Eyeball The Future: Vision & Bodyhacking
One of the most basic assumptions in design and engineering is the capabilities of the human eye. Our world is shaped and colored to please (or offend) the eye, and to ensure a consistent experience across the visual spectrum. Buildings are built and torn down based on their appeal, and even the law reflects the primacy of the optic over all other perception (For example, the United Kingdom’s Right to Light law.). While there are varying tastes – for example the internet is famously wild about brutalist architecture there is always the assumed baseline of the human eye- a salty spheroid of humorous composition that is our window into the world.
What if you could challenge that assumption?
Of course, the wild world of ocular surgical enhancement and laser treatments has exploded in the last two decades. LASIK, the now widely popular successor to radial keratotomy for reshaping the cornea of the eye, is becoming very common – over 28 million operations as of 2009, with an approximate satisfaction rate of 95.4%. And that, after all, involves people being blasted in the eyes with lasers, which is particularly rad as medicine goes.
However, the Ocumetics Bionic Lens is claiming that their new intraocular lens will put LASIK squarely into the past. And there are ongoing research projects into chemicals for expanding the night vision spectrum– but we will disregard those for now, because they tend to be cosmetic or, in some cases, breathtakingly dangerous. Let’s stick to what you can wear.
The first and oldest of the visual enhancement techniques are glasses, ubiquitous now on every continent. Current scholarship puts the first use of optic lenses back in the 12th century, in rough equivalents of later telescopes. The use of flat planes of smoky quartz for eye protection is reported in China around this time as well, and the First Nations people of North America may have used similar technology for preventing snowblindness. Now, in the United States, almost three quarters of the population uses or wears glasses for corrective purposes. It is, as you might call it, a mature technology.
So, naturally, people are trying to hang things off it. Google Glass famously allows people to use augmented reality in their daily lives (although it currently is rather limited in distribution). The appeal of maximizing the usefulness of our visual field is readily apparent, and of course, advertisers are champing at the bit to overlay the real world with digital landmarks. Twice as much reality to market in! Although the primary utility now is entertainment, the possibilities of augmented reality for productivity and entertainment are limited only by battery life.
Other enhancements await. There was a famous experiment in the 1890s by noted psychologist George M. Stratton wherein he wore glasses that inverted his vision for eight days in a row. By the fifth day, he had begun to perceive the world as right side up – establishing a principle now commonly known under the name of perceptual adaptation. The EnChroma Cx lens takes advantage of that flexibility in the brain that allows colorblind people to perceive color, sometimes for the first time. Further, it expands the visual spectrum of color for people, which opens up literal new vistas for expression and design. Imagine that! New degrees of fineness and perception. New levels of fineness and clarity – or thrilling heights of ambiguity. New vistas of artistic expression, writ large in faces and brains.
All of us have ambition for ourselves and the world. We are all striving to improve our bodies and minds, now more than ever. The tools we have to do so are multiplying and our ability to make use of them becoming more universal. With these visual enhancements, these clever tricks of light and polarity that give us new ways to see and new worlds to explore, we may see our way forward in a clearer light.