My research includes work on developing digital twins [see ‘Digital twins that thrive in the real world‘ on June 9th, 2021] of aircraft, power stations and other engineering systems. And I am aware of similar work in other disciplines [see ‘Digital twins could put at risk what it means to be human‘ on November 18th, 2020]; but I was surprised to learn about the demand for digital clothing. Three-dimensional virtual spaces or metaverses exist in computer games, chat rooms and more recently virtual spaces designed for socialising and shopping that are populated by avatars that need to wear something. So, some fashion brands are producing digital clothing and charging you for the privilege of attiring your avatar with their logo. In other words, you can buy clothes that don’t exist for people who are not real. However, DressX has gone a step further producing a ‘digital-only collection’ of clothing for your digital twin or, at the moment, two-dimensional images of real people. So, now you can buy clothes that don’t exist, superimpose them on pictures of real people, and upload the results to social media. Perhaps it’s not as crazy as it seems at first because it might alleviate the need for fast fashion to produce single-use real clothes at enormous cost to the environment. However, dressing up your digital twin does not seem to offer the same level of anticipation and excitement as getting dressed up yourself. (Except in a lockdown? Ed)
About four years ago I wrote about living in bubbles and rarely coming into contact with people outside of our bubble [see ‘You’re all weird‘ on February 8th, 2017]. This was in the context of our experience of the media and our surprise when electorates make apparently irrational decisions. Since early this year we have been encouraged to live in more literal bubbles in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19; so, for example, we have created bubbles of researchers using our research labs in shifts to avoid a total shutdown of research when someone tests positive for coronavirus. For many people, the pandemic has isolated them in a bubble of one that has created concerns about the well-being and happiness of individuals living and working alone. When asked about the place he is happiest, the artist Ai Weiwei responded ‘Every place is equal for me. Even in detention I could still find joyful moments’. He finds ways to connect to other people and their emotions by reflecting on who he is, which leads to moments of joy. He believes that success in life is about finding yourself in way that ‘doesn’t need ambition or talent. It just needs a functioning mind, emotion and simple judgment.’ During lockdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that it has become more important to maintain the life of mind through reading and discovering new ideas. As Jarvis Cocker said in a recent interview: ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same things, rechewing the same thing. I find that really boring.’ I hope that these posts have brought you new ideas and ways of thinking during 2020; writing them has certainly kept my mind active and stimulated. So, I plan to continue in 2021 and hope that you will continue to read them. Best wishes for a happy New Year!
Inventory: Ai Weiwei, Artist interviewed by Lilah Raptopoulos in the FT Magazine, October 31/November 1, 2020.
Evolve or fade away, Jarvis Cocker interviewed by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT Weekend, 14 November/15 November 2020.
Many people are increasingly using their mobile phones as mental prostheses to extend the capacity of their brains [see ‘Science fiction becomes reality‘ on October 12th, 2016]. This does not just include tracking their appointments in a calender app or using a search engine to track down a piece of information that they have temporarily forgotten; but also recording their activities and preferences via social media apps. Many of us are happy to share our thoughts with those close to us but we take it for granted that we are in complete control of what is shared and with whom. So, unexpected or unauthorised sharing of our personal information via these mental prostheses can cause shock and embarrassment. Now, spare a thought for the giant cuttlefish whose neurons are directly connected to about ten million chromatophores in its skin. Each chromatophore is sack of pigment that can be shrunk or expanded to show its particular colour. In giant cuttlefish the chromatophores are red, yellow and black/brown. Beneath the chromatophores is a layer of iridophores, which manipulate the wavelengths of light using layers of plates to produce blues and greens and below these cells are leucophores that reflect light outwards through the iridophores and chromatophores. In effect, the cuttlefish is wearing an Ultra-High Definition TV screen with about 10 million pixels directly connected to its brain. Even when resting calmly, a cuttlefish’s skin can be pulsing with complex patterns of colour; perhaps this is similar to the way our minds can be teeming with activity even when we are sitting quietly apparently doing nothing. Imagine what it would be like if all of those thoughts were displayed on a giant television screen. It would give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘to wear your heart on your sleeve’.
Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life, London: William Collins, 2018.