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The future of analogue people in a digital world

By Ross Dawson

A little while ago, I gave the keynote at Bridge Point Forum on Future Directions in the Digital Age, the title riffing off the conference’s theme of The Rise of the Digital Age.

I opened by making the critical point that, while the digital world is rising around us at an extraordinary pace, humans are completely analogue. Nothing about humans is digital. While we can conceive of and enact digital processes and thoughts, these are created from fully analogue neural networks.

This means that one of the most important frames on our future is understanding the interface between analogue humans and our increasingly digital external environment.

I illustrated the idea with segments of this movie of three Geminoids – essentially robot replicas of humans – together with their human models.

There is obviously a long way to go, but digital (and some analogue) technologies are getting closer to replicating some aspects of what we understand to be human.

Our analogue nature is in fact at the heart of what makes humans so much better than computers at many things such as conceptualizing, synthesis, and relationships.

There are many capabilities that were long considered to be uniquely human, such as playing chess at the highest level, yet brute digital processing power beat us long ago. Other amazing capabilities built on our analogue structure, such as facial recognition, are now being matched or transcended by digital capabilities.

All of which means that human interfaces with digital machines must be a large part of our future. They may be simple, such as visual and gesture interfaces that play to our analogue strengths. Or they may be more direct, such as the thought interfaces shown in this movie.

Perhaps an increasing number of people will choose to make themselves partly digital, as Kevin Warwick of I Cyborg fame has done. Or perhaps we will simply create better interfaces.

I do not believe our human analogue richness can be fully captured in digital structures (which is a subject for another post). Which means that the interfaces between analogue humans and the digital world in which we are immersed will be absolutely central to our future.

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