Live blogging at the symposium: Eric Boyd, extending the limits of humans into “cyborg” territory

Hi! I’m Megan, the Online Communities Coordinator for Subtle Technologies.  Today and for part of tomorrow I will be live blogging for the festival.

First up today was Eric Boyd, a self-identified “transhumanist” and “digital crusader.” Eric likes to “augment” the human experience by turning cyborg ideas into realities. Eric says that with machines, “we can become more than we are,” meaning that we can actually adapt to technology to become almost super-human.  For example, when you use Eric’s “North Paw,” a compass anklet that gives a persistent sense of direction, your body adapts to the constant stimulus, your brain adapts and gives you a honing instinct, almost like a pigeon.  Because your brain has a certain amount of plasticity, and will maximize any resources it has, it will actually adapt to a new sense that it is presented with. In that way, we’re actually capable of learning and doing more than we do.

This particular invention can solve problems among pedestrians in big cities, like the disorientation you feel when you walk out of a subway station. But it’s particularly interesting exciting because it asks the question, “what are the limits of being human?”

I love people and ideas that make me question humanness. Artistic technologies like the North Paw actually make the user re-evaluate assumptions about the limits of being human.

As a Sociologist, I’m particularly interested in the effects of Eric’s other devise, which is more of a fashion/social piece.  With Heart Spark, a heart-shaped pendant which flashes little lights in time with your heart beat, you can actually reveal your heart beat in a public setting. This is fun to be sure, but like North Paw, this technology actually presents a more questions than it does answer problems. For example, how does it change the conversation if you can tell someone is excited or bored? How does it make people feel when you open doors on normally closed matters? The heart beat is something we normally don’t see; does it make people nervous or uncomfortable to have such inside knowledge into a stranger’s – or a friend, or partner’s – body, and by extension, feelings? Eric says yes: one woman actually said she felt “dirty” when looking at him.

My field of Sociology is impression management, which studies, in simplistic terms, how human beings structure their external impressions in order to respond to the expectations of a social event or group and elicit a desired impression from the other.  This little piece of playful technology intrudes on the ability to hide and manage these impressions by literally wearing your heart on your shirt.

Would love to hear your thoughts/impressions of Eric’s technologies or anything else you’ve heard this morning that you find intriguing!

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