Friday, March 1, 2013

Transhumanism on Show: Viral Videos, Orson Wells, & The Future

There is a growing amount of transhumanism viral videos appearing in inter-web-spaces. The ideas presented in the video below are not new, yet remain largely unknown to wider audiences. That is changing. Viral videos are an interesting part of the larger social dialogue about transhumanism - quick and dirty. The melpy CGI-Max Headroomesque Circa 2050 Head here got me thinking and writing.

Say What?!
The rawness of this narrative approach is exactly the kind of delivery to induce future shock in audiences who have no experience with the Singularity. Read the video comments. Beware the Luddites. Beware the Singulatarians who perceive no traps. 

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves." -- Bertrand Russell

Let's hear what 1972 Orson Wells thinks about all this: 

That said, we might need this viral-shock approach alongside more traditional communications of the Singularity. In small fashion, it is like Laurence Fishburne's call to sanity/action in Spike Lee’s School Daze. “Wake Up” exclaims the town crier, the universe is afoot.

There will be a cacophony of voices from heterogeneous vessels. 

We will need a range of tone and pitch: factual, emotional, shock, practical, critical, and balanced. I think we can count on the cytoskeletal Anonymous entity and its acolyte messengers for the shock and emotion bit, plus cyber ass-kicking.

Be They Gods?
Take note of the religious overtones expressed in some transhumanism articulations: "we are the gods." Fingers crossed that some aspect of the Singularity allows us a small opportunity to transcend the trap of the god myth. It smacks of the Cave: That place we huddle to find protection from the enormity of that which do not know or cannot comprehend. Also, due to rain and bad weather because it is warmer in there, and eating wet food in the rain is simply no fun at all. Exchanging the Old Gods of Terra for New Gods of Time-Space. No thanks on both accounts. The fragility of human ego will complicate our move into post-Singularity existences. The enormity of the multi-verse(s) is good enough for me, no titles needed.

Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for any math in this song written in 1983.

The Man.
To be sure, there will be some serious social unrest. The Leftist critique that plutocratic Elites will control/access/use these technologies to extend their hegemonic power on this earth (and solar system) is not without merit or minor attention.

Enter the "democratization of future-tech" call. Yes…we need to democratize the transhuman dialogue and its attendant technological inventions/interventions….but how? This is the real question. How to make that idea concrete and actionable?

Side note – We can look to the American Labor movement of the 19th and 20th centuries to examine ways to galvanize working-class people from diverse communities. The words of Bertrand Russell are still so very relevant.

"The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
Some Tangible Solutions
  • Continue to fund, propagate, and protect open access publicly funded research.
  • Open community DIY techno-workshops where people freely (in terms of both cost and surveillance) interact with future tech and engage in public dialogue (use Google Hangouts, connecting these workshops around the globe, archiving footage, materials, uploading schematics, and providing guidelines for 3D home-printing and fabrication).
  • Open community 3D printing (and 4D!) and fabrication workshops
  • University research labs open their doors to the public on community days to demonstrate future-technologies and talk about its implications.
  • Comprehensive funding for research on future-technologies across government apparatus (NIH, DHH, CDC...the lot), all publicly accessed, downloaded, copied, and disseminated.
  • Transhuman politicians and civic leaders who run for public office and engage in public service to lead the civic and legal charge. Serious, legal. The legal questions/implications/battles are Legion. Bad pun intended.
  • Public symposiums, conferences, music festivals, tech festivals, and social creative mayhem
Repo Men.
Yes, we will achieve. It might be that I live long enough to be denied life extension treatments due to the costs and lack of coverage by my insurance provider. Robotic eye replacement surgeries and nano-bio-tech immune system cell regulators might be considered elective, non-essential surgeries. Why not Zoidberg?

It is likely we will see the development of medical/insurance/producer foundations that provide medical coverage to human early-adopters who wish to engage in human-techno-robotic interfaces. The cost of admission might be prohibitive to all but the elite. We might see legions of poor who volunteer for risky integrations. We will see accessible tech/low cost integrations in athletes, older populations, children, and soliders first. We will absolutely see black market cyborg technology. And that shit is going to be nuts.

Want a trail run of this? Play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Get really good. Fret.

One of the critical challenges we face is to figure out how to fund (at present) costly R&D, develop practical applications, engage in rigorous testing, and then make those applications accessible to the wider public at reasonable costs with minimal side effects, be these side effects biological or sociological.

We will need a range of voices and approaches in order to make ready for the promise of the Singularity: cultural, legal, moral, ethical, and practical.

Let’s continue to make concrete plans regarding the challenges that come with future-technologies, alongside the fire and brimstone narrative of the Artilect transcendence and The 100 Year War. While fun and familiar, the post-apocalyptic techno-robot narrative is a well-worn chorus with a bridge and refrain that we know all too well.

Take cue from Asimov, who found the Frankenstein narrative in artificial intelligence literature both tedious and predictable:

“... one of the stock plots of science fiction was ... robots were created and destroyed by their creator. Knowledge has its dangers, yes, but is the response to be a retreat from knowledge? Or is knowledge to be used as itself a barrier to the dangers it brings? With all this in mind I began, in 1940, to write robot stories of my own – but robot stories of a new variety. Never, never, was one of my robots to turn stupidly on his creator for no purpose but to demonstrate, for one more weary time, the crime and punishment of Faust.”

There is no retreat from the future. 

Asimov, Isaac (1964). "Introduction". The Rest of the Robots. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-09041-2.

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