I attended the Quantified Self conference at Stanford University on Saturday and I wanted to digest and present some of my notes and observations, notes first.
THE MOST AMAZING THING I SAW
The number one amazing person I saw was Nancy Dougherty, Senior Electrical Engineer at Proteus Digital Health. I embed her previous year’s talk below about MINDFULNESS PILLS
These pills talk to her cell phone when she swallows them, this is proteus digital health technology. She labeled these pills as antidotes for her negative emotions, as a way to graph those emotions. In addition, she wanted to measure the placebo effect, which research shows works even when the taker KNOWS they are taking a placebo.
I was surprised by the number of meditators at the conference. In fact, Sunday opened with a group meditation led by The Calming Technology Lab.
Your brain’s multi billion year advantage
What struck me at the conference was how there was simultaneously
- a deep reverence for and
- a deep suspicion of
the brain and sensory system to explain reality. I believe this stems from thousands of hours logged on self quantification experiments that truly uncover how the apparently seamless image of reality produced by the brain and sensory apparatus is really fragmented, discontinuous and untrustworthy, and how flashes of insight can be created by use of what I’ve decided to call consciousness prosthetics.
The first premise of this is simple that the brain itself is just an evolved information engine, and that this engine is primarily designed to process threat, nourishment and reproductive opportunities, probably in that order. It’s been evolving for several billion years at a minimum, and these main processing engines are extremely powerful… powerful enough to override conscious thought patterns.
I use the term “prosthetic” instead of “cybernetic” because it plays with the fusion of human and machine. A Prosthesis essentially replaces a missing part of a person, and I am here making the argument that conscious awareness is frequently a missing part of every person thanks to the limitations of the evolved mind.
In any event, the properties of Consciousness prosthesis as a subcategory of Quantified Self is characterized by the following:
- Automated or near automated recording
- Raises awareness of unconscious behaviors or mental states
- Wearable or ingestable or highly body integrated technologies
What makes 2012 an interesting year from this perspective is the explosion of “smart mobile devices” including smartphones. With the ubiquity of powerful computing devices everywhere, we gain the ability (as do the projects above, both the Mindfulness pills and Breathware work hook up to smartphones) to ubiquitize this kind of equipment at a very low cost to just about everyone.