Will We Adapt to Embedded Body Technology?

Image by chenspec from Pixabay

You’ve probably read of or watched a futuristic video with some kind of screen projected on our wrist, or perhaps contact lenses that project information onto our eyes? Or heard of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) with an embedded chip in our brains? Several companies, including NeuraLink owned by Elon Musk, are developing them. But will we were them? Will we adapt to them? Are they inevitable in the Cognitive Age?

That they will play a part in our future as we adapt to digital technologies that are increasingly looking to connect us biologically with technology. But how that will happen and how they’ll actually be used is hard to know for sure. Often, the reasons a breakthrough technology get invented aren’t the final purpose they become used for.

Alexander Bell invented the telephone thinking people would use it to listen to a live orchestra and opera music, not to talk to people. Édouard-Leon Scott de Martinville invented the phonautograph, the earliest sound recording device, thinking people would record their ideas and communications with friends and family and send them off to them to listen to. The phonautograph was the precursor to the record player. People used it to listen to music and the telephone to talk to other people.

Remember Google Glass and those who wore them being called “glassholes”? They’ve disappeared from the consumer market but have found successful use in industrial settings and manufacturing.

A key factor to how any technologies and certainly digital technologies and even more so technologies that may become embedded in our bodies is culture. We use culture as the knowledge to evolve and develop our societies. Culture is critical to human evolution. Most Western cultures today are focused on the “me” whereas Asian cultures tend to think more in terms of “we” and are more egalitarian in nature. A Western person might first see a new technology and ask “what’s in it for me?” while an Asian person would ask “what impact will this have on my community?”

People in Western societies may look at embedded technologies like a BCY or a chip and prioritize how it helps them live, work or play better. An Asian culture would wonder how it might impact family relations, be perceived in the workplace and out in public. Features that work in the USA or Germany would unlikely be acceptable in China or Thailand.

Another cultural issue that will impact embedded technologies is the current state of public mistrust for such technologies. Just look at the roll-out of 5G and opposition groups across Western cultures. The view being that 5G radiates our brains (this is impossible), and that companies and governments will use 5G to monitor us and try to do things to our brains. Anyone who thinks governments are that organised, well…

The time it takes a culture to adopt a technology and adapt its use can vary widely. We used to have a lot of time to consider what technologies we liked, didn’t like and how we adapt them to our own culture. The arrival of the internet and subsequent technologies like social media and smartphones became so widely and quickly accepted across almost all cultures globally that the time/space we had has been dramatically reduced. This has also created a turbulent environment for evolving technologies from embedded technology to Artificial Intelligence, robots and genetics. The information environment of human societies has always been messy. Now it’s messier than ever.

Embedded technologies that will reside in our brains or other parts (beyond pacemakers and pumps) that are connected to the internet or networks, will have to overcome significant sociocultural hurdles as well as personal inhibitions (that are also shaped by our cultural environment.) Chances are, they’ll most likely see use initially in niche markets, such as healthcare. Imagine if a BCI could help dementia patients or those with spinal injuries to walk again?

Once people have a chance to see these technologies at work in our societies and narratives develop in a positive way from the stories told, more uses and applications will emerge. Body modifications are present in many cultures and have been for thousands of years, but they play significant meaningful roles, from tattoos to extending necks or massive ear rings and Geisha girl feet modifying. These factors will impact the evolution of technology we embed in our bodies.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious