Tag Archives: the singularity

The human-machine hybrid culture and design fiction

As I have said numerous times in previous posts, my graphic novel takes place in the year 2159, a full 100 years after Ray Kurzweil’s predicted Singularity; the point at which we will either merge with machines/technology or they/it will surpass us. As people begin to noodle this concept, whether they buy in or not, it seems they are suddenly starting to think seriously about the future of technology and whether this future should perhaps be designed or just evolve at its own sort of chaotic pace. Already I have read a half dozen “futurists” predicting indefinite lifespans and even immortality. Once we replace or “regrow” our bad architecture or infrastructure, and once we switch-off the bad, disease causing genes we will be free to contribute endlessly and productively to society — or will we?

A lot of people are thinking about this it would seem and it’s becoming much discussed on the talk show circuit. Meanwhile, if the live-forever-singularity is on schedule millions of baby boomers will be lamenting that they are the last generation that will have to die. Sigh. Some futurists are wondering what it all means. What will guide us into doing the right things in this future? Where will we  find meaning in all this? Some are calling for a “grand mythological narrative” to tie it all together.  In an article from Forbes Online, Alex Knapp interviewed Jason Silva, a producer who is working on a documentary entitled, Turning Into Gods.  Silva says, “In a secular world, we need to find better ways to Get Off On Awe. In other words, our thirst for transcendence hasn’t disappeared, it just needs better entry points. In my mind, its at the intersection of art and science where we find WONDER. Wonder is the precursor to awe, it elicits the possibilities of consciousness expansion. The more we see the more we become. This is Werner Herzog’s “Ecstatic Truth”… Its what we live for.”

In another blog, by way of the aforementioned Forbes post, Knapp cites a post on a futurist portal, SpaceCollective.org, Daniel Rourke, says, ““One of the main problems facing the scientific community of today is that the general populous finds no ‘meaning’ in its enterprise.”

What I find fascinating is that the original master narrative, God, is ipso facto out of the discussion. Scientists, secularists, and even atheists are admitting that we thirst for transcendence but God can’t possibly be it. In fact, it would appear that they would rather invent their own “mythology” which is what many atheists and secular thinkers have called Christianity.

This poses a conundrum of sorts. With the onset  of meaninglessness, the post-modernist thinker finds that existence without transcendence or moral direction to help guide them into the hybrid, man-machine, trans-human future is uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that they need to construct a mythology. But to do that, they will have to sneak in the Judeo-Christian tenets of good and evil. And here’s the problem: In the pure post-modern sense, there really isn’t any objective source for what good is. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral law giver. But that would be God and you can’t go there, right?

Who will we use to replace God? A few “good” men? Reason?

Let’s hope we can do better than reason. Reason brought us “survival of the fittest” and (as predicted by none other than Friedrich Nietzsche after pronouncing that God was dead), the bloodiest century in the history of mankind (the 20th century, that is).

In Jason Silva’s movie trailer, he quotes Edward O. Wilson, ” Home sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us…  Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.”

That’s all well and good, but if you happen to believe or even entertain the notion that God, just possibly, might be the force that made us, then He might just find that statement bloody arrogant. What if He will have none of it?

This is all juicy stuff and 148 years from now these questions will still be there which makes for good drama in the graphic novel. As author and designer, I’ll be doing a lot of speculation on the human/machine hybrid, culture, and design fiction, but something that hasn’t changed for a few thousand years is human nature.

I wonder: If the same human nature that discovers the marvel of nuclear energy and, in turn, makes an atomic bomb, what do you suppose awaits us with technologies we haven’t even imagined? Will a new mythology save us?

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A graphic novel about culture, design and transhumanism in the future

And you thought this blog was about writing a graphic novel.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from holiday, I have been virtually free from the computer for nearly a week. I finished two books, started a third, and did a lot of mental tweaking to my story.

Without tipping my hand (too far) to the plot of my graphic novel (since it is not 100% solidified), I can say that it has always dealt with ramifications and implications of a somewhat transhumanist future, a world where scientism rules the day. As the prologue to my screenplay states, “Scientific advances have enabled the manufacture of life-like robots. Known as synthetics, these robots are found in all walks of life and can be virtually indistinguishable from humans.” Some of my key characters fit this description and even my humans are considerably augmented, enhanced and amplified.

While my story includes a fair amount of mystery and action, I never intended the read to be one dimensional. I hope to thread some thought-provoking themes and opposing ideas into the mix. This is especially relevant in lieu of the fact that my paper, the whole design fiction aspect of this project, is an examination of the design culture relationship. What we design will affect our culture and vice versa. What happens when we are able to design and create near-humans? What will we teach them? How will we use them? What capabilities should they have or not have? What will separate our future, synthetically augmented human sons and daughters from their purely synthetic counterparts? What role will ethics play in this future drama? After all, there is no science to ethics.

Meanwhile, all of these questions seem to be surfacing around me in our current cultural environment as we see a flurry of discussion about Kurzweil’s optimistic singularity and Vernor Vinge’s less than optimistic predictions of that same technology gone astray. In fact, Kurzweil has even enlisted Michio Kaku, Deepak Chopra and a host of other “thinkers” and, of course the mandatory celebrities (no doubt for their scientific insight) for a live discussion on the topic that will be coming to a theater near you.

I guess this means my novel is timely.

I’ve also done some additional thinking on stylistic texture and setting, especially in light of the fact that recent press releases have put the locale for the upcoming screen adaptation of Akira in “New Manhattan”. Hmmm.

More on that later.

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