Body/brain data/licenses

Authors: Aaron Marcus
Posted: Fri, February 27, 2015 - 3:06:38

We all have bodies and brains.

Some of us have driver’s licenses, social-security numbers, passports, and email addresses issued by or monitored by one or more governments and their agencies. Our identifiers of ourselves have limited shelf lives. We all arrive on earth stamped with an expiration date or “best used before” date in our genes. Now, with the Internet of Things, not only can our refrigerators and our chairs and our floors communicate with the Internet to let other people and/or things know about ourselves, our current location, condition, mood, and state of cognitive, emotional, and physical health, but our own bodies can be communicating with the universe at large, whether we are paying attention to that fact or not. Most people won’t notice or care...

I do.

Because I have been sort-of dead at one point, as my heart was stopped (I was on an artificial heart during triple-bypass surgery), and because all of my original nuclear family members are dead (may they rest in peace), and my own body is being kept alive with about five stents in the arteries around my heart, I think about my body/brain data.

This awareness/knowledge does not necessarily lead to depression, lethargy, or enervated wandering of the mind. This being attentive can sharpen and focus attention, to decide about what one can, must, should do with (as for me) about 350 million seconds left of life. There is even one wristwatch that offers a death clock to remind one of the countdown.) This awareness/knowledge can lead one to jettison many frivolous commitments and objectives (unless one decides to devote oneself to frivolity, of course).

For me, it has led to internal observation and speculation about body/brain data in the age of the Internet. Some comments/observations follow.

Marilyn Monroe’s estate carefully guards the memory and legacy of the original movie star born Norma Jean Baker. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley continue to generate income from the sale of their music and videos, and their effigies, photos, videos, etc., which are carefully monetized and managed. Imagine the future of body data, including 3D scanned images of iconic stars, which might be captured while they are alive, and be made available after their deaths.

Actually the licensing of personal data could start during life. I have speculated for my Health Machine project (see, for example, Marcus, A. The Health Machine. Information Design Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2011, pp. 69-89, John Benjamins, publisher) that Lady Gaga might distribute/franchise licensed data about what she eats for breakfast, and these data might be distributed not only to her “Little Monsters” (her fans), but be distributed by FitBit or other personal health-management products, such as electronic, “wired” toothbrushes that record one's brushing history and compare that history to others who set good examples of health maintenance.

The birth of death stars 

I speculate that some enterprising company will offer (perhaps some already do) authentic, guaranteed, websites or social media centers that collect your lifetime body data, in addition to your thoughts and messages, as you voluntarily record them, or as they are automatically recorded (note the recent ability to “read” an image of what someone is seeing by monitoring her/his brain waves) in order to send them out to family and friends, loved ones, or hated ones, for, say, the next 100 years.

In a way, you will be able to “live on,” including “your” reactions to future events. This phenomenon would give new import to “What would Jesus do?” (or say). In fact, anyone could continue to broadcast messages, somewhat like messages from a “dead star” just as light takes years, in some cases millions of years, to reach places long after the “sender” far away in the universe is gone. 

I have not speculated on the cost or the legalities of guaranteeing “permanence.” Note that the cryogenic companies had to guarantee the viability of preserved human heads or bodies in the 1980s or 1990s...and someone had to pay for this service. That matter may be worthy of further speculation.

Brain buddies

Slightly off-topic, but speaking of our brains and possible companions...Apple’s Siri has made quite an impression. Then came Microsoft’s Cortana. Now Microsoft China has introduced XiaoIce, Cortana’s little sister. Each has its own personality traits, a far cry from Microsoft’s Paper Clip of decades ago. The movie Her portrayed a super-intelligent agent voiced by the sultry Scarlett Johannson. That story had a sad ending: the super-agent decided to go off and play with other intelligent agents rather than relate to feeble human beings.

Let’s avoid looking at the pessimistic side and assume that a Super-Siri of the future will be our Brain Buddy and accompany us through our lives, assigned at birth. Like a social security number and email address, which all “with it” babies nowadays acquire at birth, the future you will get an AY = Augmented You, or AI = Augmented I. Take that as a starter thought and go with it. Where do we land?

Will these companion cranial entities survive us mortal souls and continue to emit snappy chatter to all who inquire of us and our latest thoughts on Topic X? Only time will tell...

Posted in: on Fri, February 27, 2015 - 3:06:38

Aaron Marcus

Aaron Marcus is principal at Aaron Marcus and Associates (AM+A) in Berkeley, California.
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