Is there a good future for our private lives? — We’re launching Ixy Labs to find out
We at Ixy Labs like to say that we’re investigating “the future of private life”. But if I was at school and the teacher said that, I would surely raise my hand and ask, “OK, but what is ‘future’, what is ‘private’ and what is ‘life’?”
You can imagine how annoying a child I must have been, but I have to admit, I still want to find answers to all those questions. So what do you say: let’s go and find out?
Ixy Labs will be sharing articles, videos and a podcast investigating the future of private life, and is an independent offshoot of the Ixy app.
Algorithms, echo chambers, robot companions — it’s time to think about the future of private life
You’ve heard about post-truth society, algorithmic bias, deepfakes and the public’s diminishing trust in democracy — and the many resourceful projects trying to restore political discourse to health. But chances are you’re also a human being with burning questions about your relationship, your children’s wellbeing, the safety of your home, and the stability of your friendships or personal finances. You worry about your parents, your looks, and the integrity of your neighbourhood. You often don’t know anymore what is O.K. to say to someone else, or if your university degree and knowledge will still be useful in a few years’ time…
At Ixy Labs, our founding team comes together from economics, philosophy and the creative industries to examine these ordinary, human questions: what will become of our personal life? Will we even get to have personal lives the way we do today in the future?
What the heck is private life?
“Home life”, “personal life”, “private life” — these broad terms carry different, but strongly resonating meanings to all of us: we all have a sense that what happens at home, in the privacy of our intimate relationships, in a conversation with a friend, when playing with our children or during an appointment with our doctor, is somehow different from what we’re willing to share with the “outside world”.
We reserve a different part of ourselves to share with those we trust deeply and wish to keep in our lives than the parts of us that belong to our workplace, to public transport, to social events or the voting booth. When these lines are crossed, we can become confused as in how we should behave.
When we were in school, private life — the way people eat, sleep, learn, love, marry, are born, and how they die — was usually treated as an interesting appendix, if at all, outshone by the great wars, migrations, revolutions, inventions and the changes of political regimes and rights that have shaped the history of humanity.
Yet most of us did leave school everyday and went home, where we re-entered this crucial space of — hopefully — comfort, to recharge and reaffirm who we are.
While there is consensus about private life being embedded in eras of public history, and always hugely affected by it, the official definitions of “private life” vary even today. And at Ixy Labs, we’re interested in not only what this variance is and how it came to be, but primarily how our private life is changing — from now into the future.
Some broad topics will provide the useful sections for exploring where this is all heading…
As an homage to Bill Bryson, our visual structure will follow a walk around the home: we’ll discuss self-expression in the living room, separating public and private spaces in the doorway, sex and death in the bedroom, health and addiction in the kitchen, and fashion and secrets in the closet.
(We know this is a simplification — people do eat in the study, make love in the kitchen, and think in bed — but we chose this topology for the sake of making things a bit more pleasantly peripatetic.)
We will explore 15 topics this way. Here are some of our questions around them — we hope you’ll join our conversations and share your thoughts and stories!
1) Thinking and self-expression: Where will people learn how to be a person in the future? How can we know what we think is our own opinion? Will algorithmic and societal bias narrow our intellectual options? How do we know what is safe to share in order to keep our relationships intact? Our jobs safe? How do we know who we are and what community we belong to? How will this come to change if newly conscious beings — AI — will join our ranks as entities with agency? What platforms will be available for free discussion in the personal and public spaces? How will we get — and trust and verify — our news?
2) Communication and relationships: How will we use communication platforms built for us by product managers and programmers to sustain nuanced, complex, quality relationships? What types of relationships will we have in the future? If new forms of knowledge come to erode family hierarchies and new communication tools the secrecy of private life, how will humans form their identity which is indispensable for deep bonds with other humans, and vice versa?
On what platforms will we negotiate the intricate contracts underlying any important human relationship — a key to making each other happy?
3) Dating and sex: How will we learn what is desirable in a partner — and in our own behaviour — in the age of absolute technology? How will we meet our partners and develop long-term connections? Will there be long-term connections in our lives? How will we experience intimacy in the age of technological broadcasting?
How will we explore our sexuality? What norms will govern our actions and preferences? Will people be lonelier? Will using AI companions or even sex robots be common? Will women take part in this trend equally? Will such developments spice up human relationships, or rather separate humans from each other and into human/AI couples? If this happens, how will starting a family work? How will families live? How will our emotions, norms and needs change to keep pace?
4) Marriage and the home: Will people marry and stay married in the future? How will people seek to solve their marital problems? Will couples have increased equality in the home? How will our gender roles change in the future and what will be our influences in this area? Will marriage between races, political polarities and different classes be more common? Will same sex marriage become an accepted norm?
Will the connected home mean more exposure to broadcast social media? Will we have privacy? Security? Where will we look for these? Will AR and VR change how we decorate and then live and relax in our homes?
5) Education and work: How and where will children be educated in an increasingly competitive landscape? Will children be allowed to be children — if so, for how many years? Will universities in the West overcome their current free speech vs. social movements crisis and/or will we see the type of government control that is already happening against universities in “illiberal” countries? How will parents prepare kids for such student years? Will there be foreign opportunities in education in the future or will it become more restricted?
How will entering the workforce change for young people, and how will families manage this? What new types of jobs will be common and which ones will be lost? Will we still work in offices and factories, or will working from home or being part of the gig economy be the new normal? How will people make enough money to live, and what will be “enough”?
6) Having and raising children: How will the age at which we have children change in the future? How about the number of children we’ll be having? How will parents share duties around child-rearing? What will count as a happy — or successful — child? How will we think differently about our children’s health?
What preferences will we have around childbirth and breastfeeding in the future? How will science ease or influence conception? Will we make babies in labs? On what platforms will parents share knowledge with each other?
7) Health and beauty: How will our health data change the way we think about our wellbeing, and our preferences in treatments?
Will we rely on self-monitoring more, and if so, will employers or the public be able to access our information? How will AI improve diagnostics, and which doctors and other professionals will it replace?
Will we be healthier in the future? How long will we live — and will social class play an increased role in our longevity? With Instagram in the present, and the AR of the future, amplifying our exposure to other people’s beauty and fashion choices, how will our ideals of beauty change? How will we see and improve ourselves? Will our mental health suffer in the process?
How will algorithms and AI doctors approach mental health in general? Will we all be on drugs? Will we routinely monitor our psychological data? Will we use AI therapists? If so, will this information be reliable — and private?
8) Culture and recreation: What will we find entertaining in the future? Will we turn to even more solitary leisure activities — Netflix, gym, mobile games, porn, Coursera — or will crowd events remain in our lives? How will our busy schedules allow for relaxation? How will what is accepted as a form of entertainment change with the more realistic worlds of VR/AR (e.g., murder, sex)? To what extent will these experiences be personalised?
Will we — at some point — lose our certainty in what is real and what is entertainment?
9) Religion and identity: Along what ideologies will families and individuals form their political and class identities in the future? Where will these ideas originate and on what platforms will they spread? Will there still be a leading ideology in society or will fragmentation take over for good? Will we live in nation states? Will we still have successful religions around? How will we express our differences as groups?
How will we negotiate our disagreements as groups? Will industries and geographical areas “specialise” ideologically? Will there be a mobility between identities? Through what valve will societies get rid of the surplus tension (sports, sex, satire, war)?
10) Body and autonomy: What liberties will the human of the future be entitled to? To what degree will we be in charge of our own bodies? Will we have more or fewer reproductive rights? Will we come up with a better solution than prison? Will we keep migrating internationally?
Will there be adoption (i.e., baby ordering) apps around? Will we buy the new organs we need online? What movements and initiatives will there be to increase our freedom as human bodies?
11) Causes and politics: How will we join and promote causes in the future? How will we decide if a cause is right? Will it be more difficult to build audiences or influence lawmakers in the age of personalised social media? Will there be platforms for those who disagree to have constructive debates on? How will we stay informed about causes being fought for outside our “bubbles”?
Will parts of politics — voting, debate, fundraising — change fundamentally? Will we be empowered or have less say in matters of public interest in the future? Will we notice these changes? If so, how will we react?
12) Neighbourhoods and personal finances: Where will people live in the future, and how much freedom will they have to decide? Will algorithms determine which areas we can get loans for living in? Will we live exclusively in neighbourhoods where people think the same stuff we do?
Will we see a huge change in what we can afford in terms of housing and comfort? Will this influence what choices we make in terms of family-planning? How will we budget for our lives in the future? Will we understand the forces at play in how our pension or mortgage is assigned for us? Will we be able to rely on our savings? Will we have savings? How will we plan for the future of our children — or our own years of retirement?
13) Generations: With people living longer, more generations have the opportunity to be alive at the same time… What will the family of the future be like? Which members of a family will live together? What will be our expectations around this arrangement? How will economic burdens be distributed within a family? Who will care for whom — and who will be in charge?
Will there be possibilities to find the common ground between generations of such different histories and experiences? Will there be a levelling period when fast change halts and generations again will have roughly the same perceptions and skillset?
14) Morality and conduct: In multicultural, pluralistic, algorithmically curated Western societies, will the traditional morality we grew up with remain the norm? How will people learn and choose what’s right and wrong? Will there be platforms for building consensus about these categories? How will our legal system keep up with the new demands and experiences of absolute technology? Who will be accountable for actions co-taken by human and AI? How will people know what is polite, what is kind, what is acceptable — and what is rude, ill-advised, even criminal?
How will families prepare their children for existing in this new world? How will people be able to trust each other if centralised categories of morality become less emphatic? How will we negotiate and regulate behaviour so needed for creating communities, even small ones like a romantic relationship?
15) Dying: At what age will we die in the future and in what surroundings? What will happen to our social media profiles and our belongings? How will we be remembered — and by whom? Will we have bots made of our old messages? Will we have our consciousness uploaded somewhere? Will we find a way to live forever? How will the dying be cared for? How will we bury our dead — and will we visit their grave? Will society hide from discussing — or even thinking about — death? Will there be new eschatological movements in a religionless future? Or will there be a new faith around?
If we’ve merged with AI, will our AI live on without us?
In short: what will it mean to live, act and speak as humans in the time of AI and absolute technology?
Some stuff we like to consider…
Private life is new: Although James Burke in his beloved history of science book ‘Connections’ claimed private life started with the 13th century invention of the chimney (which helped create a series of eras when we came to cherish solitary reading, scientific experiments by candlelight, and conversation and sex out of sight of others), we can safely assume most advanced societies enjoyed some form of separation — a tent, a domus — between family and the wider community for a long time before that. (The degree to which an individual had privacy for self and family mostly depended on what social class she belonged to.)
As it has been chronicled ad nauseum, it was the advent of the Second Industrial Revolution, the rise of the middle class and then of consumer society, that really installed this sequestered space in the world of humans: private life. That said, the rich 20th century literature on the psychological ailments associated with suddenly living in nuclear families — or as a couple or single — and the currently popular research into the profound changes in broadcasting behaviour enabled by social media suggest what level of privacy humans naturally need remains an open question.
Private life is an open system: Human beings, like many other species, run on information. Information seems like the natural resource we just cannot get enough of. In terms of accessing new information, humans remain true hunter-gatherers, and will soon notice that small units like a nuclear family or a couple could quickly run out of supplies were it not possible to keep venturing outside for more. This raises a lot of interesting questions:
Safety vs information: Just as our ancestors throughout evolution had to constantly encounter the dilemma of A) approaching a moving bush as it could hide valuable prey for food or B) fleeing as fast as possible as it may shield a predator who thinks we are food, we still make many such choices both on and offline during our daily lives. Leaving our private spaces to encounter new ideas, views and beliefs is necessary for our continued development as individuals, but they also present potential dangers when “brought home”. Families, friends and couples balance such risks to avoid discord and inner crises, but to leave personal growth and shared “updates” a possibility.
Shared secrets vs broadcast presence: The fact that reputation and good standing in one’s community were a logical must for cooperation — and thus: survival — for any individual since the earliest human tribes reflects in many instincts and behaviours — a sense of reward and success, a fear of shame — we display even today.
It remains a task for each era, political system and family to re-negotiate how much of what’s going on behind closed doors should be a secret, and what can and should be shared with the outside world. When most family members — or both members of a couple — use internet and especially social media — this compartmentalisation of public and private becomes even more complicated, as participants can easily disagree on the boundaries. (A popular example would be: Should parents be allowed to post photos of their babies on Facebook? How will those babies feel about this when they grow up?)
That said, the mere fact that some of us can at least to some degree decide what should remain private, and how much to keep the outside world out of our personal matters, is a luxury. This doesn’t make the situation less problematic, of course, but it also shouldn’t be forgotten that this relative liberty is new, rare, and not an option for everyone.
Ixy Labs, perhaps not surprisingly, was co-founded by two thinkers from Eastern Europe, and one from China. It has been our experience that people who have memories of growing up under authoritarian regimes — where the private space was where real opinions could be voiced, surveillance made total, and fundamental betrayals be suffered— have a very personal take on society’s current need for re-examining what sections of our thinking should be made public.
With personal lives broadcast and the unpopular opinions necessary for free, constructive thinking visible to masses of strangers on the internet, many of us feel the remaining options of A) not voicing provocative thoughts to anyone at all or B) risking losing friends and allies are simply not sufficient pillars of a fulfilled, harmonious life within society.
While we don’t have ready-made solutions for this unfolding problem, we’re deeply curious to probe the possible futures of the new (un)separation of public/private.
Private life is an open system where processes within wider society affect how we conduct our personal affairs.
Norms, trends and the zeitgeist will shape our dreams, ambitions and plans, and what we see as possibilities in terms of roles we can play and arrangements we can live in. While there has been much inquiry into how personal choices — e.g. what groups we like on Facebook — affect the public sphere — i.e. who gets elected as President — it’s no less interesting to look at that process in reverse too: public technological products and their invisible algorithms — from ads to medical appointments to mortgage approvals — have a huge influence over the quality and scope of our private lives.
It’s worth noting that the small units of private life — families, couples — also have their internal information circuits. This presents us with intriguing open questions waiting to be explored: with so much knowledge potentially becoming obsolete, and generational divides deeper, with gender roles and lifestyles rapidly changing, how do people continue learning from and teaching each other in their personal space how to act? How to be good? What behaviour is useful and to be rewarded? We’re also interested where people today turn for advice? Is it one’s favourite website, grandmother, therapist or rabbi that will be called upon to help us out: what should I do? Did I do it right?
Some more stuff…
Private life has always been changing. There’s no reason to think it’s not going to keep transforming from era to era. These changes will remain induced, facilitated or accelerated by technology, the economy, urban planning and, subsequently, by shifting norms.
Private life means something different to each individual. Just as each of us is different one by one, so are our combinations with each other. We think that even happy families are not all that much alike, so when we’re looking into the future, we should take into account not only the many general tides in the affairs of men, but also the many variables in the individual tradeoffs people negotiate with each other so they can live intimately together.
Private life is literally good for you. There’s convincing research to suggest that people with strong attachments to each other — whatever format these may be — contribute to physical and mental health, longevity and productivity.
The future is part of history… In many ways it can be investigated like history — you fill in gaps, look at probabilities, try to understand the developing narrative…
We’re embarking on an exploration: what is to become of private life? Will there be a private life at all in this emerging era of absolute technology and an increasingly fragmented map of competing realities?
Because despite the ongoing changes of fertility apps, digital classrooms, online dating, algorithmically set wages and research into living forever, it is still a huge part of our self-definition as humans to have a personal space that is shielded and different from the outside world. Most of us still agree that childbirth, childhood, love, sexuality, friendship, personal finances, health and death are private matters for which we allocate special, dedicated actions and resources. We’re interested in how all this is about to change, and what can we do about it.
Ixy Labs was co-founded by AI and science artist Chrystal Ding whose research angle is how AI will see humans, applied economist Peter Isztin whose focus is on behaviour, information, decision-making, and game theory, and myself, Anna Gát, founder-CEO of Ixy, an AI enhanced messaging platform building solutions for deeper, happier, more honest relationships in the digital era. We’re a politically diverse group dedicated to examining pressing, divisive issues from multiple perspectives. We don’t claim to have answers, but are very excited to investigate questions relating to the future of personal space and conduct.
We believe that the future will be the way we make it, but that our choices must be informed. We have noticed a lot of information in this area is missing. Ixy Labs — a self-funded, independent group — is our humble attempt to find and publish this missing, and highly important information, to everyone, for free.
Anna & the Ixy Labs team