Evernote CEO Phil Libin calls for augmented humanity at Oxford Union

Evernote CEO Phil Libin put forward the argument for augmenting humanity with technology during a heated debate at the University of Oxford this weekend.

Speaking at the Oxford Union on Sunday, the Silicon Valley business leader said: "The upsides of making people better and making people smarter will far outweigh the downsides."

The term "augmented humanity" isn't new. Indeed, Google chairman Eric Schmidt was throwing it around in 2010, claiming that we were gripped by "the age of humanity."

Augmenting humans with technology encompasses everything from giving people bionic limbs that outperform their own to wearing augmented reality glasses like Google Glass. Many of the technologies that can be used to augment humans are likely to be underpinned by artificial intelligence, which could be dangerous, according to renowned scientists and entrepreneurs like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.

Those arguing against Libin said augmented humanity could prove disastrous for the human race, adding that it will almost certainly lead to greater inequality worldwide because only those with money will be able to afford it.

Libin acknowledged that some of the downsides will come true but said that humans should continue developing augmented technologies anyway.

"The downsides will come true," he said. "We have to work together to minimise them as much as possible.

"We are seeing technology that has every potential to make inequality worse. That's why we need to come together to use technology to make more equality and fight against the forces that would create a class of elites and a class have nots."

Libin, who has led Evernote since 2007, a service that stores notes, photos and other information, acknowledged that rapid technological change is scary but said it ultimately leads to a better world.

During his 10-minute speech in the 192-year-old Debating Chamber, he pointed to ancient technological developments in human history that have had a major impact on life as we known it today.

Fire and the written language were the two disruptive "technologies" he referred to, arguing that they've had a positive overall impact on humanity.

"Fire must have been terrifying to the first humans as it destroys everythingbut now it can be used to make a good curry," he joked.

Libin claimed that people spend too much time focusing on the negative impacts of technological developments.

"Sometimes it feels like discussion about the negatives takes up 98 percent of the conversation," he said. "Talking about the positive impact of technology requires an act of vision and an act of imagination. It requires using a totally different part of your brain.

"Any time any large question is debated about the future of technology, it's always much simpler to be saying: 'You know what, that could go badly. You know what, these are the risks. You know what, this is how things can go horribily.'

"People look smarter when they talk about the negatives," he said.

He highlighted how Evernote, now valued at over $1 billion, describes itself as a company that aims to build a second brain.

"That's literally trying to make people smarter using technology," in reference to the Evernote platform. "Trying to enhance the cognitive abilities of people - what members of the opposition would have you believe is very scary."

Prior to Libin's speech, the opposition had referred to Murphy's Law, which states that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Libin's Law

In Libin's response, he coined his own law.

"The opposition talk very intelligently about Murphy's Lawbut there's an alternative to Murphy's Law, which I'd like to propose here. In fact, I would very much like for this from here on out, to be known as Libin's Law.

"It's the combination of Murphy's Law and Moore's Law. It says that the number of things that go wrong will roughly double every year and it's for this reason that we need technology and that we need augmentation."

Libin spoke alongside Reputation.com founder Michael Fertik and Circle founder Ali Parsa. The opposition team included regular Oxford Union debater Katherine Brooks; environmental consultant and academic Jerome Ravetz and ChargePoint SVP of sales Michael DiNucci.

Libin informed Techworld today that his team had won the motion.

Motion debated: "This house believes that humanity's augmentation with technology creates a better world".


Sam Shead

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