Tag Archives: transhumanism

On better humans and bad bots.

News of breaking future technologies, the stuff at the crux of my research, accumulates as a daily occurrence, and this week is no different. Of note, Zoltan Istvan is (another) 2016 US presidential candidate, but this time for the Transhumanism party. Transhumanism, “(abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities”. 1 For those of you who didn’t know. Living forever is job one for the “movement.” Mr. Istvan is not likely to be in the debates but you can follow him and the rest of H+ at humanity+. org. I’ll reserve comment on this.

On another front, for those who think that once we get this human thing down right, that technology will save us and mischief will cease, there is this item from WIRED magazine UK. A couple of researchers at Google (that’s OK you can trust them) have “created an artificial intelligence that developed its responses based on transcripts from an IT helpdesk chat service and a database of movie scripts.” This AI is called a chatbot. Chatbot are computer programs designed to talk to you. You can try one out here.

According to WIRED’s James Temperton,

“The [Google] system used a neural network — a collection of machines arranged to mimic a human brain — to create its unnervingly human responses. Such networks use a huge amount of computing power and Google’s latest research shows their potential for improving how machines hold conversations.”

Apparently, it was the addition of the movie scripts that made the bot more contentious. Consider this exchange on morality:

“Human: I really like our discussion on morality and ethics …

Machine: And how I’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate.

Human: What do you like to talk about?

Machine: Nothing.”

Fun with programming. All of this points to the old adage, “Junk in is junk out.” In The Lightstream Chronicles the future version of this mischief is called twisting. Basically you take a perfectly good, well-behaved, synthetic human and put in some junk. The change in programming is generally used to make these otherwise helpful synths do criminal things.

The logo says it all.

This tendency we have as human beings to twist good ideas into bad ones is nothing new, and today’s headlines are evidence of it. We print guns with 3D printers, we use drones to vandalize, cameras to spy, and computers to hack. Perhaps that is what Humanity+ has in mind: Make humanity more technologically advanced. More like a… machine, then reprogram the humanness (that just leads to no good) out. What could possibly go wrong with that?

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism
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Privacy is dead. Is the cyberpunk future already here?

This week, a brief thought to provoke thought. Surprisingly it has been 30 years since William Gibson released his groundbreaking work Neuromancer, that ushered in a decade of artistry inspired by the genre known as cyberpunk. Just a few days ago Paste Magazine ran an article, “Somebody’s Watching Me; Cyberpunk 30 Years On, and the Warnings We Didn’t Heed.” Therein, writer Brian Chidester delineates the fascinating influence of Gibson’s work on the music of the day as well as the ripples it continues to send into the present.

With my futurist, sci-fi, cyberpunk leanings, I was caught up with the observation of how much of Gibson’s, “…near-future where computer technology was woven into our DNA—where a virtual data sphere played the dominate role in the human interface,” is already here—and we didn’t notice—or as Chidester notes, “…quietly came to pass.”

The music connection is deep and profound but it is also intertwined with the events of the days and the decades to follow. From DARPA’s creation of the internet, to post-9/11 paranoia, the Patriot Act, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Google, Twitter and Facebook, to the ubiquitous storage of cookies and individual user preferences (most of which are freely—even blithely—given), we, “…have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.”

Yet perhaps more chilling than where we are, is how we got here.

“Google, Twitter and Facebook, lauded as broadening the scope of human potential, in fact, built algorithms to drive us to predictable results. Cookies store information on individual user preferences. They have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.

Facebook has nearly a billion users, with tons of personal data on each one, proving that plenty of individuals are willing to provide private information to get something that is free and fun. Simply put: We’ve allowed ourselves to be smitten. The computer is now miniaturized, or, as Bruce Sterling predicted, ‘adorable.’ Christopher Shin, the engineer of Cellebrite, a device that aids the U.S. government in collecting information from cellular users, contends that the iPhone holds more personal information than any other device on the market.”

So if we can go from cyberpunk, science fiction, to present day future in 30 years, given the exponential growth of technology, were will be be smitten next: genetic engineering, transhumanism, synthetic biology?

Chidester concludes:

“If we stop to ask how we got here, we may look back and find the signs embedded in cyberpunk literature of 20-30 years prior. We may then wonder how we might better have heeded its warnings. But it is too late. Privacy, under the current paradigm, is essentially dead.”

What other cherished possession will be the next to fall?  Or have they all already fallen?

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Cyberpunk decisions: to augment or not to augment

Page 28 comments

Introducing Techman: The Lightstream Chronicles‘ first real punk in this cyberpunk future. If you check out the character profile on Techman in the Cast section of the site you’ll see he’s an interesting dude. Back in the latter part of the 21st century, Techman was one of the first experiments in defying the aging gene — and one of the only survivors of that initial testing. He dropped off the grid rather than be a lab rat for the genetics companies. While Techman is chronologically 140 years old he opted out most of the rest of the typical trans-human augmentation, so he’s a bit overweight, prefers blue jeans, t-shirts and leather to bio-sensitive, morphing bodysuits. He still flies under the radar, is a bit paranoid, keeps a low profile and manages to make a living with collectors of antique technology and probably some contraband here and there. As you see on page 28, Techman is a bit of a throwback using such antiquated technology as biometric scanners. Also, in the final panel we see that he and Sean have some history as well as a strong friendship. Much more to come on that. Hope you like Techman’s hang out; lots of texture.

There's more about Techman on the Cast page.
There’s more about Techman on the Cast page.

Call for discussion. Have thoughts on the art, the story, or the flow of the book, cyberpunk, design fiction, cgi or anything else? I’d love to knead into a discussion. Feel free to comment.

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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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