In search of a topic for my blog this week, I was helpfully pointed in the direction of the Met Gala and the increasingly influential role of technology in fashion. The Gala, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as a fundraiser for the museum’s Costume Institute, marks the grand opening of the annual fashion exhibit, and the exhibit and the gala share a theme – this year’s was titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.
Now, I have to admit, my knowledge of fashion is limited – at best I thought it was something that people from bad homes did again and again, and at worst I thought it was big and bland and full of tension and fear – but seeing Zayn Malik’s robotic arms served as a good place from which to embark upon an exploration of the increasingly blurred lines between machines and humans.
This is a trend that is going in only one direction; our daily experience will be increasingly and inextricably mediated by technology, and technology is likely to become a part of ‘us’, both biologically and sociologically.
This notion is not a new one; our relationship with technology, whether we talk about rubbing stones together to make fire or fitting people with bionic limbs and organs, has profoundly shaped us as a species. The use of tools has long been seen as the mark of species’ intelligence, and while we have come a long way from scraping flint together to spark a flame, our relationships with objects that are not part of our bodies are in many ways the same.
Clearly there are also vast differences; advances in communications, transport and agriculture have completely redefined what it is to be human. No longer hunter-gatherers, we are now a species of consumers. However, beyond the implications of the use of these technologies – the use of screens has been shown to cause structural and functional changes in the brain and the ability to consume the same burger anywhere on Earth saw the mean weight of Americans increase by more than 10kg from 1960 to 2002 – we are yet to truly incorporate them into our bodies.
Looking at the Gartner Hype Cycle (above), “a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications”, we can see that this could soon change. A number of technologies that are thought to be less than ten years away from the ‘plateau of productivity’ – wearables, machine learning, biochips, and the internet of things – foreshadow the changes that will soon completely change our relationship with technology and how we define our bodies.
Looking further into the future we can see that the while the advancements that will see technology truly incorporated into our bodies – human augmentation, brain-computer interface, and bioacoustic sensing – are still thought to be more than a decade away from penetrating the mainstream, they exist, they are being developed and they will arrive.
The implications for business are endless. Much in the way the advent of the smartphone paved the way for the app economy, these developments will spawn businesses that are yet to be conceptualised. With each ground-breaking development will come the opportunity to disrupt or solidify status quo, and as such, staying on top of these developments, and the opportunities and the dangers they will bring to your business, is crucial.