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Becoming Cyborgs: 2023 Augmentation Residency

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

A couple of weeks ago, we started our 2023 Augmentation Residency, where 8 of us are living & working together to build augmentation technologies that integrate technological systems (BCI, XR, AI, wearables) with human practices (creative, spiritual, communal). This is the first edition of our newsletter in which we’d like to share some of our experiences & ideas!

Some pictures from the last few weeks of the residency. You can see the cohort trying out different technologies, brainstorming, and rapid prototyping.
Some pictures from the first few weeks of the residency.

What we’re working on

Haptic Ring is a sensory substitution device for acquiring new senses. The first variation of the device is designed in a ring form factor and translates the data from a magnetometer to a pattern of vibrations through piezo elements to learn sensing magnetic fields. The ultimate goal is to provide users with the ability to integrate any desired sense into the device, such as electric fields, stock market data, or even other people's emotions.

Live Engine is an antithesis to the traditional Search Engine that uses a new form of immersive narrative tech (mix of audiobook, XR film, and personal coach) to invite participants to investigate meaningful questions through living rather than consuming media. Through this work, we’re exploring human-first, practice based methods of developing technology.

Imagination Engine aims to help people bring their imagination to life and co-create with AI through easily accessible and portable BCI devices. Specifically, we aim to use EEG/fNIRS to reconstruct images from the brain and explore integrations with various generative AI frontends to form new mediums of creativity.

Whispers of the Body is a web experiment that guides people to explore how emotions bring sensations to the body and how we can use the body as a tool to observe, release, and let go of emotions. The project will utilize PoseNet and P5.js to visualize the sensations of emotions on the body and will employ visual prompts to guide the release of these sensations.

MindMeld is an attempt to create a general-use non-invasive BCI control system by using a novel decision-making structure. Most BCI control systems have difficulty understanding the commands of the users due to the noise and complexity of brain data, but by giving users a series of simple questions we hope to reduce the complexity of the brain-decoding task to create a system that is easier to use & and requires less precise measurements of the brain.

(A)IFeelU explores how technology can help us be more compassionate, empathetic, and aware of our emotions and the emotions of the people around us. Through wearable devices integrating BCI and other biosensors, we hope to advance the detection and communication of emotions between people.

From the past weeks!

What we’re thinking about

We’re incredibly grateful to our community of collaborators and mentors who have inspired us with their perspectives and insights. As we’ve been brainstorming and prototyping, we’ve been thinking about the nature and purpose of human augmentation. We’d like to share some of our thoughts here:

  • Technology is inseparable from practice. To develop augmentation technology is to develop the practices that humans engage in their lives. We traditionally conceive of technology as a concrete system or object (e.g. a hardware device, a software system). But this framework excludes the most critical element of the equation – the human. In phenomenology, an object's meaning and significance arise from an individual's experience and interpretation, rather than existing independently of human perception and engagement. Thus, we regard technology and the human experience of its usage as two sides of the same coin — and in developing augmentation technologies, we are not just building technical systems, but also designing human practices.

  • The tech development process should be human-centered, integrating science, art, storytelling, and creative practices. Humanity has a problem. We've seen many major advancements in technology — from the internet to social networks to automation to more recently the boom of generative AI. This technology has in some ways made us more connected and empowered, but is also often profit-driven with the incentive to get people addicted to usage — always scrolling on social media, always buying the next iPhone, resulting in a mass devolution of culture in which we are addicted to consuming, seeking validation, trend-following. We believe the root of this problem is in the way technology is developed — driven by desire to produce without understanding. We have neglected following our curiosity to understand and shape the world around us by using imagination and creativity, and instead, are driven by immediate rewards to the self. The directive of scientists, artists, and storytellers is to seek truth – it is to question assumptions, to discover and understand the nature of life and the human condition. We believe that through integrating scientific reasoning and artistic practices in the tech development process, we can build technology with greater wholeness and honesty that guides us toward truthful improvement of the human condition.

  • We believe in integrating the technology we build into our own lives. The modern tech development process serves misaligned metrics of success – revenue, consumption, popularity. Instead, we want to focus on the literal meaning of augmentation – augmentation is to enlarge, advance, and enrich ourselves. Integrating the self as a window to the collective, we believe in self-experimentation as a method for investigating the truthful impact of our technologies. We take responsibility as developers to test our devices on ourselves first, then others. In ourselves, there is nowhere to hide.

Through our work, we’ve been exploring how these principles can be implemented in reality. We would love to hear everyone’s takes on these topics!

Join us!

We would love for everyone to get involved! Here are some open calls for help:

  • Join the Discord community if you haven’t already!

  • Share any interesting readings / references related to our areas of work or human augmentation in general in the #cool-stuff or #literature channel!

  • Let us know if you have access to any equipment / resources that you think might be useful to our projects (in the #residency-collab channel).

  • Let us know if there are any experts & collaborators in our areas of work you’d recommend we get in contact with (in the #residency-collab channel).

  • If you’re in SF, we might host some gatherings / hackathons - keep any eye out for announcements in the discord!

  • At some point further down the line, we might want beta testers for the systems we’re building- keep an eye out for announcements in the discord!

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