Oct 23 2012

Not Sci Fi. Sci NOW!


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.

May 07 2012

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)


Take the self-enhancement/personal mutation aspect of transhumanism and marry that to the intentions of Anonymous and you have something sort of like what St. Jude and I wanted to achieve with a book titled How To Mutate & Take Over The World.  

There were multiple problems with this.  For all the huffing and puffing in both transhumanist and hacker circles, at that point any actual plans for mutating and/or taking the world were pretty vague.  Smart drugs and meditation techniques?  Nutrients for musculature and longevity? What? Where were the madpersons (things?) in secret laboratories diddling around with garage biotech?  Clearly we were premature.

Hacker Michael Synergy — who had promised to bring down everything imaginable — governments, banks, what-have-you — with a few lines of code, had slipped away mysteriously amidst rumors of double or triple or quadruple non-so-secret agentry (there’s a very likely rumor that the main character in Burn Notice is based on him.)  Whatever. We could have used some of Michael’s bullshit to fertilize the narrative.

And there was the deadline — six months — for a project that really required 2 or 3 years.  So we tried to turn it into a sort of role playing game, inviting people on The Well, particularly those in the MONDO 2000 Conference, to take on characters and interact.

It sorta worked.  The book is full of wonderful moments.  Mock deconstructions of the fictive hacker underground written in trendy overwrought academese.  St. Jude’s wonderful tough hacker feminism essays about how grrrls needed modems. Descriptions of fucking robots involved with excremental performance art.

And — perhaps most of all — Patrick Di Justo’s hilarious contributions.   Among these, there was an episode in which Terence McKenna and Marvin Minsky crash land and find themselves amongst a primitive tribe and an episode wherein a tiny K. Eric Drexler winds up in a terrarium.  Was this maybe a bit too “inside baseball” for a popular audience in the mid-90s?

Anyway, the entire thing turned into a recursive story-within-story-within-story in which two authors of a book struggle against deadlines and book company assassins within a narrative of world takeover ending with the world being smothered in self-replicating Key Lime Pie.

People either loved it or hated it…  and the people who loved it were mostly comprised of a small slice of the literary avant garde.

Anyway, presented for your amusement, an excerpt from How To Mutate & Take Over The World by the slightly pseudonymous Patrick Dijuju followed by Di Justo speaking about his participation in How To Mutate & Take Over The World.


Travels With Marvin: Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky 

by Patrick Dijuju

Slowly regaining consciousness, I opened my eyes to see chunks of the Amazon jungle framed in the remains of the aircraft window. Remembering where I was,  I tentatively tried to wiggle my toes and was gratified to feel them scraping the inside of my boot.  One fear conquered: I wasn’t paralyzed.

I moved my legs a few inches from side to side.  They seemed fine.  I diffidently opened my legs wider and felt my crotch  Everything seemed in place there.  Another sigh of relief.

I looked across the small aisle.  Marvin Minsky was sitting bolt upright, fully conscious and still strapped in his seat.  The crash had torn huge rents in the fuselage of the plane, and Marvin’s eyes darted around the remains of the cabin and out into the jungle in great sweeping arcs.  He resembled a bird of prey on the lookout for anything moving.

“Hey,” he shouted at me when he saw I was awake, “are you all right?”

“I seem to be,” I replied.

“Yeah.  I figured when you grabbed your crotch you were OK,” he said. “That seems to be part of the algorithm.”

“What algorithm?”

“What appears to be the ‘Self Test Upon Regaining Consciousness after a Life Threatening Injury’ algorithm.  You wiggled your toes first, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“So did I.  They you checked to see if your legs worked, and then you grabbed your crotch.”

“Yeah,” I repeated.

“So did I.  In that order.  You were about to check your head, and save your torso for last, weren’t you?”

“Yeah,” a third time.

“So did I.  The algorithm is obviously a collection of smaller building blocks of activity hardwired into our brain.  Wiggle the toes.  Check the legs.  Scope the balls.  Pretty interesting.  By the way, you have, or you had, a bloody nose.”

I reached up to my face and felt around.  My beard and mustache felt hard, crusty and dry.  I had obviously had a nosebleed that stopped some time ago.  How long had I been unconscious?

“How long have I been unconscious,” I asked Marvin.

“We crashed about an hour ago.  Assuming you lost consciousness at or near the moment of impact, about an hour,” Minsky replied.

I had a headache that didn’t seem to be centered in any specific place in my brain; it seemed to be everywhere in my head at once.  An hour was plenty of time for a brain concussion to begin its voodoo.  For some reason that really bothered me.  My brain is my second favorite organ, and to think of it bruised or bleeding upset me greatly.

I looked around the remains of the fuselage. “Where’s McKenna?” I asked.

“About time you asked,” Minsky replied. “He went out to reconnoiter, I think he said.  Apparently he’s under the impression that he knows, and can speak to, the native people of the area.”

“Well,” I said, unstrapping myself, “I don’t want to sit around here.” I jumped to my feet.

I opened my eyes. I was on my back, staring at the ceiling of the plane.

“Don’t stand up too quickly,” Minsky said, when he saw I had regained consciousness once more. “I’m guessing that you’ve got a bad concussion. You’ll be prone to fainting for the next few days.”

There was a rustle in the leaves outside the cabin.  Terence McKenna stepped out of the jungle and hurried to the remains of the airplane.

“Marvin!” he called. “I’ve found them!”

“I have no idea what he’s found,” Minsky whispered to me.

McKenna stuck his head through one of the holes in the fuselage and saw me lying on the floor. “Hello,” he said. “Glad to see you’re up and about. If you are, that is.”  He turned to Minsky. “Marvin,” he said breathlessly,  “I’ve found some indigenous people of this tropical rain forest.”

“How nice,” Minsky said dryly. “Can they get us to civilization?”

“Oh, you’re such a reductionist,” McKenna snapped.

“It’s my job,” Minsky replied smoothly.

There was another rustle in the jungle, much softer this time, and as if by magic, two native men appeared in our clearing.  McKenna pulled his head out of the plane and looked at them.

Minsky stood up and was about to exit the plane when McKenna stopped him.

“Let me, Marvin,” McKenna said. “I know how to talk to these people.”

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand in greeting toward the natives. “Koyan teki. Koyan teki.” The natives looked at McKenna, then at each other.

“What’s he saying,” I asked Dr. Minsky.

“I have no idea,” Minsky said.  “But it stands to reason that it’s some form of local greeting.”

“Thanks, Marvin. I figured that out.”

“You’re welcome.  Aside from that, I have no data.  Come on.”

Marvin helped me slowly to my feet.  Supported by his shoulder, I staggered out of the remains of the airplane into the dappled sunshine.

The natives were muscular, brown skinned men wearing nothing but body paint and leather codpieces.  They each carried a long, relatively straight, fire hardened pointed stick.  Both men did a double take when they saw Marvin.

“Xochipilli,” one whispered to the other. “Xochipilli,” the other answered in agreement.

“Terence, what are they saying,” Marvin asked.

“I don’t know,” McKenna retorted. “I never said I was fluent in their language.”

“No, you never did,” Minsky purred.

McKenna shot Minsky a look.  The animosity between them that had begun at the conference was starting to fester now. Great, I thought, this was all we needed.

“Look, fellas,” I said to both intellectuals, “what do we do now?”

The natives took it upon themselves to supply the answer, (though they obviously could not have understood the question) because at that moment they both began talking a mile a minute.  I didn’t recognize any words except for the mysterious “Xochipilli, Xochipilli”, which they said every few seconds.

“Terence,” I said, motioning to the two men, “what IS this?”

“Um, they want us to follow them,” McKenna said, struggling to translate their jabbering. “They want to show us something …  no, they want to take us to their village chief, and the chief will show us something.”

“Well,” Minsky said, “considering we have no alternative, I suggest we go.”


I only fainted once on the way to the village.  When we finally reached the collection of huts that served as the native’s more or less permanent encampment, one of our escorts ran ahead of us, stamping his feet and shouting “Xochipilli, Xochipilli!”

“There’s that word again,” I slurred.

At that moment a large, regal man emerged from the large hut at the far end of the village. He stood well over six feet tall, and was adorned with a variety of feathers, bones, beads and other ornaments. This had to be the village chief.  The chief frowned at the man doing all the yelling, then he looked at the three of us.  And I’m telling you, when he saw Marvin, his jaws dropped, his eyes popped, his mouth opened.

“Xochipilli,” he whispered reverently.

“Terence,” Minsky said, “if you have ANY idea what this Hochifella stuff means, I’d really appreciate knowing.”

“Look, Marvin,” McKenna snapped, ‘I’m as worried as you are.  I don’t know if this word means they’re going to eat us, or sacrifice us, or what. OK?  I JUST DON’T KNOW!”

“OK, Terence,” Marvin said placatingly. “Just asking.”

We stopped in the middle of the clearing.  The chief motioned to two of his men.  They walked to the clump of ferns at the edge of the developed part of the village and quickly prodded and pulled the leaves of the huge plants to the right and left.

Hidden in the brush was a huge carved stone, approximately fifteen feet high, and a stone slab, about four feet off the ground, six feet long and six feet wide.  The slab was covered with a brown, crusty material that looked like dried blood.  The large stone had been carved into a statue of a humanoid creature looking up at the sky.  The creature was stocky and bald, had enormous eyes and an enormous beak like nose, and looked half man/half bird of prey.

“Mar-vin,” I whispered.

“Hmmm,” Minsky hummed.

“Mar-vin,” McKenna whined, “that looks an awful lot like you.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” Minsky replied in a hushed tone.

“Marvin,” I said hoarsely, “they must think you’re one of their gods.”

“I think you’re right,” Marvin whispered.

As if to punctuate Marvin’s comment, the tribal chief and his followers slowly knelt, then prostrated themselves face down at Marvin’s feet. “Xochipilli,” they chanted, “Xochipilli.”

The three of us were silent for a moment, then McKenna snapped.  “JESUS CHRIST!!! MARVIN??? MARVIN MINSKY???  Of the six billion people on this earth they had to choose Marvin MINSKY as their god???” He poked Minsky in the shoulder with a rigid forefinger.

The chief popped his head up and gave McKenna a very nasty look.

“Hey, Terence, cool it,” I warned.

“Jesus Christ. Minsky?! I don’t know why they chose YOU as their god,” McKenna snapped. “I’m the one who’s studied their culture.  I’m the one who’s shared their sacraments. I’m the one who’s lived among them.”

“Terence!” Minsky’s voice was like wet ice. “Knock it off!”

The chief muttered some words to his aides.  He then stood up, pointed at McKenna, looked at Minsky, and let forth a torrent of speech.  He stopped and looked at Minsky inquisitively.

“Notice the universality of body language,” Minsky whispered to me.  “We don’t know the words, but by the look on his face, the wide eyes and raised brows, we know that it was a question.”

“What did he ask,” I whispered back.

“I have no idea,” Minsky replied.  “Terence, can you translate what the chief said?”

McKenna ignored Marvin’s question.

“Terence,” Minsky said quietly, “did you catch what he said?”

McKenna didn’t say anything for about five seconds.  Then he snipped, ”No, I didn’t.  And even if I did, I doubt I would tell you.”

Minsky frowned. “We have no data.  We can just randomly choose a response, I guess, but in situations like this, I’ve usually found it’s safe to say yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“No,” he replied, “I’m not sure. I’ve just found that ‘Yes’ generally works better than no.”

The tribal chief repeated his question, and once again looked at Marvin with big eyes.

“Terence,” Marvin whispered. “How do you say yes in their lingo?”

“Hei”, McKenna said petulantly.

Marvin sat up straight, looked at the chief and firmly said, “Hei, chief. Hei.”

The chief barked out several short commands to his men.  They immediately stood up, grabbed Terence McKenna from behind, gagged him with a leather thong and dragged him to the stone altar.

I jumped to my feet once again.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson. As the jungle started to spin I grabbed one of the tree trunks to steady myself and yelled, “Marvin! I think you just gave them permission to sacrifice Terence McKenna to you!!”

Minsky slowly got to his feet. “Hmm,” he said, as he watched the tribesmen tie McKenna to the altar. “It would appear that I did, didn’t I?”

My agitation was making me woozy. “Marvin!”, I yelled with nearly all my strength, “stop them!”

“I’ll try,” Minsky promised. He walked to the altar, looked down at the bound and gagged Terence McKenna and said “Terence, how do you say ‘stop’ in their language?”

McKenna’s eyes blazed as he thrashed around. He was talking a mile a minute behind his gag, but all we heard were muffled nasal “m” sounds and occasional ululations.

The tribal chief took a flint knife out of his belt and majestically strode toward the altar. “Marvin,” I shouted with the final remnants of my strength, ”STOP HIM!”

Minsky turned to me. “It would appear that Terence, who is gagged, is the only one of us who knows the word ‘stop’ in the local language,” he said.

The chief raised his knife over his head as darkness crashed around me…


Patrick Di Justo Recalls His Participation In How To Mutate & Take Over The World

DijustoHow To Mutate – Part 1 of 6

Dijusto- How To Mutate – Part 2 of 6

Dijusto – How To Mutate – Part 3 of 6

Dijusto – How To Mutate – Part 4 of 6

Dijusto – How To Mutate – Part 5 of 6

Dijusto – How To Mutate – Part 6 of 6


Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)




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.


Dec 13 2011

Quadrotors Will Do Everything (Well, Almost)


About a year ago I wrote an article for H+ magazine on the use of quadrotors for a variety of purposes, ranging from VR telepresence units to sensor platforms for dangerous environments to construction.

So, you can imagine my reaction on reading this article on Singularity Hub.  In short, it’s about a demonstration of robotic assembly, done by quadrotors under computer control, building a 20 foot tall tower out of lightweight foam blocks. Foam might not sound impressive, but it’s a public demonstration, so I’m sure foam was chosen not only because it’s light enough to not place a major strain on the copters, but because it’s soft enough to not cause injuries if the tower falls over. The materials are meaningless however, because it’s the control systems that are the real story. Fifty quadrotors will fly under complete computer control, having to navigate not just the static environment, but the variable obstacle course of all the other quadrotors, the changing environment of the tower being built and maybe even having to dodge the occasional overly curious onlooker. As you can probably imagine, I had to grin. Not even a full year later, and already we’re seeing stories about quadrotors being used as I described.

But I’m not the only one who’s seen how useful quadrotor could be. In a recent blog post, K. Eric Drexler asked “Where are the Parrots?” He looks at the robots used to explore the Fukushima reactor, a pair of Monirobo’s, a track based one armed robot that have a top speed of 2.4 kph, and weigh 600kg, and has to wonder why such clumsy robots were being used when the Parrot AR drone makes a far superior platform for the job. He points out that  many “Very Serious People” are dismissive of “toys”

So I decided to do a review and take a look at what sort of developments have been happening with quadrotors over the last year. First up, I have a video from January of 2011, just a few months after my original article.

As you can see, this features construction with modular materials… in this case, magnetically connectable girders. It provides an illustration of the most basic concept of the quadrotor construction battalion.

However, to really appreciate the potential here I have another video for you

That’s a video of China’s Broad Group building a modular hotel in less than one week. Now replace every human worker in the video with a quadrotor and you can probably guess what the upcoming demo is going to look like.

Precision swarming has also made advances since that first video, as this one from September of 2011 illustrates.

These videos are from the ETH labs in Zurich, and are part of a great series of quadrotor developments they have made, but autonomous flight is not the only kind of developments they are working on.

I found a very interesting video in which they are demonstrating a “control interface” that is entirely virtual, powered by a Kinect.

While I think full “mind control” of quadrotors via an emotive epoch style headset is what will eventually become the primary control interface of an RTU drone, the Kinect demo shows how intuitive we can make the control systems for everyday use of quadroters. This ease of use is one of the primary advantages of using quadrotors as camera and sensor platforms for dangerous environment navigation, like the Fukushima reactors.

There’s lots more interesting videos out there covering the many capabilities of quadrotors, from DIY projects to various university reports, and they all continue to say the same thing I first thought a year ago. Quadrotors are neither a toy, nor a curiosity. They are the first primitive stages of a variety of useful tools that will reshape how we do many things. I’m looking forward to seeing videos of the construction demo, because I love seeing the future be developed right in front of me.

And of course, getting to say “told you so!” : )