“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once.” —Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Abraham Maslow’s need hierarchy theory is a neat, compact and mostly reliable way of looking at human needs. We have been using technology to help solve our basic needs such as finding food (Yelp!), clothing (Amazon and online retailers), shelter (AirBnB) and mobility (Uber) so far. There is no restriction to us using technology to solver higher level needs such as love and belonging, self-esteem and ultimately self-actualization.
What we see today is a plethora of devices in the market much like the oceans of humans seeking the ultimate truth. I have no doubt that the purpose of the device of the future is singular. If it was an objective function, the purpose of every device would be to maximize the amount of time, that the human species has on this planet, for a higher order pursuit. That pursuit is self-actualization leading to liberation of the soul.
This story lays out the reasons why the device of the future will be a gateway/portal to an alternative, virtual universe where you can be who you truly are and search for answers by escaping to an alternate dimension even if that escape lasts only 15 minutes in a day.
I have been bewildered at the array of devices released each year. The most recent roll-out was Samsung’s folding phone unveiled at the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Live event on February 20, 2019. A mix between a tablet and a phone, Samsung’s device provides a larger canvas for users to view the world from.
Today, the reality is that each device maker has its own approach to imagining how humans will interact with the world in the future. While MagicLeap thinks that mode of interaction will take the form of Mixed Reality (MR) where a user puts on glasses that blend virtual world with the real world, Virtual Reality (VR) players such as Oculus think of an immersive virtual world.
Then, there is Augmented Reality (AR) which overlays the virtual world onto the physical world. The commonality in all these approaches is that you need a device in one form or the other. In other words, there is always an external object or a sense of obtrusiveness or that permeates the experience.
Based on that reality, it is not hard to imagine humans would need something unobtrusive to deliver the next generation of experiences. However, there is one reality at the extreme end of our imagination which has a one time and perhaps prolonged, extremely obtrusive character — a chip embedded in our brains.
A futuristic vision of a cybernetic organism that is part human, part machine that is simply too disgusting to imagine today. The truth is far from that imagination. Almost 80 employees at Three Square Market are already working with chips in their hands. If everything else is obtrusive, we need a device that reads our thoughts and opens a gateway to a different dimension — a chip in the brain could be the answer especially if you think Singularity is in our grasp in the near future. To be clear, I am not a huge advocate of implants. All I am saying is that it is not a weird fantasy anymore.
Paradox Of The Ages
More often than not, humans have the answers they need. For example, we all know a healthy balanced diet, sleep and exercise will help us build a beautiful body. We also know that meditation or a temporary escape into a more mindful state will make us more productive and focused. However, what we lack is the discipline to follow it through. This is a rather simple way of understanding life choices but it holds true. Broken new year resolutions are the best symbols of lost discipline.
Now, we are turning to technology to ‘nudge’ us into developing that discipline. We use fitness apps to track our calorie intake, exercise and sleep patterns to uncover our habits and improve our lifestyle. In the past, people used very simple heuristics and thumb rules to achieve the same result just not at the same level of accuracy.
The next step in human evolution will be to use technology for higher order needs such as using software to create synthetic music because we don’t have time to learn many instruments. As we move higher on the the needs hierarchy pyramid, robotic companions (e.g. Sony’s Aibo is a pet dog that mimics a live one) will help us find love and self esteem. The final step will be self actualization.
A chip in the brain will become a gateway to a parallel, virtual universe on the internet that we can enter and exit at our volition. In that universe, we will be free to seek everything from love to self actualization in an immersive environment. In short, the chip will be the gateway to an experiential world which will include virtual travel to different continents.
The Alternate Universe
The World Wide Web began as an experiment in hyperlinked webpages which were static. Web 3.0 powered by 5G will be create a multimedia universe that will be a parallel to the physical world. If this is a realistic assumption, we need a device that takes us into this parallel universe. A chip in the brain coupled with a projection device could be that answer.
From time immemorial, we have been looking at ways to become more mindful. The recent rise of meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, is just another trend that is testament to this journey. Honestly, you don’t need an app or anything external to meditate except your own discipline and a quiet environment. As people’s lives become less certain, the use of yoga and meditation is becoming more popular in the US. Imagine, if a chip in your brain could read your thoughts, communicate with another device that creates a virtual room for you to escape to and meditate in the middle of your work day. Very few offices have the luxury of year long warm weather with a beautiful lake to take a stroll around to calm your mind. A room with a projection device that communicates with your brain and opens up a vista for you to meditate. Of course, there need to be other projection devices that create an immersive experience but the chip in your brain has the capability to be switched on and off. Thereby, giving you the flexibility to be in a human or a virtual universe.
The beauty of an alternative, immersive universe at our command is that it can create any world we need at the speed of thought. If Human Resources (HR) feels a certain course is essential to relearning, the projection device can join you via a hologram to a classroom thereby creating a mix of online and classroom learning. Once the course is over, you will come back to your regular working environment.
Together Into The Nothingness
As humans, we desire to liberate our souls. The Buddhist concept of ‘Nirvana’ is one way to understand our purpose in life. It is a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness as well as the liberation from or ending of samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death. If that’s the case, we are all on a journey to nothingness. The human state of consciousness is the highest form of consciousness amongst all living beings. Homo Sapiens is the only species that has the highest level of self-awareness which enables us to seek answers to higher order questions. AI, even after achieving Singularity will not have the consciousness needed to seek liberation.
Self-actualization needs a teacher / guru. A teacher is someone who has achieved self actualization and can show his students the way to reach there. For a lot of people, those teachers are varied and many. Some teachers are not accessible because of the distance between the students and the teacher. The alternate universe can help design spiritual experiences where people from all around the world can seek lessons leading to their own salvation. These experiences can be hyper personalized and self paced.
It is very ironic to think that we will use machines to meet our self actualization needs. However, that is the promise that AI holds- to free the human species to focus on finding love and self actualization.
On this journey, the device of the future will become a bridge between the physical world and the virtual world. We can travel between both worlds seamlessly, find our answers and return back to our physical world.
As a species, we are constantly seeking answers. As we evolve, we will ask answers to bigger questions. We also seek magnanimous experiences that make the journey to finding those answers more enjoyable. Finally, we want to craft a universe in our image but we also want to use the best of the natural world.
If we look at all of these basic needs, an immersive world that is the natural world augmented by human uniqueness becomes an inescapable conclusion. We want to lose ourselves into a solitary experience as we discover our true purpose. A device that takes us on that journey becomes a gateway to self actualization. It’s time for the world of technology to design a device that helps our species fulfill higher order needs.