This week Damien Williams — aka Wolven — joined me to talk about pop culture portrayals of human enhancement and artificial intelligence and why we need to craft more nuanced narratives to explore these topics. Damien has been exploring the subject extensively at A Future Worth Thinking About.
Tune in next week to hear Damien talk about how AI and transhumanism intersects with magic and the occult.
In one episode of Black Mirror — the British television series that explores the near future of technology with an edginess reminiscent of The Twilight Zone — a woman’s husband dies, and she replaces him with a robot.
This walking automaton looks like him and talks like him, and it even acts like him, after plugging into his Twitter account and analyzing every tweet he ever sent.
Yes, that’s a far cry from reality, but it’s not as far as you might think. With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation offers a means of digitally cloning yourself through a series of personality tests and data from your social media profiles. The idea is to create an online version of you that can live forever, a digital avatar that even future generations can talk to and interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these avatars into walking, talking robots — just like on Black Mirror. And today, it provides a more primitive version, for free. […]
But Dale Carrico, a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, is skeptical. To say the least. He says that the folks at Terasem and other “transhumanists” — those who believe the human body can be radically enhanced or even transcended entirely through technology — are pursing pipe dreams. He doesn’t even give them create for trying. “The trying is evidence only of the depth of their misunderstanding, not of their worthy diligence,” he says. Simply put, an avatar isn’t a person — in any meaningful sense.
This week Paul Graham-Raven published his take on Transhumanism and challenged the notion that Transhumanist life extension technologies will become cheap and ubiquitous, pointing out that there are already many life extension technologies that are not widely available outside the “developed” world.
We’ve developed tech guaranteed to extend the human lifespan, but market failures and regulatory bodies stand in the way of universal access.
CLEAN WATER This is a basic innovation. However, the marketing upside is huge. There is massive, seemingly endless demand for this tech. While on the low end it is highly at risk of being commodified, there is much profit to be made from premium versions of the product for all market segments.
URBAN SANITATION As a greater proportion of humans live in urban environments, upgrades can greatly impact many people. Good ROI.
SMOKELESS COOKING FACILITIES A niche tech, but stunningly effective in some markets. Positively impacts both quality and quantity of life. This last point is an important consideration in life-extension. It’s not enough to blindly build tech that keeps people technically alive for longer. We want tech that enables a good life.
FREE ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE Critics say this isn’t one technology but an ideological mess of blurry promises. I say, look at the graphs.
GUARANTEED MINIMUM INCOME Despite longstanding research in the arena, this remains a highly controversial procedure. Many concerns have been raised about its social side-effects and regulatory bodies continue to stand in its way. Still, we mustn’t impede progress.
GOOD FREE EDUCATION Sure to be popular with DIY arm of transhumanist crowd. Likely to encourage a faster run up the exponential curve as more minds become more capable of reaching their full creative potential.
On the first day, she sits there wearing a black dress that is neither provocative nor sexless. Yet visitors who flock in from the cold January streets and ascend to the atrium on MoMA’s second floor are mesmerized, for the entire space is awash in a video installation depicting various interactions between machines and flesh. The footage flashes across the walls and sweeps over the woman sitting in the chair. Some images are recognizable: beams of light illuminating eyes during exams, prostheses being fitted to amputees, a dental hygienist cleaning teeth, a kitchen cook working a meat grinder. Other clips are strange: a small device crawling up a person’s spine, thumping sharply as it goes; people sprouting electrodes; a man strapped face-down and gripping handlebars while the lower half of the table slides back and forth, stretching his torso. The bizarre imagery quickly infects the ordinary scenes until everything “seems an invasion of humans by the things they have wrought.” Or so writes the Times critic in an article that splashes across the Sunday Arts & Leisure section. The performance artist is the talented Anna Pashkin Bearfoot, the critic raptures, who charged onto the scene last year with a week-long piece where, while nude, she built a robot amid a jungle of potted plants. The current installation is slated to last a full month.
The second day the crowd swells, despite a nasty frozen mix that pelts Manhattan. Today, a real machine squats eight feet from Anna, and to her right. What is that? and I don’t know are repeated many times before the crowd engages its collective intelligence:
You already touched on male aggression earlier, but just for any of our readers that — I’m already pretty familiar with the project — but for anyone who isn’t maybe you could talk a little bit about the original intentions.
It’s funny as time goes by and you get older it gets harder and harder to answer things because you see all these links and all these parallel pieces of information, and parallel things that have happened in the past that have led to these points. And you can also start to see potentially where they may be going. So it gets harder and harder to answer things lately. But, in a way, it all goes on from what we were just saying with TOPI: we were really focusing on behavior and breaking that.
And then we came into the USA in exile and we met Lady Jaye in New York. And the very first day we were together she dressed me in her clothes, put make-up on me, decorated my dreadlocks with Tibetan trinkets — which she didn’t even know I knew anything about. And it was just very crucial for us to immediately go into mirroring each other. And the initial impetus came from insanely powerful love.
We usually explain by saying: people will say, “I wish I could just eat you up.” Well, we really wanted to eat each other up. We were really frustrated that we were in two bodies. We wanted to literally be able to just get hold of each other, crush ourselves together and then be just one consciousness in one body or just one entity in any form.
BME founder Shannon Larratt was interviewed by io9 about the grinder/biohack movement:
Making a wristwatch implant would actually be quite simple. The electronics need to be as small as possible of course. Even though implants can be quite large (a single double-D breast implant has more volume than many laptop computers at this point), if the implant is kept thin it will be inconspicuous, perhaps even undetectable without touching it. So the wristwatch would be built with surface mount components in a tight package. The LEDs would easily be visible through the skin — it’s quite possible that some small backlit panels could be visible through the skin but simple round or bar-shaped LEDs would be my choice for a watch.
One could do a numeric display, a geeky binary display, or even just use a single light and flash the time with morse code. You’re probably not going to leave the light on all the time in order to preserve the battery, but triggering could be accomplished in many ways. An accelerometer could be used to trigger it with a specific arm motion, a pressure switch could respond to touch, or in my case, or a magnetic switch could respond to me waving my finger over it — there are many options, but whatever is chosen would have to be versatile enough to also allow the time to be set.
Finally — and this is the biggest issue — there’s power. You could have yourself cut open have the battery replaced — but there’s no need for that. Inductive charging is easy to build, and wireless chargers are commonplace these days — personally I would include such a circuit.
Australian researchers have claimed a world’s first by successfully implanting a ‘pre-bionic eye’ in a blind patient.
Ms Dianne Ashworth is the patient in question, and suffers retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that has left her with profound vision loss. […]
Ashworth has said, in a canned statement, that when researchers stimulated her implant didn’t know what to expect, but:
“… all of a sudden, I could see a little flash … it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye.”
The device has not given Ashworth sight but her experiences will allow the BVA team, a consortium of researchers from several Australian institutions, the chance to learn how to work their prostheses to achieve useful results.
The Verge did a short documentary, and a piece of long form, participatory journalism, on the DIY transhumanist/bodyhacker/grinder/whatever movement:
The boys from Grindhouse Wetwares both sucked down Parliament menthols the whole time we talked. There was no irony for them in dreaming of the possibilities for one’s body and willfully destroying it. “For me, the end game is my brain and spinal column in a jar, and a robot body out in the world doing my bidding,” said Sarver. “I would really prefer not to have to rely on an inefficient four-valve pump that sends liquid through these fragile hoses. Fuck cheetahs. I want to punch through walls.”
Flesh and blood are easily shed in grinder circles, at least theoretically speaking. “People recoil from the idea of tampering inside the body,” said Tim. “I am lost when it comes to people’s unhealthy connections to your body. This is just a decaying lump of flesh that gets old, it’s leaking fluid all the time, it’s obscene to think this is me. I am my ideas and the sum of my experiences.” As far as the biohackers are concerned, we are the best argument against intelligent design.
Neither man has any illusions about how fringe biohacking is now. But technology marches on. “People say nobody is going to want to get surgery for this stuff,” admits Cannon. But he believes that will change. “They will or they will be left behind. They have no choice. It’s going to be weird and uncomfortable and scary. But you can do that, or you can become obsolete.”