BdyHax 2017 Top of Mind

I was, what we call in Texas, “dog sick” this past weekend. Likely the result of 2 straight weeks of travel + weather changes + being-around-recently-sick-people.

bdyhax-4But that didn’t keep me from getting over to the Austin Convention Center for a 45-minute walk through of the  exhibits at the 2nd Annual Bodyhacking conference, Jan 27-29.

I was intrigued when I heard about the conference a year ago from my Austin tech colleague Christopher Calicott of Trammell Ventures, to the point which I volunteered to serve in a modest capacity on the Advisory Board.

It was an attempt to bring together a range of products, services & technologies which on first blush seemed unrelated or modestly related at best. Things like tattooing, body art, implantable medical devices (think pacemakers),

…AND lifestyle sensors (think Ethereum– or NFC-enabled), 3D printing, machine/human prosthetics, cognitive-targeted nutrition,

bdyhax-1…AND wearable art/haute coutre, AR and VR, all-things-wearable (Fitbits, Apple watches, etc.) and more!

But, the more you think about these categories, and especially extend them into the future, beyond what you know or see today, the more you begin to see how the case can be made for pulling them all together into a single, conference program, unified around the “future self” — what’s inside us, on us, around us, etc.

Here’s what caught my eye, during my walkthrough:

bdyhax-2Fashion: the garments on display seemed to make a big tip of the hat to the iconic work of the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, which just finished a smashing run in the U.S. at the Grand Rapids Art Museum!

Haptics everywhere: back in 2010, I wrote about haptic tech being the “next communications breakthrough” and, to some extent, many of the products I saw told me that my hunch remains on target. Products on display from Somatic Labs, Neosensory, Omius, and Brainport were all examples of processing various sensory (e.g., visual or audio signals), environmental, or other data sources by translating and conveying  them in “touch” on the wrist, on the upper body, etc.

In particular, take a look at the Moment, by Somatic Labs. In addition to experimenting with the initial apps they are releasing, the team plans to provide access to the device via a set of developer-friendly APIs. I think it will be fascinating to see what developers might do, especially when you start thinking about platforms like Slack or IFTTT.

BTW: you can get an additional $20 discount on the Moment with pre-orders by using the promo code: BDYHAX.

bdyhax-3VR and AR inescapability: They (as well as AI and “big data”) are the darling of this decade. At the moment, a lot of experimentation going on — definitely akin to social media 1.0 products from 10+ years ago, with playfulness and creativity remaining a big VR theme.

As a counterpoint, I’m eager to see what VR and AR demos Capital Factory rolls out in its new first floor expansion space, expected around SXSW 2017, two months hence — it should be epic and, I’m betting, more balanced between work and play apps.

So, those are my top-of-mind observations from 2017. Much, much more to come, no doubt, in this fascinating, poly-product tech marketspace.

Ten Favorite Futurists

1137px-van_gogh_-_starry_night_-_google_art_projectThis is a Top Ten list of books, stories, and one documentary film written by or about my all-time, favorite futurists…a label, by the way, that several (most?) of them might have resisted.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932) — I’ve always favored this vision of the future more than Orwell’s dystopian vision in 1984 because it has rung truer. For me, the future is less likely one where we are tortured and frightened into submission, but moreso one in which we are seduced and willingly manipulated into complacency.

On Computable Numbers, Alan Turing (1936) — I’m amazed at the genius of this paper, produced by Turing when he was at university. He literally invented the concept for the modern computer out of pure thought.

The Veldt, Ray Bradbury (1950) — Bradbury is my all-time favorite science fiction writer. This short story of unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned technology (a frequent theme) was a first introduction for me to concepts we see in virtual reality and smart home tech today.

The Cuckoo’s Egg, Clifford Stoll (1989) — Stoll’s book on tracking a cybersecurity break-in, written like a thriller, was my first exposure to the hidden world of hackers, white and black hats, and the global threats & protections that are part of our worldwide networks.

Heavy Weather, Bruce Sterling (1994) — I go see Sterling speak every year at SXSW Interactive. This book was my first exposure to climate change…published a dozen years before Al Gore’s breakthrough documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Marc Seifer (1996) — Tesla is the prototypical, 20th century example of a person who struggles all of their life to achieve the level of financial and professional success that, upon historical reflection, they seem due — even when they have both the genius and the work ethic, during their lifetime, that most would say are “all you need.” In certain respects, I think Tesla’s life is one of the great reminders of the career cliché “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

The Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine and others (2000) — the guys nailed the open source and social media waves to come, upon the commercialization of the internet and the world-wide web. They are great examples of modern-day futurists, whose rewards are more reputational than financial.

The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil (2006) — there is no greater, present manifesto supporting the unwavering truth of an AI-dominant future. In other words, this book makes clear “the question isn’t ‘if’ it’s ‘when'” the singularity occurs and how we have prepared for that moment.

You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier (2010) — if Kurzweil is the gas pedal, then I view Lanier as the break pedal. Not a fully fair analogy, because both have thrown fuel and water on the fires of tech hype. But this book and Lanier’s 2013 follow-up, Who Owns the Future, are counterpoint appeals to putting the needs of individual people first — especially the creative class —  ahead of technology.

David Bowie: Five Years, Francis Whately (2013) — this documentary, somewhat like the biography of Tesla, captures the lightning of genius. Watching it provides glimpses, through the stories of others, of what it’s like to be a member of the supporting cast of a one-of-a-kind creator, in real-time, during the most productive and iconic phases of their lives.

Four Gourgeous Dillard Excerpts

dillard-for-the-time-beingI read a lot. Weekly trips to the public library are my substitute for the farmers market runs of others.

It used to be, when I chose and checked out a book, that I felt an obligation to read the whole thing. Probably  a common trait among many boomers, whose parents were children of the great depression and, thus, felt compelled to finish anything given to them, whether a serving of luke-warm peas or a library book.

But, as an adult, I began to exercise discretion and began making quicker judgments about likes and dislikes in my book selections. Now, I’ll quit a book 10 pages in, 100 pages in…occasionally, when I simply grow tired of the subject, 3 or 4 days after the initial infatuation that moved me to check it out.

Perhaps this is why, when I find a book and author that I really enjoy, I latch onto their words that much more ravenously. This is the case, this year, with the writer Annie Dillard. Her book – For The Time Being – was a joy to read. Here are four excerpts, vividly described, which I hope will give you a glimpse of what the book offers. Enjoy!

#1

serinus_canaria_lc0210Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then shadow sweeps it away.

You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.

Kazantzakis says that when he was young he had a canary and a globe. When he freed the canary, it would perch on the globe and sing. All his life, wandering the earth, he felt as though he had a canary on top of his head, singing.

#2

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Certain Indians used to carve long grooves along the wooden shafts of the arrows. They called the grooves “lightning marks,” because they resembled the curved fissure lightning slices down the trunks of trees.

The function of lightning marks is this: If the arrow fails to kill the game, blood from a deep wound will channel along the lightning mark, streak down the arrow shaft, and spatter to the ground, laying a trail dripped on broad leaves, on stones, that the barefoot and trembling archer can follow into whatever deep or rare wilderness it leads.

I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.

#3

1990-issue_us_penny_obverse_2It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny.

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

#4

Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about 30 percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me.

total_internal_reflectionAs for what I do see, a nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices it, editing it for my brain.

Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it really is.”

Three Books On Living and Dying

when-breath-becomes-airI read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air  this weekend. It is a great book; one worth owning, so you can refer back to it at moments of need.

I dog-eared several pages of my library copy, which I’ll share below. But, first, I want to mention to other books that are favorites by doctors.

First is The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks.

the-man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hatThis book shows shares stories from Sacks’ practice, working with people who have neurological conditions. His patients were men, women, children, old, young, from many countries and means.

He writes about their conditions with a combination of curiosity, wonder, and compassion. Ever the detective, he describes how each situation presented its unique challenge for diagnosing and often, though not always, treating.

how-we-dieNext is How We Die, by Sherwin Nuland. Using a series of stories as the set up for each chapter, Dr. Nuland describes the variety of ways that people die, from old age, to infectious disease, to massive trauma, by way of accident or intent (e.g., homicide and suicide), and other causes of death.

In each case, he transitions from a vivid, personal accounting of death from the perspective of the patient, to a scientific, clinical description of the chemical, biological, and physical forces that combine to bring about the end of life, from whatever triggering event(s) occurred.

But, far from cold-hearted, the book is an honest, comforting accounting of a subject that is too often avoided, even though it is a universality that every human being shares — from the richest to the poorest of us.

So, I recommend these three books to you, providing a trilogy of insight on humanity and death.

In closing, some of my favorite passages from When Breath Becomes Air.

kalanithi[For brain surgery patients], “the question is not simply whether to live or die, but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability – or your mother’s – to talk for a few extra months of mute life? The expansion of your visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? Your right hand’s function to stop seizures? How much neurologic suffering would you let your child endure before saying that death is preferable? …What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

= = =

“In that first year (of medical residency), I would glimpse my share of death…At moments, the weight of it all became palpable. It was in the air, the stress and misery. Normally, you breathed it in, without noticing it. But some days, like a humid, muggy day, it had a suffocating weight of its own. Some days, this is how it felt when I was in the hospital: trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the families of the dying pouring down.”

= = =

“Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms. Most lives are lived with passivity towards death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you….Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you  are ceaselessly striving.”

= = =

kalanithi-family“There is only one thing to say [to your child(ren)], who is all future, overlapping briefly with you, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple.

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

END

Getting Hooked On Products

I recently swept through the book Hooked, by Nir Eyal. It was an easy read, presenting in clear, simple language mostly repackaged concepts from prior work of others.

I have no quarrel with that, btw, as I’d assert nearly every new best-selling book is a repackaging of prior work. The business book marketplace is built upon the premise of an endless appetite people have for insights, methods, and other promises of some slight advantage.

Who isn’t seeking knowledge that will “get you a step ahead” of your competition? But, back to Hooked

I jotted down a few of the more noteworthy take-aways, that I’ve shared below. If you are further intrigued by persuasion, reputation, and other topics of involving the intersection of technology and human behavior, read one of my posts from a few years ago and seek out the book Persuasive Technology.

So, without further delay, my Hooked excerpts:

= = =

img_9715_srgbWhen it comes to shaking consumers’ old habits, naïve entrepreneurs often find that better products don’t always win — especially if a large number of users have already adopted a competing product.

A classic paper by John Gourville, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, stipulates that “many business innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

Gourville claims that for new entrants to stand a chance, they can’t just be better; they must be nine times better. Why such a high bar? Because old habits die hard and new products or services need to offer dramatic improvements to displace the old routines.

= = =

img_9717_srgbWhile user habits are a boon to companies fortunate enough to engender them, their existence inherently males success less likely for new innovations and startups trying to disrupt the status quo. The fact is that successfully changing long-term user habits is exceptionally rare.

Altering behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade people to act — for example, the first time they land on a web page — but also necessitates getting them to repeat behaviors for long periods, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Companies that succeed in building a habit-forming business are often associated with game-changing, wildly successful innovation. But like any discipline, habit design has rules and caveats that define and explain why some products change lives while others do not.

= = =

img_9719_srgbIn his book “Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products,” author Denis J. Hauptly deconstructs the process of innovation into its most fundamental steps.

First, Hauptly states, understand the reason people use a product or service.

Next, lay out the steps the customer must take to get the job done.

Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.

Consequently, any technology or product that significantly reduces the steps to complete a task will enjoy high adoption rates by the people it assists.

= = =

img_9721_srgbExperiences with finite variability become less engaging because they eventually become predictable.

=  = =

END

Two quick End-Notes:

  1. You probably noticed, but the figures lacked any correlation to the content. They just happened to be the more interesting ones to me in the book
  2. If you are interested in my most highly recommended books from the past 20+ years, then browse my Amazon bookstore — enjoy!

This Is My Family

family 1

Not long ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. Chances are, you won’t truly understand it. But, hopefully, it will leave a mark on your memory, that causes you to remember singular images and phrases, as I did.

I won’t say much about it, other than to say the narrative device is that of a father’s extended letter to his son.

What I will mention is the depiction of the Dream that Coates writes about, as a central construct of the book. There are people (the “Dreamers”) who live their lives in total unquestioned, unthinking immersion in the Dream.

coates bookThen there are people who live their lives outside the Dream, or perhaps better said: excluded from the Dream. Perhaps, even better, threats to the Dream.

Shortly after I read the book, I had a dream inspired by the book. I dreamed that I awoke one morning to find that every black person was white and every white person was black.

As a newly transformed black man, living in Austin, you can imagine the scene I encountered going to work that day. Overnight, downtown Austin was transformed into a city that much more resembled downtown Atlanta or Memphis.

More remarkable was how I was treated, in my dream. All of a sudden, I felt an attitude that was colder, less helpful, more suspicious towards me. People took a slightly wider berth walking by me on the street.

Servers seemed a little slower to ask me for my order or if I needed help at the store. Was I just imagining it, or was this overnight change in how I felt real?

And then, I began to think about who I was…nothing about me had changed — I was the same person in every way — except that my skin was now black. My skin pigment was darker >> that was it!

Yet, as my dream leaped ahead (as REM-sleep dreams are wont to do), I began to experience discrimination, from the petty (name calling) to the significant, like being denied job interviews, passed over for leadership roles, getting fewer financial and VIP privileges than my white peers.

family 2

And, as I looked ahead – and backwards – I saw the accumulation of this discrimination across generations of my family. From the non-violent injustice of exclusion from schools, communities, and social groups, to the violence of confrontation, struggle, and crime.

Often, the violence was wrought by the desperate and those lost of hope of the same color skin as their closest neighbors, because they were nearest and easiest to rob.

And, the whole picture seemed so ridiculous to me. It seemed such a preposterous thing — that the color of one’s skin was the thing that triggered this generations-long, no, this millennia-long dividing of the powerful and the powerless.

It made no sense; there was no justification. Logic yes, in a perverse way, as a contest to get and keep power. But justice — as represented by life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the promise that all people are created equal — no.

And, in my dream, I finally began to develop a new awareness of the profound, unholy, and completely immoral unfairness of it all. This new, internal knowledge of what others deemed my “place” in life, and that of my family’s, was totally, comprehensively unacceptable.

I awoke and shared my dream with Rebecca. And, I thought about the Dream. And, I thought about members of my family who live in the Dream — both the black and white members of my family.

family 3Because, you see, the photos in this post are members of my family — my real family. They are my nephews, nieces, brothers, and cousins through marriage.

They are Larry, Lindsey, Shani, Logan, Harper, Ryan, Lori, Maya, and more!

They are smart, talented, strong, beautiful, funny, hard-working, loyal, trustworthy, silly and fun!

I love them and am thankful to be in the same family together.

I know that no amount of dreaming on my part, nor clearing away the real life miasma of the Dream that Coates writes of, can ever help me fully comprehend a life of fundamental unfairness.

Of being born the wrong color…or the wrong caste, tribe, gender, nationality — or any other irrational, inequitable “wrong” that absolutely lacks any connection to the true, the holy, the righteous.

So, I’ll leave you with this one question. Ask yourself: “Who is my family?”