Being an augmented human

Back in January this year, at DLD11 (Digital – Life – Design), Eric Schmidt (if you haven’t heard of him before, he was Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011 and also a former member of the board of directors at Apple) speaking of the future made the point that

computers when used ubiquitously and interactively and with cloud-like access to remote supercomputer powers can give us “senses” we didn’t know were possible. “Think of it as augmented humanity” he suggested.

If you’re thinking this is just Schmidt adding more buzz around the misuse of the term ‘cloud-computing’, bear with me while I try to explain.

Us humans have created and used tools for a very long time. In fact, some even believe that the first use of tools occurred before the divergence between humans and chimpanzees (they also make and use tools). Tools have played an important role in our survival by helping us hunt for food, build shelter, travel etc.

Carpentry Tools

Carpentry tools recovered from the wreck of a 16th century sailing ship, the Mary Rose. Photo by Peter Crossman of the Mary Rose Trust

Contemporary physical tool to travel

Contemporary physical tool to travel

Thanks to the tools we’ve invented, we can now travel from London to Tokyo in just over 11 hours, send men on the moon, machines to Mars… Tools have extended our physical selves. Now fast forward to the day Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the tool we now know as the World Wide Web. This marked the beginning of humanity’s mental tools which has grown in complexity through the years. We can now point our phones at our surroundings and have it tell us all about what we see. We can use our phones to book a streetcar, locate it and even unlock it, then have our phones tell us which way to go when we want to get somewhere. We can raise the funds for recording music and even distribute it across the world without any record labels (gatekeepers) getting in the way. I could go on and on but I think this is what Eric Schmidt meant when he said “Think of it as augmented humanity“; humans making use of mental tools (expanding their mental selves) to allow them to do things that would not otherwise be possible.

This concept is the essence of a new mind-blowing book aptly named Augmented Humanity by Everett Bogue. Everett Bogue sees augmented humans as a generation, old and young, who are plugged into an ever-expanding network of machines that are expanding our consciousness. This small (but growing) group of individuals are developing mental cybernetics – tools given to them by the world wide web. Augmented humans have developed the ability to breathe with technology, the benefits of which are enormous.

As with physical tools, it’s not just about the tools themselves, it’s about how we use them. Everett Bogue uses today’s mental tools to allow him to live and work from anywhere, an endeavour I can relate to very well.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in leading a location-independent life or even just an interest in the future of humanity.

I leave you with an excerpt from the book:

The sun was shining over Santa Barbara. The day had started out like any other. I woke up in San Francisco… walked outside, grabbed a coffee. I checked my email for my usual 15-30 minutes per day, and began figuring out how I was going to get to Los Angeles by the end of the day.

A few days earlier, using the expanded mental tools of an augmented human, I rented a Zipcar (a bright red Mazda 3) for three days. I located the Zipcar three blocks from the coffee shop using an iPhone App. If I couldn’t find the car with the App I could honk it and it would let me know where it was. With the iPhone App, I could unlock the car from anywhere. With a tiny plastic access card, I was able to swipe in and out of the car instantly.

Oh, also the car had been partially paid for by affiliate revenue that I’d generated off my blog by encouraging others to ditch their expensive cars and switch over to Zipcars.

The cute half-Asian barista was playing a particularly good album in the coffee shop, but I didn’t know what it was. Previously I would have needed to get up the courage to be that guy who asked what the music was in the coffee shop, but I didn’t need to anymore. I popped open Shazam on my iPhone and knew within 30 seconds what album was playing, which led to a link to download the album instantly – which I did.

Now I had the music I was going to blast in my cyborg car on my augmented human journey down the California coast.

I returned home, threw a few changes of clothes into a bag, and headed out the door. Within a few moments I was swiped into a car I’d reserved from my pocket only a few days ago. I plugged in my iPhone and was blasting music I’d only downloaded an hour ago. Within moments I was headed down to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving dinner, an event that I’d only confirmed that I’d arrive at a few days earlier.

I didn’t even know where I was going either. I’d never driven from SF to LA before, didn’t know any of the roads, but I didn’t even need to stop and get a map. I simply plugged “LA” into my iPhone and within moments it was telling me where to go.

Fast-forward three hours later, I’d played through the album I’d downloaded from the cloud around four times solid. The sun was setting over the ocean to the west. I had the windows down on my Mazda 3, cold air was rushing across my face… and it hit me:

I was a cyborg. I had been from the start.

Excerpted from Augmented Humanity