ACCELER8OR

Oct 17 2012

Steal This Singularity: Entry #1

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It was at the end of the first day of the Singularity Summit 2012 when Ben Popper — the dude from The Verge who I’d spoken to by phone — approached.  “What do you think?” he asked.  “It’s been pretty interesting,” I responded earnestly.  The absence of a superlative was perhaps telling, but I was not in the mood to think on it more deeply.  Ben agreed.  And then Eve and I made a wrong turn heading back to the North Bay and we found ourselves moving at a crawl through Chinatown.

Chinatown was throbbing with biological life of the human sort.  Old Chinese women were inspecting vegetables on display outside of stores.  A group of older men stood on a street corner just hanging out and talking.  The streets were packed to overflow with people going about their early Saturday evening activities.  I don’t think I saw anybody smiling, but I had the sense that people were enjoying their familiar activities.

Once home, I decided to finally watch I’m Still Here — the Casey Affleck film documenting Joaquin Phoenix’ supposed attempt to leave behind his acting career to become a rap star.  Fat; with long uncombed hair and scraggly beard, dressed like a particularly disheveled street person — throughout the film, Phoenix, along with some of his “handlers,” displays a full repertoire of coarse, vulgar, moronic human behaviors as he tries to pursue his new career.  He also appears in onstage performances, rapping… badly.  Various media commentators suspect that it’s a hoax, but Phoenix remains in character.  He puts Ben Stiller — trying to get Phoenix to consider a script —  through the ringer.  He acts pathetic and nuts in a famous Letterman appearance.   He’s trying to get Sean Combs to produce a rap album for him.

Watching this film — unsure myself whether the whole thing was a bit of Andy Kaufman-like performance art; a genuine descent into madness; or both (I was leaning towards both) —  and seeing how the various players tried to navigate how to respond given that they were experiencing the same uncertainty that I was — I was struck by the wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels multiple strange loopy character of the thing that I was not only witnessing but participating in by being engaged in confusion.  And I was struck by how many layers of uncertainly could emerge out of very stupid behaviors — behaviors, incidentally, that would likely hold little interest to a proper singularitarian; and all of it done for absolutely no rational purpose other than to fuck with people’s heads.  For what? To improve them? To teach them something?  No.  Just to see what happens.

The apex of this entertaining goof is reached when Phoenix and a Partner-In-Trick get a meeting with Sean “Puffy” Combs at his studio.  As Phoenix plays some terrible homemade rap recordings for him, we get to watch Combs try to navigate his way through the thicket of possibilities:

1: that he’s being fucked with

2:  that Phoenix — acting like a desperately crazed but sincere rap lover — might be earnest and might need help.

3:  that Phoenix might have enough money to pay him well to produce his train wreck of a rap career.

4: that the camera is recording him in a situation in which he has no clue as to how to respond and how to maintain his very non-ironic, one dimensional, cool, public persona.

Combs’ face and body language show his utter bafflement in this situation — his codes have been so scrambled that they could never be decrypted because there’s nothing there.  He’s been blown into empty space, unable to respond to the stimuli at hand; but still he maintains a slightly gruff but agreeable facade.

Finally, we see Phoenix wandering in an apparent daze through some woods and then diving into a lake.  At the end, we see him swimming underwater. In context, after this layer cake of weird loops and inappropriate dumb behaviors, the moment is evocative.  Evocative of what exactly?  Nothing, exactly.   Just evocative.

As I prepared for sleep, I suddenly realized I couldn’t really remember a fucking thing I heard at the Singularity Summit.  Funny thing… I don’t even think the movie is all that good.

 

I’ve been sort of playing around with the concept — “Steal This Singularity” — for several months now.  Prior to attending Singularity Summit 2012, I was thinking about it in political terms.  Letting “singularity” represent, essentially, a buzz word for a future radically transformed by technology, my “Steal This Singularity” notion was simply that the transhuman future should not be dominated by big capital and/or authoritarian government; and that — contrary to the reassurances of many glib futurists — this requires some intentionality, both in terms of programming and activism.  The technology doesn’t insure this by its very nature.  And the current general trend in this regard is not positive, but extremely ambiguous at best.  But I’ll save that for another essay.

Upon spending an afternoon at Singularity Summit and spending an evening vicariously experiencing Joaquin Phoenix’ trickster walkabout, another feeling emerged and, with it, a different sort of “Steal This Singularity” theme.  To wit: the clever, logical, programming/engineering monkey-mind should not be allowed to instantiate its limited idea of humanity, the universe and everything, on… well… humanity, the universe and everything.   The tricksters, the freaks, the surrealists, the hedonists, the outsiders — and all the uncodable strangeness that emerges from the biological codes’ diversification into cultural complexity and then into something as perverse and rationally pointless as a multilayered prank in a cinematic celebrity culture —  must hijack the engineer’s Singularity and recode it or uncode it so as to allow for liminal spaces outside its totalizing grasp.

We live in a time in which seemingly smart humans love to present us with absolute dualistic options: Republican or Democrat, socialist or free market; believer or atheist; Britney or Christina; Science or Superstition.  These discourses are dominant even among an intellectual class that used to know better; and the notion that there could be terrain outside those frames becomes, well, not exactly unthinkable but somehow too trivial to consider as anything but a sideshow.

I’m aware of the risk here in even implying that the instantiation of the biases of the engineering monkey mind over everything is a conscious or unconscious intention  that undergirds much of the Singularitarian sensibility. Singularitarianism and — more broadly — transhumanism — has produced a veritable glut of abstract theorizing, so whatever novel perceptions or objections or concerns one may think one is bringing to the party, some smarty pants has probably swatted it away or incorporated it into its logical totality.

On the other hand, if there was a role for artists in Singularity Summit 2012, I didn’t notice it.  Sex — a primary desire for most humans — seemed to be almost unmentionable, if not entirely archaic.  Heightened subjective states of consciousness — ecstasy, agape, rapture — seem to be well off the map.

Of course, it’s part of the culture of science that legitimacy requires the maintenance of a bordering-on-Calvinist front, but consider that when I interviewed (with Surfdaddy Orca) Ray Kurzweil for H+ magazine a few years ago, and suggested that the idea of utopia might involve people feeling good and being happy, he immediately leapt to a vision of people hanging around all the time on a morphine-like high.  (I actually think several billion human beings acting out the sort of western ideal of ambitiousness with Singularitarian technology is probably scarier than having most of them in an opiated haze, but I don’t think those are the only options. Anyway, that’s a different rant for a different time.)

This lack — this apparent negligence or denial or trivialization of non-obvious aspects of  subjective human experience and peculiarity — may prove to be of minimal importance if transhuman techno-evolution stops short of the Singularity.   If we don’t design silicon intelligences that will, for all intents and purposes, replace us — or at least dominate our original biological brains if we take them within us — but, if rather, we simply end up with tools that amplify and enhance, then there’s a reasonable hope for a diversity of mindstyles.  Some will gather in Less Wrong communities where they will continuously refine rationality; some will live in an eternal, amplified Burning Man of lived art, presentation and playful deviance; most will dip into both these and other memeplex scenes while engaging in a world rich in opportunity for all possible expressions of humanness or posthumanness.

But supposing that we do create the vastly superior intelligence.  Even if we merge with them, what aspects of humanness that some of us may wish to preserve will be overwhelmed?  Will the imp of the perverse, as displayed in my Joaquin Phoenix example, still stun our predictable mentations into momentary silence?  Can the engineered superior intelligence experience something as evocative, or is that too vague?  Will some of us still be driven into ecstasy dancing to James Brown?  What happens to the human characteristics that have given us characters like Arthur Rimbaud, Salvador Dali, Bob Dylan…  you know, people who don’t make any goddamn sense?  And what the fuck did Nietzsche mean we he wrote, “I tell you. One must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”?

My next Steal This Singularity entry will take on the more sober political and economic implications of the concept.

Mar 19 2012

Acceler8or TV, Episode 1: What Do You Think About The Singularity? (Part One)

In the first episode of Acceler8or TV, we went to the Yerba Buena Art District in downtown San Francisco for about an hour on a Sunday and asked people: “What do you think about the technological singularity?”  All those who agreed to talk to us are included.

We’ll be testing this line of inquiry in other neighborhoods.

Producers: Acceler8or, Rachel Marone

Host:  Rachel Marone

Editing:  Steve Hasse

Videography:  Ronald Vargas

Opening Visuals & Sound:  Ian Monroe, MONDO Vanilli

 

 

Acceler8or TV episode 1 on Vimeo.

Jan 02 2012

An Insufficiently Advanced Technology For McKenna’s Magical 2012

By now, everybody knows that there’s a big crowd of folks who think something really big is going to happen this year because the Mayan Calendar allegedly ended in 2012 — specifically December 21, 2012

Less well known amongst the masses that are vaguely familiar with the meme is the fact that psychedelic/cyberdelic philosopher Terence McKenna was the original primary source for this notion and for this particular date. (If my memory serves, Jose Arguelles — the recently deceased new age guru perhaps best known for 1987′s “Harmonic Convergence” — originally set a different date for this Mayan-influenced ending of all endings, but if you try to google for data… at least to the limits of my patience…  you’ll find that any notice of this is buried beneath the now unified meme that December 21 is the hot date with destiny.)

Both men envisioned not an apocalypse (as per the current dominant meme) but some sort of transmutation of the human condition (a positive apocalypse).  While Arguelles’s perceptions were largely influenced by mystical esoterica, McKenna’s vision was much more a hybrid of the mystical and the technological.

Like Ray Kurzweil, McKenna foresaw a world in which technical evolution (he liked to use the word novelty) would keep doubling at an exponential rate until we would hit a singularity.  Only McKenna originally envisioned this constant and ever-quicker exponential doubling not by charting technical evolution but by “channeling” the “logos” behind huge quantities of tryptamine hallucinogens in the Amazon.

In McKenna’s singularity, we would unite with “the logos,” after which all of human history and materiality itself would be seen platonically as an idea space and everything — including all proceeding time and human experience — would become, in some sense, our plaything.   And this would happen on December 21, 2012.

While McKenna divined much of his theory from such mystical sources as the i Ching and ideas taken from psychedelic shamanism as practiced in the Amazon, he was also an astute student of developments in hard science, technology and culture and his sense of this drive towards the singularity was at least somewhat “grounded” in how he saw real material and cultural developments.

Thus, when McKenna described his upcoming singularity as a place where the boundary between the exterior and interior collapses and what you imagine “simply comes to be,” it was not just mystical intuition. He would also be following movements towards technologies that allow us to control other technologies with our minds, he would be getting excited about K. Eric Drexler’s prediction of molecular control of the structure of matter; and he would be thrilling to predictions of desktop manufacturing (If you put those three things together, you get something like a world where what you imagine “simply comes to be.).  He also jumped on the Virtual Reality train in the early ’90s, as that would be a kind of ecology of mind where this vision would be even easier to realize.

McKenna’s technophilia — to the extend he was a technophile — was not without its ambiguities. He believed technological advance without the intervention of spiritual, psychedelic consciousness and values would be both ugly and lethal.

Still, it would probably be a mistake — one that seems to be made by many current McKenna-philes — to think that Terence would feel confident that this grand transmutation based, only in part, on the Mayan Calendar was going to occur on time despite the fact that the technological training wheels needed to boost us into this platonic state have not yet sufficiently developed (if ever).

McKenna never took his role as a prophet as seriously as some of his disciples now appear to.  As a self-admitted “carnival barker” (and how self righteous and humorless have we become that many reading this will find this reason to dismiss him entirely?), there’s a pretty good chance that he would have hopped aboard the 2012 circus for purposes of livelihood and as a context for spreading other aspects of his philosophy, and he probably would have been available to be propped up on a hemp-woven throne at the stroke of midnight at the 12.21.12 global rave, but I feel certain that he would have been much more surprised if December 21, 2012 turns out to be a day of magical transmutation than he would have been disappointed if it does not.

 

Oct 18 2011

“Extreme Futurist Fest” in Los Angeles: Interview With Creator Rachel Haywire

Hank Pellissier: Hi Rachel. Tell me your biography?

Rachel Haywire: I grew up in the Human 1.0 suburbs of Southern Florida. I was kicked out of my home at 16 and sent to a mental institution. From there I went to live on the streets of San Francisco and became a performance artist. This lead to me becoming a writer, blogger, musician, model, social commentator, memetic engineer, and entrepreneur. I’ve traveled across all of the United States and most of Canada. I went to Israel for my Birthright trip and lived in Berlin and Dresden for 3 months to study abroad. I’ve also been to Amsterdam and Brussels while following my favorite band Einstürzende Neubauten. I’d love to go to Paris since this is the capital of Bohemia but I think I would need to learn some French first. My father was a prosecutor for the state of Miami who passed away when I was 18. My mother was a posh social hacker who worked her way into the Jewish MENSA crowd. I always thought Jewish people were too intelligent to be into Creationism. I currently live in Los Angeles.

Hank Pellissier:  How did H+ happen to you?

Rachel Haywire: I started writing Acidexia in 2001… My intro to H+ was Nietzsche, William Gibson, Robert Anton Wilson; then I got into tech and science aspects of H+ due to my desire to improve my body… that had physical problems associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. Then my interest in mind uploading and biohacking developed, since I was already into body modification and radical self alteration. Then Open Source DNA brought everything full circle. I’m a DIY Transhumanist due to my non-conventional approach to the movement.

Hank Pellissier: What do you call your fashion sense?  

Rachel Haywire: Cyberpunk-Glam. Fashion is very important because DIY Transhumanism includes becoming our ideal versions of ourselves. Our Tyler Durdens. Forget about Cosplay. It’s time for us to become our own Superheroes and the first way for us to do this is through fashion.

Hank Pellissier: Would you like it if Natasha Vita-More was your mother?  What if Ray Kurzweil was your father and Aubrey de Grey was your uncle?  

Rachel Haywire: If Natasha Vita-More was my mother I’d ask her to do a photo shoot with me. She would dress up like an angry cyberpunk and I would dress up like a fancy academic. We would parody the stereotypical media images of ourselves through one another and I’d hope for it to be a mother-daughter bonding experience that she wouldn’t kill me for. If Ray Kurzweil was my father and Aubrey de Grey was my uncle we would obviously need a Transhumanist Family BBQ. I would call it the Singularity is Beer.

Hank Pellissier: Are you stepping up to lead a younger generation of H+ers?

Rachel Haywire: I suppose I am… but it is the younger generation of H+ers that allow this movement to exist. I am only one person. Without my friends and supporters there would be no younger H+ generation.

Hank Pellissier: Tell me about the Extreme Future Fest?  

Rachel Haywire: You can check out http://extremefuturistfest.info where we just announced our first list of speakers and the conference venue at Courtyard Los Angeles Marina del Ray. It is taking place from December 16th to 17th. The website was designed by my friend Sniff Code who is also the author of the cyberpunk classic CLONE. We plan to have Scientists discussing all things Transhumanist alongside visual-oriented Futurist bands alongside hackers and philosophers screening their films and displaying their artwork. We wish to bridge the gap between the counterculture and academia and show that what unites us is our intelligence and forward-thinking approach as opposed to our level of economic or social status. I have partnered with Michael Anissimov of the Singularity Institute for the Extreme Futurist Festival and he has been a great person to work with all around. Through working with Michael, I feel like my ideas have finally reached the mainstream. He helped me to get to this point without having to obey or conform.

Hank Pelllissier: You’re also running a Facebook page called “Humanity 2.0.” -What’s that about?

Rachel Haywire: I got the idea for the Human 2.0 Council through leaving Transhuman Separatism.  I was very reactionary during the time I started Transhuman Separatism and quickly realized I was making a fool out of myself with my juvenile idealism.  The Human 2.0 Council was a way for me to continue to connect artists and radical thinkers of the new generation while leaving the baggage of Transhuman Separatism behind. Our discussions range from nanotechnology to the viability of the Singularity to the Anonymous subculture to industrial music. There is a bit of everything in H20 which is why I love it. Our main goal right now is the H20 Ministry of Education which my friend Kim Solez is the leader of. Our idea is to create a real life Xavier’s School for the Gifted. We want an alternative academic institution that caters to the interests of Human 2.0 as opposed to the interests of public education. We have many professors who are already on board and are very excited about what this could mean for the future of education. The main problem right now is our lack of funding. Many of us are struggling artists and we view what I call poverty of the working class intelligenstia as a major obstacle in regards to us achieving our goals.

Hank Pellissier: What are your global goals?  

Rachel Haywire: My dream is for a world in which human suffering is abolished. David Pearce was a big inspiration to me with his Abolitionist movement. I would like to change society by bringing the newer generation of Transhumanists onto the map and showing that a counterculture of intelligent people is not an oxymoron. I want to see technology widely available to the youth. I want to see an end to groupthink and an explosion of free thought. I would like to see the bankers on Wall Street lose their power and be replaced with powerful thinkers and innovators who would be much better equipped to be the 1%.

 

Oct 02 2011

Euthanasia — How FUN Should It Be?

Euthanasia is looking like a great way to go in the future, for everybody who can’t survive long enough for the Singularity.

It’s an excellent advance in “taking a dirt nap.” It’s on our own schedule, with our own toys.

We deserve it; we’ve had a horrible time waiting. Examine the primitive history of suicide:

Stone Age? Hari-kari Hominid would either: 
1) Jump out of a baobab, bellyflopping on a mammoth tusk
2) Bash out his own brains with flint axe

Roman era?  Ditto, bad endings. Classic Christian options were:
1) Gobbled by lions, to colossal applause
2) Hanging out on the Appian Way, crucified

Renaissance? Romeo and Juliet got to slumber forever on each other’s bosoms,  but wasn’t the stench horrible? Didn’t Medievalists only bath annually?

19th century?  Overdosing on leeches… sucks.

20th century? Join a cult. Drink Kool-Aid. Bloat in jungle heat until your cadaver explodes.

Finally, euthanasia has arrived as the exciting H+ option for Self-Terminators! Big Sleep Opiates will be so drop-dead euphoric the desire to snuff oneself will be almost over-powering. 

Do you want: Immortally Tedious Life Extension? or Cathartic Neurochemical Xanadu… hmmm…

Cashing in your chips is already very affordable.  Dignitas in Switzerland will put you down for $6,000.

That’s so cheap I might borrow the Gs from someone I envy, like my rich cousin, just for the pleasure of offing my ass without paying him back.

Oregon’s ticket on the Stygian Ferry might be even cheaper than Dignitas because it doesn’t have a state sales tax. Libertarians love that!

If Ron Paul chooses Oregon, his faithful Paulites will follow, probably paying in coin.

Cambodia also has euthanasia — it invites all customers to join their Bone House. But will they pile up the new skulls in a “Killing-Self Fields” ?

Martin Amis suggested in 2010 that the UK build “death booths” on street corners to help the “silver tsunami” top themselves off instead of lingering on, bankrupting the welfare system. He suggested a free Martini and medal to all volunteers.

Is he right?  Yes, but it’s dangerous. It might end up gravely out-of-control. What about “Impulse-Snuffers”?

They might find a parking ticket on their car and use the booths as a convenient way to avoid the fine. Or they might be walking their dog, and suddenly decide, “I’m tired of picking this shit up.” Amis’ plan is also not “user-friendly”

Parkinsons’ fingers are tremulous, they’ll push the wrong buttons and Alzheimers’ won’t remember why they entered the booth

Besides, we don’t want euthanasia to be better than life, do we?  I think Luddite obstacles are necessary.

It used to be, killing yourself left a mess that bothered the relatives. Hemingway’s brains on the wall. Sylvia Plath’s head in the oven. For tidy people, this was a deterrent but with euthanasia… hey, what’s the downside?

I predict that capitalist markets will invent incredibly enticing euthanasia options.

For example, there’ll be “Heavenly” choices for religious folks who want to meet their Maker.

Neuro-psychedelic components in death cocktails will guarantee synthetic visions of “Paradise” to every creed:

Catholics will be able to experience glorious facetime with the Almighty, He’ll explain the inexplicable Trinity.

Muslims will virtually party in mosaic water parks with 72 virgins

Buddhists will jump off the Eight-Fold Path into Nirvana

Atheists can either drink & smoke with Christopher Hitchens (who might check his actual meat-bag in soon) or they can have secular sex with humanist hotties like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris.

Environmental biologists will select dream-death scenarios where they see themselves  as actual “Worm Food” or “Sleeping with the Fishes”

Ex-athletes will pass the torch after an imagined Ultimate Work-Out; a single studly day where they climb Everest, surf Maverick’s, and beat the crap out of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Ray Kurzweil will of course choose to depart wrapped in virtual “Dad Time.”

Aubrey de Grey will leave the living convinced he just won the “Merlin the Magician” Look-A-Like Contest

A best-selling category will be Dying-Ecstatic-As-You-Visualize-Humilation-of-Your-Political-Enemies. Croaking Chechens will experience sweet vengeance on Vladimir Putin. Fading Gays will watch Michelle Bachmann-Sarah Palin cunnilingus porn on Fox News.

What about Transhumanists?  Unlucky ones who have to kick their own bucket before the Singularity?   What do they want for their final vision? I suspect they’d like to see everyone who thinks they’re immortal get buried by a ghastly surprise; Call it my “Sour Grapes” theory. 

Either of the following options might help dying H+ers chortle as they enter oblivion:
1) Virtually observing Grey Goo squelch all sentient life in the Universe
2) Watching Hugo de Garis’ “Artilect War” break out, and… the Terrans Win.

Jul 22 2011

Is The Singularity Near Or Far? It’s A Software Problem

When I first read The Singularity is Near by Kurzweil, it struck me that something seemed curiously “missing” from his predictions. At the time, I merely put it on the back burner as a question that needed more data to answer. Well, recently, it’s been brought up again by David Linden in his article “The Singularity is Far”.

What’s missing is a clear connection between “complete understanding of the mechanics of the brain” and how this “enables uploading and Matrix level VR.” As David points out, merely knowing how the brain functions at the mechanical level, even if we know how each and every atom and molecule behaves, and where every single neuron goes, does not equal the ability to reprogram the brain at will to create VR, nor does it necessarily translate into the ability to “upload” a consciousness to a computer.

I tend to agree with David that Ray’s timeline might be overly optimistic, though for completely different reasons. Why? Because software does not equal hardware!

David discusses a variety of technical hurdles that would need to be overcome by nanomachines in order to function as Kurzweil describes, but these are all really engineering issues that will be solved in one manner or another. We may or may not actually see them fixed by the timeline Kurzweil predicts, but with the advances we are making with stem cells, biological programming of single cell organisms, and even graphene based electronics, I don’t doubt that we will find a means to non destructively explore the brain, and even to interface to some basic functions. I also see many possible ways to provide immersive VR without ever having to achieve the kind of technology Ray predicts. I don’t even doubt that we’ll be able to interface with a variety of “cybernetic” devices via thought along, including the creation of artificial limbs which can be wired into the nervous system and provide sensory data like “touch.”

But knowing how to replicate a signal from a nerve and knowing precisely what that signal means to that individual might not be the same thing. Every human brain has a distinct synaptic map, and distinct signaling patterns. I’m not as confident that merely knowing the structure of a brain will enable us to translate the patterns of electrical impulses as easily as Kurzweil seems to think. We might learn how to send signals to devices without learning how to send signals back from that device in such a manner as to enable “two way” communication beyond simple motor control functions, much less complete replication of consciousness or complete control of inputs to enable “matrix VR” for a much longer time than mere mechanical reproduction of a human brain in simulation.

Does my perception of Green equal yours? Is there a distinct “firing pattern” that is identical among all humans that translates as “green”, or does every human have a distinct “signature” which would make “green” for me show up as “pink” for you? Will there be distinct signals that must be “decoded” for each and every single individual, or does every human conform to one of who knows how many “synaptic signal groups”? Can a machine “read minds” or would a machine fine tuned to me receive only gibberish if you tried to use it?

The human mind is adaptable. We’ve already proven that it can adapt to different points of view in VR, and even adapt to use previously unknown abilities, like a robotic “third arm”. The question is will this adaptability enable us to use highly sophisticated BCI despite that BCI being unable to actually “read” our thoughts, merely because we learn methods to send signals to it that it can understand while remaining “black boxes”, our “mind” impenetrable to the machine despite all our knowledge of the “brains” hardware?

This is the question I think Ray glosses over. Mere simulation of the hardware alone might not even begin to be the “hard problem” that will slow uploading. I don’t doubt we will eventually find an answer, but to do so, we first have to ask the question, and it’s one I don’t think Ray’s asked.