly, these are kind of data­base games. Foursquare is not an app, it’s a data entry game where you’re enter­ing place data and you’re mark­ing ter­ri­to­ry, just like a dog going to a street cor­ner and mark­ing their ter­ri­to­ry. And then the oth­er dogs can see where they are and whoever’s the top dog. So, if you check in on Foursquare enough, you become the top dog as well. It’s a very basic, ani­mal­is­tic game. But the whole time, this free ser­vice is col­lect­ing data about places. It’s become one of the most pow­er­ful place data­bas­es because it’s put this lit­tle lay­er on top of real­i­ty and made it fun to do data entry. And now peo­ple are just doing data entry all day for Foursquare for free.

It’s the same thing with Facebook. Facebook is basi­cal­ly a spread­sheet game. Spreadsheets have nev­er been so inter­est­ing. You log on and it tells you what hap­pened in col­umn A2 and cell 4B. And then you change cell 3, and then it gives you points. And then some­body says, Oh, I real­ly liked that,” and sud­den­ly you have this psy­cho­log­i­cal feel­ing that you’re actu­al­ly worth some­thing. And you know, it’s not that you would have fif­teen min­utes of fame in your life­time, but fif­teen min­utes of fame every day. You have to keep get­ting that in order to feel human and connected.

So social groom­ing becomes this very impor­tant aspect of it, that when you post some­thing you expect a response. And you expect to be inter­act­ed with. And if you don’t it feels phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly bad. And because our brains are very good at not being on to these exter­nal spaces, we can actu­al­ly feel these psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal effects when we’re deal­ing with these vir­tu­al spaces. This is vir­tu­al real­i­ty. It’s two dimen­sions. But it’s just as good as hav­ing a three-dimensional vir­tu­al real­i­ty with its effects on your brain. So work is just badly-designed game play. And I think that in the future, work and play will begin to merge more and more and more.

So let’s talk about the future very quick. What will hap­pen in future? Well, Mark Weiser at PARC Research came up with this term called calm tech­nol­o­gy.” And the idea behind calm tech­nol­o­gy is it gets out of the way when you don’t need it. And when you need it, it comes back into play. And the oth­er thing is that actions, just your every­day life mov­ing around, will trig­ger events. And basi­cal­ly these invis­i­ble inter­faces will allow you to just do some­thing and some­thing else will be trig­gered instead of hav­ing to phys­i­cal­ly press a but­ton or mouse over to some­thing and click on it. Just you liv­ing will cause these events to happen. 

Here’s an exam­ple of calm tech­nol­o­gy. When you go to the tap and you get a glass of water, it will show you what tem­per­a­ture the water is so you don’t have to put your hand under it and get burnt or feel that it’s cold. And it only turns a col­or when you’re actu­al­ly using the faucet. So it’s actu­al­ly a very use­ful piece of tech­nol­o­gy. So this is an exam­ple of some calm technology.

So infor­ma­tion should be pushed to you. You shouldn’t have to go out and get it. The idea behind this is that when you get to an air­port and you need an address of the place you’re stay­ing, it should come up and be pushed you just on your device. You shouldn’t have to be a dig­i­tal pale­on­tol­o­gist and go and dig for it under the fifty oth­er emails that you got. It should know where you are, what you’re doing, and then push that infor­ma­tion to you. The idea is that the robots on the oth­er side are doing what machines do best, leav­ing you to be a human and do what you do best.

So ambi­ent user input is a way to do this, based on your loca­tion, based on your loca­tion his­to­ry, do you dri­ve or walk more often, based on the time of day, based on the pri­or actions or what­ev­er you do on a net­work, can deter­mine what to send to you. Also, instead of wait­ing for some­body at the cor­ner of the street when they’re going to pick you up you should be able to see them in real-time arrive on your phone. Because there’s all this uncer­tain­ty around the sim­plest of things, which is meet­ing some­body. You don’t want to just wait for some­body for twen­ty min­utes. But if you knew where they were, you wouldn’t have to text back and forth say­ing, I’m going to be late. I’m on my way. Oh no, I got stuck in traf­fic. Oh, I just left my house. Oh, I’m five min­utes away.” Because by the time that hap­pened, somebody’s around the block get­ting a bagel or something.

Also, geonotes, the idea of a location-based reminder. That you can leave your gro­cery list at the store and for­get about it, and when you get to the gro­cery store again get that list sent to you. Something as sim­ple as that in every­day life, just get­ting helped out by tech­nol­o­gy so you can store it and for­get it. Your brain doesn’t have very good… It doesn’t float con­tex­tu­al mem­o­ry. It doesn’t say, Okay, I remem­ber that I need bat­ter­ies now,” because when you get to the store, you need milk and you for­got the bat­ter­ies. And you get home, your flash­light nev­er works, you nev­er get the bat­ter­ies that you need. So leav­ing some­thing in a loca­tion allows you to leave a mes­sage to your future self.

The idea is that your mobile phone is not real­ly a phone, it’s set of sen­sors. And these sen­sors are a minia­ture wear­able com­put­er that you have with you all yet all the time. And there’s a serv­er up there that can com­pute things for you and send back infor­ma­tion to you. It has GPS and knows the time of day, it knows how fast you’re going. And this should be able to com­pute things for you, and become effec­tive­ly a remote con­trol for reality.

So for instance, I have this set­up in my house. When I get home, it auto­mat­i­cal­ly checks me into my house because it knows that I’m home, and then it trig­gers the lights to turn on. And then when I leave, it trig­gers the lights to turn off. And I nev­er had to press a but­ton the entire time. Just me being there has trig­gered an invis­i­ble but­ton. So I didn’t have to press any­thing, I didn’t have to turn on the lights or remem­ber to turn off the lights. And that’s one action I don’t have to remem­ber any­more. And that’s some­thing that that frees up my mind to think about oth­er things for a few sec­onds a day.

So the best tech­nol­o­gy is invis­i­ble. It just gets out of the way, lets you live your life. And so the idea behind inter­faces is the first inter­face was these big but­tons. And if you want­ed the but­tons to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, you’d have to phys­i­cal­ly rewire the entire device. But, when the inter­face became liq­uid on a screen, you could use soft­ware to repro­gram those but­tons. So it goes from sol­id to liq­uid to air. So the next inter­face rev­o­lu­tion is this…air…just doing things and hav­ing things hap­pen. Which is the idea behind ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing, which is final­ly capa­ble of being done because we have the Internet and we have this whole data­base out there that allows us to com­pute in the air and sent it to devices all over the place.

So the idea behind cyborg anthro­pol­o­gy is to look at what’s going on in the world, step out­side of cul­ture, and see what’s actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing with these weird devices in everyone’s pock­ets, and see how that affects cul­ture. Thank you very much.


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