In your face

and of course, the apocalypse

Via Andrew Sullivan I saw Adam Ozimek’s post about brain-mounted computers. His game theory language aside, I’ve been talking for some time about how screens in contact lenses are inevitable and will cause a major paradigm shift.

Why would they be useful? They would allow for heads-up displays of information as people move through the world (imagine somebody’s facebook information appearing beside them.) It would be the screens in minority report, but on the real world. Gone would be the idea of a computer separate from our real world – you’d be able to “pick up” a file and throw it at somebody to transfer it to them, either with your hands or your brain.

Ozimek argues that the appeal of the contact lenses will be that people can seem smart and nobody would know if they were using one, but that’s not how technology is adopted. In the early stages of the technology, it will not be possible to use it seamlessly. Expect bulky, visible glasses with information clearly visible in reverse to others. Early adopters at this stage will be extremely proud of their purchases. It will go from geeky to cool (probably extremely quickly.) By the time the contacts get to the point where they are invisible, the technology will be so common that it will not be a sneaky competitive advantage.

Who will use these? I’m biased by who I know, but I predict it will happen in highly specialized sciences, then physics, then other sciences, then medicine. At some point there will likely be implants that offer even greater functionality, and I predict that doctors will be among the first to use them. The intense competition in the field, rapid pace of progress, and the usefulness of quick information access in day-to-day medical practice means that doctors who are not able to learn and relearn rapidly evolving technology will get left behind at a rate faster than other professions.

As for Ozimek’s conjecture that we will lose our capacity for memory, I agree. As long as this network we’ve built remains, I believe that expanding our conception of “our own memory” to a kind of hive mind of information is not necessarily a bad thing. However, yes, we are losing our minds. Most people lost the ability to fashion tools when bartering, and then mass production, came about. Most people lost the ability to memorize text when mass production came about. We should consider the disaster scenarios in our future and ensure we have people who can lead us through them. We want to still be able to build a car, a rocket, a company, a civilization if our internet is destroyed, if a continent is destroyed, etc. It’s more than just one technology – it’s an overall strategy.

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