Oct 14 2011

Is Stiff Academia Killing Mental Evolution?


One thing I have noticed about the Transhumanist community is that there is a division between the academic crowd and the consciousness expansion crowd. Previous Transhumanist movements have battled on idealistic grounds for the notion of what Transhumanism was really about. Was it the hard scientific outlook with the academic credentials and PowerPoints or was it the consciousness expansion outlook with the mind altering psychedelics and technological revolution? Was the hard academic current stopping the freethinking cyberpunk current from being viewed as Transhuman and was the freethinking cyberpunk current stopping the hard academic current from being taken seriously?

I used to say that the stiff academics were killing mental evolution and I completely sided with the freethinking cyberpunk current. Yet I have recently come to the realization that both currents of Transhumanism are equally important. As freethinking cyberpunks we need hard academics to build a sustainable movement or we will simply come off like a bunch of techno-hippies.

I do, however, wish to address a part of academia that has been upsetting me for a while. I’m talking about the anti-philosophy part which states that philosophy is irrelevant to Transhumanism because we now have technology. The “why have discussions on philosophy when we can build new machines?” people. They are the ones who are killing mental evolution because they dismiss philosophical discourse on the future as all talk and no action.

The last time I checked it appeared that philosophical discourse was required for action to exist in the first place. Would we be able to build new machines if we didn’t philosophize about technology? Why would we want to live in a society of robot builders if we couldn’t even theorize about what we were building? All talk and no action is a definite waste of time but all action and no talk is a cold society devoid of free thought and revolution. I feel that we need a mixture of both. We need the talk and we need the action. We need the techno-hippies who have just discovered LSD and Robert Anton Wilson to throw the raves and we need the MIT graduates to advance genetic research and throw the conferences. We need each and every person in this movement.

Transhumanism has split off into a bunch of different currents and in 2011 this has reached a level so meta-meta-meta that there are at least 30 different groups on Facebook for different currents of Transhumanism. Recently someone in the Singularity Network group asked a question to the effect of “why was I just added to 15 different Transhumanist groups?” Can we blame the hard academic elite or can we blame the petty infighting that every movement inevitably has to deal with? Should we be placing any blame in the first place or should we be embracing the splintering off of so many new movements?

In the end, I believe every MIT graduate was once a freethinking cyberpunk or — at the very least — they embraced these ideals in their youth. I also believe that every freethinking cyberpunk would benefit from a more academic education so they could turn their visions into realities via technology and scientific theory. The only thing killing mental evolution is the idea that ideas are no longer important because … “Hey! Check out those robots over there… and stop talking.”

Aug 31 2011

Transhumanism Against Scarcity: A Conversation with AnonymousSquared


“… why should anyone want to participate in an infinite unending marketplace.  What kind of human being sees that as the ultimate goal?


A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by AnonymousSquared — a fellow who had read somewhere that I was thinking about writing a book titled “Steal This Singularity.“ (I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.)  He sent me a copy of his book-in-progress, which he calls “Transhumanism Against Scarcity.”   And while the book needs some work, it had some interesting ideas.  So I decided to have an email conversation with him.  Here goes more-than-nothing…

RU SIRIUS:  This discussion about ending human scarcity has a long and deep history.  Technologically, we may be moving in the right direction… towards molecular machines, desktop manufacturing, the digitization of everything.  But you say in your book that we’re headed in the wrong direction.

ANONYMOUSSQUARED:  I see two problems.  One is that environmental problems may intervene.  I don’t know if I can do anything about that.  The other problem that I see is a strain of libertarian absolutism that is fairly prevalent inside transhumanist circles and that is having way too much impact on politics in the real world. Maybe I can have some impact on that in a small way.

I don’t really have a beef with libertarianism per se… as a soft concept, finding our way towards a world with a lot less government coercion seems like a good thing.  I think the problem comes when ideals collide with the real world.  And you’ll notice that much of what I’ve written is focused on the world today, not on the future.  I thought of calling it Transhumanism Against Austerity, which is the way that global monetary policy is reintroducing scarcity into parts of the world where it had been all but eliminated.  It should be obvious to futurists that this is the wrong direction, if for no other reason than to avoid massive riots and an uprising of neoluddism.

We’re already very deep into a wildly technological time.  People notice stuff like artificial biology, bulletproof skin, the stuff that kids take for granted on their cell phones… people running around talking about robots overachieving us.  This is not lost on ordinary people.  And they’re looking around unemployed and with their homes “underwater” and medical costs rising and bankers getting free money from the government while they’re being asked to tighten their belts and they’re saying to themselves, “So this is what the techno-world is!”  Some of the people in this transhuman community have no idea what’s going to hit them.

RU:  The argument, of course, goes that the best way to end scarcity is to unleash an unfettered market.

AS: Sure, and you can’t argue with someone who is absolutely convinced that is the case.  It could conceivably even make sense at some point in the future, where a sort of tipping point is reached with nanotechnology and even the garbage pickers will be rich.  But it’s more likely that we need to think about how to get wealth to a majority of people who are economically superfluous… or we abandon them to penniless suffering.

The two main forces that are making most people economically superfluous are roboticization and globalization.  And of nearly equal importance is disintermediation of the intellectual creative classes.  Certainly corporations and business still need workers and people still want services and apps, but there’s a limit to all that.

The obvious one that everybody thinks about is that, with globalization, most types of work can be farmed out to places where there’s cheap labor, lower expectations and lower expenses.  Less obvious is that — with a globalized market, individuals are also superfluous as consumers.  So it’s the death of Keynsean economics, in the sense that global corporations and financing concerns feel no pain when Americans or Greeks stop spending.  And that’s because the possible market is so large that even with economies in recession, they’ve got more consumers than they’ve ever had before.

RU:  A few years ago, I was at a Singularity Conference and somebody whose name I forget gave a talk about robotization.  And he suggested that when robots can do everything that humans do faster, better and more efficiently, then we’ll have to give people what they need gratis.  And about a third of the audience booed him.  It was the only time I’ve ever heard a speaker get booed at one of these conferences.

AS:  Those people are against the future.  That’s the irony.  They’re trying to force ideas from the past onto the future and they’re doing damage to the present in the process.

I understand that in the 1970s, there was a lot of talk even among many libertarians that there was going to be this cybernetic age soon and people’s jobs would be replaced by machines… and how are we going to deal with that?  And they talked about the least bureaucratic ways to let people enjoy their lives after the machines take over… ideas like a reverse income tax or running some large centralized enterprise and giving everybody free stock.  It was just assumed that we wouldn’t leave people out in the cold when they were no longer necessary.  After all, as a society we wouldn’t be any poorer because the machine rather than the human is producing.  This seems so fundamentally human and obvious.  I think there’s been a massive dehumanization since then.

RU:  I lived through the seventies and they were pretty miserable.  Alienation with the internet is definitely less isolating and boring than alienation with it.  

Anyway, the popular argument with the idea that you have to help people who were replaced by technology is that we’ve learned that new technologies create new economic opportunities and new jobs and so forth.  I think it’s a partial truth that deteriorates as we go deeper into the postindustrial era, but it’s an argument that’s out there.

AS:  Well, we could go into the conventional arguments about actual income stagnation and insecurity but it’s all been said before and everybody has their arguments ready.  But I think anybody would have to admit that it’s already a weird economy. A big chunk of the market economy exist solely on the basis of the eventual expectation of advertising. How perverse is that… when you actually examine it? Where it really falls apart is when you have a billion busy little small entrepreneurs hustling some product.  Who has the attention and the need for what they have to offer… assuming it hasn’t already been hacked and distributed free anyway?  And why should anyone want to participate in an infinite unending marketplace.  What kind of human being sees that as the ultimate goal?

RU: Is there any reason to be optimistic?

AS:  Sure.  There are plenty of people with all types of ideological influences including libertarianism who are truly humanistic and want only to solve big problems ranging from scarcity to death. I want to ask them to be against austerity policies now. When you’re inviting people to be bold and excited and transhuman about the very extreme technological changes that are taking place, maybe it would be smart not to yank the floor out from underneath them at the same time.

Jul 20 2011

I Predict That My Predictions Will Be Proven Wrong


“Personally, when I hear someone who is generally upbeat being pessimistic, it makes me optimistic…”


Tonight, the audio podcast “Future Forward” will be uploading an interview with myself, Sonia Arrison and George Dvorsky.  Before doing the interview (twice, but that’s a whole other story) we were informed that we would be talking about likely human enhancements 25 years from now.

This got me thinking about the nature of predicting the future and the transhumanist project.  I began to wonder how accurate the predictions made by “futurists” 25 years ago would look today.  My unscientific sense (based on my admittedly faulty memory) is that most predictions made 25 years ago were probably either way too optimistic or way too pessimistic.  I can remember, for instance, when the very existence of genetic engineering seemed to hold a near future promise of mega-cures for the worst diseases.  Now we’ve got the whole genome and curing — for example — cancer is still a work in progress.  Thirty years ago, the future was in space colonization.  By 1986, disillusionment had already set it. (I suppose a study of futurist predictions made in 1986 is in order.  Meanwhile, Singularity Hub provides these predictions of the future from the 1960s.  The results are mixed… and amusing.)

In terms of people being too optimistic or pessimistic, the latter half of the 20th Century was filled with promises of utopia and/or apocalypse.  Indeed, the design theorist Buckminster Fuller made the case that it was going to be one or the other.  And yet, we seem instead to have muddled through, at least so far.

So on the one hand, I fear that those of us whose hopes have been raised by the transhumanist project may find ourselves 25 years hence still awaiting hyperlongevity, molecular engines of creation, really smart bots and so on.

On the other hand, assuming the technological ducks are in a row and astounding technological developments already in progress should be bearing magnificent fruit within 25 years, I find myself — in this age of massive oil spill disasters, crazy weather, announcements that the oceans are dying, and natural disasters rubbing up against nuclear power plants — wondering whether we will arrive at 2036 intact and without having encountered major disruption.

On the whole, the potential for environmental havoc that is disruptive enough to cancel the future seems to be a taboo subject in most transhumanist circles.  Indeed, Ray Kurzweil claims to have charted how two world wars and an economic depression didn’t seriously impede exponential growth in information processing power.  But the death of the oceans?

Of course, many transhumanist advocates will rise up to defend the memeplex by arguing that the science behind those predictions is all wrong.  People choose the science they want to believe and find the arguments — and even the statistics — to support their views. Of course, they could be right.

Am I becoming a pessimist?  I hope not.  I prefer to be agnostic on the optimism v. pessimism question.  Some otherwise hardcore rationalists argue that we should be optimistic because it generates positive action.  It’s also been shown that people with strong spiritual faith tend to be healthier and to live longer. (I’m just sayin’). Personally, when I hear someone who is generally upbeat being pessimistic, it makes me optimistic, because it tells me that this person is trying to deal honestly with things as they are rather than as they want them to be.

Meanwhile, on the Fast Forward show, I tossed out a brief challenge to the whole predicting thing and then let myself get carried along in the “what if” scenarios.  Ok, I’ll admit it. If nothing else, speculating can be fun.

Jun 14 2011

Hipsters Against The Machine. (I Prefer The Machine.)



In a ballroom-for-rent at downtown LA’s nostalgic Alexandria Hotel, Anatomy Riot #42 (brainchild of Show Box LA and Lauren McCarthy) debuted all new ‘machine-inspired’ performance art. The alleged 42nd installment’s premise being invisible computing and the future; ’how aging systems respond to the transposition of more recent technological metaphors and customs onto non-technological environments”   Also referred to as ‘internet aware art’ or ‘neoanologue’, with  the [human] body as the reference point, McCarthy posits the revelation of “adaptive or misplaced behaviors ordinarily mediated by machines.”  Interesting to note that on my commute into downtown last night, some interchangeable DJ for some local pop FM invited audiences (betwixt a setlist of ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast and Adele’s name-making ‘Rolling in the Deep’) to call in with their stories of ‘mis-texting’, or texts accidentally sent to the wrong person.

Will computers ever watch computers play poker?  Such are the things I wonder about, as I drink a glass of wine at the Mexican joint next door to the performance art venue.

I will soon conjecture about algorithms for anchorites and machine calisthenics, this latter thought occurring as I watch a ‘warm up’ routine performed by a female handstander against the entire length of the foremost wall in the ballroom venue, where anatomy riot #42 starts almost half an hour behind schedule.  Subsequent thoughts go as such… had I known they’d serve drinks here, I wouldn’t have allocated $6+tip at Ensenda, and… I’m one of only 2 blondes here, the other vying to be Debbie Harry; all ancillary females being of the dark, midlengthed persuasion (indie kids).  All the dudes either wished at some point to be David Byrne; with flocking follicles, affected English accents and laughs like an electrically impeding parrot.  As a very recent transplant to the performing arts dimension, what do I expect to witness here, tonight… and why?

All I know is that a delayed showtime breeds anxiety.  I smell my stepgrandfather’s cologne.  The parrot-laugher/Angloid reveals that he’s also a starfucker, dropping Law and Order’s Chris Meloni’s name… like anybody cares.  Is the ambient squealing and external verbal confrontation part of the show?  What about the delinquent trickle of audience moments after the show’s commencement has been announced, as some dude who looks like Project Runway’s Mondo walks out onto the staging area and removes a chair to set up a cheap folding table and stacks of perforated-computer paper?  I’m trying in vain to follow the java-esque program (I am both dyslexic and discalculic so it’s a task to follow type-typical); nonetheless it appears the show eventuates with a certain hipster disregard for printed order.

OK.  This must be the performance of Gustavo Cordova’s ‘Failure to Print,’ as I reflect on what all made the 90’s gay; the foremost being performance art involving table-setting.  Then comes some cryptic note-writing, paper ripping, and primal screaming before Cordova silently implores various audience participants to scribe an original thought by dropping trains of perforated paper at their laps (or in my case, feet).  But he doesn’t even bother to collect said thoughts once they’ve been expunged.  By my count, at least 4 thoughts were thusly born into the universe, never to be rescinded and ostensibly not to be shared; which suits me fine, as I’m the 2nd unwitting spectator given perforated paper to birth on, and my contribution is (as ever) ruefully narcissistic.

Which brings me to my next conjecture: can and will we compute narcissism into machines?  That’s what I’m thinking as Mondo dramatically and incrementally scrawls…  DO / YOU / LIKE / THIS / THOUGHT ?  Of course, I missed the opportunity for a photo op as Mondo climaxes amidst a violent wheel of airborne perforated paper.  Take yourself of it, you self-involved mong; and claps signal the end of this opening segment.

Now we’re treated to a handicapped (meaning, presumably, that the young woman reciting from a book of Marina Tsvetaeva works was restricted to limited touching of said book) rendition of the following:

What is this gypsy passion for separation, this
readiness to rush off when we’ve just met?
My head rests in my hands as I
realize, looking into the night

that no one turning over our letters has
yet understood how completely and
how deeply faithless we are, which is
to say: how true we are to ourselves.

I googled that in about 3 seconds with about 5 keywords…  And it is at this part in the show that my thoughts invariably morph into my own unique breed of cynical feminism, as I watch two young women of muted but indisputable sexual appeal (think Quaaludes for hipster androids) act absently ‘cute’ for our amusement.  For our amusement?

All I can muse on is that clearly such ‘cuties’ ain’t as developed for survival as the toads, at least per Darwin.  So what’s a cutey to do?  Drunkenly film her hands while operating some large, obsolete machine.  I’m more fascinated by what a machine getting moderately stoned would actually look like.  Would it spout semi-conscious streams of intimate human words while giggling at its handicaps?  Would a machine inhibit itself for art?

As I try to visualize what the first 41 Anatomy Riot performances were like, the mumbling performers in the folly before me manage to enunciate LOVE, TENDERNESS, and (curiously in the vein of a recent IEET blog I’d read) EQUALITY.  Provocative words as always, until another artfully asymmetric girl (albeit one who looks remarkably like Curtis Von Trap… also without a bra) regales us with a stripped-to-its-logic board Dance Dance Revolution routine, white and dark blue shadows on her celtic face: a virginal Viking vixen with sideways stomping agility.  After her, some guy calling himself Adam (looks like Aubrey de Grey) tells us he’s going to imagine a future where audiences watch some dude sit in a chair for a proclaimed 5 minutes, feet afloat via hover-shoes.   He says that in the future, our minds will already have been blown, therefore there’ll be no need for the “spectacular,” and that all there’ll be is the present time.  Alas, I have no desire to contemplate the LA hipster’s future, but I’m lead to understand that it will exclude clapping (a rule we’re told will prevail in future performance art by LA hipsters).  I have no time for the modern LA hipster, but I’m also a misanthrope and a cynic.  “Romantic is boring,” Adam tells us, “and this next segment is dedicated to Chet Baker.”  So he sits, and we sit, feet levitating, mine as good as his, though I get no credit for it (but I feel good about my pilates routine at least).

A cell phone rings an antiquated ring sound… is that part of the show or just bad manners?  And is the Aubrey de Grey style facial shawl supposed to be like looking into the face of our creator?  Flanked by our cavemen diet and our increased muscle strength, we acknowledge that stillness is our future… stillness, like a sleeping computer in a clap vacuum.  But this wasn’t my least favorite exhibition.  That reward goes to a segment titled “Kristen Lucas” as performed by Justin Streichman and Danielle Furman.  A cold-reading about an individual’s attempt at self-renewal, a “poetic gesture” where a young woman named Kristen Lucas applies to the courts to have her name changed into the present incarnation of itself.  Yes, this confuses the luddite legalities because her name will be the same, only benefiting from a time lapse that the law of course cannot definitively discern and therefore cannot understand.  The audience around me laughed and loved it, but I failed to see the humor in hackneyed spewing of computing synonyms such as ‘”reboot,” ‘refresh,” “update,” and “emptying my cache”… particularly as said thesaurus-ian  employments detail a stupid joke about being “born again” comparing it with the majesty of a marriage vow.  Marriage?  How is that a forward concept?  Or am I being punked?

My head’s starting to cramp as the bad actors announces to the supposed bureaucrats that he “should have brought a philosopher” to better defend his argument of the legitimacy of a time span.  Was Kurzweil not available or were you thinking more a Yogi Bear type philosopher?  Alright already, the law should let the citizen refresh on his own terms. That’s a duh and that’s also dangerously tempting me into a rant about the current police state of the California province.  Sidestepping such unpleasantness, I’m done with this segment (Christ, it was like snorting anti-hydrogen through my ass) and on to my next unfavorite sketch of the evening… and this was almost enough to make me walk out — a particularly gargley orgasm as experienced by someone who appeared to be Napoleon Dynamite undergoing immersion via head-mounted display.  He rubs a microphone along his pants as he watches giggling young women (yes, again) almost undress and then re-dress each other, spinning and then lying on the floor, redirected in incremental allotments along the floor by what I must assume to be program code, only to stand up again and fumble with their flannel, loose-fitted tee’s again, suggestively wheedling further rhythmic bleating from Dynamite… and I’m left to worry if these people are getting paid more than me to do this?

I depart from downtown LA, where homeless people dance beneath traffic lights, dragging sleeping bags as if they were parachutes, listening to Aciid by Jem.

Incidentally, the Japanese language can be awfully futuristic, no?  And I’m reflecting on invisible tattoo drills, getting tattooed seemingly by thin air, and I’m reflecting on one of the evening’s performances — a dance with a strategically diagonal household appliances and the chick in the bodysuit flapping like a gull to somehow depict a race… but a race against what, machines?  And will machines be ornithischian based at some point?  Nanoparticle foragers of inter-dimensional aerodynamics?  Ms. McCarthy, Anatomy Riot curator, had voiced the terminal plea for humanity to “ditch [the machines] or make them invisible, because the future is ours and the future is beautiful.” Her message must have made quite the dormant impact, for the following desperate

thought literally raised me from impending slumber later that night: but doesn’t humanity currently, already, hinge on wires we can’t see?

If that was too enigmatic, my apologies, but I’m translating from an even less palpable consciousness (i.e., my inherently inebriated mind).  And perhaps that’s what the internet should maintain about itself, routed within its invisible wires.  We cannot possibly ditch the machines now without nuclear holocaust, and they’re becoming more and more transparent.  I actually just saw a headline on about transparent airplanes.  Transparency is it, dude.

So, sorry you progressively luddite hipsters, but pervasive computing is both invisible and here. We’ll adapt with our boo-boos naturally; but so long as technology doesn’t seek to eradicate our race through seemingly-insightful, nonsensical art that shatters all sense of auditory peace with the grunt of a male orgasm, I’ll take my googled chances.