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Posted: January 21, 2014

The futurist: The quantified self

You getting to know you better

Thomas Frey

Who are you as an individual? 

As part of a family, you are measured by your domestic life and the relatives closest to you. As a prospective employee, you are evaluated by your skills, talents and knowledge. As part of a community, you are gauged by the kind of relationships you build and maintain. As an athlete you are assessed by your physical strengths, your reaction times and your determination.

Whatever kind of lens or filter we place over our lives we use different systems for measuring those key differentiators. And while we all think we are the world’s foremost expert on ourselves, we actually know very little.

That’s about to change.

The Internet of Things is already comprised of over 10 billion moving parts, and by 2020, that number will grow to over 50 billion.

These “things” have a way of gathering information about ourselves in ways we never imagined were possible. Not only will we be able to monitor the quantity and quality of food we eat, the air we breath, and our daily activities, but we will also be tracking the information we consume, our moods, our level of engagement and what activities we find most stimulating.

In addition to charting the normal inputs and outputs for our mind and body, we will also be evaluating the context in which we exist. Whether it’s an emotional context, environmental context, or spiritual context, each plays an important role in determining who we are. In the future, it all becomes measurable. 

The “quantified self” is all about building a vast and measurable information sphere around us. As we get better acquainted with the Delphic maxim “Know thyself,” we will become far more aware of our deficiencies and the pieces of learning needed to shore up our shortfalls. And that’s why this will have such a tremendous impact on colleges.

Compensating for these deficiencies won’t be about getting bachelor or master degrees. Rather, they will be about gaining experiences, reading books, meeting people or working as an apprentice. At most, it will be about taking a couple of courses at a university, but not an entire degree package. Here’s why. 

Quantifying Human Attributes

If you were doing a job search for someone who is extremely creative, detail-oriented or has a great passion for life, what kind of credentials will you be look for?

If you need someone who is extremely persistent, enjoys working in isolation or an ability to discern tiny little details, what kind of diplomas will you want them to have?

Human attributes fall into many different categories and when connected together, form a nearly infinite number of combinations. Yet, it is these same highly nuanced human characteristics, that are often leveraged to our advantage, that also become a huge liability in a system that can’t quantify them.

Not only can we not measure, rate, or score human attributes, we currently have no well-accepted system for improving on them or credentialing them.

The big picture of who we are gets lost in a blur of anecdotes.

But emerging from the shadows of yesteryear’s murkiness comes a host of new quantifiable-self technologies that promise an end to our primary-colors-only view of our uniqueness. 

“The big picture of who we are gets lost in a blur of anecdotes.”

The Super-Quantified Human Checkup

Imagine stepping through a series of assessments that rates you in say, 947 different categories of physical attributes and human characteristics.

Once you have your personal information sphere in place, now visualize a similar but larger sphere that depicts your goals and desires for the future and plots out a tactical plan for getting there.

As an example, if you felt you wanted more control over your life, it might recommend a series of management books, videos, or classes to help you gain those skills.

If you have a secret desire to become more famous, it might recommend a number of achievable benchmarks that would position you in the limelight.

If your interests center around becoming more physically trim and active, it may advise you on possible workout regiments, diets, and workshops.

Every person’s quantifiable information sphere would be superimposed on their desired goal-sphere, and system algorithms would constantly be prompting you on ways to get closer to your goal.

In this real-time quantifiable-self machine, every time your interests, desires, or ambitions change, so will your goal-sphere. In fact, it will recalculate many time a second to reflect the dynamic nature of matching personality shifts with new gap-filling options.

The College-Killer

As the quantifiable-self catches on, the tools for human assessment will expand exponentially.

As employers lose confidence in traditional transcripts and college degrees as a predictor of success, they will turn towards more sophisticated attribute-matching systems for sorting through the ultra-granular quantifiable-self and finding the closest fit.

People who don’t make the shortlist for a job opening will be given an auto-generated overview of their perceived deficiencies and ways to improve upon them.

The reason this will have such a profound affect on colleges is because our credentialing systems today for granting credits and degrees will have virtually no standing in the hyper-granular metrics used to measure job candidates in the future.

Looking at this through a bigger picture lens, as we move into the quantifiable self era, we will have far more tools for taking charge of our own destiny. Rather than spending much of our future income on a path of discovery by taking marginally relevant courses at a university, we will have a wide array of super-tools for both finding and engaging in personally relevant experiences, all in an effort to optimize “you” to become the “ultimate you.”

Final Thoughts

We are all radiating information.

Every thought we have, every action we take, and every experience we endure is casting waves, images, and twiglets of information in every possible direction, and it all quickly loses value.

The quantifiable self promises to change all that by adding gauges, dials, and tracking systems to our personal information spheres. This alone has the ability to spawn hundreds, if not thousands, of new industries 

The quantifiable self will lead to the optimized self, and eventually my future self will have the value of three of my current selves.

It becomes the first major step towards transhumanism, the next generation of humanity with greatly enhanced intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities.

To many, this will be a scary prospect. But to most of us, it’s the promise of a lifetime.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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