A tech focused view on gender expression futures - Part 1 of 3
Gender is a subject that has become a hot topic and battleground for many a netizen on all sides of the discussion. I have compiled this 3 part series in the way of inducing a thought experiment on how technology is changing the idea of gender being rigid to one of fluidity and potentially one of the many earlier nods towards transhumanism. Following this we'll touch on how a potential future of being able to digitally and physically match any gender as easy as making a wardrobe change could play a part in the evolution of society.
From a digital profile and personality representing the gender you truly feel you are to talking with a therapist, hormone replacement therapy and even sex reassignment surgery in the real world, there is a fair amount of transformation capabilty and care available today. The spectrum of gender identity is wide so the focus will be on the state of play for someone transitioning from a man to a woman and vice versa. Although much of what we're going to observe and attempt to envision can and is being applied and affecting how society sees the role of gender roles and gender identity as a whole.
Digital identity, self and customization
Machine learning has given us gender-swapping features and tools. Whether it's for photo, video or even streaming giving a user the ability to present as their prefered gender is now not just possible but so convincing it's almost impossible to tell that these filters or tools were used in most cases. With the onset of voice synthesizers and even models working on life-like feminine and masculine physical mannerisms powered by A.I and you have a trajectory of an ever-improving state of realism at your behest. The real challenge in progression though, is the challenge of 'immersion over imitation'. In other words not just saying and displaying that you are who you have decided to be but being so and having the sensory experience in first person mode allowing for self validating of your chosen existance.
...gender validation in the digital realm not being seen as 'real' as physical reality could be a severe lack of foresight from a technological rate of change perspective.
Your reality is defined very much by what your mind consumes, it's why attention based econemies are so powerful. Content algorithms are designed to keep your attention and curate a digital environment based on what you consume. Like cars, pumping iron and beards? Well, that's what you're going to get more of from now on, along with some related ads too of course, ultimatley echoing the subjective reality of your own thought patterns. Alongside a digital profile a person might create, the feedback from the algorithms and communities based on your configured gender creates a sense of possibility and validation. The question that needs to be asked here is why aren't we looking at this as a glimpse of what's to come? Especially when we do this with all other areas affected by the progression of tech.
Currently our digital reality is one in which we are able to set the variables representing our preferred gender identity and so much more. Simply creating a social media account identifying as your preferred gender for example and being fed content designed to hold the attention of a user identifying as said gender is something that no one thought possible in the pre-internet or 'automated online community curation' era. An early form of self digital creation with a few keystrokes and a dyanmic system and community confirming your existance as such without question.
Understanding this trajectory of the digitization of individuals, society and our physical realities might help us also conclude that our digital selves and perosnal brand is becoming ever more important in the physical world too. The idea of gender identity in the digital realm not being seen as 'real' could be a severe lack of technological foresight. With human interaction increasing online and as a result descreasing in the physical world, it's not difficult to see a part of humanity living in a Matrix like world more and more as digitization marches on.
The main reason, I believe, we don't see current digital worlds as version 0.1 of a Matrix like existance is the limited frequenzy that current sensory immersive technologies provide. Stub your toe while wearing a VR headset or snap out of being entranced by a movie as a result of your phone ringing as good examples of this. Infact the bulk of online activity is still very much remote and consumption based as apposed to interactiion focused.
Imagine being able to experience a virtual world and interact in said world through a configurable avatar expressing a chosen gender and other identifying expressions. No physical risk or surgery but a fully imerrsive and affirming experience. For some a fun experiement and others a way of self expression, validation or just plain exploration. The tuth is you don't really need to put much effort into envisioning a future like as most of this is already possible. Second Life, an immersive virutal world for example allows just this, setting out side full sensory immersion. With Meta trying to do the same and not quite yet hitting the mark, it's clear there is alot of money being spent to head in this direction.
In Second Life for example, it's as easy as creating an account and configuring or even selecting an off the shelf avatar(think body suite of the future) and choosing every aspect of your new personal and digital existance. Every physical attribute and accessory is configurable from hairstyle, hair colour, eye color, height, voice and so on to interacting with other users in this new form of theirs. Looking slightly more forward, what we might be looking at already is the creation of frameworks, knowledge bases and software founding this Matrix 1.0 capability and doing so while the compute, biotech and A.I play catchup. Ultimately enabling the enhancement of all these virtual worlds to be fully immersive and unrecognisable from the material world once the hardware is capable.
An example of self digital customization. TRUTH HAIR, flickr.com/people/truthhawks/, seeelings configurable hair styles and fashion items within Second Life.
Considering that this technology has provided a lifeline for some and entertainment for others, this tech doesn't come without its risks as a result of the technology not being advanced enough. We're at a stage with these digital avatars and worlds where the tech provides an extremely convincing reality although ultimately, it isn't, or at least not real enoug. As a result and as helpful and liberating as this tech is for those wanting to be who they are or even experiment and a painful reminder, i.e dysphoria. Gender dysaphoria is a very serious and difficult place be in. Much of this is about time as well, how much time do I have to become the person I want to be?
BCI's will be too late
Virtual Reality(VR) and Augmented Reailty(AR) to Brain Computer Interfaces(BCI) for short are now really pushing forward in terms of accessibility and capability. Yes this tech has been around for a long while! Although only in the last decade has the accelleration of investment, R&D and commericalisation at scale shown that we have most likely already seen the equivialant of the first 5-10 years of mobile phone technology in the 80's!
VR tech is growing fast. We're potentially looking at a sustained forecasted growth of more than 30% for the next several years for VR suppliers already in the nmarket, according to data from the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker. It's already on a growth curve and with competition heating up things are looking great with the technology. Although with alternative BCI R&D looking to provide the kind of functinoality that would render the need for a phsycial headset or a haptic suite pointless.
Brain computer interface research has been around since the 70's. Finally being implimented in a human for research purposes in the early 2000's. We've seen many a research topic never really leave the lab as a result of not being able to miniturise, manufacture at scale and or prove effective safety for humans for succssfull results to be pushed into the mainstream. We're at point now where serious money and innovation is being poured into BCI's and I think it's worth mentioning before we wrap up part 1 of the transformation of gender identity and roles in society through technological advancement.
Currently the goal is to recieve and interpret brain signals as accurately and as fast as possible with an implant or set of implants that are practically invisible to non-wearers and safe to sit within the brain for long periods of time. Many a company is looking to progress in this space with a few honourable mentions like Elon Musk's Neuralink and a lesser known company - Synchron. Synchron having beaten Neurlink to getting to the approved human trials stage even though they are wildy underfunded in comparison, which really bodes well for the progress of this technology as a whole!
In truth it's way too early to be talking about BCI's in the capacity of making a difference or allowing a trully full mind connection into a digital world. Really giving humans a chance to trully "re-shell" and live in a diffferent body from a digital perspective. So in conuclusion for part 1, technologies like the internet, social media and VR along side a decent amount of privacy(for now) shows that tech has absolutley extended peoples potential to explore, expiriment, albeit from a digital space with the sensory interaction. I wanted to touch on this view of the digital, as the more we move into the future the more of our reality will ultimatley be digitized. Part 2 will focus on the role biotech advancements could have on potentially accellerating real physical changes with less risk when compared to current gender affirming care methods. Finally we'll touch on the out right crazy potential and ideas for a bit of fun in part 3 - subscribe to make sure you don't miss part two!
- IDCs Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker - report
- Kawala-Sterniuk, Aleksandra et al. “Summary of over Fifty Years with Brain-Computer Interfaces-A Review.” Brain sciences vol. 11,1 43. 3 Jan. 2021, - doi:10.3390/brainsci11010043
- Cell - VOLUME 139, ISSUE 6, P1130-1142, DECEMBER 11, 2009, Somatic Sex Reprogramming of Adult Ovaries to Testes by FOXL2 Ablation, N. Henriette Uhlenhaut, Susanne Jakob, Katrin Anlag, Tobias Eisenberger, Ryohei Sekido, Jana Kress, Anna-Corina Treier, Claudia Klugmann, Christian Klasen, Nadine I. Holter, Dieter Riethmacher, Günther Schütz, Austin J. Cooney, Robin Lovell-Badge, Mathias Treier - doi:10.1016