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Martijn's blog

donderdag, februari 02, 2012

How social life will change profoundly – the potential impacts of transhumanism

I think my eyes opened for the concept of the singularity after seeing a documentary by Frank Theys called 'Technocalyps' a few years ago. Although not purely about the singularity it gave me insights into a lot of the concepts connected to it and it brought some order in my mind around various memes and concepts I had been following or researching (as a wanna-be / amateur futurologist or trend watcher). The various technological developments, scenario's of possible futures and people involved have been fascinating to me for various reasons. One reason always stands out; the potential impact on social life. It is the idea that the impact of technology on our daily lives in the future will be vastly different from today that makes my pulse go faster. Out of all the interesting near-future or longer-term future concepts connected to the singularity there is one that I feel is going to impact our daily lives the most and that is the concept of 'Transhumanism.'


Transhumanism is essentially the enhancement of humans. It is regarded as a subset of post-humanism and the word is formed by the combination of transcendence and humanism. The definition according to Wikipedia reads as follows:

'Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.'

Most enhancements are of bio-technological or information-technology origin. Examples would include brain enhancements either through genetic engineering or 'smart drugs', or physical enhancements such as high-tech prosthetics or technological gadgets. A lot of these ideas have been woven into science fiction scenario's such as William Gibson's 'Cyberpunk' or the movie 'Gattaca'. Transhumanism is all about the human race taking charge of our evolutionary process and adapting our 'being' to new or long-existing needs.

Transhumanistic examples today

Although a lot of this sounds like science fiction, the acceleration of many technologies often discussed when talking about the singularity are already there today - and not just in labs and other experimental settings. Let me highlight three examples of transhumanism widely practiced today; brain enhancing drugs, smartphones and brain-pacemakers.

We have been using 'drugs' to help us perform better for many many years already. Products such as coffee help us focus and/or get more energy when needed. Over the last years I feel we've really started to go beyond this with more and more people using drugs to enhance their academic performance. In a commentary in the journal Nature a few years back, two Cambridge University researchers reported that about a dozen of their colleagues had admitted to regular use of prescription drugs like Adderall, a stimulant, and Provigil, which promotes wakefulness, to improve their academic performance. The former is approved to treat attention deficit disorder, the latter narcolepsy, and both are considered more effective, and more widely available, than the drugs circulating in dorms a generation ago. Surveys of college students have found that from 4 to 16 percent say they have used stimulants or other prescription drugs to improve their academic performance. Should we call this cheating? Or is this more similar to using a calculator instead of calculating by yourself with pen and paper? If the demand is there (and the numbers above seem to indicate that it is) surely new, better, drugs will be developed and used by sizable portions of society. Will access to these drugs make a difference in academic results and are we OK with that? An academic degree in the near future might not say that much about the intrinsic capability of a person, but maybe more about his or her ability to get things done / make things work. Surely it will improve the productivity of the general population as technology generally seems to do.

A second example is our smartphones. The ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones and smartphones has been staggering and suddenly a large part of (the rich world) society has an extension to him or herself that enhances their capabilities enormously. It is almost weird to see how easily we accept and adopt this - your smartphone allows you to know where you are and how to get to places you have never visited before. Remember discussions in a bar about who that actor was in this and that movie - cracking minds until someone would remember. Now whip out this new 'extension of your body' and google the answer. Having a personal device connected to the internet with you at all times has enhanced the human capability enormously. But again, even though probably a lot less controversial than brain-enhancing drugs, the social effects have been clear to almost everyone in the developed world by now. Go into any social place, like bars, public transport or city squares and observe how many people are interacting with their (smart)phones. Many of you will have seen groups of people having dinner while at some moments half or more of the group are engaged with their smartphones and (at least) less engaged with the group. In my eyes we're still in the phase of technology adoption where new social rules need to be collectively figured out, but also where most of us need to learn how much more we can accomplish because we have devices with us in our pockets.

A third example of today’s technology that I feel is part of transhumanism are brain-pacemakers. We have all heard about pacemakers that assist our heart when that fails (also transhumanistic I feel) but less known to the general public are brain-pacemakers that help patients that suffer from epilepsy or Parkinson's disease. It is a medical device that is implanted into the brain to send electrical signals into the tissue to stimulate parts of the brain. Where the first two examples really enhance the basic human condition now, this example is more about curing people from a disability. It is, however, in my opinion, an example of current-state technology that if further developed can potentially affect more functions in our brain including stimulating it in such a way that we can go beyond our basic capabilities. What initially will be very expensive 'upgrades' to how our brains work could conceivably produce a 'cognitive-divide' where the rich will be able to enhance themselves and be more competitive versus the rest. We are already living in a world where technology helps 'superstars' in media, banking and IT gain immense rewards. Brain enhancing technology like future versions of the brain implant in this example will only accelerate that trend and increase inequality.

These are three examples of today - we've not even touched the impact of future advancements such as an upcoming leap in longevity (how long before most us live to become 100 to 150 years old) and brain-machine interfaces that allow us an almost telepathic access to computers and the internet. All of these, either today, or in the short or longer term future will have a unbelievable impact on core concepts of most of today's society; capitalism, democracy, equality under the law etc.

Why the discussion matters

Part of Transhumanism is very much science fiction, but more and more it is becoming today's reality. We need to think about it and discuss it today if we want to ensure this trend will be beneficial to at least most of humanity - if not all. I see descriptive articles on transhumanism starting to hit mainstream media such as Time magazine or the Economist with some thought on the social consequences but I feel it's time for the real discussion to start. I'm looking forward to many great discussions going forward and I do invite every reader to participate as of today!

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donderdag, oktober 07, 2010

Siberian tiger campaign uses Augmented Reality

zondag, november 01, 2009

The new conferences – web enabled


I visited eComm in Amsterdam last week – a conference on emerging communication with a high-paced information packed program. I enjoyed it but afterwards reflected a little bit on how internet ‘backchannels’ are changing the way we experience these conferences.

A couple of years ago, when twitter was still very young, Mobile Monday in Amsterdam used a twitter backchannel that was projected behind the speaker. I loved it although I can imagine as a speaker it’s actually less so (especially when people tweet that what you are saying is nonsense or make jokes that make the audience laugh while you have no clue). I started appreciating it even more later when it allowed me to follow conferences while being at my desk in the office, without visiting the conference itself (perfect in combination with a live video feed).

Now at eComm there were several backchannels; of course people used twitter for which I set up a search in tweetdeck, but we also used Google Wave at this conference and a public Skype chat/channel for eComm. I followed them and participated in all.

And man!….was that exhausting. Switching between the channels, reacting, tweeting, listening and watching all at the same time while also making notes on my pc. It was too much!! I had a hard time actually following the people in front of me on stage.

It made me think about the backchannel phenomenon. On the one hand it is great and supplies non-visitors with a way to follow what’s happening but making notes and looking at the backchannel does distract from the most important thing; the presentations / demo’s etc themselves!

Maybe it’s time for a backchannel aggregator to read comments and a automatic transcription of things that are being said and get some time back to actually listen :) I’ll be the first customer!

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dinsdag, oktober 20, 2009

My iPhone as mobile television


Since I bought my iPhone last April I have been playing extensively with new apps and trying out dozens of podcasts. I cannot express how much I love this device and would almost (not totally ;) ) say it has become an expansion of my body; I have it around and in use constantly.

But not only has it become an extension of myself – even more it has become an expansion of my television; or maybe I should say visual media consumption; I actually don’t watch that much television in the traditional way any more; only the news in the evening, sometimes sports and maybe a cool series (like Flash Forward which I’m following now). And even there I turn to the web more and more (50% of FlashForward episodes I watched via the web at a time that suited me better). Most of my video/visual consumption is now online or on a DVD.

With more and more podcasts being video, and some real quality video’s being published as podcast I have noticed that I’m using my iPhone more and more as my viewing device. I regularly watch TED.com video’s, the Onion news or even episodes of ‘Lost’ on my iPhone while commuting to or from work, while travelling or in the evening in bed before I go to sleep. All in all it has become my mobile TV.

Now when I was travelling in Korea and Japan in 2007 I spotted many people watching television on their mobile phone. With mobile television launched in some countries I still have to spot the mobile TV viewers in Europe or the US (I’m sure they’re out there though…somewhere…hidden). Maybe iPhones and Android phones will be the enablers of mobile TV here, although more in a time-shifted way as my current usage on my phone.

If anyone has interesting suggestions for good podcasts or Youtube channels to watch on my iPhone – please leave them in the comments section; I will reward the best suggestion (if there is more than 1 person submitting by November 30th) with a Apple Store voucher of 5 euro!

Please find some of my favourites below – enjoy the video’s! They can be found via iTunes:

  • - TED.com (my absolute favourite)
  • - Mobile Monday Amsterdam
  • - Onion news network
  • - Wired Science Video Podcast

  • - Lost (the series – paid unfortunately)


vrijdag, september 18, 2009

Nice Paypal video on the future of payments

Another one in a series of future visioning video's - Paypal's view on the future of payments.


donderdag, september 17, 2009

A Nokia vision on Augmented Reality

A nice video by Nokia on a possible Augmented Reality future (or mixed reality as they call it)


zondag, september 06, 2009

eBay selling 65% of Skype

The big news this week for me was the sale of 65% of the Skype shares by eBay. Good news for Skype I think - it will take some pressure off that comes with being part of a listed company. And the investors that have bought the 65% seem to be a really great group of people with a lot of experience, knowledge and vision to support Skype's growth.

It's a mixed end for eBay; I think they were under so much pressure from the general analyst and media mood on the skype acquisition which only a sale could solve. On the other hand they say goodbye to one of their growth engines. I feel it's smart that they have kept the 35% and will make a very nice gain on that when they sell that in a couple of years.

There was a lot of blogging coverage - I felt the following two were interesting enough to mention; Michael Arrington's post after the sale was confirmed and the New York times analysis by Joe Nocera which I found interesting.



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Back to Blogging

It has been more than 20 months since I've posted on this blog - so I'm guessing I've lost all or most of the few souls that did visit here. Nevertheless I'll re-boot and start writing again; about ecommerce, innovation, trends and online marketing - but also about communications, futurology, social media and anything else that interests me.

I'm thinking of giving the blog a new name, moving to Wordpress and giving a total overhaul - but I'll just start by putting words back on the page.

I'll continue to blog in english - any dutch readers will be able to understand I assume and will of course open up my thoughts and ideas to a wider audience.

Let's see where we'll get from here....