Web Comic drama
This week Col. Chen makes a snide ultimatum with holographic aplomb from his technology enhanced gloves. Of course, being able to conjure up holograms from your fingertips is no more marvelous in 2159 than querying Siri and probably just as curious or pretentious. But then again, Lee Chen is a complicated individual.
When writing The Lightstream Chronicles, which I consider to be both a work of science fiction as well as a study in design fiction, I knew that it was important to portray real people in this future scenario. These are people who are dealing with the world, with new bodies, new behaviors, new vices and addictions, and yet the same longings for relationship and meaning. It is a world that has designed technology into everything, but there is no reason to expect that the technological design of the future will become any less commonplace to us then than it is for us now, though it may become more transparent. Showing off your latest iPhone or tablet will be a thing of the past. Future tech will be hidden away in our bodies and our chemistry and our genetics. Glowing fingertips in the color of your choice, and your skin-tight superbod will be your swag.
Continuing in a similar thread with last week, my novel takes place in a time when artificial intelligence does indeed exist and we have created synthetic humans that are difficult to distinguish from the real thing. To further confuse things, even humans born naturally (from other humans) have been enhanced and genetically improved to the point that aging is no longer an issue and death is no longer inevitable. People don’t have to be sad, or anxious. They can learn while they sleep and choose any body or physique they wish, the color of their eyes, their hair, essentially everything for which we currently have few choices.
A book that was foundational to all of my research was The Transhuman Condition by Braden Allenby and Allen Sarewitz both professors at Arizona State University. The authors begin with the assertion that, in many respects, the transhuman condition already exists in various forms. Through drugs, replacement parts, even eyeglasses we are already enhanced though we take it for granted. They say that we are currently the most advanced iteration of our species.
The authors discuss the current-day organization Humanity+,which, “…states on its website (http://humanityplus.org) that its goal is ‘to support discussion and public awareness of emerging technologies that expand human capacities, and to anticipate and propose solutions for the potential consequences of emerging technologies,’(6).” Essentially, Allenby and Sarewitz see this a naive approach. “To start with, the transhumanist assumption that, what ever ‘human’ is, it will only be improved and enhanced— not transcended, rendered obsolete, or even degraded— by the development of transhumanism has the effect of burying both arbitrary values and limits in the definitions of the words such as ‘improve’ and ‘enhance (7)’.” But nonetheless, “The ambitions of transhumanism are comprehensive, extending beyond health and longevity to radically enhanced intelligence, creativity, and emotional capabilities, conscious control over the attributes of offspring and the evolution of the species, and even a greater capacity for mutual understand through, for example, massively networked brain-to-brain interfaces [the lightstream]. At the limits is total transcendence (8).”
Quoting Stewart Brand in the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it(10).’”, the authors highlight evidence that the advancement of humanity has repercussions on everything, citing the atomic bomb as a key example of creating power but not the mind to accompany it. “And as technological evolution continues to outpace the grasp of human intent, we have little time to waste. These are the questions of our time…(11)” Allenby and Sarewitz conclude this chapter with an ominous note. “As we curl our fingers around the trigger of nuclear weapons, gaze into skies of the carbon cycle, and unleash technologies that are changing the very essence of our physical and cognitive selves, we are already transhuman. But this is not the kind of transhumanism we thought we were creating , nor is it one we understand(11).”
It strikes me that these things to which we attribute the Enlightenment are all about limits. Total freedom is anything but — total freedom is anarchy, resulting in less freedom. We talk about removing limits and at the same time setting them. We are confused, indeed. At the heart of The Lightstream Chronicles is an exploration of what we have done, or might indeed do to ourselves.
Allenby, Braden, and Daniel Sarewitz. The Techno-Human Condition. 1st Ed. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. 38, 39, 63,160,161, 163,165. Print.