While the topic of human augmentation may be taboo to many, humans have been trying to find ways of augmenting ourselves for centuries. One could argue that glasses were an invention that allowed us to augment our bad eyesight and that hearing aids augmented our bad hearing. As a woman who works in tech, Ive often wanted to explore the idea of how technology can help us live longer and live better. Im in some ways, what my futurist friend Kate ONeil has coined, a tech humanist.
My curiosity has led me to test a lot of new technologies and also work within the emerging tech industry thats crafting some of these solutions. In this article, Id like to share six times that Ive personally used technology to augment myself and share some of the lessons Ive learned along the way.
Our sense of touch is more important than ever. With handshakes gone due to the pandemic, I often worry that were on our way to becoming a touchless society. But one of the VR peripherals that offer some hope for us to be able to feel touch in virtual environments with haptic gloves.
I had a chance to demo VRgluv in Atlanta back in 2018. VRgluv is a wireless all-in-one force-feedback haptic glove for Virtual Reality. According to their website: When integrated into a custom VR training simulation, VRgluv allows users to see and use their own hands to seamlessly interact with the virtual training environment without the need to use a controller. VRgluv uses force feedback to recreate the size, shape, and material properties of virtual objects, tools, and interfaces. By stopping the fingers at the boundaries of the virtual objects, users experience significantly more realism and immersion when interacting with their virtual surroundings. These haptic sensations and visual confirmations allow trainees to work and train with objects that only exist in the digital world.
I put on a VR headset and the glove and was able to enter a virtual work simulation where I needed to pick up and move objects. The haptic feedback, the weight simulation, and the resistance of the virtual objects were all pretty realistic and to this day my brain believes that what we did was true and not a virtual simulation.
Im really enjoying the hand tracking on my Oculus Quest, so I look forward to seeing how VR hardware OEMs use peripherals like haptic gloves to give users the feeling of touch, and Im sure that neural interfaces are on the horizon as well.
It is often said that humans only use a certain percentage of their brainpower, so when I was given the chance to test out Neruable, a brain-machine interface device in April 2019, I jumped at the opportunity. Brain-machine interfaces (BMI) and brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are devices that enable direct communication between a brain and an external device. I was able to put on their BMI and a VR headset and I went into an experience that reminded me of Stranger Things. I used just my thoughts to input codes and throw items to escape a virtual room that I was trapped in. It was the first time I had tried anything similar and I was hooked.
Impressed by Neurable, I sought out to test more of these BCI devices. I got a chance to test NextMinds BCI at CES in January. During my demo, I was able to switch channels using just my thoughts, play duck hunt with my thoughts, and dim lights by just focusing on them. After this demo, I realized how much my brain enjoyed this workout.
I continued exploring and pre-ordered Neurositys Notion BCI developer kit, which arrived earlier this year. I can use this BCI to scroll my iPad with just my thoughts (yes, you read that right) and Im seeing developers create amazing applications for this dev kit.
It really does feel like Im pulling off a Jedi mind trick. Which leads me to the next superpower Ive experienced.
What if we could see through walls? Would that be your superpower of choice? While I havent been able to do this (at least not yet), I have been able to demo the Accuveins Vein Visualization device.
It got me to think about how augmented reality can make our lives better or easier, especially if one has a fear of needles?
In May 2019, I got a chance to demo the AR subcutaneous vein imagining finder from Accuvein at Jabils Blue Sky Center in Silicon Valley. This was a great example of how AR can provide true utility. This type of use of immersive tech will make my life better and the lives of many of their folks out there, especially children and the elderly. This use of AR helps take the guesswork out of finding the vein. In my opinion, it helps make the healthcare experience better for the patient and it helps the medical professional do their work faster and better.
The vein finder glides over your arm and can detect veins and blood flows, giving phlebotomists a sort of X-ray vision and helping them find the right vein.
One could also argue that when I use my spatial computing headset and venture into an app like Spatial for meetings with colleagues in the form of realistic avatars, that I also use some sort of X-ray vision to see whats not really in front of me.
Have you ever seen, felt, or smelled a tree in VR? Well, I all three at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017. I actually really did smell the redwoods in an interactive experience called Treehugger: Wawona where I put on a VR headset with a scent device over my noise and gloves with tracking devices. While there was not a concrete storyline, I did perceive this to be an innovative way to interact in VR through touch and smell and a
way forward for how we will be able to tell stories in VR using all the senses in the future. I walked away from this tree-hugging experience feeling energized as we had just done a whole hour of yoga. Its been one of my favorite VR experiences to date. It gave the phrase, stop to smell the roses, a lot more possible in a virtual world.
Mommy, are you a cyborg? my son asked.
I wasnt sure how to answer that question. I was living connected to a medical device that had to be on 24/7 and that needed to be charged often. It would beep when it was starting to run out of battery and beep constantly when it was almost out of charge. During that time I felt more like a Tesla than a cyborg.
Phrases such as:
I spent the last several months of 2019 recovering from medical complications post-surgery. My surgery wound wasnt healing as it should and my doctor recommended I start using a medical machine called a wound vac or negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) machine, to heal.
Having to don a medical computer all day, round the clock was daunting. Needless to say, it took a while to realize that the machine and I were essentially one for a span of 6 weeks, except during showers and dressing changes. I had to plug into the wall every so often to recharge the machine. If I had to go outside, I would carry the machine with me in a travel pouch. I slept with the machine on, worked with the machine on, did everything with it on. Living life with a medical machine gave me a new perspective on human augmentation.
See, while being a cyborg would seem cool, I felt more like a Tesla more than a cyborg. I had to recharge the machines battery every day, when the battery was low it would beep constantly and I had to run upstairs to plug in. This symbiotic relationship between woman and machine would only be effective if I charged it and it did its job.
Having these experiences have really lead me to think about human augmentation in a totally new way. It also got me thinking a lot about what the strategic foresight consultancy, Toffler Associates, refers to as the Bio-Digital Convergence, which is the intersection of human and machine, and the impact this convergence will have on our lives, our laws and even our sense of self.
Curiosity has led me to demo all these technologies and think through their connotations for humanity and for businesses and the possible futures where they can lead us. Its trends like these that are on the horizon and that will major implications for our businesses, our families, and our sense of self. Setting ethical best practices will be of the utmost importance so that in the future those who augment and those who do not have the same opportunities. Now the question is, what superpower would you choose and how would you use it for good?
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