On August 2nd, 2017, a paper was published in Nature that explained how researchers at the Oregon University of Health and Science corrected a congenital heart defect. That happens every day. And while it’s big deal if it’s you on the operating table, it’s not a big deal for the wider world.
The patient, however, was not you, or I, or anyone you know, nor anyone you could talk to, or touch. It was a human embryo. More incredibly, that little human embryo was “repaired” with zero transcription errors (a big deal) thanks to CRISPR Cas9 gene editing technology.
If early August feels like ancient history – and fair enough – then how about late August, when the FDA approved Kymriah, a “Living Drug” that uses ‘genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer’.”
Whether you’re unborn, or unlucky, the wider world is wiping away the fault from our stars.
We are now riding the vertical asymptote of the exponential curve of technological progress, which is a fancy way of saying that innovations are helping us innovate faster. And they’re taking off! What was science fiction a few years ago is a product today (and old news – thus affordable – tomorrow).
A little about me: Up until now, I’ve thought of technological advances in terms of my career, because I’m a creative technologist and developer by trade. I’ve now reached the point where I think in terms of my children – because they’re going to be the first generation to inhabit a world that’s currently impossible for us to predict or fully imagine – only glimpse. And because I love my children.
We are raising a generation of children whose reality is inextricably intertwined with technology, and who, gene edited or not, will challenge the definition of reality and what it means to be human. We are raising Generation Omega, the last generation that is “only” human.
I love art. I love books and movies and music. But most of my daily contact with human achievements and ideas come in the form of device interactions, and by extension, brand interactions (which can still be art, but art of a different kind – functional art). But what will a brand be in the future? Where will culture and commerce intersect in the world of the Omegas?
Here’s one answer: we can’t know what Omegas will do or experience – not entirely – but the very mystery of their mind-blowing technological existence is already having an impact on brand identities in the present. And not only is that worth looking into, we can already see glimpses.
At the moment…
Children today don’t know what the world was like before smartphones existed. A “phone” is something that has always been in their (or their parents’) pockets. The collective knowledge of humanity is only a few taps away. Kids ask what and why all the time. Now, parents can answer.
Of course, you don’t need your phone. A clunky device that must be taken out, unlocked, tapped, and waited for. When your child asks a question, you can just ask Alexa, or Google Home (which Google has begun dramatising in their TV ads, below).
My four-year-old Omega’s first digital interactions have been voice, and a colleague of mine had to explain to his 18-month-old that Alexa wasn’t a “real” person. Alexa and her cohorts are going to get a lot more real. Real soon.
So, the Omegas are entering a world on a double-brink: 1) editable human bodies that can be nudged further from nature, and 2) digital counterparts that seem increasingly natural. There are other brinks, but I want to focus on these because they point decisively to something fascinating: the way a “brand” can define itself by creating a product story around informed speculation. Brands stories, more than ever, can edge closer to actual genres of narrative, like science fiction – a kind of speculative history told backwards into the future.
Truth in fiction
In The Culture series of science fiction novels, author Ian M. Banks describes a far future where humanoids and machines are symbiotic. The Culture has Strong AI, sentient machines, that are integrated with fleshy beings through a neural lace – a brain-computer interface that allows organic life forms to seamlessly interact with a cloud consciousness. An exocortex.
In March 2017, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and Space X, announced his latest startup: Neuralink. Neuralink is building high speed brain-computer interfaces that will allow humans to access our metacortex, the Internet, with a thought. Brain-computer interfaces have been around in very primitive forms for years, and you can currently buy some off-the-shelf. But what Neuralink is proposing is something different. The interface is implanted in our brain. While this sounds like science fiction, in 2015 scientists successfully injected a neural lace into a living brain.
So, here’s the question: does this tell us more about Elon Musk and Neuralink, or Generation Omega? Does it help to sell Teslas, spur recruitment? What kind of answer do tech visionaries such as Google and Facebook have for such visions par excellence?
Or is this an example of a brand designing a product for what’s inevitably to come, laying the groundwork to supply the forthcoming demands of a rising generation? Can you corner a market before it arrives?
I guess what my friends, myself, and other young parents want to know is this – will our kids grow up in a world where an exocortex becomes a reality, where the collective knowledge of humanity is a thought away?
My guess – highly likely. It’s highly likely that for adventurous Omegas willing to get an implant, and the Omegas who worry about falling behind their colleagues, an exocortex will be a lived reality. Hopefully they can explain how it works while making fun of HTML the way I made fun of rotary phones.
And from this day until that day, brands are going to have to decide for themselves what they want to believe about the future, and how they are going to position themselves with it, or against it. It may well be that the craziest brand stories of today turn out to be the most prescient and trusted ones of tomorrow.
Or as the poet William Blake wrote at the brink of the Industrial Revolution: ‘what is now proved was once only imagined.’
Read more at: https://www.contagious.com/blogs/news-and-views/opinion-generation-omega-the-last-humans-and-the-next-brands