There’s an interesting article published on CNet – Meet the metaverse, your new digital home. The article describes a not-too-distant future where our physical analog lives become intertwined with the virtual world of digital information. It includes the following comment, describing a project to create perfect digital memories:
“If lifelogging technology becomes commonplace, those who have access to complete records have a distinct advantage over those who still rely on their faulty ‘meat’ memories.”
What?! Who came up with the proof that because our ‘meat’ memories aren’t always accurate then they must be faulty? There’s a brilliant short book that describes why it is, in fact, a distinct advantage to have incomplete and inaccurate records – ‘A Mind of its Own: How your brain distorts and deceives‘ by Cordelia Fine.
The challenge with technology advances is the ability (and temptation) to skip evolutionary steps. If storing and retrieving perfect memories is considered such an advantage, why have we evolved differently? There is at least one scenario that would hugely benefit from change: eye-witness accounts (notoriously unreliable due to our inconsistent memories). There are lots of scenarios that might not. We need to understand why we are what we are before we decide features are faulty and need to be fixed.
I am a big fan of augmenting our biological capabilities using technology. For starters, I wouldn’t be able to read the words I am typing without technology correcting my eye-sight (not waiting for evolution to fix that one). Combining physical and virtual worlds is a logical step forward. Imagine a simple scenario. Yesterday some family friends came to visit. These friends have something in common – they are all deaf. Fortunately, we can share a common language – sign language. Or we ought to be able to. A few years ago I studied for British Sign Language Stage 1. But because I don’t use it on a daily basis, my skills are right up there with my verbal skills to speak French and German (both studied at school). I started to pick up signs and phrases by watching the others communicate, but I was still very rusty and felt excluded from the conversation (I know how they feel in ‘normal’ situations). What would have helped would have been a device that could download digital images/videos of the signs I was trying to remember and visually project them so that I could do a better job of joining in the conversation. Now that would be a useful augmentation.
But these augmentations carry the potential to challenge and disrupt behaviours that have evolved over time and made us who we are. I worry when I read reports that claim our evolutionary behaviour is ‘faulty’. The authors may be right – what worked in the past may not apply to our future – but that doesn’t mean they can (or should) correct the ‘fault’ in a single technological step. We need to consider what the consequences might be.
Related blog posts:
- Advances in search and retrieval (November 2006)
- Do we want the truth? (January 2006)
- The Puppet Master (Dec 2005)