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


Apr 29 2012

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


The book project, How To Mutate & Take Over the World, which we were to complete for Ballantine Books in six months was complicated enough — considering that we, at first, took the title seriously — and we were way too young, in terms of technology, to compose a handbook for a victorious fusion of transhuman enhancement with Anonymous revolution.  As St. Jude and I fluxed and floundered and she pinned the entire hope of a hacker revolution on cryptography (see cypherpunk), another branch of our own book company interrupted our flow.

We were contacted by Random House, the very parent company of Ballantine with an offer.  It seemed that Random House had contracted with Penn Jillette and Teller to write a short humor book titled The Cyberpunk Handbook.  They were pretty into this stuff, but they got too busy and dropped the project.  Somehow I was the second choice.  And since  I wasn’t going to be able to just  fill even a short humor book up entirely with bullshit (Penn and Teller will appreciate this), I again invited hacker genius St. Jude to be my partner in this minor crime against decency (both countercultural and mainstream, as you’re surely able to think through for yourselves).

Anyway, after at first trying to force me to get my agent to talk to their own imprint for approval (which would have cost us 15% of the entire $25k on offer), they caved and someone walked down the hallway in Rockefeller Center to make the arrangements.  We would have an extra two months to finish Mutate.  Meanwhile, we would rush to get them The Cyberpunk Handbook. 

I had a doomed feeling about the whole thing. Billy Idol had made his cyberpunk album and a billboard ad had appeared in the BART stations admonishing us all to “Join the Cyberpunks at AT&T.”  Virtually everyone within the culture was saying that the word Cyberpunk was no longer hip.  I was gonna get caught in the backwash… for half of 25k.  

Or less than that.  We got Mondo 2000 Art Director Bart Nagel on board for design, so now the book take would be split in thirds.  I visited Jude and hatched my simple minded scheme.  “Let’s get the advance and then insist on changing the title.”  Jude harrumphed vaguely.  And while I hunkered down still working on Mutate while awaiting the advance, Jude sat down and wrote many thousands of words of hilarious material that embraced the entire cyberpunk handbook concept.  Not only was I defeated, I was happily defeated.  She wrote so much great stuff that I hardly had to write anything!   Bart did a sweet design, the book was turned in, and we went back to making a hash of Mutate.

It took forever for Random House to finally print the book, putting it out barely before the release of Mutate, so that we would practically be competing with ourselves. And then they set up a short three city book tour…

In one appearance, in Northern Virginia just outside of DC, a paparazzi dude showed up, thinking we were celebrities!  “Dude, you took a wrong turn,” said I, while Jude cornered the fellow raving excitedly about the similarities between hacking and taking unapproved photos of famous people. I finally shooed him away, assuring him that nothing more interesting than a book reading to a handful of people was likely to happen.  Actually, something interesting might have happened.  This local couple — long time Mondo fans to be sure — had brought along their young daughter… if I remember correctly she was 14 and, well… I have to be honest, unfairly beautiful.  After we read and spoke and took questions, the three of them approached us.  The daughter, it transpired, identified with cyberpunk and she was going to throw a pie at me for selling out cyberpunk and turning it into a joke for Random House.  But she decided not to. “Damn!  Why not?!”  I asked.  After all, it would have made great theater and this would be about as close as I would ever come (hopefully) to fulfilling the Valerie Solanas part of my Andy Warhol fantasy.

So we had her go out to the car, get the pie and scrunch it in my face.  Bart took photos and I hope I might excavate them in time for the finished Mondo 2000 History Project.

Listen Up

Anyway, the inclusion of these fragments of my own memoir part of the M2K History Project here is all by way of introducing these enjoyable audio segments sent to me by Patrick Di Justo about meeting Jude, Bart and myself while we were in New York City for the tour.  The fact that Patrick thinks it was a long tour and that we were sick of each other is a perfect example of the contradictory memory aspect of the history project… and/or it only took us a few days to get sick of each other.

Anyway, listen up as Patrick Di Justo — who would go on to be a major contributor to Wired and Popular Science and a technology commentator for CNN — talks about his exciting times with us weirdos… and also Bart (nyuk nyuk nyuk).

1PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 1 of 6

2PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 2 of 6

3PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 3 of 6

4PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 4 of 6

5PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 5 of 6

6PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 6 of 6


Oct 18 2011

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


Hank Pellissier: Hi Rachel. Tell me your biography?

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

Hank Pellissier:  How did H+ happen to you?

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

Hank Pellissier: What do you call your fashion sense?  

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

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

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

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

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

Hank Pellissier: Tell me about the Extreme Future Fest?  

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

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

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

Hank Pellissier: What are your global goals?  

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


Oct 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.”

Oct 04 2011

Posthuman Godhead


Consider transhumanism as a monotheistic religion.  Religion? Transhumanists share a belief in a coming eschatological event — their belief transcends rational conjecture about the advance of technology and posits wild and miraculous progress.  It does so without bothering to worry with the “mere engineering” that would lead to such radical transformations in individuals or societies.  There is an abiding faith that whatever needs to happen to fulfill the singular moment of deliberate evolutionary uplift will happen… somehow.

Monotheistic?  The Singularity is a singular event — but it isn’t simply an event or a phenomenon.  It is a meta-phenomenon in that it is imagined to be able to generate any number of future (post-singular) phenomena.  This is usually imagined to be done by the active will and imagination of the posthuman Singulatarian consciousness.

When we are all “postsingular”, we will also be post-plural: identities will flow into and out of each other with such speed and vicissitude that it will no longer be useful (or possible) to talk about individual beings.  All will be a swirl — a very powerful (organized?) storm of reality-bending consciousness.

That thing — that postsingularity storm — is what we may say transhumanism believes in and aspires to. That storm is effectively all-powerful and arguably supranatural in its ability to rewrite nature according to its own needs, desires, or whims.

Accepting transhumanism as a monotheistic religion gives us room to consider what any nascent priesthood or brahmin class will gain in the run up to Singularity.  Obviously, other parallels may follow: is it a pantheistic or panentheistic monotheism?  What rites are beginning to accrete around the discussion of the postsingular “storm”?  A whole theology of the Singularity may be emerging.

Arguments against this view of transhumanism (as a religion) may be many, varied, and compelling.  But so long as it is possible to see the urge toward posthuman culture as an emotionally driven system of belief, consideration and criticism of the movement may be possible in previously underexplored dimensions.

So to transhumanist friends: how do your original operating systems (or belief systems) affect the type of Singularity that’s “destined” to emerge?

Do you really want to live in the kind of paradise you’re building?