Smart Skin ("sS") — TIMELINE: Biological, Technological, Communications & Design Evolution — Artificial Intelligent Skin (AiS) — Multi-functional Design Options — The Spin on Skin — Squaring the Curve of Design
Primo — Radical Body Design
The smart skin of the future combines the historical evolutionary role of survival from the earliest of human ancestors, the Australopithecus, to our future Posthuman whose survival will be conditioned to a far different world than we realize today. The architecture of this transition is both biological, as our genes shape our lives, and technological, as we merge and mingle more and more with the technology around us. It is also self-directed, as our intellectual capacity and our need to problem solve, progress, and survive lies at the forefront of our nature—our human nature. The smart skin of the future will be a multi-functional design coalescing safety and survival, sensation and texture, beauty and elegance, fluidity and mobility, and terraced layers of what we know as the "self". The smart skin of the future will function as an exterior protection and interior utility; it will combine artificial and natural design options; fuzzy membrane, both natural and synthetic; a sensorial surface; and ultimately square the curve of design.
The largest human organ, covering 99.9% of our bodies—the first organ to be engineered —the premiere organ to be cloned, is known as skin. Skin, the cultural symbol of health and vitality or disease and decay, protects our inner organs and communicates with the outside world. Each goosebump, spring blush, summer sweat, or winter shiver communicates our emotions to the world. Skin represents the character of culture by displaying human strength. Skin stands up to brushing, cut and tear. Skin’s ability to adapt to environmental change while acting as our bodies’ temperature regulator shows its flexibility and resourcefulness. Skin tells us when we are ill by presenting abrasions, sores, flaking and blemish. It reminds us to cool down or heat up, and its pigment masks the body from perilous ultraviolet sunrays. It acts like a safeguard in preventing excessive loss of corporeal moisture. It allows us to reach yet another mile, a higher jump and faster pace by expanding its pores and breathing with us. Skin reflects our inner nature and outward appeal by appearing fresh, clean, and smooth to the touch.
How did skin become so very wise? Skin emerged as a sheath-like covering for animals, amphibians, mammals and other life forms. The central role of skin has been to stretch across our bone and muscular system to protect it from outside toxins and to regulate temperature. Early on, skin may have been covered with hair, resembling fur-like coats. As we evolved into Homo erectus, skin began developing more pores and growing less and less hair. Skin has also become manufactured by engineering cell cultures to mesh fabrics. This homegrown skin resembles original skin in many ways. While artificial skin looks and feels like "real" skin, what about Smart Skin ("sS")? Imagine skin that regulates according to the brain’s directions; changes colors according to the mind’s moods; alters textures according to the body’s emotions; or changes structure according to the individual need. The applications of artificial intelligence in the engineering of biotechnology will affect how human senses are perceived and how senses, as well as organs, can be augmented. One of these organs is our human skin.
Once again, skin is at the helm of the pioneering human design for improving life. If we sketched a timeline of events in the evolution of biological change, it would surly illustrate parallels of the technological and cultural advances toward an engineering of Artificial Intelligent Skin (AiS) and the advancement in the design of communications, transportation, values and ideals, ingenuity and discovery.
The following Timeline is designed to be helpful in viewing how human advancement and adaptation to change has been a step by step process from where we began to were we are heading. The fusion of ideas generated through technology, science, and culture’s aesthetic awareness and creative artistic expression have been catalytic in the innovation of ideas and materials. These multifaceted, multifunctional and cross-disciplinary trades have coalesced by intention and sometimes by default in developing a design paradigm for the future.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
First cell divides:
Terrestrial Life — 4 billion years ago
From the biped to the human, we have gained more pores for sweating and less follicles for growing hair. Our skin has mutated into a variety of shades and tones, from absorption of melanin for ultraviolet light protection, to a minimum of melanin for colder climates.
The evolution of sweat glands and skin pigmentation suggests that early humans had few sweat glands causing our ancestors, perhaps the Homo ergaster of 1.7 million years ago, to evolve with a better cooling system. In that the humans with more sweat glands could forage better in the sun, the better chance of having healthy offspring. "A million years of natural selection later, each human has about 2 million sweat glands spread across his or her body." Simultaneously, due to the mobility of our ancestors, melanization took place which increased the thickness of melanocytes in the epidermis and caused the skin to darken to protect the skin from radiation. "Scientists long assumed that humans evolved melanin, the main determinant of skin color, to absorb or disperse ultraviolet light." Over these millions of years our genes stumbled upon unpredicted changes that effected the human body with an intended design purpose—to adapt to the world and to survive.
In these next decades we will see the emerging of the transhuman (the transition from being biological human beings to the altered biological and genetic makeup of the posthuman) who will engage more readily with technology, smart computers, nanotechnology and robotics—all to protect and extend life.
The engineering of skin and our DNA will affect the human species. While transhumans are considered humans who have adaptive and augmented body parts that are not developed through natural selection of biological mutation, they will be still Homo sapiens and share the same genetic coding for skin, however modified and improved.
Tools as Technology/fire 1,000,000 —
Skin has been used as a tool since its first stretching across a wooden base. The deep, resonant rich sounds of a drum remind us of the durability and strength of the organ. Over the past decades, there has been an enormous watershed of advances in the bioengineering of skin. We can build it, model it, mold it. We can pull it to give a person 10 more years of youth; cut it to give a person 20 less pounds of fat. We grow it, harvest it and sell it.
Growing skin occurred around the 1950s where tissue cultures were grown as a form of biological investigation. Tissue banks were set up to store all the animal and human cell lines that had been established. Later, in the 1970s property rights became court issues and the idea about who owns our bodies, or cells and our tissues were debated. Privatizing and commercializing our cells and tissues were discussed and enacted.
Radical body design "Primo 3M+" is a model design primed with Smart Skin ("sS"), Artificial Intelligent Skin ("AiS") and nanoskin, which vanguards several heavy-duty practical design purposes through mobility, communication and intellection. The digitized model structure is composed of assembled massive molecular cytes or cells connected together to form the outer fabric of the body.
Smart skin ("sS") of the future combines intelligence and touch. It will be engineered to repair, remake, and replace itself. It will contain nanobots throughout the epidermal and dermis to communicate with the brain to determine texture and tone of its surface. It will transmit sensory data to the brain on an ongoing basis.
Artificial intelligent skin ("AiS") will learn how and when to renew itself, alert the outside world of the disposition of the person; give specific degrees of the body’s temperature from moment to moment; reflect symbols, images, colors and textures across its contours. It will be able to relate the percentages of toxins in the environment and exact radiation effect of the sun.
COMMUNICATION EVOLUTION —
Artifacts as ritual — 28,000
The familiar phrase "beauty and brawn" refers to individuals who are both attractive and strong. The phrase "beauty and biotechnology" appropriately reflects an engineering profile. Matching the brains and the agility of external and internal beauty and also emphasizing the agility of a reliable human transporter, "beauty and biotechnology" is quite 21st century phrase for skin.
Stepping back a moment, skin has, historically, been a major part of our communication with the outside world and also with our internal communication network—our central nervous system and out brains. Inasmuch, skin has had four basic roles:
Role of texture: The skin’s texture helps us determine the character and characteristics of the things we touch.
Role of sensation: The sensations we feel through the nerve endings in our skin help us to recognize pain and pleasure.
Role of function: The function of skin is to protect our bodies from the external environment and to help keep moisture within our bodies.
Role of design: Skin has evolved to cover the body efficiently while providing the largest number of pores possible to regulate body temperature and also reduce the amount of hair follicles to provide a more streamlined surface. Skin also communicates effectively with our central nervous system to perform mental tasks. Lastly, skin is used to sexually allure a potential partner.
Our ancestors used their bodies as templates for communication and expression. Vivid colors and symbols were painted to communicate tribal attitudes. Scaring, marking and piercing it to illustrate ritual. We still use our skin as a calling card for ritual and romance. When considering how skin embodies our selves, our unique personage, we have strong and distinctive views about our own space and boundaries.
Skin and Self
Where is the definitive line of one’s self, one’s own skin, and where does it reside when we are communicating electronically and virtually? When we say, "Meet you in the ether," we mean that we will be communicating via email. But in what skin? Is it factually or symbolically an electronic algorithmic code? Today we experience the transference of one’s "self" into new and varied realities such as virtual reality and other simulated environments. The future disappearing of the boundaries, the outline of oneself in real time begs the question: What happens to our ability to communicate through blush, goosebump, sweat and shiver when a copy of our bodies is communicating with others? There are a number of possibilities. First, the familiar art of filmmaking using heightened images with close-ups that exaggerate facial pores, scars, blemish, contour and sheen. Second, simulated environments will have little difficulty replicating human emotions and senses. Even telepresence may be more vivid than vivid. Further, with retinal display imaging, we may be able to see the very receptor on a nerve ending as it sends a signal through the central nervous system to the brain at the slightest brush against the nap of one’s neck. We may experience second hand how the tissues perform when a toxic substance tries to enter the skin’s surface and penetrate the epidermis.
While one of skin’s major functions is to protect the body from the toxins in the environment from entering the body, we could be the protectors of our own skin by participating in simulated environments and letting our human skin take a break at a local day spa or cozy at home while our virtual copies take the wheel and steer the course through new terrain of simulated environments which will not require that we physically travel or attend.
Beauty and Biotechnology
But where does the beauty and biotechnology come in? As the outer symbol of beauty, skin represents softness, smoothness, and the peaches and cream of youthfulness. It is skin that tells the observer, however subliminal and far about our secrets and whispers, the nature of a person’s health. When we observe smooth untarnished skin, we assume that the person is blemish fee. If we notice dark spots, marks, scars, discoloration, we think that the person has suffered some physical or emotional bad fortune. Therefore, the skin is the utmost symbol of beauty if beauty reflects the truth of our health, which I believe it does.
The symbol of beauty may take on a new meaning when biotechnology eliminates the outer marks of skin’s damage and decay. Will may hide our imperfections through an engineered outer sheath or choose to boldly enhance our skin to reflect disease inside, if we are confident or brash enough. Alternatively, we could design our skin to reveal, only when necessary, the hints of disease and aging and then hide them away for a synthetic outer veneer that displays an illusion of good health and nature.
There is an upside and a downside to the redesigning of the human body. For example, skin has been an obvious mirror of our spirit, so how will we recognize or judge another person’s true person, true health or true nature? Certainly, if we are able to redo our skins, we will also be able to manifest a smarter, sharper and more reliable signs through simultaneously improving our brain mental acumen. These are but a few of the many choices that await us in the radical redesigning of our bodies.
The Spin on Skin
The word "skin" is multi-faceted. It means naked, stripped, hurt, sexy, naughty, swindled and even reflects life and death. "Show me some skin!" "I skinned my knee." "He skinned the rabbit." "By the skin of my teeth." "He skinned me – took all my money." "She gets under my skin." "Show me some skin." "They hide to save their skins."
Memetic engineering takes words and gives them cultural spin. Today we think of skin as naked or sexy. At the turn of the 19th Century, skin related to the hunter’s hide. Today, downloading skins for programs which change the appearance of the software. Tomorrow skin might mean multi-functional personas. "Which skin is she in? Virtual, symbiotic, cybernetic, or real time?"
Who will be the Primo Designers
Artists, scientists, and technologists have a symbiotic relationship: we want state-of-the-art results.
Creativity and the innovations of design possess limitless possibilities not just by and through materials, but also by societal needs. The search for new materials relieves worn out ideas, methods and mechanics. In architecture, new ways of erecting structures, generating flooring, wall coverings, building materials and weathering techniques have changed what we think we can accomplish in architectural style, and in sustainable design. In materials fabrication, engineers are developing "man-made" substances that are as hard as diamond, as soft as satin, and as strong as any metal we have available today. The fashion business has been exceedingly innovative with new wearable fabrics that look stylish and comfortable but are built with materials that we would never consider fashionable or possible yesterday.
Who will be the Primo Designers? Artists, Biotechnologists, Genetic Engineers, Nanotechnology Architects, Artificial Intelligence Programmers, to name a few.
Artists and other designers can apply current and emerging biosciences to sculpt human bodies into customized individual objects of design. An example of radical design for human skin is expressed in Primo as highlighted by multiple functions: solar protected skin, with tone and texture changeability; biosensors that externally stimulate atmospheric tensions; active integument management system to keep outer surface totally smooth and wrinkle free (unless you choose wrinkles for effect); and to maintain maximal suppleness and instant response to sudden demands for stretch and twist.
Herein, a central questions remains, "Can style be engineered?" While it may take a mastermind to maneuver each detail, it's a design question. If radical body designs consider a heightened mixture of sense information ("sensorial mix") to assure better sensory capability, or performance, and if the body designs function with expertise in rhythmic patterns or in concert with the physique, and there is unnoticeable lines between the technology used and the human body, or seamless fusion of body and technology, then the design becomes a work of art, if not state of the art. Adding to this equation is the balanced design work of mental logic and emotional passion, it further becomes a "Primo equilibrium."
Today's scientific technologies of gene therapy, genetic engineering, artificial chromosomes, computational implants and psychopharmacology are beginning to shape human bodies and psychology. Lead articles in recent issues of Scientific American, "Your Bionic Future", Fall 1999 and Popular Science, "Body of the Future", October 1999 are timely. As a Pre-millennial challenge and a new renaissance, artists are both the artists of sensory experiences and the aesthetic designers of radical human body designs.
I call the future potential of the senses a Sensorial Mix. Artistic judgment and know-how of engineering design platforms must take precedence to avoid sensorial "noise" or visual low bandwidth graffiti.
Primo’s Sensorial Mix
An example of how the skin could be enhanced through AiS is in the sense of touch. Imagine biosensors externally augmented running pulsating neuro fiber optics through the fingers simulating atmospheric tension. Smart electronic systems soft, soothing and thermosensitive. Polymer coated to record surface temperature maps and kinetic data on individual motor functions. Also used as a hot-badge, touch-sense will facilitate contact with others.
The above scenarios exemplifies layout ideas for genetically engineering our senses, and the architecture for sorting through the avalanche of new types of data we receive from and what we input into our environments.
Intelligent Agents and nanobots working with AiS enhanced senses could patiently sift through loads of superfluous information and spurious data while finding nuggets of interesting and stimulating information and provide such data to our brains.
There is an analogy between computer programming and social programming and we must be vigilant not to be swayed by advertisements on how to "be." Authenticity is an honest relationship with one’s self and one’s emotions. Genuine emotions stem from first hand exploration of a full range of senses. Ultimately, there is a difference between programmed senses and the gut feelings that one has about character and intentions. In the field of AI and neural network design, there are those who believe emotions from senses can be programmed by mimicking humans, while others find that first hand experience is the key factor for genuine AI. It seems to me that general AI must meet top down IA to produce an true AI.
Cultural critic and author Susan Sontag wrote that what we need is more "exotic senses." We can contribute to the future of the human and to culture through our keen knowledge and first hand experience of the senses and how to achieve an even fuller sensory awareness of our selves and our environments as we gain a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of our minds.
The human body is undergoing change. Plastic surgery, prosthetics, robotics, electronic and digitized vocal chords, implants for hearing, chemicals to adjust and fine tune brain functioning, genetics and genetic engineering, and cloning organs are ways to augment and upgrade our physique. The human life span is going to increase as will our desire for vitality. With this in mind, it is advantageous to augment with a sense of aesthetics and approach the future physique like a design comprised of elegant strokes.
Evolving at the speed of Technology —
Survival of the Primos
Simply adding new gadgetry to our bodies will not make us modern nor evolved. As we grow more chameleon-like we face a change in our characteristics and the characteristics of our environments to adapt and, ultimately, survive. As we move forward we exhibit a style of our generation, some more conservative or more outrageous than others.
"The history of any museum is as much made up of its exhibitions as by the sum of its permanent collections. These events mark moments in time, and changes in attitudes, for curators collect ideas as well as objects." Claire Wilcox
The world is a museum, full of monuments, artifacts, and life stories. Each epoch brings together conceptualized ideas that take form. It may be alarming, enigmatic, or even fantastical. However, today the design of our future bodies, both inside and out, is taking on novel style. Radical? You bet!
1. Robert A. Freitas, Jr., Nanomedicine,
Vol. 1: Basic Capabilities, (Pub., Landes Biosciences, 1999).