Confrontation with Google ATAP

I recently watched this presentation of new technologies being produced by Google ATAP. I struggled throughout the video with the giddiness of the presenters and audience, however as a relative layman I was impressed with the advancements the teams had achieved. It’s genuinely new technologies and lives up to the ‘skunkworks’ mandate.

When I learned that ATAP was created by a former DARPA director Regina Dugan, I recalled Buckminster Fuller’s concept of Livingry:

“Serving one hundred per cent will involve a world design revolution, not just design of end-products, but of the comprehensive industrial network equations including world-around-livingry-service systems, at regenerative occupancy rentals, mutually installed in anticipatory facilitation of total world enjoyment of individually respected total man.”

My basic understanding is that Livingry is antonymous to Killingry (or weaponry). Livingry assumes a paradigm shift globally to a shared pursuit of humanity-centric design and technology solutions. When products and services exist that inherently spread access to basic human needs such as food and shelter to anyone at any class, politics and economics will adapt to enable that good. Adaptations we have already seen with Uber, for example, forcing transport laws—mostly in place for citizens’ own safety—to change due to massive market pressure.

Perhaps ATAP’s work is an early realisation of the concept of Livingry at a scale that can begin to make an impact—its founder’s career being symbolic of this ideological shift. For Google, its employees and fans, this is technology designed not to cut down a foreign enemy in battle, rather it hopes to improve our lives. It is also not TOP SECRET, it is open-source. It isn’t just a Levis jacket, its a ‘smart’ thread that can be sewn into many different kinds of garments and integrated in different ways. It isn’t just a watch, it is a small, powerful sensor, making the fexibility and accessibility of the technology far greater. It is perhaps the beginning of a system or infrastructure that supports us equally.

But then again… I doubt it. At the heart of these new technologies is a business model, one that relies on our ceding of personal data for convenience. It is a very grey area of value exchange, happening at a instinctual level with dangers only seeming like improbable future scenarios. If our world’s common ground is designed, built and monitored by a single corporation, penetrating deeper into our lives by its collection, storage and analysis of our habits, how should they be thought of? We do not influence their actions, yet the experiences they design influence ours—not to make us better people but to sustain a business model and data monopoly.

Big innovations must come from sources other than Weaponary, however until it is relieved of its dependency on our submission and its commercial success, these expressions of it will not provide humanity with respect or personal freedom and so Livingry is still distant utopia.

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