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Welcome to posthumanity

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdm1979uk/3607288494

We’re all getting an upgrade, whether we like it or not.

In a few years, every moment of our lives will be recorded, analyzed, and shared. We’ll take the sum of human knowledge for granted. We’ll wear tiny computers masquerading as fashion accessories. The merging of humans and technology is unavoidable, and the end result will be a new species able to hack its own cognition and edit its own biology.

This new species—call it Human 2.0—is the most important subject of the century. But it’s still hiding in academia and science fiction. We hope to change that. Read more »

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Energy ball

Welcome, Human 2.0.

We may not realize it, but the Internet has given us superhuman abilities. We acquire new capabilities each year, and technology lets us to do things that would have seemed impossible 30 years ago.

Here are ten superpowers that you and I have today:

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Internet devices

Canadians spend more time online than watching TV, according to new research. Not surprising, since most of the content we encounter is born online. Blogs, e-mails, tweets and YouTube videos wouldn’t exist without the Internet. You need a connection. And since it’s largely just computers and phones that have Internet connectivity, this often means digesting this digital content on devices that weren’t designed for consumption. Read more »

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Fossil frog, by kevinzim on Flickr

We’re rethinking many of the fundamentals on which our society is based: identity theft, privacy, employment background checks, freedom of speech, and the burden of proof. But the elder statesmen of the high courts aren’t keeping up.

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The e-memory revolution has begun

Vannevar Bush's Memex concept, from 1945

In this Sep 2009 episode of NPR’s On Point, Tom Ashbrook interviews Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, authors of the new book “Total Recall: The E-memory revolution”. Gordon Bell has, for over ten years, been digitizing his entire life as part of the MyLifeBits project, inspired by the concept of a “Memex” (pictured left), put forward by Vannevar Bush in 1945. Bell outsources much of his memory to computer systems designed to make him more effective. The book (and the podcast) explore the ways in which this e-memory revolution has already begun and will transform aspects of society from privacy and healthcare to learning and extra-marital affairs.

Listen to the episode (streaming audio provided by NPR).

Image credit: Memex image by p373 on Flickr

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A better design for Twitter retweets

Birds on a wire

This week, many people have been given beta access to Twitter’s new Retweet feature. Unfortunately, rather than seizing the opportunity to pave the cowpaths by building a feature that reflects the way users are currently retweeting each other, Twitter have launched something which behaves quite differently.

You have to change your retweet behavior to use the new feature. This has angered many users, myself included, so I’d like to explain how I think the new feature should have been designed. To start with I’ll look at where retweeting came from, I’ll then explain some of the problems with the way it works currently, how Twitter are trying to address these problems with the new feature, and finally how I think the problems could be better addressed.

Why do we need a retweet feature anyway?

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Status update anxiety

anxious

I’ve realized I’m the least interesting person I know. My social networks tell me so.

Right now, one of my online contacts is cooking; one’s hiking in Nepal; one’s mixing music; one’s boarding a flight to Europe; one explained an idea I had better than I ever could; and one just launched some software I wish I’d built. At least, that’s what their status updates remind me.

Call it Status Update Anxiety.

Happiness is relative, as Alain de Botton so eloquently tells us. We compare ourselves to our peers, and use this as the basis for our self-esteem. In a TED presentation he gave, he makes the point that few people envy the Queen of England — after all, she’s not that like you and I, with her funny accent and strange family rituals — but we all envy the latest tech wunderkind, the classmate who flipped a house, the brother who made some smart investments.

These objects of our disaffection are just like us. Every time Sergey Brin gets up on stage in jeans and a T-shirt, he reminds us that we could have been him if we’d only thought of Pagerank. This is, of course, a gross misstatement — but the mainstream media can’t convey the underlying complexity of achievent. Many inventions seem simple in retrospect, and the one-page writeup in Wired Magazine can’t do justice to the years of hard work. As Sheryl Crow said, it takes a long time to become an overnight success.

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Many rooms

In my office, I know what everyone else is doing, without them telling me. I’m not spying on them; it’s a side effect of our shared hard drive. Whenever my co-workers create or update a file, I get notified. What’s more, I can then click the message and view the file, which is already saved on my laptop.

We use Dropbox, a clever product that effortlessly synchronizes and backs up our files. We’ve discovered it does a lot more than this though; it gives us an ambient awareness of each other’s work, and it makes us more effective because we no longer have to think about versions, file locations or lost data.

Ambient awareness

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Is Apple the new Sony?

Walkman and iPod

Apple’s increasingly restricting what consumers can do with their devices. Now those policies put the company in a battle for openness against the likes of Google.

It’s a competitive dilemma that comes from being in both the platform and the content business. And it’s one Apple should have handled better, because it’s the same mistake another company made that let Apple dominate the portable music market: Sony.

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