One Question: Notes From the Future

Taryn Southern has an optimistic view of where humanity is headed.

By Abigail Fagan, published June 26, 2019 - last reviewed on July 2, 2019

Taryn Southern is fascinated by the intersection of technology and humanity. Her new film, I Am Human, explores the future of brain-computer interfaces to treat debilitating illnesses and strengthen qualities such as empathy and creativity. Deeply thoughtful yet boundlessly optimistic, Southern rejects the notion that technology will strip people of individuality—believing instead that it will restore or even enhance the experience of being human. Her career is perhaps a testament to this idea: The 32-year-old artist and entertainer has nimbly navigated new tools and technologies as they emerged, from building a following on YouTube, to hosting a reality TV show, to producing the first album composed partly by artificial intelligence.

Natasha Wilson
Natasha Wilson

What do you think the world will look like in 2060?

I imagine walking down the block, and there’s not a single car. Instead, the roads are filled with trees and have walkways for pedestrians, scooters, and little hovercrafts. I imagine the cities are completely quiet, that we’ve developed a better understanding of sound technology and how sound impacts our health and well-being. I imagine that we’re no longer working at jobs doing routine tasks that could be automated. Hopefully we’re spending more of that time on creative problem-solving and in empathy-oriented jobs. Maybe we’re eating some interesting new meal that’s hyper-packed with nutrients, or maybe there’s meat on the plate that was grown in a lab. We’ve found a really economically and environmentally friendly way of producing food.

What excites me most is the prospect of no cars. I imagine greenery everywhere. I hope we use technology to protect and enhance the biosphere so that we have a healthier and happier place to live. Whenever we see depictions of the future, from Ex Machina to Westworld and Black Mirror, we see these all-white, sterile, sleek views. But the future doesn’t have to look like a spaceship! It could look like a beautiful greenhouse.

I also envision some kind of external brain interface that I can use to be more artistic, more compassionate, and to turn off my little amygdala response that prevents me from being a better human. I hope that my film shows an experience of brain technology that’s different from the dark picture we’ve seen on television and in movies of what it will mean to be human in 20, 30, or 40 years. The reality is that the future is here now. There are several hundred thousand people in the world walking around with brain-computer interfaces, and that number is going to increase threefold in the next decade. Those brain-computer interfaces are helping to restore parts of their humanity that they may have lost, like their movement or their creativity. The real-world version of what’s going on is just as interesting as science fiction—but not nearly as dystopic.