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The Human API — Enter the Cybernetic Renaissance

We need to augment up if we want to keep up.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Are we en route to a human API?

How often do you leave your smart­phone behind? Not very often, I dare guess. 

Yeah, me neither.

But no, this isn’t going to be one of those opin­ion pieces where someone com­plains about how we’re becom­ing slaves to tech­no­logy. (Aren’t such tirades just tire­some?) I would instead sug­gest that we’re inev­it­ably becom­ing ones with our smartphones.

Are we en route to becom­ing part human, part robot?
Or are we already there?

Let’s dive deeper:

All Technologies are Human Extensions

The idea of allow­ing inform­a­tion tech­no­logy to extend our human bod­ies is far from novel. 

Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980), fam­ous for his state­ment, “the medi­um is the mes­sage,” con­sidered all media to be exten­sions of the human body:

Marshall McLuhan - The Medium is the Message
Marshall McLuhan (1911 — 1980).

Marshall McLuhan: “The Medium is the Message”

The medi­um is the mes­sage” is a phrase coined by the Canadian philo­soph­er Marshall McLuhan in the first chapter of his not­able book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.”

Despite being one of the most influ­en­tial thinkers in media the­ory, McLuhan’s ideas are often widely mis­un­der­stood. “The medi­um is the mes­sage” is no exception.

The medi­um is the mes­sage” does­n’t imply that con­tent or sub­stance lacks import­ance, only that the medi­um in which mes­sages are sent will sig­ni­fic­antly impact humanity.

  • McLuhan pro­poses that intro­du­cing a new medi­um will impact human­ity sig­ni­fic­antly more than any­thing sub­sequently trans­mit­ted through that medium.

McLuhan views medi­ums as exten­sions of human physiology. Our abil­ity to build houses extends our human skin, as it pro­tects against the ele­ments. This added lay­er of pro­tec­tion and phys­ic­al safety frees up men­tal band­width for human interaction.

So, a house is a medi­um in McLuhan’s inter­pret­a­tion. All human tech­no­lo­gies, down to the camp­fire, are con­sidered mediums.

McLuhan’s insight was that a medi­um affects the soci­ety in which it plays a role not by the con­tent delivered over the medi­um, but by the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of the medi­um itself. […] McLuhan poin­ted to the light bulb as a clear demon­stra­tion of this concept. A light bulb does not have con­tent in the way that a news­pa­per has art­icles or a tele­vi­sion has pro­grams, yet it is a medi­um that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to cre­ate spaces dur­ing night­time that would oth­er­wise be envel­oped by dark­ness.”
— Wikipedia 1Marshall McLuhan. (2023, May 15). In Wikipedia.

According to McLuhan, our abil­ity to cre­ate exten­sions of human­ity expo­nen­tially impacts our com­mu­nic­a­tion more than any mes­sage con­veyed as a result:

  • A light­bulb is a medi­um (an exten­sion of the human eye).
  • A house is a medi­um (an exten­sion of the human skin).
  • The tele­phone is a medi­um (an exten­sion of human vocal cords).

And so on.

Why is McLuhan’s ana­lys­is neces­sary? “The medi­um is the mes­sage” is a stark remind­er that a medi­um’s format (and its lim­it­a­tions) will massively impact human soci­ety — and the mes­sages them­selves, too.

We often default to seek­ing mean­ing in mes­sages but for­get to con­sider the medi­um’s inher­ent media logic.

Learn more: Media Logic is Dead, Long Live Media Logic

The smart­phone in your hand is poten­tially more impact­ful than any mes­sage you could ever con­sume via its glow­ing screen. The smart­phone has become an exten­sion of your voice and memory, pro­cessing power, hear­ing, and eyesight.

From Biological Darkness to Augmented Ascension

A medi­um is that in which a phys­ic­al trans­fer of inform­a­tion takes place. If our smart­phones are exten­sions of our voices, ears, social graphs, memor­ies, and the fab­ric of our logic­al think­ing, then aren’t we, accord­ing to McLuhan’s light bulb ana­logy, in the pro­cess of step­ping out of cyber­net­ic darkness?

We have a long his­tory of appro­pri­at­ing tech­no­logy to free up men­tal bandwidth.

  • Campfire or the clothes on your back could be seen as exten­sions of your bio­lo­gic­al heat­ing system.
  • A build­ing can be seen as an exten­sion of your skin, your body’s largest organ, pro­tect­ing you from the real­it­ies of your environment. 
  • Your to-do app could be seen as an exten­sion of your memory, reliev­ing you of (per­haps unne­ces­sary?) cog­nit­ive loads.

Adding sup­port­ive sys­tems to see in the dark, stay­ing warm and sheltered, and sort­ing and struc­tur­ing thoughts and ideas allow us to com­mu­nic­ate and devel­op increas­ingly com­plex and abstract con­cepts. Information tech­no­logy allows us to cre­ate lay­ers upon lay­ers of human civilisation. 

But recent tech­no­lo­gic­al advance­ments, start­ing per­haps with the smart­phone, must be regarded as unpre­ced­en­ted even by his­tor­ic­al standards.

I’m talk­ing about transhumanism.

Transhumanism: A Posthuman Approach

What is transhuman­ism? A couple of years ago, in 2009, I advised the Pirate Party, which earned two seats in the European Parliament. Within this by-nature tech­no­crat­ic move­ment, transhuman­ism was often dis­cussed and debated.

Transhumanism, abbre­vi­ated as H+ or h+, is an inter­na­tion­al intel­lec­tu­al and cul­tur­al move­ment that affirms the pos­sib­il­ity and desirab­il­ity of fun­da­ment­ally trans­form­ing the human con­di­tion by devel­op­ing and mak­ing widely avail­able tech­no­lo­gies to elim­in­ate age­ing and to greatly enhance human intel­lec­tu­al, phys­ic­al, and psy­cho­lo­gic­al capa­cit­ies. […] Transhumanist thinkers study the poten­tial bene­fits and dangers of emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies that could over­come fun­da­ment­al human lim­it­a­tions, as well as study the eth­ic­al mat­ters involved in devel­op­ing and using such tech­no­lo­gies. They pre­dict that human beings may even­tu­ally be able to trans­form them­selves into beings with such greatly expan­ded abil­it­ies as to mer­it the label ‘posthu­man’.”
Source: Wikipedia

A transhuman world is almost incom­pre­hens­ible. It seems to sit above fun­da­ment­al con­cep­tions of “good” or “bad” — it seems inevitable.

A Global Village of Shared Experiences

I would argue that devel­op­ment is intrins­ic­ally inev­it­able — and that tech­no­logy allow­ing more inform­a­tion to flow is neces­sary. And no short­age of trends sug­gests we might be on the cusp of a transhuman­ist­ic future.

  • The inter­net (allow­ing humans to con­nect regard­less of geo­graph­ic­al constraints)
  • Cloud com­put­ing (shar­ing inform­a­tion access and com­pu­ta­tion­al power)
  • Augmented- and vir­tu­al real­it­ies (digit­al spa­tial spaces)
  • Internet of things (where everything is interconnected)
  • Internet of brains (brain-to-brain or brain-to-tech interfacing)
  • Quantified self (to track and ana­lyse one­self passively) 
  • Data min­ing (on a glob­al scale with massive data sets)
  • Neural net­works (with layered com­pu­ta­tion­al models) 
  • Artificial intel­li­gence (includ­ing the poten­tial of a sin­gu­lar­ity)
  • Quantum suprem­acy (where qubits allow for more pro­found calculations)

What does it mean to extend the human exper­i­ence with tech­no­logy — or is it the oth­er way around? Are we advan­cing tech­no­logy with human experiences?

We Are the Robots”

Popular cul­ture has been play­ing around with mer­ging human­ity with machines for cen­tur­ies. Science fic­tion does tend to become a real­ity; we might already be well under­way to becom­ing cyborgs:

A cyborg, short for “cyber­net­ic organ­ism”, is a being with both bio­lo­gic­al and arti­fi­cial (i.e. elec­tron­ic, mech­an­ic­al, or robot­ic) parts […] The term cyborg is often applied to an organ­ism that has enhanced abil­it­ies due to tech­no­logy, though this per­haps over­sim­pli­fies the neces­sity of feed­back for reg­u­lat­ing the sub­sys­tem. The more strict defin­i­tion of Cyborg is almost always con­sidered as increas­ing or enhan­cing nor­mal capabilities.”

So, how close are we? I use Evernote as an extern­al memory bank, an arti­fi­cial exten­sion of my brain made up of soft­ware and hard­ware work­ing in sync with the liv­ing organ­ism that is me. Does this make me a … cyborg? 

According to some defin­i­tions of the term, the meta­phys­ic­al and phys­ic­al attach­ments human­ity has with even the most basic tech­no­lo­gies have already made them cyborgs. In a typ­ic­al example, a human fit­ted with a heart pace­maker or an insulin pump (if the per­son has dia­betes) might be con­sidered a cyborg, since these mech­an­ic­al parts enhance the body’s “nat­ur­al” mech­an­isms through syn­thet­ic feed­back mech­an­isms. Some the­or­ists cite such modi­fic­a­tions as con­tact lenses, hear­ing aids, or intraocu­lar lenses as examples of fit­ting humans with tech­no­logy to enhance their bio­lo­gic­al cap­ab­il­it­ies; how­ever, these modi­fic­a­tions are as cyber­net­ic as a pen or a wooden leg. Implants, espe­cially coch­lear implants, that com­bine mech­an­ic­al modi­fic­a­tion with any kind of feed­back response are more accur­ately cyborg enhance­ments.”
Source: Wikipedia

We Are the Human API 

Would it be pos­sible to cre­ate a biological/electrical interface? 

An applic­a­tion pro­gram­ming inter­face (API) is a pro­tocol inten­ded to be used as an inter­face by soft­ware com­pon­ents to com­mu­nic­ate with each oth­er. An API may include spe­cific­a­tions for routines, data struc­tures, object classes, and vari­ables.”
Source: Wikipedia

Even pub­lic rela­tions thought lead­er Brian Solis dis­cusses “the human API,” mak­ing the concept his primary focus for his key­note present­a­tion at the world’s most pres­ti­gi­ous new media event, Le Web in Paris.

What if the medi­um wasn’t just the device, the medi­um was us? At the cen­ter of the IoT and Big Data are the very people who fuel the con­stant exchange of inform­a­tion. At the same time, it cre­ates a human net­work, where we become nodes and the inform­a­tion that ties togeth­er people and devices feed new exper­i­ences and changes our beha­viour over time.”
— Brian Solis

Will we ever be truly able to integ­rate dir­ectly with inform­a­tion technology?

Neuroplasticity, Epigenetics, and Brainwave States

Technology is chan­ging our brains. Not just mine, but yours too. Our brains can rewire them­selves. If you find this hard to believe, you should dive deep­er into neuro­plas­ti­city:

Neuroplasticity, also known as Brain Plasticity (from neur­al – per­tain­ing to the nerves and/or brain and plastic – mold­able or change­able in struc­ture) refers to changes in neur­al path­ways and syn­apses which are due to changes in beha­vi­or, envir­on­ment, and neur­al pro­cesses, as well as changes res­ult­ing from bod­ily injury.

Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held pos­i­tion that the brain is a physiolo­gic­ally stat­ic organ, and explores how — and in which ways — the brain changes through­out life.”

Add to this recent dis­cov­ery in epi­gen­et­ics, where it becomes increas­ingly clear that our DNA comes with some “wiggle room,” allow­ing us to adapt faster by switch­ing genes on and off. And in rat exper­i­ments, groups of indi­vidu­als have had their brain­waves elec­tron­ic­ally synched with each oth­er to out­per­form non-synched indi­vidu­als in per­form­ing simple tasks.

Would it be incon­ceiv­able to think we can allow for dir­ect brain-to-brain, brain-to-tech, or tech-to-brain tech­no­lo­gies in the future?

The Cybernetic Renaissance

I would argue that we’re in the midst of a cyber­net­ic renais­sance. As the media curse of the Bell curve and the his­tor­ic­ally recur­ring tech­lash dic­tates, we tend to focus on the adverse side effects, such as tech­no­logy-induced stress, atten­tion defi­cits, brain tumours, and big data-related integ­rity issues. 

Loud voices are demand­ing everything from legis­lat­ive coun­ter­meas­ures to pro­hib­it­ing the use of inform­a­tion tech­no­logy in schools. We’re col­lect­ively afraid of what our transhuman future will bring. We shud­der at the thought of hav­ing humans and machines merge into one.

Where does all of this lead us? 

The effects of devel­op­ing human APIs are poten­tially massive. Like so many his­tor­ic­al trans­itions before, we could be stand­ing with both feet in the middle of a reform­a­tion that far over­shad­ows the digit­al inform­a­tion revolu­tion. Still, shar­ing exper­i­ences and becom­ing more inter­con­nec­ted with everything else might just as well be seen as a nat­ur­al step­ping stone in human evol­u­tion. Some will choose to fear a medi­ev­al cyborg dysto­pia, but I firmly believe that human­ity is enter­ing a cyber­net­ic renaissance.

Keep your smart­phone, not as its slave, but as a part of what you can be.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: The Digital Transformation

The Digital Transformation of PR

The biggest chal­lenge in PR is ensur­ing that our pro­fes­sion keeps up with new com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy and stays valu­able and rel­ev­ant as a busi­ness function.

The authors argue that earli­er paradigms are mostly inad­equate in address­ing the needs of a 21st Century in which com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy is cre­at­ing rap­id glob­al­iz­a­tion while it is dan­ger­ously exacer­bat­ing the ten­sions of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Through a crit­ic­al dis­cus­sion of pri­or assump­tions and paradigms in pub­lic rela­tions schol­ar­ship, the authors under­line the need for pub­lic rela­tions to revital­ize and bring its body of know­ledge into the 21st Century. The authors pos­it and dis­cuss how the com­munity-build­ing the­ory ori­gin­ally espoused by Kruckeberg and Starck (1988) and mod­i­fied in sub­sequent schol­ar­ship can provide a viable depar­ture point toward devel­op­ing new approaches to research about and prac­tice of pub­lic rela­tions that can take into account the dynam­ic envir­on­ment wrought by changes in com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy.”
— Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K.2Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K. (2012). Public rela­tions and com­munity: A per­sist­ent cov­en­ant. Public Relations Review, 38, 873 – 879.

The biggest chal­lenge in mod­ern pub­lic rela­tions is the con­stantly chan­ging media land­scape. With the pro­lif­er­a­tion of social media, the rise of fake news, and the decline of tra­di­tion­al journ­al­ism, it can be dif­fi­cult for organ­isa­tions to con­trol the spread of inform­a­tion and pro­tect their reputations. 

Public rela­tions pro­fes­sion­als must now be stra­tegic and pro­act­ive in their approach and must be able to adapt to new tech­no­lo­gies and plat­forms to com­mu­nic­ate with their pub­lics effectively. 

Learn more: PR Must Adapt (Or Die)

PR Resource: How AI Will Impact PR

Artificial Intelligence and Public Relations - The Future Office - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Every path is going to lead you some­where. (Photo: @jerrysilfwer)

The AI Revolution: Transforming Public Relations

There are sev­er­al ways in which arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) is likely to impact the pub­lic rela­tions (PR) industry. Some poten­tial examples include:

  • More high-level tasks, less low-level. The use of AI-powered tools to auto­mate tasks such as media mon­it­or­ing, con­tent cre­ation, and social media man­age­ment. This could free up PR pro­fes­sion­als to focus on their work’s more stra­tegic and cre­at­ive aspects.
  • Improved ana­lys­is and bet­ter strategies. The devel­op­ment of AI-powered sys­tems that can ana­lyse large amounts of data to identi­fy trends and insights that can inform PR strategy and decision-making.
  • Using PR pro­fes­sion­als as AI train­ers. Using AI-powered chat­bots and vir­tu­al assist­ants to handle cus­tom­er inquir­ies and provide inform­a­tion to the pub­lic allows PR pro­fes­sion­als to scale PR training.
  • Better pub­li­city through inter­con­nectiv­ity. The cre­ation of AI-powered plat­forms and net­works that can facil­it­ate con­nec­tions and col­lab­or­a­tions between PR pro­fes­sion­als, journ­al­ists, pub­lics, influ­en­cers, and oth­er crit­ic­al stake­hold­ers in the industry.
  • Earlier detec­tions of poten­tial PR issues. AI-powered tools can help PR pro­fes­sion­als identi­fy and mit­ig­ate poten­tial crisis situ­ations by ana­lys­ing data and provid­ing early warn­ing sig­nals of poten­tial problems.
  • Increased edit­or­i­al out­put. In organ­isa­tions where the com­mu­nic­a­tions depart­ment is driv­ing the con­tent strategy, PR pro­fes­sion­als will have plenty of tools for increas­ing both the qual­ity and the quant­ity of the out­put (see also arti­fi­cial con­tent explo­sion).

Overall, the impact of AI on the PR industry is likely to be sig­ni­fic­ant, with the poten­tial to revolu­tion­ise many aspects of how PR pro­fes­sion­als work and inter­act with their audi­ences.

Read also: PR Beyond AI: A New Profession Emerging From the Rubble

1 Marshall McLuhan. (2023, May 15). In Wikipedia.
2 Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K. (2012). Public rela­tions and com­munity: A per­sist­ent cov­en­ant. Public Relations Review, 38, 873 – 879.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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