Does behavioral data facilitate the next quantum leap in human evolution?

What makes Homo Sapi­ens supe­ri­or to other ani­mals? We are weak­er and slow­er, but our brains are 3–5 times big­ger than those of our near­est species, the Orang Utans. Are the achieve­ments of build­ing the atom­ic bomb or invent­ing the inter­net the main dif­fer­en­tia­tors? Of course not — what makes Homo Sapi­ens supe­ri­or is his abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and to be social — his cul­tur­al foundation.

About 300,000 years ago, the fire had become a house­hold means to heat, to cook, and the basis for some other impor­tant inno­va­tions. For the first time in their mil­lions of years long his­to­ry, the human species could over­come the lion, slash-and-burn entire forests, and more. The abil­i­ty to cook alone reduced the mor­tal­i­ty rate of moth­ers and new­borns: moth­ers could give birth to babies years before they devel­oped their enor­mous heads rel­a­tive to their remain­ing body. No other ani­mal needs around 15 years of grow­ing up before being able to care for oneself.

Fire and cook­ing have proved to be fun­da­men­tal game-changers for human evo­lu­tion. And yet, anoth­er abil­i­ty of Homo Sapi­ens is at least as impor­tant: lan­guage, oral, writ­ten, and other forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion have laid the foun­da­tion of human evo­lu­tion of the last 80−100,000 years. Lan­guage is the main tool we have been using to become the supe­ri­or species of the planet.
Lan­guage enables us to trans­port infor­ma­tion, to social­ize and to bond with or gos­sip about oth­ers, and to com­mu­ni­cate what does­n’t even exist; just think of fairy tales, myths, or — much-loved in tech­nol­o­gy — the future. Stud­ies show that a mod­ern human being can reg­u­lar­ly inter­act with a group of 150 peo­ple. Inter­ac­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in groups of more than 150 need some tools to struc­ture com­mu­ni­ca­tion — with­out that, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is flawed and brings dis­as­trous results. (Doubt that? Just look at big enter­pris­es.) The abil­i­ty of mak­ing use of a fic­tion­al lan­guage and to cre­ate con­tent and appro­pri­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tion struc­tures that allow us to spread sto­ries, gos­sip, or beliefs among thou­sands, a hun­dred thou­sand or even mil­lions is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates us from the other animals.

Datarella City Map Of Behavior
Datarel­la City Map Of Behavior

For now, lan­guage is our most per­son­al instru­ment to express our­selves. But what about our actions? Actions speak loud­er than words. And some­times, we see dif­fer­ences between a per­son­’s actions and her words, that is, if we actu­al­ly see her act­ing. If there are dis­crep­an­cies between what we do and what we say — or if peo­ple just don’t know what we do, or what the rea­sons are for how we behave — how should there be any under­stand­ing between us? How should we real­ly get the mean­ing of anoth­er per­son­’s words or actions?

Imag­ine, you are bul­lied away from the left lane of the high­way by an aggres­sive dri­ver. Anger comes up — you start flash­ing your head­lights, you honk, or you even curse him. What if you knew that he just learned about his 5‑year-old’s crit­i­cal acci­dent and that he was des­per­ate­ly rush­ing to the hos­pi­tal? Would­n’t you per­ceive a lot more sym­pa­thy for him?
We all inter­pret other peo­ple’s actions from time to time. Often, we judge these actions — in most cases on the basis of very lim­it­ed knowl­edge of the respec­tive con­texts. More infor­ma­tion about the peo­ple you inter­act with and more infor­ma­tion about the con­texts of your inter­ac­tions would cer­tain­ly help in under­stand­ing each other much better.

Imag­ine a tool that pro­vides you with every kind of data of your per­son­al behav­ior and data of your envi­ron­ment, weath­er data, data of the sit­u­a­tion you are in — in short: your con­tex­tu­al data. This tool would help you to know every­thing about your­self — even things you had not been aware of before. It would act as your per­son­al mir­ror. You could use this tool not only to inform your­self but oth­ers as well. You could inform your sig­nif­i­cant other about your actu­al mood, or you could inform your kids about being late to fetch them from school. You could inform strangers that you are in a hurry — so they could let you pass or would offer you to check-out at the reg­is­ter. Imag­ine, this tool would do that auto­mat­i­cal­ly, effort­less­ly — with­out any inter­ven­tion from your side. You could decide who receives what pieces and qual­i­ty of your per­son­al behav­ioral information.

Could­n’t such a tool change your life? And that of peo­ple you com­mu­ni­cate with? Could­n’t this tool play an inte­gral role in social inter­ac­tions? Would­n’t this tool help peo­ple to under­stand each other much better?

Datarella DriverTimelIne
Datarel­la DriverTimelIne

This tool is not fic­tion. This tool will be launched in 2015. It’s an app we are devel­op­ing at our com­pa­ny Datarel­la. Its project name is Life­Line. On your smart­phone it col­lects your behav­ioral data, ana­lyzes and visu­al­izes the data, and sends it back to you in a mean­ing­ful feed­back loop. You decide which infor­ma­tion you share with whom — all infor­ma­tion is yours. Life­Line helps you to know your­self and other peo­ple better.
It’s very early to assess the impli­ca­tions of Life­Line, but I’m very con­fi­dent that it will change the way we live, that it will help us to under­stand each other sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter. In that way, it could play a role in help­ing to facil­i­tate the next level of human evo­lu­tion. That might sound far-stretched, and we will expe­ri­ence a lot of skep­ti­cism, indig­na­tion, and out­right fear when it comes to inte­grat­ing all that data into our lives.

To accept one’s own data as impor­tant, mean­ing­ful, and vital, to learn about the advan­tages of shar­ing this data with oth­ers and to expe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits of open­ness and trans­paren­cy (you might call it post-privacy), all that takes time. I think, future gen­er­a­tions won’t under­stand why it took their fore­fa­thers that long to accept data as an inte­gral and vital ele­ment of their lives. Future school kids will laugh at our anx­i­eties and they will ask their teach­ers how we could afford not to man­age our data, how we could have sur­vived with­out an active per­son­al data man­age­ment. This claim isn’t dif­fi­cult to make: the data exist, it will be avail­able for any­body. Should­n’t you take care of it and make the best pos­si­ble use of it?

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