Dirk Knemeyer

Historical Trends & The Future of Embeddables, September 1, 2016

it’s the nascent embeddable future coming to life. It’s an example of why embeddables are the way to go which is convenience, which is integrating the digital interaction into how we move through the world instead of through analog cars of the past or clunky smartphones of the present. I thought it was great that a student was doing it. So often it is the younger people who are seeing the opportunities and putting together solutions because they’re able to see the world from a frame of reference that’s more modern than older people whose frame of reference is just definitionally more dated.

Right now we’re in the clumsy, hacky, start of things. Eventually it will be very integrated and very custom. Our whole society has been shifting towards an acceptance of these things and I’ll talk about a few different things. One of them is frankly the existing, old school, analog tattoos. We’ve seen over the last 15-20 years those move from the realm of lower class/tough drunk guy on a bad night realm of society into many soccer moms running around with tattoos. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. There’s been a huge social shift to mainstream acceptance of tattooing as something that is done by many parts of society, not just certain and generally more marginalized ones. The trend to tattooing is also a trend to a comfort level with body modification which is greasing the skids for the future for sure.

The other trend to talk about is plastic surgery. That one is not as mainstream as tattooing yet but there’s a lot of people who are really comfortable getting their boobs sliced open and having bags of jelly shoved in there, or who are really comfortable having their face chopped up in different ways to look younger or if it doesn’t work out well sometimes it doesn’t look younger. There’s definitely a segment of society that’s super comfortable with everything that goes with plastic surgery. Now we’ve got the digital stuff and the science catching up. The comfort level on that isn’t here yet but it’s going to come and there’s a few examples I’ll use.

One is it was in 2000 that I got lasik surgery. That’s a surgery where you are laid down on an operating table and your eyes are literally carved open and altered. If you had told me in 1990, ten years before, “Oh hey Dirk. There’s going to be this thing you’ll be able to do and they’ll carve your eyes open and you’ll be able to see better.” I would have said, “That’s gross. No way. I would never do that. That’s crazy talk.” In those ensuing ten years, as the technology changed, as the social acceptance changed my view on it changed and it reached a point where scientifically … I use scientifically as if it’s in a lab but this is in a more applied with what eye doctors are doing, they’re saying, “No. This is safe, it’s okay. You can come in and do it. It might be painful, there might be this side effect, that side effect, these bad things. But you’re going to be able to see well and it’s going to cost an affordable amount of money and not take very much time.” I’m like, “Sign me up. Let’s go for it.”

That’s an example of the impact that science has on our perceptions. Just in the last week I read two stories that made me very uncomfortable. One was about a face transplant. I’ve read about face transplants in the past. This one, and again it’s a little too gross so I didn’t’ click into the story, but it was about a firefighter or soldier or someone, and it showed in the little photo caption of the story this photo of this disfigured face, this photo of this face that looked like it was wearing an odd mask, to this third photo of this third face that looked slightly off. That was the face transplant for me. I didn’t want to go deeper into the story, wimpy little me but face transplants are a thing now. That story today is going to make me feel a little weird. At some point in the future I’ll meet someone with a face transplant. It’ll feel a lot less weird once it’s real and it’s a person and not just this thing that seems bizarre.

The other one I read this week was about hand transplants. A child had their hands transplanted, it was talking about how miraculous it is. How life has totally changed and how wonderful a hand transplant is. I’m reading this story and I’m looking down at my hand and I’m like, “I can’t imagine somebody else’s freaking hands on my body. Oh my goodness gracious, lock the front door,” but this is the evolution. Just like in 1990 I would have thought it was nuts to be strapped down and have my eyes cut and try and fix them. Ten years later I was like yeah let’s do it. Sign me up. Right now these things are seeming odd but I’m sure if I was burnt horribly and disfigured and was hideous to look at I might be interested in a face transplant even today. If it’s a necessity forcing it in. I’m trying to throw a lasso around all of these different trends from tattooing to plastic surgery to the beginnings of massive transplanting of the self with faces and hands to where embeddables are going.

It’s just inevitable. In the 2020s that will be the decade of a lot of things. It will be the decade of driverless cars and it will be the decade of embedded digital technology. Again, I’ve probably mentioned this on the show before but when I give talks now around anything in this direction I say to the audience, by 2030 I’m confident I’m going to be a cyborg and probably a lot of you are going to be too. You see their faces like, “No fucking way.” In 2025 it’s going to look a lot different.

The problem right now with embeddables and I think why embeddables seem scary to most is that the stories you read are clumsy. There was one last year about German teenagers who embedded lights into their hands. The lights that they embedded were these big chunky red lights and they had these big scars on their hands. I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s so intrusive and for what? So you can have this novelty thing.” After you’ve done it like the second time to a person you go, “Enough with the lights dude. I get it. It’s not cool anymore.” It’s all about the use cases. The use cases synthesizing with the social readiness, synthesizing with the right technology so it’s not overly intrusive relative to people’s tolerances to alter themselves.


Humanity as User Interface, May 12, 2016

The whole wearables thing is just a transitional phase. Embeddables are going to be where it’s at. Wearables are going to be clumsy clunky junk.

When you let your mind sort of go crazy and explore, it seems like dystopia all over the place, but, I don’t think the technologies will manifest that way. The technologies can’t manifest that way, and here’s why. To take your example of employers, employers being up in your shit, every damn thing you do at work, it’s not feasible, and the reason it’s not feasible is we as humans are not robots. We are going to rest, we are going to take moments where we are not linearly kerchunking away like John Henry on the railroad on the exact thing the employer wants us to do right in front of ourselves. If that level of monitoring existed, it would spoil the relationship between virtually every employee and every employer everywhere in the world, and that’s not going to happen, so, yes, there are a lot of interesting questions about where this could go, what could happen, how it impacts us, but a lot of them wouldn’t even be manifest because they would undermine the very fabric of reality.

We’re a long way away … I shouldn’t say that because neuroscience is moving very quickly, but we certainly don’t have a coherent sense yet of, and of course, it would have to be different for each person because we’re all wired so differently, but, we don’t yet have a coherent sense of the optimal way to work is in four hour shifts with two and a half hours being kerchunking, and a half an hour being daydreaming, and fifteen minutes being a power nap. At some point, that kind of stuff will be figured out, but I think we’re a long way away from that and it would only be in the context of that deeper understanding of how the human animal optimally functions that that sort of analysis of how people are spending their time at work, what they’re doing really has any value. Until that, it’s just voodoo.

I’m picking on that one example to sort of push back against the whole waterfall of interesting thought examples you had of these crazy ways it could go. A lot of them aren’t going to go that way because it would be completely undermining to the basic systems and functions we have in place. The ones that we should probably be more concerned about are the ones that would be more at the level of the government, Big Brother, tracking. Right now with our cell phones, we can be tracked in pretty granular ways, probably more so than we realize, and maybe it’s even happening in ways beyond what my naïve little brain would allow for.

I don’t know that embeddables change the game that much. I think where I’m interested with embeddables, at the end of the day, our eyes, our hands, our mouth, and other parts of our body are part of a UI. They’re part of a user interface between ourselves and the outside world and we’re going to get to a point where those user interfaces are less important, possibly to the point of obsolescence because everything can be straight into our brain, into our central nervous system, into the neurological and endocrinological and psychological aspects of who and what we are, so, we’ll have direct mind-to-mind communication, be able to picture each other in fulsome ways from across the country or from across the world, to download not even the literal sense of how we think of download per se, but to download huge chunks of data and thought.

That’s coming, it’s not super close, but we’re on that path. That opens up a lot of real interesting questions because then the frontier becomes the brain, the frontier becomes the self. Right now, cyber terrorists or hackers are trying to crack our thumbprint. Right now, our thumbprint gets us into our phone. We’re also moving towards ocular technology, right. The technologies of high resolution, which you talked about before will make it trivial for someone to copy my eye-print. Somebody who is just way off, that I don’t even realize is there is getting a picture of my eye in a way that it could in a high resolution way reproduce it, and make sort of ocular authentication completely irrelevant. That’s all trivial and that’s all greatly coming pretty much as fast as ocular recognition technology itself comes.

To me, where it gets more freaky and more interesting is when the brain becomes the final battlefield, is when we move beyond the eye, the thumb, the lettered passwords to where it’s the brain is the true essential self that is somehow unlocking systems communicating externally. Our self representation in the world is largely from our mind and spirit, whatever that is or isn’t, and that is going to be the frontier of hacking and that is going to be the frontier of terrorism. I think that’s where really interesting stuff starts to come, and now I’m going pretty far down the road.

There is a lot of learning to do, and we mysticize and privilege humanity, but we really need to step back and deconstruct it and think that we are just an IO device. Our bodies are our user interfaces, and the fact of when the wind blows, it blows my skin which makes me feel something, which makes things happen in my brain, those are all things that science can get to the point of first understanding directly from wind hitting all the way through the totality of things that you think can feel in a certain way, but the next step is to replicate those things, and whether it be wind on the skin, or the things you’re hearing in your ears or seeing with your eyes.

At the end of the day, that can be chunked down into IO stuff, into data in and data interpreted, and data making systems fire within our system, and science is well down the path of figuring those things out, and, once it’s done, the sky is the limit. Science, technology, it’s been the applied technology that has really driven the digital revolution. The next revolution to come is one that is going to be driven by the science.


Hacking Synthetic Biology, April 7, 2016

If you think about, in the physical world, the notion of a virus, we’re exposed to real viruses, and they materially change our bodies sometimes in rapid and horrific ways. Once we created the internet and once we created the virtual world, so to speak, now humans create viruses that attack that, similar to the Ukraine power issue that you mentioned earlier and destroy those things. This is sort of like the third level. We’re changing the world in a way that code can change our bodies, that code could, in theory, operate as a virus within us. The technology’s not there yet, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s coming.

What does that look like, and how can it be controlled? We sure as hell don’t control viruses on the internet. We certainly don’t control viruses in the hardware and software that we have today. That’s relatively easy to fix. You wipe your computer. It’s a day or two of hassle, and then you’re back and ready to go. If people can start rewriting the code inside of us in malicious ways, that’s nasty. This is science fiction at this point, of course, but because I’m not very well educated on these areas of science and engineering, that’s certainly where I go, not from the standpoint of like, “Oh my God. I’m so scared about this. We can’t let it continue.” I kind of take for granted that it’s coming inevitably. Of all the things we talk about, this is probably the one that I think is, for me at least, most alarming in terms of the potential consequences.


Hacked to Death, January 21, 2016

There will be nasty [hacking] events. The question is, will there be a few nasty events because things have been locked down properly in advance, or will there be many nasty events because we’re going to learn more from the school of hard knocks than we might like. The part of it that I’m most concerned about has to do with implantables.

The smart city stuff, there’s not a lot there that can kill people. That can have that type of an impact, but I’m concerned about the things that could take life by virtue of a virtual hack. We’re going to have to be very diligent in protecting against those because it’s going to be evermore seductive to implant things in or on our body for people with maybe diabetes to regulate our endocrinology, regulate endocrinology even for other not just diseases, but just conditions and states of being, or more advanced tools for regulating the heart. All these things that a hack could directly end up taking a life. We’re heading towards that.

I think there will be moments where hacks do take people’s lives. That’s where it gets really hairy.


The Mainstreaming of Cyborgs, December 28, 2014

I think what will happen in 2015 is the media coverage is going to become really more extensive, that we’re going to see stories in mainstream media as well as certainly more technical media. We’ll see a lot more of it in things like Fast Company, of course, but even in mainstream media of the emerging class of cyborgs.

When I first thought about this when I was doing my predictions a few months ago, very shortly thereafter I saw a story on CNN where they were talking about a cyborg. It was just ridiculous where they had this guy and he had this thing attached to the back of his neck and this hoop came over the top of his head, right in front of his face. I go, oh, my God, they’re calling this a cyborg. This just in: it’s ridiculous. I’m sure there’s some functional benefit from it, but the usability and the unrealistic nature of the device is just goofy. But they were calling it a cyborg. There is a mainstream media example of a cyborg, and it’s just going to increase. The devices are going to be less goofy, they’re going to be more useful, they’re going to be more integrated. That word cyborg and examples of cyborgs are going to become more and more and more common.