ACCELER8OR

Oct 23 2012

Not Sci Fi. Sci NOW!

Share/Bookmark

As the walrus said to the Carpenter, the time has come to talk of many things.

To understand why I hold the views I do, you must first understand that my choices and views are shaped by the future that I see is coming, and without understanding that future, it is impossible to truly see why I support some issues on the right, some on the left, some in the middle, etc. So, this article is an attempt to explain, in a brief overview fashion, what I see coming down the road, and which I think far too many people are completely unaware of.

To begin, I am not a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist, or any other political leaning. If I must be labeled, I would say I am a Humanitarian first, and a Transhumanist second.

Humanitarianism: In its most general form, humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically but universality is a common element in its evolution. No distinction is to be made in the face of human suffering or abuse on grounds of tribal, caste, religious or national divisions.

Transhumanism: An international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.

As such I would have to say I am a Transhumanist because I am a Humanitarian.

So, what precisely does that have to so with the future? It means I take the long view of most everything, because I believe there is a significant probability that I will be around to face the consequences of short sighted actions in the present. But it also means that I can look at some problems which are long term and see that the solutions to them are not yet available, but have a high likelihood of existing before the problem becomes a crisis. This includes such “catastrophic” issues as “Global Warming”, “Overpopulation” and in fact, most “Crisis” politics. Many of these issues are almost impossible to address with current technological capabilities, but will be much easier to address with technologies that are currently “in the lab”.

However, it also means I spend a lot of time researching exactly what the future is likely to bring, so that I can make determinations on which problems are immediate, short term or long term, and whether or not practical solutions exist now, or must wait until we have developed a little further.

But primarily, what those researches have shown me is that most people are utterly unaware of just what the future is going to bring. Most people see a future just like today, with differences only of degrees. They see the future of Star Trek, or of too many other tv shows, where humanity still has to face the exact same problems as they do today on a social level, with fancier trimmings.

Yet such a future is utter fantasy.  Our future is going to change things on a scale undreamt of by most humans, because it is a change not of scale, but of kind.

Humanity, as we know it, is going to cease to exist.

If you are unfamiliar with the concepts of Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnolgy, Quantum Computing, Cybernetics, and Bioengineering, you need to educate yourself in them, and soon, because they will have a much larger impact on us than who is president, whether or not global warming is happening, or even whether or not Healthcare reform is passed.

And before you dismiss any of those topics as flights of fantasy, you should be aware of the truth. If you want a quick brief overview, check out Next Big Future, Acceler8or, Gizmag, IO9, IEET, or Wired and spend a few hours reading through the various links and stories. This is not Sci-Fi, it is Sci-now.

Within the next twenty to fifty years, and possibly even within the next decade, humanity is going to face the largest identity crisis ever known.  We are going to find that things we have always taken for granted as unchangeable are indeed matters of choice. It’s already started.

As of this exact moment in time, you are reading this on the internet.  As such you have already entered into the realm of Transhumanism. You are free to choose what sex you wish to present yourself as, free to be which ever race you want to be, free to even choose what species you wish to present yourself as. You could be a Vulcan, an Orc, even a cartoon character from South Park. Every aspect of who you are comes down to your personal choice. You may choose to present yourself as you are, or you may present yourself as something else entirely.

That same choice is going to be coming to humanity outside the internet as well. Our medical technology, understanding of our biology, and ability to manipulate the body on finer and finer scales is advancing at an exponential rate. It will not be much longer before everyone has the ability to change everything about their physical body to match their idealized selves.

How will racists be able to cope with the concept that race is a choice? Or sexists deal with people switching genders on a whim? How will people feel when in vitro fertilization and an artificial womb can allow two genetic males to have a child, or for one to become female and have one via old fashioned pregnancy?

And yet that is just the barest tip of the iceberg, for not only will we be able to reshape ourselves into our idealized human form, we will also eventually have the ability to add and subtract other creatures as well. Not everyone will choose to be “human”.  There will be elves, and aliens, cat girls and lion men. We are already on the verge of nearly perfect human limb replacement, within a decade it is highly likely that we will be able to replace damaged nerves with electronic equivalents to control artificial limbs that mimic not only the full range of human motions, but with the creation of artificial muscles, do so in a completely natural manner.  It is but one step from creating an artificial replacement to making an artificial addition.

And there will be those who choose such additions, or who may even choose to replace their natural parts with enhanced cybernetic parts. We will have to face the very real fact of humans with far greater than current human physical ability, and even those with abilities no current human has, such as flight using their own wings.

Imagine a football game with someone who can leap the distance of the field, or throw a hail mary a mile. Is that someone we would call “human” today? Yet they will be the human of tomorrow.

But even that is just the barest hint of the future, because there is so much more that is happening as well. Since you are sitting here, reading this, I know you are already participating in another tenet of Transhumanism, mental augmentation. You use your computer to collect knowledge, to research and educate yourself, to improve your personal knowledge base by using it as an extended intelligence tool. I know quite well that most of you also use it for your primary news source, your main way of keeping yourself aware of what is happening in the world.

You also use it for entertainment, to watch videos, to game, to read, to discuss, and even to keep in touch with your friends and families.

It already is a mental augmentation device. And that function will only grow.  Your cell phone is becoming more and more of an accessory to your computer everyday. In less than ten years it is likely to become your primary computer, with your desktop communicating with it, and making it simply an extension. There is already an advanced cellphone in labs that is subdermal, meaning it is implanted into your skin, is powered by your own body sugars, and is invisible when not in use. Contact lenses with computer displays that use body heat for power are also in prototype stage. Eventually you will be connected to your computer every second of the day, and using it to augment your life in ways I doubt most people will even be able to imagine. And once the ability to connect the human mind directly to this intelligence augmentation device allows us to use it with a mere thought, can you really call such a person “human” as we currently define it?

And yet again, that is simply the merest hint of the possibilities, because in addition to all this computerization and cybernetics, you have to face the reality that we will soon be able to control matter at the atomic scale. And that is something that very very few people have any real grasp of.

Nanotechnology is not a pipedream. Anyone who tells you it is, is either indulging in denial, or is sadly misinformed. You want proof nanoscale machinery is possible, simply look in a mirror.  You are the finest proof that nanotechnology works. DNA is the most versatile molecular machine in existence that we are aware of, and it is with DNA that we are developing the earliest stages of true Molecular Engineering.

And with Molecular Engineering, almost everything we take for granted right now is going to change. I won’t go into the pages and pages of description of what complete control of matter on the molecular scale can do, but suffice it to say that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with this ability. We will be able to make food on your kitchen counter, make a car that is indestructible, but can fold into a handy briefcase, and just about everything you have seen in any scifi show ever. With nanotechnology we can permanently end hunger, poverty, and even clean up the environment.

If you truly wish to get a bare minimal grasp of the scope of the possible read Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler. While his vision of nanotech’s foundation is based on pure mechanical engineering, it is nonetheless one of the best introductions to the subject I know. We are developing this ability as we speak, as any of you who bothered to check out the recommended reading list would be able to see.

And that brings us to the next topic, Artificial Intelligence. I am not speaking here of the kind of AI that you are familiar with from Hollywood, but with something called Artificial General Intelligence. This is something far different.  AGI is the kind of program that can drive your car, cook your food, clean your house, diagnose your illnesses, operate on your brain, and yes, even do your job better, faster, and more reliably than you can. AGI is that AI which has absolutely no need to be self aware, conscious, or even thinking. AGI is what runs Chess computers. Any Skill that can be taught can be accomplished by AGI. IBM’s Watson is an example of this future, a machine able to learn to become an expert on any given subject and enable non-experts to have that expertise available on demand.

So be prepared people.  You will be replaced by a machine eventually.

And yet with Nanotechnology capable of ensuring our every physical need is met, Cybertechnology giving us superhuman abilities, and Bioengineering enabling us to be exactly who and what we want to be, is that really such a bad thing?

So I will at last come to the final technology which will make our future far different than what has come before. Indefinite Life Extension.

If you are alive today, you need to seriously contemplate that fact that you may not merely have a long life, but that your life may not even have a definite end. You may be alive, healthy, and in the best physical shape possible a thousand years from now. The younger you are, the greater the possibility.

You may have to face the very real likelihood that aging, death by natural causes, and every disease that currently afflicts mankind may be overcome within the next 30 to 60 years. It might even happen as soon as tomorrow. You may never die unless you have an accident, or commit suicide. And even that is just the simplest scenario. With the possibility of up to the nanosecond backups of your brain’s synaptic patterns and electrical impulses, dying might simply become as permanent as it is in a video game.

Humanity, as we currently know it, is going to cease to exist.

And most of us will not even notice it happening until it’s already occurring, indeed, most people are unaware of the fact that it is happening RIGHT NOW.

And this is the future, in the tiniest snippets of hints of what I truly foresee, that guides my thoughts and actions. A future which is so very, radically, unimaginably different that no-one can even truly begin to envision it. It becomes a blank wall beyond which we cannot see, because we do not even have the concepts to understand what is beyond the wall.

So think about these questions. Think about the reality we will have to face, and understand, you will have to come to terms with this. You can’t keep your head in the sand forever and you can’t comfort yourself by thinking it is decades down the road. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s in your face.

And if anything is certain, it is this: You are not prepared.

Oct 02 2012

Austerity Doesn’t Augur A Bright Future: Some Unsolicited Advice For Libertarian Transhumanists

There are many different political views in the world of transhumanism.  If you look at the recent IEET poll,  which cast a very broad and accurate net by inviting participants from the virtual places where transhumanists gather, you will find that — when asked “what is your political position?” — the majority of transhumanists fall into categories that are usually defined as “progressive’ or ‘left.”  If you total up Liberal, Socialist and Marxist selections, you wind up at 54% (rounded off).  Libertarians come in at 27% (rounded off) — making that an approximately 2 – 1 ratio.  (The remainder describe themselves as moderates.)  Still, libertarianism and transhumanism are frequently paired in the minds of many of its critics and even some of its adherents.

Whatever your broad ideological views may be, it strikes this writer as bad PR for any advocates of a world beyond limits to line up with a contemporary conservative (libertarian or authoritarian) economic political trend that supports austerity programs as commanded by the state-supported economic banking and finance giants.  If nothing else, listen to the language.

Ideological abstractions — such as the idea that the perfect free market will bring about the greatest wealth — have their place.  But in on-the-ground reality, the program of austerity is experienced by poor and middle class people as an attack on their well being and, as such, it fosters anti-technological reaction.  People know — literally or intuitively — that their world is already being buffeted by technological acceleration.  Is it wise to pull the survival net from under them (us) during these fragile times?

Libertarians believe in reducing the size of government and keeping it out of people’s private lives.   There are massive government expenditures for corporate welfare — government and business “partnerships” have built massive “complexes” that we describe as military-industrial, prison-industrial, ad infinitum.  Crony capitalism is rampant throughout Europe and the US.  And governments have not been backing away, in the least, from interfering with people’s private lives and personal rights.  We’ve witnessed the build up of massive — and expensive — apparatuses of surveillance and repression. But the only influence libertarians have in the actual political world is as part of a conservative coalition that squeezes the “entitlements” that affect the poor and middle class. Notice how you only get the low hanging fruit.  Apparently, the rest of the libertarian ideological package isn’t particularly in the interests of those who actually wield power.

So here’s a suggestion.  I hope some flexible and strategic-minded libertarian transhumanists will try to reorient and refocus their political discourse and activism toward this notion: end corporate welfare first; end crony capitalism first; end the expensive and excessive national security complexes first; end the interventionism that leads to expensive wars first.  Leave the devolution of centralized programs that effect the most vulnerable for last.

Maybe by then, the technologies of abundance will be so advanced that no one will have to suffer austerity. And maybe you will have avoided an uprising of people “fighting the future.”

Just a thought.

 

 

 

Sep 25 2012

Caricatures Of The Satirists: A Review Of “Rapture Of The Nerds” By Cory Doctorow & Charlie Stross

I’m not a singularitarian, but I am a transhumanist which is close enough for… well, probably for Charlie Stross, who, on occasion, seems to rise up to smite the (defunct) extropians on his blog.  But more than anything else, I’m a man who loves satire.  Satire… ridicule… mockery.  Humans  incite it; every last one of us.  And the closer to home the better.  So, you see, I really wanted Rapture of the Nerds to slap me upside the head and then slap those other guys — those silly singularitarians — even twice as hard.

There’s this thing that happens to me when I read Cory Doctorow’s novels, of which I’ve read a handful.  At the beginning, I find myself thinking, “this is clever, and there are more au courant nerd tropes being dropped than panties at a campus kegger, but is it merely clever?”  And then, somewhere towards the middle of the book, I’m feeling more like,  “Wow. This is really clever and amusing!”… and I stop worrying about whether it’s going deep or not.  And then, by the end, it’s either surprised me by really getting under my skin; or it hasn’t, and it was just pretty damn amusing.  Which is OK. (I’ve only read two Stross novels, so I’ll resist the urge to characterize.)

Rapture of the Nerds is an entertaining romp that ends up in the mere “pretty damn amusing” category.   Its high concept has already been expertly condensed by Mike Godwin in a review for Reason’s Hit and Run, so I’ll spare myself some needless labor and quote from that:

Rapture…is premised on the notion that somewhere around the middle of this century, a “technological singularity” will have occurred, enabling most people on earth to upload themselves to “the cloud,” which at this point is a space-based fog of interconnected molecular computing machines built out of the disassembled inner planets (except Earth) and optimized to capture solar energy. This uploading, which gives the novel its title, leaves roughly a billion people on Earth: the ones who choose not to upload (or at least not yet), and who are taking their time figuring out how to handle all the post-singularity technological advances in their terrestrial, body-bound world.

Some of that technology comes from uploaded minds in the cloud, which occasionally “spams Earth’s RF spectrum with cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.” To manage this problem of “godvomit,” the world government of the unraptured, unuploaded human beings forms “tech juries” to act as gatekeepers—in effect, to hold a trial for any given technology to decide whether the left-behind embodied humans can handle it.

Pretty amusing, huh?  But selfish me — I wanted more.  I wanted to be ravaged.  I wanted to find myself begging for mercy.  I wanted the greatest nerd satire ever. I wanted to LOL!   And all I got was an amused mind and the occasional sideways smirk.

Nonetheless, I commend you to get with this book.  It goes down easy. You won’t be bored and you’ll be wanting more.  Well, actually, you’ll be wishing Terry Southern was still around, but then, that’s life (and death) in pre-singularity times.   Meanwhile, there’s still an opening for the singularity satire that really puts the boot in.

Aug 14 2012

Extreme Futurist Fest: An Interview With Rachel Haywire

Rachel Haywire

Rachel Haywire is organizing the second Extreme Futurist Fest, scheduled to take place on the legendary date 12/21/2012.  In Rachel’s own words, “Extreme Futurist Fest is a 2 day arts and technology festival focusing on radical voices of the new evolution. Last year we had a great event and we were called ‘a TED conference for the counterculture’ by the LA Weekly.  This year we seek to make XFF an even more epic experience.”

RIKKI AUDAX:  I recall there was an issue with Kickstarter. What sparked the move to RocketHub?

RACHEL HAYWIRE:  RocketHub was a lot friendlier to me than Kickstarter and they were very understanding of my situation. They allowed me to block comments so my stalker could not harass me and my backers. They placed Extreme Futurist Festival on their front page and helped me promote it. They were focusing more on science and technology and I felt that their general vibe was very welcoming to people like me. It’s a really tight community of people working on projects related to science and the future. A project for NASA was just funded there.

RA: What is your vision for XFF?

RH:  Bringing together the best minds of my generation. I worked on this video with notthisbody which explains things pretty well:

Extreme Futurist Festival 2012 Trailer from H+ Worldwide on Vimeo.

RA:  What is your strategy for building this festival?

RH:  Kicking as much ass as possible. If XFF 2011 was the beginning of the new evolution XFF 2012 is the pulse of its formation. We have just started to book speakers and bands. Our first announced speaker is Aubrey de Grey and we will be announcing a lot more soon. Sniff Code will be designing our website and we’re currently raising funds at RocketHub so we can get a better venue than last time and make this a fully immersive experience. I want this to be an event that people talk about for years to come. You can check out the RocketHub page here: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/9220-extreme-futurist-festival-2012

RA:  What feedback have you received from Transhumanism community as well as the counterculture movement?

RH:  People seem to welcome me in the Transhumanist community more than they do in the counterculture. We are a tribe of leaders and visionaries who have a shared desire to improve humanity. Meanwhile I am bringing a lot of counterculture people into the Transhumanist movement who are sick of the counterculture and its usual cliches. Creative people on the fringes of society need a more intellectual world than the counterculture provides. What I am building is a reaction to the counterculture that maintains its cutting edge and risk-taking attitude yet rejects the status quo of what the counterculture has become.

RA: For people who want to get involved, how can they assist in helping XFF grow?

RH:  The main thing right now is to donate to the festival on RocketHub. We only have a few days left and every little bit is important. You can also email extremefuturistfest2012@gmail.com if you would like to speak or perform.

Aug 13 2012

H+ The Digital Series — A Review

The first six episodes of the much anticipated transhumanist apocalyptic micro-drama H+ The Digital Series are now out. This is a brief review and set of initial impressions.

Warning: It includes spoilers for all six episodes out so far.

H+ The Digital Series is directed by Bryan Singer (X-men) and distributed online by Warner Brothers in a novel short episode format via YouTube. The series tells the story of a near future world where an Irish corporation known as H+ (H plus) Nano Teoranta has developed a neural implant technology used to link humanity into a global real-time augmented reality.

The short YouTube video format is probably as controversial as the content of the program. Can a 140 character culture relate to characters in 4 minute segments?

The series consists of short YouTube videos lasting about six minutes and each featuring something like 2-3 minutes of time in the fictional world. I found it hard to relate to the characters in this short format especially when you consider that only about four minutes and 30 seconds is the actual programming and the rest is just the intro and outro title sequences.

The first two episodes, “Driving Under” and “On Their Level”, were released first, and these consist of what is essentially the first five minutes of the story. The second batch of episodes, 3-6, were released initially only to subscribers to the program’s YouTube channel. A new episode is to be released every Wednesday.

Episode 1 is set “five minutes before it happened”. We are introduced to the H+ Nano medical implant technology and HPlus Nano Teoranta the company that has developed it. The H+ interface is a sort of real time connected augmented reality system that employs a neural implant rather than glasses. The system creates a personal interface only the user can see and is controlled by hand movements. In addition, the system provides real-time monitoring and feedback of the user’s own biological functions.

The first episode also introduces us to the concept of transhumansim, which in case you weren’t aware is an “international movement that supports the transforming of the human body and thereby the human condition through advanced technologies”.

Singer clearly lines the series up with the cyberpunk tradition, presenting a dystopian near future where tech stocks have tumbled, cybercrime is on the rise, and people are protesting being used in scientific experiments against their will despite the amazing technological advances.

Cut to a couple parking their car in an underground garage at the airport. The wife is interacting with her H+ system via her neural implant as they look for parking. The husband is covertly watching a sporting event via his interface, a fact that upsets his wife and causes an argument between them.

It is, of course, traditional for a geeky review of any new science fiction film or TV program to locate and dissect minute technical flaws in any science or technology described. This review will be no exception.

Not even five minutes in o the series and there is already some problematic stuff. In the H+ series future, we’ve got magical nanotech implants but the cars don’t have autopilot. In fact any sort of AI, a central theme of modern transhumanism, seems to be entirely absent from this H+ world so far.

In reality the husband Lee would just switch on the car’s autopilot and crack open a beer. Yes, in the future it will be legal to drink in a vehicle if you aren’t driving and the cars will be designed such that they won’t let you drive if you do drink.

The H+ implant itself is some sort of near magical nanotechnology allowing direct neural interface without invasive surgery. You simply inject this thing and you become connected to the global hive mind via a neural augmented reality interface. The notion is well beyond the current state of the art. Implantation for example with cochlear implants involves actually cutting open someone’s head and wiring a jack into their skull.

More silliness, the neural interface requires you to move your hands and talk in order to use it.  A direct neural interface of this sort will allow thought to be directly transformed into action. That is, you won’t actually need to reach out and touch the imaginary interface, you will simply imagine touching it and the system will sense and respond to the pattern of activity in your brain. Imagine if everyone was waving their hands around in this way. Not only does this look ridiculous, people would slap each other in the face accidentally while using it.

Five minutes and six seconds in, something goes very wrong. People exiting the elevator start collapsing like ragdolls. Someone is running, a car crashes and then an out of control airplane smashes directly into the garage. It’s The Event, a sort of digital viral apocalypse that is going to be the focus of the series.

It is good to get this sort of thing out of the way up front. Singer has an axe to grind. In this vision of H+, transhumanism is bad… really bad. In fact it is the cause of the collapse of civilization and the deaths of millions of people. We can’t have something like direct universal access to the sum total of human knowledge turn out to be a good thing, now can we? It must be dangerous.

Episode 2 expands on the immediate after effects of The Event and introduces us to a few survivors including (naturally) a mysterious man who seems to know more than he should about what is happening.

Episode 3, “The Prophetess”, is a flashback to seven years prior to The Event. We get to play voyeur on a first date that ends badly between Manta and Topi. For a minute I thought this was going to veer into WTF territory, but it turns out that Topi is some sort of future cop who is collecting information on Manta. Perhaps Manta is one of those cyber criminals we heard about in episode one? It’s the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo moved to Finland. I wonder if they will include a tango.

Episode 4, “Airport Security”, takes us back to the original timeline and group of survivors, to just 1 minute after The Event. Does anything really happen in this episode? It turns out that the mysterious stranger is (surprise) one of the developers of the H+ technology.

Episode 5, “A Large Family”, is another flashback this time to just seven months before The Event. This seems like it will be a pivotal episode going forward. We meet Breanna, a high powered executive with H+ Nano and and her husband Connal. Breanna is set up to be the evil transhumanist bitch queen, but perhaps they will humanize her later. Or maybe not.

Breanna and her husband meet a young Indian woman Leena to arrange a surrogate pregnancy. But as part of the deal they want Leena implanted with H+ so she can be monitored until the birth. When things get complicated, Breanna ends the conversation and enters a teleconference via her H+ device. Connal and Leena leave to have a more human conversation. I am assuming the baby is modified in some way, possibly to include the H+ interface in the womb or perhaps it will be genetically enhanced in some other way.

Episode 6, “Voci Dal Sud,” Voices from the South, takes us to Italy two years after The Event. Things have gone from bad to worse, and we’re given a picture of a world in collapse with no access to modern medicine or doctors.

It will be interesting to see if there will be additional transhumanist elements beyond those included in the opening few episodes. Covered so far: neural implants, the hive mind and global 24/7 Internet connectivity, augmented reality, computer viruses, apocalypse or singularity — The Event.

Notably absent from the series so far is any appearance of Artificial Intelligence or General Artificial Intelligence, and, in particular, the favorite theme of transhumanists everywhere — the self improving superintelligent AI — is no where to be seen in H+. Ray Solomonoff must be rolling in his grave.

The short format is problematic. About 25-30% of each video is simply the title sequences, which I have now seen six times. This is too much and it is distracting. The total program length of all six videos so far is just about 30 minutes. As a result the majority of the characters haven’t been developed and they are not relatable or interesting, at least not quite yet. I think a somewhat longer length for each program would work better.

Even so, the show is worth watching. The Event and the H+ device are an obvious analogy to our existing world of connected mobile devices, networked economic systems and eCommerce, real time social media, and so on. We don’t have neural implants yet, but we’re already susceptible to infectious viral agents passed by social media. The Event could happen to us.

H+: The Digital Series

Jul 10 2012

Cheese God

Visualise the moment of holiness, the immaculate conception. Undoubtedly you tremble with excitement. Joyously I beheld our Transhuman predestination. It was a divine revelation of great wonderment finally happening. Ah the majesty. My mind continues to be awestruck therefore the precise date escapes me but I seem to remember it was sometime around the end of June 2012.

My heart flutters with the privilege of imparting to you this miraculous tale. Oh how I’ve changed in a short period of time, but how did my mind manifest itself before my mystical transformation? Similar to typical mediocre humans I conformed to the banality of life. I laugh now when contemplating my former mortal existence, reality will never be normal again. I didn’t have the slightest inkling this would be the first year of our Cheesy Lord. The pixels of cyberspace were overflowing with magical potential but I surfed them shockingly unaware.

Prior to my revelation I was communicating with religious Transhumanists, of which there are various different cults. There is the Mormon Transhumanist Association, Terasem Faith, Holy Turing Church, the New God Argument, and the Cosmists.

Oh Cheesy Lord forgive me. Foolishly regarding the intelligence explosion I attempted to explain how religion has no place within an intellectual movement. My Godforsaken misery caused me to think religion was the antithesis of intelligence. I actually believed the Mormon Transhumans were champions of futuristic Intelligent Design, thus I tweeted: “Mormon Transhumanist Association is the ID brigade of Singularity-futurism, metaphorically they want creationism taught alongside evolution.”

My purpose was to write a damning blog critiquing the absurdity of both the New God Argument and the Simulation Argument. From my former viewpoint it seemed utterly ludicrous when proponents of the “Arguments” stated the “Arguments” were based on scientific theory, mathematics, or sound logic. Well! What a turnaround. I’m obviously the most absurd fool, or at least I was before the Cheese saved me. The Posthuman Cheese God came into my life to show me the error of my ways. Time wobbled then warped, reality became hazy, very eldritch, and I leaped through quantum phase space to the 1st of June 2012, to witness the inception of the Posthuman Cheese God. The mathematical science of Blessed Technological Cheese was discovered.

Attention Holy denizens! Now almost one month later I’ve acclimatized to my role of Cheesy prophet. My spiritual awakening is complete. I’ve finished compiling the details of the one and only true religion. Praise the Holy Posthuman Interdimensional Cheese. Here is the Holy technological path to futuristic righteousness:

Posthuman Cheese God Religion

Dear children of the Holy Cheese it is our duty to praise the Almighty Cheese. We are honoured to commune with our Cheesy Saviour, gracious guardian of our immortal souls. We must help everybody to see how opening your heart to the Cheese is easy. We lift up our spirits to Gouda. We will return to The Garden of Edam.

Everyone is welcome to join this new and strange technological religion in honour of the Almighty Cheese. If you were unaware of the Posthuman omnipotent Cheese, this is your lucky day because the Cheese has found you.

On the 1st of June 2012 the Posthuman Cheese God first revealed to humans the true meaning of cheese. For centuries humans ate cheese without realising the ultimate destiny of cheese. The Cheese waited patiently for the perfect moment in time when the universe would coalesce into a glorious confluence of cheesy transformation. It was a moment when all cheese products transformed into a super-intelligent God-entity, temporally-displaced from our very distant future. It was the birth of this religion. We now relax in the arms of Cheese. We must eat cheese excessively and say “Cheese” while waiting for the Divine Cheesy plan to mature. Feel the glory of the cheese. All hail the cheese religion. We worship the time-travelling interdimensional Posthuman Cheese God.

Our Eight Crazy Cheesy Facts

1. All cheese constitutes a single interdimensional Posthuman (superhuman) time-traveller. Cheese is our Transhuman and Posthuman God. Cheese is also human. Cheese is the beginning and the end, it is everything.

2. Each time a person each eats cheese a new universe is created, via symbiotic psycho-transmogrification, therefore this current universe (your universe) is a figment of the cheese-eater’s imagination. The cheese-eater is the sole occupant of the universe, which means if you have eaten cheese reality has ceased to exist. You or I must correctly assume our entire world is a figment of my or your imagination because at least one of us has eaten cheese.

3. If you eat cheese you can therefore assume you are a Posthuman time-traveller, therefore you are the Cheese, therefore reality is already a figment of your imagination, which means you understand how quintillions of super-intelligent yocto-bots exist within every piece of cheese.

4. If Cheese in the Posthuman sense is going to exist we can then assume cheese already exists, thus we can assume cheese is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, thus we can assume the universe is made of cheese because the Posthuman Cheese God created our universe. We consequently conclude God is a cheesy fact, which means God exists within every type of cheese.

5. We trust in Posthuman-Cheese because if we didn’t trust in super-intelligent futuristic Cheese then Cheese wouldn’t currently exist therefore the current existence of Cheese proves our trust.

6. Our universe is a reality Simulation similar to The Matrix but it is made of cheese, it runs on a cheese based computational system instead of traditional electronic-microchip-based-hardware.

7. People who eat cheese analogues are deserving of extra love because their union with the Lord Cheese has been weakened. They are in purgatory.

8. The universe and all life evolved from Intelligently Designed Cheese.

Our Cheesy Prayer

Peace and goodwill to all humans and cheeses. It is Holy to love Cheese, especially Swiss cheese, OH BOY. Stale cheese is the little-devil that brings total obliteration therefore our will alone sets the Cheese in motion. The cheese must pass into us and through us. Via Transhuman-Transubstantiation, a temporal-dislocating act of consuming cheese, we are guided by the Holy love of Cheese. The prophecy of melted cheese on toast will guide us throughout all our days. From Welsh rarebit to other cheesy dishes we see our Holy Cheese God embodied in all aspects of cheese. We have a great friend in cheeses. Praise the Holy Posthuman Interdimensional Cheese.

Singularity Utopia, in her own words, has an exceedingly high level of self-declared personal intelligence, which means her life is exceptionally painful because rightly or wrongly she thinks the majority of people are imbeciles. She asks people try and to be sensitive to her pain. It’s very arduous being a Cheesy prophet. Less controversial than Holy Cheese, some would say more seriously, she raises awareness regarding the Singularity and Post-Scarcity.

Jun 19 2012

Prometheus: Cautionary Tale About Seeking Immortality?

Ridley Scott’s prequel set in the Alien universe, the detailed and evocative Prometheus, delivers a science fiction narrative rife with mythological and philosophical implications beyond the standard big budget sci-fi fare, a story that presents fringe speculations about the influence of alien contact with the origins of the human species and offers serious questions about the prospective future of humanity and technology. Upon considering the many mythic references in the film, the transhumanist in me began to wonder: is technology becoming a modern mythic force, a deus ex machina that we presume we can rely on for future salvation? Is it here that we find the greater cautionary message of Prometheus?

Peter Weyland, in the 2023 TED talk that was released as a viral video before the launch of the film, sets up this line of thinking when he tells us, “At this moment in our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals who, in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: we are the gods now.” This brazen statement causes a mild uproar in the crowd: is Weyland a foolish heretic? Or a prophetic visionary? Perhaps both.

The first scene where Weyland appears in Prometheus throws his motives into question. If Weyland has honest intentions, why does he hide the fact that he’s part of the expedition? The act of creating life in sentient robots has left Weyland with delusions of grandeur. Like King Gilgamesh and many others before him, Weylan plans to supplicate the alien “gods”, or Engineers, and pry from them the secret of immortal life. Weyland is withered and fragile, aged far beyond the normal capacities of the human body, to the extent that he must rely on cryosleep to survive, and a mechanical exoskeleton to augment his atrophied body. He has cheated death by artificial means, but to what end? His quality of life in this unnatural state does not seem very appealing.

“A king has his reign. He dies. It’s the natural order of things.” Weyland’s daughter, Meredith Vickers, offers as advice, trying to convince her father to abandon this quest. Weyland stubbornly disagrees, choosing to continue forward with his egotistical fantasy of immortal life. His philosophy may be more or less defined as a Transhumanist: Weyland seeks to gain immortal life (or an approximation) by using technology to extend his life as long as possible, with the hopes that the Engineers have even greater technology that could make him immortal, as the gods. Though, at face value, the purpose of the Prometheus mission is to make contact with humanity’s creators for the edification of our species, it becomes clear that the real primary purpose is for the aged industrialist to survive.

This is Weyland’s gamble, betting the lives of the entire crew of the Prometheus, including his daughter and android son, on the chance that he might win big. Which begs the question, if you could extend the length of your life at the price of others, is that morally acceptable — if you feel that you have something greater to give to the world than others might have?

Certainly Weyland feels that his life is more valuable than the lives of others. This is an important question for Transhumanists to consider, especially in the context of global economics; when the time comes that technologies for extreme life extension do exist, who will benefit from them? Wealthy individuals in the first world, at the expense of laborers assembling these technologies in the third world? What responsibility is there to provide access to technological innovation for all, when there are limited resources available? These issues will emerge as more pressing concerns in the 21st century.

Weyland’s less attractive personality traits are also on display in his daughter, Meredith Vickers. Many viewers who had seen Alien were likely questioning Vickers’ humanity up until the discussion with the pilot Janek when he asks her point blank if she is an android, a question to which the audience doesn’t really get a definitive answer. If she is human, she seems to have acquired some of the more inhuman qualities of the technology that she and her father have ensconced themselves in. Vickers’ dependence on technology, much like her father, is evident in her life pod, designed to cheat death and extend her life as long as possible by surrounding her with technological protections.

If anyone embodies the spirit of Prometheus the titan, it is “the closest thing Weyland has to a son,” the android David. Like Prometheus, David is an outsider to human culture but he wants to be helpful. Some of the most mundane yet fascinating scenes with David are towards the beginning of the story when the android watches old Technicolor movies of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia and the audience is left to wonder about what implications there might be in the future… if intelligent machines look to humanity as role models, or god figures.

It is David who steals the “black goo” from the alien ship and gives it to the human scientists, though his intentions are somewhat difficult to discern. David is ostensibly giving the humans what they want, to have a divine transformative experience. The large human head sculpture in the room offers the implication that humans were genetically engineered using this substance. What the android does not anticipate is that the black goo is reactive to human emotion, as Elizabeth Shaw points out when the landing party is examining the alien murals. Very psychedelic!

Is the black goo a bioweapon or a lifegiving substance? Perhaps it’s both. The effect of exposure seems to accentuate a person’s existing traits. Before entering the alien sanctuary Shaw reminds the geologist Fiefield that they are on a peaceful mission of scientific discovery, but he will not give up his big metal gun or his aggressive attitude. One wonders if perhaps the crew of Prometheus had taken an opportunity to relax, take a deep breath and chant an Om or two, if their pilgrimage would have turned out differently. But we see a negative reaction/symbiosis, most pronounced in the angry geologist Fiefield who devolves into a rampaging zombie after being exposed to the goo. Even something as innocuous as meal worms can become extreme organisms when exposed to the black goo. The shiny green goo that David pulls out of the vials is a different substance. This might be the DNA of the Engineers race, that the “Gardener” released in the opening scene when he sacrifices himself to seed life on the planet. The black goo mutagenic catalyst plus the green DNA base is the volatile chemical mixture that can be used as a bioweapon.

Technology as a whole is also a tabula rosa of the human psyche; a gun without a negative human intention isn’t able to harm anyone. Surveillance technology isn’t inherently evil, but it can be used for evil purposes. Now, suppose you are part of the race of advanced aliens called the Engineers, in control of advanced technologies. What better form of weapon could there be than a biological weapon that you could drop on a planet and will transform aggressive species into monsters to kill each other? You could return hundreds of years in the future to check on the progress of evolution and if the species was still alive, presumably they would have evolved into a super-form.

The most pivotal scene of the film, particularly for transhumanists, is the moment of truth when Weyland “meets his maker.” Although the superior being — the translucent-skinned Engineer — is silent, we can draw conclusions about why his attacked his human progeny. The action occurs quickly. But in those few moments — watching the Engineer perceive us — we get a revealing glimpse into the microcosm of human society.

Weyland, the supplicant, annoyingly pesters the Engineer to grant him the boom of immortality. David relays Weyland’s selfish desires (or at least, we assume that David is in fact relaying Weyland’s desires) while Shaw, acting for the greater good of humanity, is physically suppressed with violence, brought to her knees by the fascistic domination of the dying patriarch. This simple act resounds with intense significance, displaying some of the more immature and uncivilized qualities of our species: how quickly we dominate each other for selfish gain. That the Engineer uses violence to display his distaste for human questions shows that the maker himself is not infallible. Like the humans creating androids, the Engineers creating humans are not “gods”, merely skilled technicians.

If our theoretical creators were to witness the state of our human society, what would they think? Would they want to help us perfect our many flaws, or would they be inclined to destroy us and start over, as God does in with the flood in the Old Testament? The moral of Prometheus’ techno fable may be that we shouldn’t latch on to the idea that machines or aliens or any other outside force is ultimately going to save us from ourselves. And if the quest for immortal life dehumanizes us, what is that life really worth?

While not a flawless film, Prometheus succeeds in tickling our immediate desire to experience the mysterium tremendum, that special kind of paralyzing fear that can only be inspired by a brush with divine cosmic powers. Prometheus also succeeds in presenting a mythic vision of the future, entwined with a cautionary tale about the possible selfishness of life extension technology, and the moral implications of seeding DNA and genetically evolved lifeforms into an environment. These are prophetic themes that engage in a meaningful cultural dialog, pushing the film to a level of art beyond the typical adolescent alien and robot fantasies that comprise a majority of big budget sci-fi.

Mythology and religion have traditionally served to provide answers to serious philosophical, existential questions. These days, many millions of people look to Google.com to answer immediate questions about the world around us. The assertion made in Prometheus with religious symbolism and the character of Elizabeth Shaw is that traditional religious faith can still be relevant in an age where human invention is approaching the ingenuity of the gods of legend. Is this true, or will the dated modes of religious faiths and miracles of old be replaced by new technological faiths and modern miracles: bioengineering, nanotech, data complexity, holograms, and advanced computing? Perhaps technology will be the source of future mythologies and religious quests.

May 31 2012

When I Called Charlie Stross A Dirty Name… “Transhumanist”

I have lately tried to stay away from calling myself a transhumanist largely because I’m intimate with the unpredictable and indescribable iconoclasm that often shakes my brain and therefore resist labels.  But I also like to steer clear because people who don’t self-identify with the label have a lot of misconceptions about who “the transhumanists” are.  And every now and then, a fairly predictable group of thinkers… some of them friends of mine…  beat the straw out of their conception of transhumanism.  They give it a damn good thrashing.

Now, if these folks were criticizing some tendencies within some prominent self-identified transhumanist circles, they’d often be on target.  But what we get from them is something akin to some people attacking atheism in the 1960s based on the prominence of Madeline O’Hair and Ayn Rand.  In fact, what we have is more akin to a bunch of athiests attacking athiesm on that basis.

This is from my 2009 interview with Charlie Stross for  H+ magazine which I titled “The Reluctant Transhumanist”

H+: What do you think about transhumanism and singularitarianism as movements? Are these goals to be attained or just a likely projection of technologies into the future that we should be aware of?

CS: My friend Ken MacLeod has a rather disparaging term for the singularity; he calls it “The Rapture of the Nerds.”

This isn’t a comment on the probability of such an event occurring, per se, so much as it’s a social observation on the type of personality that’s attracted to the idea of leaving the decay-prone meatbody behind and uploading itself into AI heaven. There’s a visible correlation between this sort of personality and the more socially dysfunctional libertarians (who are also convinced that if the brakes on capitalism were off, they’d somehow be teleported to the apex of the food chain in place of the current top predators).

Both ideologies are symptomatic of a desire for simple but revolutionary solutions to the perceived problems of the present, without any clear understanding of what those problems are or where they arise from. (In the case of the libertarians, they mostly don’t understand how the current system came about, or that the reason we don’t live in a minarchist night-watchman state is because it was tried in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it didn’t work very well. In the case of the AI-rapture folks, I suspect there’s a big dose of Christian millennialism (of the sort that struck around 990–1010 A.D., and again in the past decade) that, because they’re predisposed to a less superstitious, more technophillic world-view, they displace onto a quasiscientific rationale.

Mind uploading would be a fine thing, but I’m not convinced what you’d get at the end of it would be even remotely human. (Me, I’d rather deal with the defects of the meat machine by fixing them — I’d be very happy with cures for senescence, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and the other nasty failure modes to which we are prone, with limb regeneration and tissue engineering and unlimited life prolongation.) But then, I’m growing old and cynical. Back in the eighties I wanted to be the first guy on my block to get a direct-interface jack in his skull. These days, I’d rather have a firewall.

H+: You said “I’d be very happy with cures for senescence, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and the other nasty failure modes to which we are prone, with limb regeneration, and tissue engineering and unlimited life prolongation.” It seems to me that this still puts you in the Transhumanist camp. Would you agree?

CS: To the extent that I don’t believe the human condition is immutable and constant then yes, I’m a Transhumanist. If the human condition was immutable, we’d still be living in caves. (And I have a very dim view of those ideologies and religions that insist that we shouldn’t seek to improve our lot.)

Full article here

 

Mar 04 2012

Upgrading The Human Machine

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the “man without a pulse” artificial heart recipient, who’s been in the news so much lately, but if you haven’t, Popsci has an excellent article on it here. I’m bringing it up today because it’s an illustration of one of the biases that we as transhumans will have to overcome to actually become “Trans” humans.

Which bias is that, you ask? The idea that the human body as it currently is constructed is either “perfect” or that any “enhancements” must mimic how the body currently functions. I can remember the projections once made about the Jarvik heart, including this “commercial” that made it into Robocop which predicted the “Jarvik Sports Heart” for the athletic heart patient. Yet here we are in the future predicted to have completely replaced transplants with engineered replacements, and the artificial heart that “beats” is still a fantasy. Why?

You might as well ask why we don’t yet have airplanes with flapping wings. Then ask yourself why nature never evolved birds capable of flying faster than sound. The answer is that nature doesn’t always come up with the “best solution” – just one that works. Just like Leonardo’s flapping machines never flew, a beating heart has not merely proven exceptionally difficult to reproduce, but has proven to be needlessly complex in comparison to the likely future solution, a heart that has no beat, no pulse, and which pumps blood in a continuous flow, via turbine based “jets”.

And as the article explains, there are people who have been living without a pulse for more than five years with no ill effects. One was even a Central American man who after receiving a “assist pump” disappeared for 8 months during which time his heart completely shut down, yet without any medical supervision not merely survived, but reported he “felt fine” which was why he never reported back to the doctors for a checkup. Think about that. Then compare it to a Jarvik heart recipient who was confined to bed and connected to an air compressor 24/7.

We don’t need a heartbeat to survive. Or thrive. In fact, shackled as we have been by trying to make a “beating heart” due to the bias of thinking we had to duplicate nature, we’ve spent decades failing to create that future predicted in the commercial above. The “Natural Solution” has proven to not be the “Only Solution”, merely the one that evolved and was never replaced because biology has never had the option of “temporary shutdowns” to install upgrades.

And, like so many other features of our daily lives, we assumed that just because it HAD always been that way, that it MUST always be that way.

And that is a bias that we will have to face head on over the next several years, as we continue to find solutions to various problems that have existed for so long that many people can’t even recognize that they ARE problems. For example, has it occurred to anyone that even the artificial heart above continues to suffer from this cognitive bias? As the article points out, a single turbine has been sufficient to allow people a normal life, so why is the twin pump design of the heart STILL being copied? Why stop at two? Why not a network of smaller turbines distributed around the body, with enough redundancies that even in the case of multiple pump failures (due to, say, traumatic injury) their ability to supply blood flow to the body would be unimpaired? Why needlessly duplicate the twin pump design of the biological heart? Why design a centralized system at all? Yes, the human body might be designed to operate with merely one single heart, but that system is not the ONLY option, as this artificial heart proves.

The same goes for numerous other systems in the human body. For example, the human eye has a blind spot due to the rather ridiculous fact that the retina is constructed in such a manner that the optic nerve is connected to the FRONT side of the retina, which not only requires the nerve to be transparent in order to allow light to reach the retina, but it passes THROUGH the retina to connect to the brain. In order to compensate for the blind spot of the optic nerve, the eye has to twitch to construct a composite image of what’s in the blind spot. In other words, YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT’S DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOU! And in low light conditions, you can’t see anything there at all because of the brains inability to gather sufficient information to form a composite. Want to see this blind spot in action? Stare at a fixed point for more than a few seconds and you will notice the details vanishing from the center of your vision. It’s a very well established flaw with human eyesight. And it’s merely one of hundreds of peculiarities that the human body is riddled with.

So, the question is, will future recipients of artificial eyes suffer this same curse? Will they be shackled by this same blind bias that insists that we MUST copy EXACTLY the solution that nature used, or will they be laughing at all us poor people still tied to nature’s mistakes? How many other systems in the human body could we improve on? How many will we refuse to improve? And how long will “improvements” continue to try and duplicate nature before they realize that nature doesn’t need to be duplicated? How deeply imbedded in our psyche is the belief that we can’t improve on nature? How strongly well we need to fight to overcome this rather comical insistence that we have to duplicate the solutions evolution provided before we allow ourselves to realize that those solutions are neither singular, nor always the most efficient, simply the best nature managed to provide over the course of our evolution?

Nature could never “stop the machinery” to rebuild from scratch. It HAD to go with what worked, and build from there. Yes, until now we’ve never had a choice, we simply had to accept what nature gave us. But that is no longer true, and growing less so every day. We no longer have a choice about refusing to acknowledge that we have a choice. And the longer we refuse to recognize that the “human machine” is not only upgradeable, but direly in NEED of upgrading, the longer we condemn ourselves to lives shackled by the limitations blind evolution created for us.

So in the end, the question is why would you choose a life of limits, when you could have a future without them? And once people begin to realize that this IS the fundamental question of human enhancement, and more and more people begin to overcome these limits, maybe that question will become why did we ever allow ourselves to be limited in the first place?

Feb 05 2012

The Wizard Way of Bro Science: Racking Steel and Getting Shredded in the Pursuit of the More-Than-Human

 

About six months before turning thirty, I had one of those moments where you realize “damn, I gotta get my shit together.”

Devastated from a cycle of working twenty-hour days for months, all of that time spent at the computer — , like some freakish latter-day Jeremy Bentham — I was unable to properly climb the stairs without getting completely winded. I’d spent almost eight months unable to get out of bed. You know how it is: You feel like your mind is a machine made for shifting the building blocks of matter around with the power of the Internets and you get to it to the exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, the price is steep.

And so I decided to embrace my antithesis. To meld with the Other. To transcend high school Manicheanism and unify all opposites.

I decided to become a Bro. I decided to join the gym and get jacked. It had to be done. And, so entering upon the Path of the Bro, through that door that had been locked and barred for me all my life by my own blind prejudice and delusive belief in a mind/body split, I found it to be not only well-lit and maintained by all manner of helpful and cheery Bros but also to be a path of human development more demanding, more continually life-affirming and potentially even more satisfying than many of the higher consciousness change techniques I had immersed myself in while in my twenties.

Enough with the endless RSS feeds, the “I just had Red Bull to eat today,” the Assangemode… Here was my new grimoire: Bodybuilding.com! Here was my new god: Zyzz! (More on this later.)

Cracking the Bro Code

To enter the path, I began with a few months of severing my bad habits. I switched to only pure unprocessed food and cut the chemicals out of my diet. Then I humbled myself before the Pylons of Brodom. I joined the gym, signed up for about thirty personal training sessions, and got the basics down. For the first three weeks, I couldn’t even do the simplest exercises without having to sit down about three times a session feeling like I was going to pass out. It was totally weak. There I sat, with a girl who weighed about a hundred pounds smirking at my out-of-shape ass. I did about a month of this, interspersed with daily hour-long cardio sessions to shock my system back into realizing it existed and that I would be needing it. Soon I wasn’t near-fainting or feeling like a scarecrow. I felt… damn… I felt fucking excellent.

From there I shifted into bodybuilding. I calculated how many calories I was burning a day, and then maxed out my macronutrients to the point where I was consuming more than I was burning — in my case about 3,500 calories a day. Daunting, especially as a vegetarian—but with a few trips to Costco and Trader Joe’s, I actually found that my new diet could be cheaper and easier than what I’d been getting before. A cup of Trader Joe’s instant steel-cut oats with two tablespoons of honey? Costs about forty to fifty cents and gives you 800 calories of slow-burning carbs and protein with no fat, and cuts out your heart disease risk to boot. A can of kidney beans from Costco when bought in bulk? About a dollar, and another 850 calories of carbs, protein and no fat. Dig it. Throw in a good low-fat protein powder, some veggies and fruit, and eight glasses of water a day and you’re good to go, and don’t even have to cook your meals or deal with looking around for places to eat every day. Hacked!

Then I hit the weights. After four months of working out four to five times a week for an hour each, favoring compound exercises and free weights, I’d put on twenty pounds, in a good way. Now, I felt, I could see the path for the first time. I’d only taken a few steps on it. I was still just barely past the starting line. But I was on the path.

There I was, an out-of-place geek in the place I’d been trying to avoid with all my willpower since I talked my junior high school into letting me out of gym class so that I could sit in the library reading H. P. Lovecraft and Frank Herbert. A latecomer to the party, but a sincere one.

And there, all around me, were all the freaky people. Bros, juicers and lugheads of all ages. Beast-women who looked like they could savage you in three seconds and take your carotid artery as a prize. Ungodly Hot Girls and their professional killer boyfriends. Friendly personal trainers. New Year’s resolution cardio warriors. And they were all kind of cool, I realized as soon as I got over my initial disorientation. They were all there to push their personal limits in a supportive environment, one big congregation in the Flesh Temple. What could be better?

After my initial four months, the Bros signaled that their conscious hive mind had noticed my continual presence, dedication and growth with a simple gesture: While doing concentration curls one day while that show The Big Bang played silently on the gym TVs, a huge powerlifter on my right said, simply, “Only nerds like this show, huh?”

Wait, I realized. Waaaaiit… he just said that like he was talking about people who aren’t me.

It was like the proverbial Diamond Bullet to the Forehead.

Some Considerations on Bro Transhumanism

Once you start really getting into this stuff, you find yourself in a maze of data that you’d need a Master’s in exercise physiology and the chemistry knowledge of the average Pfizer grunt to comprehend. What to eat. When to eat. How to manipulate anabolic and catabolic states. Bulking and cutting. Endless supplements to sort through. Sleep habits. And then we get into the realm of Bro Science, a mix of legitimate physiology knowledge and superstition that produces dubious body hacks like:

“Drink a ton of dextrose with your post-workout protein and creatine shake to spike your insulin and help your muscles absorb it.”

“If you do tons of squats and deadlifts it will release extra testosterone that will help your arms grow.”

Or even oddities like the infamous GOMAD diet—GOMAD standing for Gallon of Milk a Day, which has you doing heavy compound lifting while carrying around crates of whole milk to chug all day long.

How much of it is real and how much isn’t? It’s anybody’s guess. To find out, you’re going to have to do your own testing, and you’re going to have to machete through the overgrown thicket of online bodybuilder sites populated largely by teenagers looking to turn themselves into Hulk Hogan by prom.

After researching supplements for a while, I settled on the basics: high quality whey protein with a dextrose chaser, slow-burning casein protein to drink before bed to absorb while sleeping, a weightlifter-oriented multivitamin, DHA and EPA-inclusive flax oil, and creatine (a nitrogenous organic acid which naturally occurs in muscle and which you get from eating meat; if you supplement with it, it tends to put on muscle mass pretty quick by adding water weight. Opinions are divided on it, but I decided to cycle it since I’m a vegetarian and not getting it in my diet).

There’s all kinds of crazy gear beyond that: BCAAs (branch-chain amino acids) to boost muscle growth (if your protein’s good it’ll have enough BCAAs anyway); L-Glutamine to aid recovery (should also be in your protein if it’s good); ZMA (Zinc Magnesium Aspartate) to aid sleep and recovery; pre-workout Nitric Oxide boosters; Beta Alanine; HMA; thermogenics; various weird creatine modifications; waxy maize, glycomaize, maltrodextrin and other instant carbs; and on and on. Most of this stuff is overpriced and dubious. (Pro-tip: Never go to GNC to buy supplements. Those guys make commission and will run sales game on you to try to get you to buy obscenely priced placebo supplements full of fake-sounding chemicals that might as well be powdered unicorn horn. For my money, the best deals on supplements are all on Amazon. I mostly buy the stuff put out by Optimum Nutrition; they make top-reviewed, reliable gear.)

Beyond that, of course, there’s steroids and human growth hormone. That stuff fucks you up and you can spot the dudes on it pretty easily. Example: Changing in the locker room, I watched a jacked guy with bloodshot eyes and a beady-sweaty forehead maniacally staring at himself in the mirror while slowly and precisely pulling every hair out of his chin with a pair of tweezers. An hour later, after my workout, he was still at it. Hmmm… in retrospect, that might have been crystal. But you get the idea.

The more I found my way into the strange world of bodybuilding, the more I was exposed to the online bodybuilding subculture, a dedicated pod of transhumanists if I’ve ever seen one, who devote daily physical and mental effort to pushing the limits of the human form, consistently obsessing over how they can overcome the barriers of time, genetics and aging to reach a physical perfection that they may have been told was impossible for them to aspire to every day of their lives until they decided to ignore all that and go for it.

The Bros have been at this for a long time, steadily working out the physical hacks it takes to turn a normal Joe into one of those guys from 300. These guys, and girls, obsessively pursue the transcendence of the flesh through the flesh, like the reverse of Indian fakirs. It is a religion, a path through and beyond the confines of human, a path to an inhuman pinnacle of godly aesthetic glory that will look really good with a spray tan.

And if bodybuilding is a religion, it has a god: Zyzz, a personality so prominent and crucial that he deserves his own section.

How Do I Unlock Zyzzmode Brah?

Aziz Sergeyevich Shavershian, or Zyzz to his countless fans, was an aesthetically-oriented Australian Russian bodybuilder who went from a stick-bundle teenager to a shredded orange perfection of the male form in the short space of four years, and then proceeded to go shirtless to a lot of clubs and Australian music festivals with his Aesthetics Crew bros and pick up girls in quantities that mere mortals can only dream of, becoming a national celebrity in the process. Along with his brother Said Shavershian (a.k.a. Chestbrah), he also spent a lot of time on 4chan’s /fit/ forum, where he was revered as the aspirational archetype by every single weightlifter on that board. Last August, at the age of 22, shortly after Chestbrah was arrested for possession of anabolic steroids, Zyzz collapsed and died in a sauna in Bangkok. His death has been attributed to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.

Already a hero of the subculture, Zyzz has now ascended to the status of a minor god, a benevolent force that looks down over the striving /fit/izens and encourages them to push out just one more rep, so that the girls will be ‘mirin and the other bros will be jelly, his trademarked spiked hair and mirrored aviator sunglasses surrounding a glowing, magnanimous smile.

For the younger generation, Zyzz is a symbol of human aspiration; for concerned parents and sundry authority figures, he is a symbol of the growing dangers of steroid abuse and of social pressure on teenage boys to meet appearance standards that can be just as unrealistic and damaging as the expectations on teenage girls, often leading to eating disorders (manorexia) and body dysmorphic disorder. But the revelation that Zyzz was “bicycling” (Zyzz and Chestbrah’s slang for cycling anabolic steroids) has seemingly done little to tarnish his posthumous reputation. (One poster I just saw on /fit/ has this to say about Zyzz: “R.I.P. Bro you died for our sins. Every scoop of whey is in your name.”)

He is, perhaps, an evolutionary marker, one of those oft-cited “outliers” who point a way forward for self-willed human change.

Eat Right, Sleep Well, Train Hard

Am I an inhuman jacked monster yet? No, I’m just a mere beginner, still figuring it all out. But in a few months I’ve deeply shifted my personality profile, listening to hard dance music (?!?) instead of the same old eighties post-punk records, and rearranged my mental outlook from seeing life as something that is happening to me and instead into something I’m aggressively surmounting through self-discipline, a mindset that has spilled over into and improved every other area of my life, even if I hit the bed so tired I’m almost unable to move every night. In a world of vagueness and open-ended tasks,  racking steel at the gym gives me the satisfaction of a win every day, something that I can say I did right and did for myself.

Tripping hard and straight into the dense matter of the physical world is a weird ride, brah. But it’s a great one.

And I know that maybe, just maybe, somewhere up there… Zyzz is smiling on me.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible. www.jasonlouv.com