Why Apple Won’t Turn You Into a Cyborg

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In the 1984 novel Neuromancer, author William Gibson described a future in which “implants, nerve-splicing, and micro bionics” could turn people into internet-connected cyborgs.

If you like that idea, you’ll be happy to know that Google is working on it.

The company’s “Project Glass” augmented reality glasses is the first step toward Gibson’s cyborg vision. The glasses project images into one eye, enabling real life (what you see with your actual eyes) to acquire menu items, contextual information, turn-by-turn directions and more. You can take a picture by blinking your eye.

If the idea that augmented reality glasses are a first step toward being assimilated into the Borg, you should know that the head of the project in Google’s “Google X” labs, Babak Parviz, has already developed an electronic contact lens that can display data to the wearer’s eye.

The first step is glasses. The second is contact lenses. And the third is internet-connected eye implants.

Google isn’t the only organization taking these steps. Such technologies will soon become generally available. But will they come from Apple, too?

Adam Kazwell asked the question on Forbes.com: “How Will Apple Respond To Google’s Project Glass?”

In a nutshell, Kazwell says Apple will wait and see how the market responds to Google’s Project Glass and he implies that Apple will follow Google into the cyborgification of mankind.

I think he’s wrong. I think Apple will never cross that line. Here’s why. 

Why Apple Has No Interest in the Cyborg Racket

In a way, we’re already cyborgs. Our smart phones, for example, connect us to the Internet, let us offload memories (pictures, to do lists, etc.), augment our human powers of communication. I don’t know about you, but I’ve become completely dependent upon my iPhone, iPad and iMac in order to think, interact with people and generally function as a human being.

But still, I don’t think we’re cyborgs. The devices we use to augment our human abilities are still separate from us. They are objects that we look at and touch. We can turn them off and put them down. We can “unplug.”

I don’t know where the line is, exactly. But I do believe there is a line somewhere between using an information device and becoming one.

Google’s Project Glass is part of a much larger direction of technology that aims to upgrade the human body with digital devices. The quantified self movement hopes to replace the reliance on how you feel with computer output, based on sensor input. Instead of eating until you’re full, walking until you’re tired or sleeping until you’re rested, the quantified self advocates would have sensors lashed to our bodies tell us when to do all these things.

Some cyborg technology is perfectly necessary and life-saving. Pace-makers, for example. We can look forward to a future in which the blind can “see” using implanted or attached sensors.

Certain professions will benefit from augmentations. Special forces soldiers, surgeons and others will have “heads-up displays” to give super-human vision and additional data in real time in the natural field of view.

The question is: What about consumers? Will everyone become augmented-reality cyborgs?

Google says yes. And I think Apple will say no.

Why Cyborg Tech Is Just Like Food Pills

Decades ago, futurists predicted that we’d all be liberated from the drudgery of cooking and the hassles of eating by food pills that could provide all the nutrients we need.

Technology made food pills possible. So where are they?

Obviously, nobody wants them because people like to eat. And people like to cook. People like to go to restaurants. People like food.

The reason people like food is that we are hardwired by evolution to like it. In fact, just about everything we like — ocean views, attractive people, rollercoasters, sex, humor, sunsets, flowers, bacon — is programmed into us at the DNA level.

The things we find repulsive are those things that create cognitive dissonance — they’re too far outside the realm of the world we evolved in. Examples include life-like humanoid robots (our reaction is called the “uncanny valley” — the closer robots get to looking human, the more we hate them), 3D glasses, optical illusions in which a human face has four eyes and so on.

The reason you love your iPad isn’t because the iPad is “good” in some abstract way, but because it’s “right” for human nature. We love the interface because we love touching things, and having those things react the way physical objects might react to touch. The iOS user interface is based on a profound understanding of the human mind.

Our Paleolithic brains have no trouble “believing” that icons and screens and pictures and “albums” are really there. Looking at objects, touching them and having them respond to our touch makes us feel good.

Apple understands this deeply, which is why it has become the world’s most valuable company. Apple bases everything on human nature, and discounts technology for its own sake.

Google, not so much.

Google is founded on and obsessed by engineering and the power of algorithms to the same degree as Apple is with design.

Steve Jobs said Apple is made up of Artists, which was an exaggeration. The truth is that Jobs himself and many of Apple’s leaders were far more influenced by the ideas of art and design than your average Silicon Valley giant.

Contrast that with Google, which isn’t influenced much by artists and designers at all. Yes, they employ such people. But what Google is really good at is improving the world by digitizing it, and applying to the formerly analog world all the benefits of digitization — indexing, searching, data mining and data crunching at scale.

In an ideal Google world, users brains would be directly plugged into Google servers — no user hardware required. And that’s what Project Glass is really all about.

But that’s not what Apple is all about. Apple is in love with objects, preferably “magical” ones.

When augmented reality devices and later cyborg implants become available to consumers, Apple will “respond” by providing preferable alternatives.

Apple will go in the other direction. While Project Glass type devices want to take consumers in the direction of technology that you can’t touch, Apple will make devices that you love to touch. They’ll use design, better materials, amazing haptics and incredible graphics and touchy-feeling user interfaces that will thrill your brain’s hardwiring.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Project Glass in particular and cyborg products in general will exist as consumer products. I just think they’ll exist on the fringes, and will excite only a certain type of person (mostly tech-minded young males).

The mainstream consumer market will continue to enjoy devices that don’t try to plug us into the Matrix, but instead let us be regular humans, but with awesome toys. That’s Apple’s way of doing things.

Deals of the Day

  • TylerHoj

    Ten bucks says Mike Elgan was programmed by Apple to write this.

  • DouViction

    Bullshit.

  • timmah339

    just because google comes out with something cool doesn’t mean you have to automatically bash it because it isn’t made by apple…the fanboyism on this site is ridiculous…

  • Dudely

    “will excite only a certain type of person”

    Yes, someone who likes to go online and look up all the stuff they need to know on a minute-by-minute basis. Eff my tablet or phone or whatever thing-with-a-screen you want to throw at me. I’m not pulling anything out of my pocket when I want to check the weather. . .

  • technochick

    something like this is useful in certain settings. Iike if I was traveling to a foreign country the walking directions would be great. Translating signs, great. telling me how to say something, great.

    But wearing something like this all the time is like the d-bags that talk on their bluetooth while they are at the gym. I mean really, you can’t put it away for 30 minutes

  • zoomos

    I understand this is a mac website but c’mon! it’s a great idea and I hope it succeeds. I would buy this in a heart beat.

  • Domenico Prattichizzo

    This article is very nice reading. Just a comment on Food Pills, they are much more like Virtual Reality only and not as Augmented Reality. If you to what we eat now, indeed we are already in the augmented reality or transformed reality era for the food industry. _DP

  • markrlangston

    Incredibly well thought out and superbly executed thesis on the human condition (minus a couple grammar errors but we’re “human”, right?) and how it relates to the future of technology.

  • Eduard Tiesto

    funnily enough (or maybe it’s not that funny), i don’t see these hipster types wearing these… i mean i see them, but then i see them 1. walking into a lamp post head-on while “checking for directions”, 2. tripping over a bookshelf in the bookstore while “locating friend X who’s 400 ft away”, 3. standing at a street corner looking weirdly spaced out while checking their tumblr account, 4. missing the red light and driving into an ice cream van because they just got a tweet etc. :).

    and this: http://www.bluemousemonkey.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/wall-e-human.jpg

  • Jason Pullen

    We don’t have food pills because we like food. Project Glass, or something like it will be embraced because we like free time and two hands.

    http://www.sireassemblies.com/why-apple-will-have-to-make-you-a-cyborg/

  • Frank Lowney

    Google is simple to understand. They simply want to facilitate and thereby intermediate as much of what we say and do as possible. This provides Google with the raw material for what it produces, actionable data. Apple sells the alternative to this, an un-monetized path. This is the essential difference between Google and Apple.

  • Scott Warren

    Kind of a leap to go from interactive glasses to “cyborg”, naturally putting the evil spin on it. Lol. The funny thing is if/when apple does do it, or anything, the Apple masses will line up for days to get them!
    “What? iLenses 3? I’m there!”
    Hmmmm… mindless lemmings? Or cyborg?
    Cyborg sounds way cooler.

  • Erik Maier

    Apparently no one on this site is a futurist. Shocking and pretty disappointing. This article should be titled “Why Apple Should Turn You Into A Cyborg”.

    The answer; because cyborgs are awesome and I’d rather have Apple write my internal software than Google. Obviously.

  • Steven Zahl

    We have Food Pills…..in the form of Energy Drinks.

  • heretiq

    Excellent article Mike. This is a great contrast of the worldviews of Apple and Google. Underlying both is an unarticulated moral code concerning the relationship of man to his tools. Google’s algorithmic orientation is evil.

  • Stuka_UK

    Stunning model !

  • Steinar Eyþór Valsson

    I have a feeling if Apple had been the ones to develop this project, instead og Google, the article would have praised it.

  • Steve Jackson

    Step 1: Show pic of hot chick wearing absurd gadget on head
    Step 2: ?
    Step 3: Profit!

  • captainjy

    Project Glass is a complete ripoff from IBM. IBM threw this concept out there years ago. I like Google and some of their products, but once again Google is trying too hard. Sure, they have a large chunk of mobile pie and search, but i’m really starting to question- what good is Google contributing to the ecosystem? Most of their products look and feel like garage projects that never get finished.

    Yes, Project Glass, on display, looks and sounds…fun, but it’s not practical. It’s another doomed product like Wave and Google TV. It’ll arrive with a bang and fade away, just like Google+. Admit it, you flocked to Google+ and have returned to Twitter and Facebook like everyone else.

  • Dale_V

    I’d like to find out when ‘food pills’ became available and when they were rejected by the public because “obviously nobody wants them”. Since when? Your argument that we’re programmed to like to cook and enjoy ocean views and attractive people, and bacon, on the genetic level is hugely debatable. I think if you did further research you’d find studies are showing more and more the opposite. We are completely programmed by what society feeds us from birth. This includes what is deemed ‘attractive’. Going back to the food pill example, if anything the reason that technology is not overtly available is due to the fact that it would transform and possibly destroy a billion dollar industry. Not to mention food pills are most likely not very profitable. They would also potentially put an end to third world starvation. We can’t have that.

    You state that we hate human looking robots? We do? I guess I missed that memo.

    Whatever is the most convenient technology will be the fastest adopted. Reading glasses are not embedded in our DNA yet hundreds of millions happily rely on and use them. As are contact lenses. People like Apple products because, yes, they are pleasant to look at and functionally excellent. But when technology reaches the point whereby one can make decisions without requiring touch, it will the next evolution in how we interact with the world. No doubt Apple will be there to give us their best experience.

    Lastly, you state Google wants to plug us into the Matrix, I’d argue Apple has more of a ‘plug us into the matrix’ feel than anyone. Just look at their closed ecosystem, it’s entirely their matrix, and they force their customers to plug into it.

  • Michael Kleinpaste

    Oh. I thought this was a an actual article right up until this point, “I think he’s wrong. I think Apple will never cross that line. Here’s why.”

    Out…

  • ehop

    who’s she?

  • Ruichuen1989

    Excellent!

  • Mete Aslan

    This article is… silly or funny I can’t decide…