Cyborg Enhancements: Wheels and Pedals

The best technologies are the ones that enhance your natural abilities rather than replace them. These are the innovations that have historically had the biggest impact on what humanity can accomplish, and this is the factor to watch for when deciding what emerging technologies to get excited about. Sep Kamvar, writing about the power efficiencies of a human brain and body vs. that of a super computer, points out how energy efficient a car is compared to a person on a bike.

A midsized car gets a little over half a mile per kilocalorie of energy. A human walking gets 10 miles per kilocalorie. Even if we exclude the cost of the car, the cost of the road, and the cost of the infrastructure we build for fueling, walking is still 20 times as efficient as driving.

There does exist a vehicle that is more efficient than a human walking: a human on a bicycle. A human on a bicycle gets 25 miles per kilocalorie, the equivalent of 750 miles per gallon. Like my fictitious Jeopardy software, the bicycle is a light-touch technology, that extends the human’s natural ability for mobility rather than replacing it.

I knew there was a reason biking feels so good. It is an efficient tool that greatly enhances my natural ability to get around.

Modern Medicine

Jonathan Harris:

There is an ancient pact between tools and their users which says that tools should be used by their users, and not the other way around. Good tools should help their users accomplish a task by satisfying some pre-existing urge and then getting out of the way. Attention economies, at their most addictive, violate this pact. Like good medicine, good tools should appear briefly when you need them, and then disappear, leaving you free to get on with your life.

Instead of looking for tools to solve problems, look to solve problems with tools. It is a subtle but important distinction.