The Seven Deadly Sins of Our Digital Evolution: Reflections from SXSW 2015

Scary thought—machines are rewiring our neural pathways, driving the transitional phase in our part-cyber, part-human evolution. In this new Age of Enlightenment, we are all digital sinners. Maybe your sin is laziness, lust for the next shiny object, or gluttony for content. These “sins” do not necessarily mean we and our tech are bad, but they prove that the evolution is happening, as it always does, through our environment, and through our need and demand.

At SXSW 2015, Martine Rothblatt took us on a journey into her vision of a future where we will create distinct mind-clones that live in the cloud. So let’s suspend our fears and, for just a moment, agree there will be continued advances in software that will rise to the level of digital/human cognitive consciousness. Perhaps it will become hard to tell if an entity is biologically alive and, as Martine says, “our identity will transcend our bodies.”

The Seven Deadly Sins of Our Digital Evolution

Pride (vanity) Of the seven, Pride is the root sin from shich the other arise. Think Selfie. We are the hero, we log our meals, our drinks (ill-advised), our runs and our fun. In a 2014 study by asapScience, data revealed that 80% of social media posts are self-involved, compared to 40% of in-person interactions. When it comes to digital, “How I am?” trumps “How are you?”

Since humility is pride’s opposite, perhaps our departure from digital sin is the humble brag. Sharing your #icebucketchallenge, your order from TOMs or Bombas, or your download of U2’s Invisible is a pretty good start. The repentance from pride surely lies in empathy’s universality and power to catalyze social change, made even more powerful in the digital world.

Envy is the desire for the traits, abilities, and experiences of others and it’s continually heightened in our post-digital era. From our neighbor’s trip to France to the cash our college roommate made from her successful startup, digital provides us with limitless opportunities to covet.

The green-eyed monster can perhaps be caged by act as simple the “like”. Turning to a platform like Meerkat, which can live-stream via Twitter right to your phone, may be another way to resolve your digital envy.

Gluttony. Ahh gluttony. We consume “Top 20” lists as if they’re candy and fill our heads with empty mental calories. We already know what kind of dog we are, which state we are, and how “New York” we are, but we desire more, more, more. Who knows, perhaps the next binge will tell us our space-stripper name on the iPhone 8 with a 6G connection—more, More, MORE.

How will the cyber you repent for your gluttony? Well, with even more, of course—more connectedness via smart-home sensors and more quantification tools in and on your body. In health, sensors will become the engine lights for our bodies, what Eric Topol, M.D. refers to as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). Cisco estimates that connected things currently outnumber the world population 1.5 to 1 and that we are moving from the internet of things to the internet of everything. It is estimated there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

Lust: Virtual reality, social, and streaming video have opened a Pandora’s Box of gateways and devices to quench our insatiable craving for sins of the flesh.

As for Lust, the pleasures of the flesh find repentance in protection of the flesh. The genomic map inside each of us is only 1.5 GB of data (that will fit on two CDs). Biologically we are finite, but our computability is limitless, connected, ever faster, ever cheaper. That makes solving disease an optimistic venture, especially once we are more fully hacked.

Anger: Cyber bullying and shaming is an epidemic and makes the horrors of the playground and gym locker inescapable. Revolutions and murders are incited and plotted digitally. Racism, sexism, and every other ism are only a click away.

What of Anger? We apprehended the Boston Marathon bombers through social media and have thwarted untold threats to our terrestrial and cyber safety through predictive detection. If part of our social cyborg future includes protection from tyranny and genocide, plus rapid crowd intervention to stop bullying and shaming, then I Am Robot.

Greed: We stand in lines for hours for the next iPhone when the one we have is barely a year old. The candy aisle tantrum has a cyber cousin in the Mindcraft meltdown, and we’ve birthed the IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want It) age. Bill Gurley, General Partner of Benchmark VC, shared that in the startup cradle of Silicon Valley, there are more people who are employed in ventures that are actually losing money than ever before.

Dr. Topol shared that medical errors are the fourth leading cause of death. A connected human world will change that, and provide better health tools to predict and treat disease on a global scale. Greed finds repentance in the accumulation of connections that lead to sustainable resources globally, with minimal waste and a healthier planet.

Sloth: We can certainly attribute a portion of our obesity epidemic to digital. Generation Xbox is disproportionately less active and more obese than Boomers were at their age. Why walk when I can UBER?

The good news is that Sloth finds some of its repentance in simulation. The Xbox generation has grown up in a world of simulators. These re-wired minds are creating gaming solutions that change behavior and are trained with VR surgical simulators that are now being utilized for remote operations, saving lives that would have been lost a year ago.

The people formally known as the audience are involved via simulations and collective narratives that further connect us.

Sinners, all of us! Guilty as charged. But these sins are necessary steps in our convergence with tech.

So the re-wiring of our neuro-selves and the transformation to cyber consciousness is underway. Of course, there are cautions and fears of dystopia, but we are human and we adapt. Jason Levy, Head of Innovation at Saatchi and Saatchi Wellness, took on conspiracy theorists and pivoted the audience to an understanding that our surrender to technology is ultimately improving our health and well-being. In “Next Nature: How Technology Becomes Nature,” delivered by Koert van Mensvoort, we learned that our adaptation to innovation goes from acceptance to vitality and eventually, to invisibility. At one point in human history, fabric was an innovation, as was electricity, shelter, transportation, and medicine. Eventually we adapted to the change, embraced it, and became better for it.

Even after the Flaming Lips cautioned a packed house at ACL during SXSW that the “evil-natured robots—they’re programmed to destroy us,” no one seemed too frightened. We can’t be scared—because as Astro Teller, Captain of Google[x]’s Moonshot Factory shared in his keynote, “When people are scared, they do dumb things.”

– Richard Schwartz, SVP, Global Marketing and Digital Health Partnerships