India Future Society

Quantified Self and Transhumanism – A Means to an End

by Thomas Damberger

Quantified Self“Quantified Self” means self-knowledge in numbers. The Quantified Self movement was founded by the two US-american journalists Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf. A goal of the Quantified Self is to capture by means of self-tracking as much data as possible about oneself and save it in digital form. This may be someone’ s weight, but also their finances, the number of calories they gain per day or the kilometers they jog, the amount of sent or received emails, the pulse rate, the sleep patterns, the number of sexual partners or even the quality of sexual intercourse. Data are registered inter alia with special gadgets, for example fitness bracelets or smartphone applications. The once digitally recorded data can then be in next step assessed.

Now most of the data could certainly be gathered without gadgets or apps. In order to measure the weight, we only need a scale. However, by using new, digital technologies it is possible to also measure what otherwise escapes our clutches. This includes, for example, sleep behavior (our deep sleep or our REM phase). Digital technologies enable us so to capture things that were hidden from us previously.

The increased self-control, which aims at self-knowledge, is a significant aspect of the Quantified Self and Self-Tracking. Another aspect is self-optimization. As a rule, it is not enough for us just to collect data about ourselves. The processing this data is often about assessing. Assessment tends to some norms. These may be social ones (in the case of the weight that would be e.g. the body mass index), but it is also conceivable that the norm is an individual one. Assessing the data is therefore a matter of whether we meet the self-imposed standards, whether we are satisfied or we still see room for improvement. By using Self-Tracking, we can make the improvement visible and optimize our next step. Self-control, self-knowledge and self-optimization can be understood as expressions of autonomy. Thus, the ” Quantified Self” potentially leads to more autonomy.

Joseph Coughlin is director of the AgeLab at MIT. He notes that elderly people rarely use systems, which manage illnesses and secure life processes. In his view, this has to do with the increasing physical fragility of the elderly. No one looks with pleasure in a digital mirror, only to see their physical decay. In fact, studies point out that foremost young and middle-aged people engage in the quantified self. And if they do, it is mainly used for self-optimization.

Senior people, as opposed to younger ones, are not really apt to optimization. They rather have to contend with the fact that the physical aging is often accompanied by a loss of autonomy. The term autonomy has at least three dimensions: independence, self-determination and self-responsibility. By independence is meant the ability to be able to care for oneself and to be as little as possible dependent on the help of others. Self-determination means being able to live one’ s life on their own terms. To live responsible means especially for older people to take precautions for the fact that they are not able to enjoy an independent and self-determined life. This can take, for example, the form of a Patient Decree.

The US company CarePredict offers since the summer of 2015 a product that has a lot to do with the Quantified Self. It is a gadget, aiming specifically at senior citizens. The name of the product is “Tempo” and it looks like a wristwatch. In fact, it is a tool, delivered together with beacons and a hub. “Tempo” is worn on the wrist and detects the motion profile for about 7 days. The data is forwarded to a server and evaluated. After 7 days, a complete reference profile is available. Now, if significant deviations in the motion patterns are detected, when e.g. the senior lingers exceptionally longer than usually at the stairs, a message is sent to a predetermined person. CarePredict advertise the product with the slogan “empowering independent living for seniors”. For the purposes of self-responsibility “Tempo” could actually be seen as an improvement of autonomy for the elderly.

So “Tempo” is related to the “Quantified Self” in a somewhat broader sense. What actually takes here place is self-survey and self-control. However, self-optimization is also realized, but only in an indirect sense. Self-optimization takes the form of an improvement in the autonomy within the fact of its age-related loss. The optimization, however, does not go beyond the normal level. Therefore, “Tempo” is not about human enhancement or not even about a curative intervention. “Tempo” can rather be understood as a warning. The term “tempo” stems from the Latin word “tempus”, meaning “time”. Time is this, which is directed against life, against the human autonomy and existence. At the end of time awaits death.

The product “Tempo” may help us to cope better with the pressure of time and the loss of autonomy, but “tempo” does not prevent this loss. This fact points out that the Quantified Self appeals to optimization, but this optimization is accomplished only within certain limits. To overcome these limitations, Self-tracking applications technologies are needed, which enable optimization beyond the limits. Quantified Self can therefore be seen as a means to an end for the transhumanist project.

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