Nomad 2 2020: The wrap report. The disintegration of the digital/physical divide.

“I said I’m not comfortable with my body, so I want to get rid of it. This thing. All the arms and legs and every single bit of it. I don’t want to be flesh. I’m going to escape this thing and become digital.”
Bethany. Years and Years.

And so we began our second Night Nomads event on the disintegration of the digital/physical divide.

This topic was always going to be a brain buster.

  • What happens when we are more online than not?
  • What happens when hacking our bodies with tech becomes a common thing?
  • And where are the ethicists who are actually making us consider what we are doing?

Moderated by Ben Johnston, CEO at Josephmark, the all star panel for the evening consisted of; Dimity Dornan, Executive Director & Founder at Hear and Say / Bionics Queensland; David Douglas, a Postdoctoral Fellow (Responsible Innovation in Robotics and AI) at CSIRO; Fiona Kerr, Founder and CEO at The NeuroTech Institute and Benjamin Richards, Executive Producer at Apothecary Films.

Ethics >>> check
VR/AR >>> check
Bionics >>> check
A 4-in-1 cognitive scientist, neurotechnologist, behavioural scientist, systems engineer >>> Check check check.

One thing was clear. Our audience was in good hands. And so we began to digest the topic of the evening.

Starting with what’s already happening

Although it is easy to think that the future is still a distant far off place, we quickly found incredible examples of the digital/physical divide is already being broken.

There are documented cases where paraplegics have used VR to see their limbs move which in turn has created new neural pathways to the extent that some patients have regained bladder control or even the strength to drive.

Whilst in Japan, another heartwarming (read tear jerker) example came by way of the video (below) which shows how robots are being used as waiters in cafe’s. Not a case of the “robots are stealing all out jobs”, these robots are controlled by severely disabled people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to integrate with society in such a way.

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On regulation, policy and ethics

We need to slow. things. down.

This was the sentiment across the board. The ethicists need time to consider the consequences of new digital and tech developments. And if we continue to push and develop at the rates we have seen in recent years, we do not allow time for that consideration.

Which is why it come as a relief that companies like Apple slowing down some of their release timelines on things like wearables. Despite having over 1000 engineers working on these products, the delay is in fact good as it allows policy makers and ethics-implementers time to catch up pre-law and regulate products before mass-adoption.

We also need to take the rose coloured glasses off and think about what happens when the tech goes wrong. How is it regulated? And how do companies adhere to ethics that haven’t yet been articulated?

On hope for the future

And finally we looked to the future.

How do we ensure we create a future we all want and not just one that lines the pockets of few (especially when companies like Google have removed their “do no evil” motto).

On this Fiona very eloquently suggested that perhaps we need to simply start with the human centric questions. If we start with a positive question and look at how technology can assist us in finding the answer we will succeed.

If we start with “how can we make more money” or “how can we build a mass scaling product” … we are doomed to fail.

This was followed up by Dimity with the final mic-drop of the night.

“If you are ever worried about whether tech is good or evil, you simply need to watch the face of a deaf child who (thank to bionic implants) hears the sound of their parents voice for the first time.

And with that we have officially wrapped Nomad 2 and dissolved the digital/physical divide.

Join us next week for the final Night Nomads event of 2020 – Visions of the internet for 2070. Creating a positive digital future.

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