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Wired Threat Level has recently posted a quick profile on Lepht Anonym, a Grinder and practical transhumanist:
Anonym’s vision of the transhuman is rather different. Less visionary, possibly, but more realistic. What she does is “grinding,” with homemade cybernetics and an intimate familiarity with medical mistakes, driven by a consuming curiosity rather than a philosophical creed.
She does her own surgery, with a scalpel and a spotter to catch her if she passes out, and an anatomy book to give her some confidence she isn’t going to slice through a vein or the very nerves she’s trying to enhance.
“The existing transhumanist movement is lame. It’s nano everything. It’s just ideas,” she says. “Anyone can do this. This is kitchen stuff.”
While we’ve mentioned Lepht here, before, the article is quick, and very much worth a read - especially to anyone interested in biohacking and homebrew enhancements who thinks they might be alone in poking at these boundaries.
[Via: Wired Threat Level]
Acasa have released this video showing their plans to use 3D printing technology to print out new homes for the “over one and a half billion people worldwide [who] reside in substandard housing” in a few years.
This is something that’s been talked about for years, but should finally be possible soon. It’s a fantastic thing. Drop a massive 3D printer off to a devastated region and watch it go to work, using local materials.
Here’s two pieces in two formats from two of the smartest people I know of. The subject: The Future. How it’s been shaped and will be continue to be shaped.
First we have Cory Doctorow, writing today on BoingBoing, riffing off an old clip of H.G. Wells predicting The Death of the Newspaper. What Cory’s delivered is Modern Futurism 101. I’m tempted to just blockquote the whole thing, but I’ll be a good blogger and just pull a few paragraphs:
..it’s wrong in a way that futurists are often wrong: it assumes a clean break with history and the positive extinction of the past. It predicts an information landscape that is reminiscent of the Radiant Garden Cities that Jane Jacobs railed against: a “modern” city that could only be built by bulldozing the entire city that stood before it and building something new on the clean field that remained. Every futuristic vision that starts with a clean slate has a genocide or an apocalypse lurking in it. Real new cities are build through, within, around, and alongside of the old cities. They evolve.
The experiment that we are presently conducting as a society is aimed at discovering what kind of information and transactions are really and truly “newspaper material” and not material that we stuffed into the margins of a newspaper because we needed it and newspapers were the only game in town. It may be that there’s nothing left when we’re done, that there’s a better way of delivering every word and every picture in the newspaper than to print it on broadsheet and fold it in eighths, in which case, newspapers may die, or they may end up being the territory of newspaper re-enactors, the equivalent of hobbyists who knap their own flint or re-enact the Battle of 1066.
Or it may be that newspapers do have a small and important and moving clutch of information and stories and images that really, really are better on paper. Maybe the audience for that will be too small and specialized to support a large business, and maybe the audience will club together and treat newspaper like a charity, the way that opera (another medium that lost a lot of its stories to more popular and hence cheaper successor media) functions today. Or maybe the cost of producing a paper will dip so low that we won’t particularly need a business to support it (Clay Shirky: “Will we still read the New York Times on paper in the future? Sure, if we print it out before reading it”).
Or maybe there is a large and substantial and popular insoluble lump of newspaperstuff that no successor medium is better at hosting, a critical mass of popular material that sustains newspapers in a diminished but substantial niche, perhaps like vinyl records.
Now, it’s worth getting meta here and pointing out that BoingBoing’s origin was as a zine. It migrated to the web and has grown so successfully it’s now known to some as the Great Big Blog.
As evidence as to what the ‘future of the newspaper’ is, we have this video from Activate 2010, where Jamais Cascio speaks about “the dynamics of internet evolution”, hosted by The Guardian. (Gen Y kids mightn’t know this, but The Guardian started, and is still available, as a newspaper.)
How clever is Jamais? In just fourteen minutes he takes a quick look back at how technology has been, and still is, marketed to us, and tells us what’s really happened and how it will look going forwards.
There you have it. Two general overviews of how society evolves. Read/watch them, study them.. understand them and you’re a Futurist too.
(Continued from Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman.)
What if you could opt-in to a prosthetic identity like Batman’s or Kanye West’s?
What if you could Be Batman?
Mentioned here (and everywhere else on the internet) this week, J-Pop star Hatsune Miku is a fictional android, a sex symbol, a popular product spokeswoman, and the output of a vocal software package. As such, “she” is not just a saccharine-sweet corporate-operated pitchwoman but also a prosthetic identity that anyone with access to her software package can participate in the co-creation of. It was arguably this open feature of “her” prosthetic identity that allowed her to become so popular.
However, I’d like to approach this notion a bit more directly – after all, this is a blog addressing self-upgrading culture, innit?
There’s been a lot of talk about Real Life Superheroes this week thanks to a recent incident in Seattle that returned the idea of the RLSH to web-consciousness after KICK-ASS vanished from the theaters. Is the idea of putting on a costume and leaping into action on the streets of The City so strange? Well, probably, but that hasn’t stopped a surprising number of people from doing it regularly over the past decade. Existing long before KICK-ASS (in fact the book KICK-ASS’s first bit of viral promotion was a video that made the Myspace Real Life Superhero rounds before leaking into the internet mainstream) there was a loose network of folks in costumes in cites around the world.
With the World Superhero Registry serving as one of a handful of internet hubs, real life superheroes do everything from patrolling the streets and paying parking meter fines, to cutting the blocks off cars with an angle grinder. Many do little more than visit hospitals to talk to kids and champion various causes. Never let it be said that volunteering with kids at a hospital is a bad thing .
The problems with this approach are legion. Even the crime-patrolling supes are doing little more than what citizen vigilante group the Guardian Angels has been doing for years – just in cooler gear. On the other hand, Guardian Angels have died at the hands of police and criminals and they’ve suffered the problems that any vigilante organization does. The only place I’ve actually seen the Guardian Angels in action personally is post-Katrina New Orleans where they were almost universally loathed by the residents I spoke to. Replace the capes and tights fetishism with a desire to play soldier, and you’ve got the ideologically troubling Minutemen who patrol the United States’ border with Mexico – often armed.
The flip side of KICK-ASS’ “rocket launchers and jetpacks” fictional real-life superheroism is Brian Bendis’ SCARLET which tells the story of a Portland teen, who when her boyfriend is killed by corrupt police, begins killing cops and organizing a community of like-minded people to fight institutionalized corruption. It’s a story that showcases how Real Life Superheroism could could veer into armed vigilantism: What if I want to be the Punisher or the Boondock Saints instead of Batman?
Still, the current of what I call autosuperheroism has been running pretty strongly through media recently. I love superheroes and a lot of folks do as well; there’s a reason the movies do well and the books are the life-support of a sick publishing industry. Superheroes are awesome, especially when divorced from the fascist power fantasies and stripped to a core of “we can do extraordinary things if we try”. (The “auto” part comes in from embracing the idea that nobody else is going to rescue us – we’re going to have to do it ourselves.) It could be just a thing from my personal sample-group and the cross-section of the internet I live in – where activism, comics, social-justice, sustainability and futurism cross-over – but there really seems to be an autosuperheroic vibe out there right now.
“Something is going on there, a strange collapse. Like you said, more and more people want to become superheroes, even as comic-book writers and filmmakers have spent the last 10 years trying to make superheroes much more real, relatable and convincing.”
We can all be Batman?
As I said elsewhere, the transformation of Batman into Batman, Inc allowed the Batman brand to act where Batman was not present. I compared it to MEND in its ability to self-organize and be embraced by previously unaffiliated entities. There’s a core to that mobility and the ethos that a “Batman, Inc” would propagate that I believe can be adopted in a very real and practical way that is strangely far more literal than dressing up as a bat.
While traditionally visible mostly to marginalized subcultures and groups, the collapse of infrastructure in the Western World (especially America) has been increasingly visible over the last few years. Here in the US, we got to watch a city drown while the government watched and did almost nothing to intervene as well as other glaring examples of the people “we” were told would “save us” not being there when needed. In the medwest, cities like Gary and Detroit start to wither on the vine as “we” watch. So many people I know suddenly had the idea, even if it was one that didn’t blow their minds, that in the event of an emergency there may not be anyone to save them.
Meanwhile, everyone’s 15 minutes of fame continues to be parceled in 10-second bursts and the participatory panopticon becomes the norm of the interconnected world, offering media prosthetics in exchange for perpetually being in a low-watt spotlight. It’s a confluence of media influences and environmental stresses that could just make taking pages from the four-colour playbook look like a good idea.
In a world where prosthetic identities are commonplace, we can all be rockstars – and superheroes are rockstars that help people. Being something bigger than ourselves isn’t a superhuman feat in a world where Twitter lets you crowdsource solutions in seconds behind an @-handle that may be more recognizable than your birth name.
Geek culture helps birth Maker culture. Suddenly “makerspaces” are viable community resources. Highly-networked organizations like Burners without Borders, Geeks Without Bounds and various Worldchanging spin-offs can leverage that networking to react quickly to problems and use local resources to help solve problems when infrastructure, for whatever reason fails. People who couldn’t give two tugs about Bruce Wayne are able to use their media footprint and digital prosthetics to organize in a way that stands to have real lasting impact on actual human lives. The lesson from Batman, Inc becomes: The ability to mobilize along the lines of 4th Generational Warfare – even, or especially in non-combat circumstances - is a superpower.
I have friends who are Street Medics; tossing on colorful tough clothes to go out into violent situations and help the wounded. Wikileaks, love them or hate them, is a team of people (many with secret identities) that manages to keep whole governments on their toes using volunteers, donations and support from the crowd milling about the internet. (Sadly, that description fits terrorist networks such as Al-Quadea, as well. The same technologies and social structures that allow a previously unthinkable ability to leverage distributed resources – often in spite of geography – are also the things that allow wide-scale disruption and crime.)
The same current that gives us real life superheroes trying to help others spawns variants when it hits other spheres of interest. Zombie lovers teach preparedness in the US while the LARPers at a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. event in Russia get lessons on firearms handling and wilderness survival. (And those very real people who make their living within the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone take on the name “Stalkers” co-opting the parlance of the movie and the video games.) Tactical fashion slides into mainstream consciousness via William Gibson’s Zero History. I can’t be the only one who sees in the “gear queer” fetishism an acknowledgement that the normal trappings of military lifestyle are associated with a machine that is ill-prepared for the world around it. And if the military is losing its legitimacy – then we should do it ourselves, right? (Or at least look like we could.)
In the end, stripped of the technical language and self-upgrading futurist posturing, the idea that we can all be Batman if we want to is a valid one. Batman is a man who took the darkest thing in his life and turned it into a superpower – who here doesn’t have a loss or tragedy that they wouldn’t like to weaponize or utilize to improve the environment? Superheroes are a secular pantheon that instead of sitting above us unattainably, move through our lives as stories and challenge us to emulate them and join them. They are an artistic transmission vector for the program of a finer world. Batman will be punching things long after we’re all dead or uploaded; Batman, Incorporated or no Batman, Inc. A brand is a story – a story that is often used to disenfranchise humans and make the world a little less than it could be, sadly. The idea of Batman as a brand is the idea of the narrative of Batman being able to help others in the absence of a Physical Batman. Just like the prosthetic identities and micro-brands we use and generate ourselves are stories. Just as I hope the story I tell in order to feel out the interconnected world is one that might help someone, somehow – the story of Batman is that of someone using their broken heart to help the person standing next to them.
We’ve all got broken hearts, and we’re all standing next to people who could use help.
We can all be Batman.
You can even wear the cape, if you want.
“We can only transform ourselves as fast as we can transform our language.” –Terrence McKenna
I have been processing this post by James Bridle, Network Realism: William Gibson and new forms of Fiction, since seeing it re-tweeted by Matt Jones of BERGLondon fame the other night. Between this, and Paul Raven’s post yesterday on Futurismic on the same subject, I am glad to see I am far from the only person quite taken by Gibson’s latest. It tickled my brain in a way I haven’t felt since first watching Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. (But that’s another story for a different blog.) What these two share are reminders that is the twenty-first century and we do things differently here.
As Bridle says early on, what Gibson has been doing with the Bigend trilogy is “Just-in-time futurism.”:
Zero History is happening right now. It’s as if all of his writing has been concertinaed down into today. Liveblogging the present.
Given publishing’s long lead times, this is quite an achievement. But writing anything that feels so explicitly now, almost to the day, is an achievement in itself. I’d go as far as to say that you have to have been writing future Science Fiction for 25 years in order to write so convincingly about the present.
Some people have complained about the predominant use of iPhones in the novel, but I agree with Bridle where he says that what Gibson is doing is time-stamping the period. In five, ten, twenty years iPhone will mean what horse-drawn carriage does today; immediately establishing the context for the story taking place.
But it’s more than just that. Everyone knows what an iPhone is. Everyone. But the smaller details Gibson includes changes the reading experience depending upon their knowledge of them. Because Futurism is still expected. For Bridle that’s the Festo, saying “their strangeness seemed something truly of the future, authentically Gibsonian—but only a couple of days later someone twittered a link to the manufacturer’s video.”
Now, as our long time readers know, that was posted here early last year. But who bothers remembering things any more? We export our memories online and need only recall the keywords we tagged them with. Twitter and forget. When in doubt, Google. Via Paul’s Futurismic post, we get this quote from Alex Vagenas’s take on Zero History:
The amount of googlable details is actually staggering. It creates a vertiginous impression that the novel, in a more heightened sense than traditional realism, acquires and maintains a truly reciprocal relationship to the world as it is filtered through the web, in a Borgesian continuum of mediation. Zero History springs from and redirects to myriad cultural minutiae that Gibson has been assembling and which will take on their arbitrarily imposed narrative significance once again, when the reader looks them up.
A new Realism for a new age. Bridle appears to agree, as he continues:
In “Zero History” we have an echo of “No Future”: everything compressed into the present. This idea is what Zero History is really about. (This is the Order Flow: the future is defined by the present; who pinpoints the present controls the future.)
…it’s undeniable that something is happening, a network effect produced by the sudden visibility of just how unevenly distributed those futures are.
I want to give it a name, and at this point I’m calling it Network Realism.
Continuing still; and this is the part that formed new connections in my brain, that felt so instantly true (and that all the above has really been to contextualize):
Network Realism is writing that is of and about the network. It’s realism because it’s so close to our present reality. A realism that posits an increasingly 1:1 relationship between Fiction and the World. A realtime link. And it’s networked because it lives in a place that’s that’s enabled by, and only recently made possible by, our technological connectedness.
Zero History is Network Realism because of the way that it talks about the world, and the way its knowledge of the world is gathered and disseminated. Gibson seems to be navigating the spider graph of current reality as wikiracing does human knowledge.
He goes on to name several works that also fit within this category, but the only one I am familiar with is Makers – except it was called Themepunks then, when it was serialised on Salon.
To bring this all back to the Terrence McKenna quote at the beginning – living, as we are, in a time of ever increasing change necessitates that we modify our language through the invention of new words (neologisms) and re-appropriate existing ones to form new concepts – as fast as we can, really. Grabbing onto whatever’s nearest and hacking it to fit, so that we have placeholders to tweet with and can start using them to discuss building whatever comes along next.
Language is Humanity’s oldest technology; it must be continually upgraded. If our fiction doesn’t reflect and include that, then it’s useless. And that’s why everyone is so excited about Zero History.
Or, as Bridle ends:
We live in strange, new times. New eras require new forms, as Sydney Harbour Bridge reminds us—in fact, they produce them, out of themselves, out of their conditions. Network Realism feels, to me, like something genuinely new in literature, and we’re only just seeing the edges of it.
Thank you James.
Hah! You thought I’d talk about Zero History without mentioning Atemporality. Well, instead, I’ll quote straight from Paul, who’s, as always, spot-on (speaking on SF by any other name):
If we ever manage to define sf in a way that everyone can agree on, it’ll probably ossify and die within months. And you might even argue that it follows logically (in a way that Darwin might recognise) that sf has become interested in atemporality because atemporality is the best survival strategy available to it.
(Also, Southland Tales really is a very good movie; ignore the reviews and see for yourself.)
From Open The Future:
On Thursday, October 21, CBC TV will show Surviving the Future, an hour-long documentary on both the major challenges facing us over the next half-century and the amazing technologies and social shifts underway to meet those challenges. Directed by the award-winning documentarian Marc de Guerre, Surviving the Future is a rather intense piece of work, with interviews with a variety of scientists, writers, and other thinkers. They also talk to me. The trailer can be found here.
While CBC documentaries often end up on the “CBC Doc Zone” website weeks or months later, I know that some of you (hi Mom!) might want to hear what I have to say sooner than that. Since the producers were nice enough to send me a DVD ahead of time, I’ve managed to pull out the bits in which I appear.
Comrade-in-arms, grinder, and occasional Science Fictional overlord M1k3y recently penned a very insightful, spoiler-laden and topical overview of William Gibson’s new novel ZERO HISTORY over at the Tech Gonzo Diary.
ATEMPORALITY! There, I said it again. It’s been an obsession of mine recently and much of my excitement on the release of this book stemmed from videos of Bruce Sterling’s lectures on the subject, which he kept speaking of as a back’n’forth between him and Gibson, as they fleshed-out this idea. That Zero History would be the bible of Atemporality. That this would be the case was furthered by twitter exchanges between these two, and thusly hashtagged tweets by them on the subject.
So is Zero History a manifesto of Atemporality.. a guidebook to a new understanding of progress, a new way of viewing the present, the defining of a new historical epoch?
[Via: The Tech Gonzo Diary]
This is what Futurism looks like today; not rabid predictions of jetpacks and flying cars, but sane, measured statements that pick up recent trends and forecast their result.
Sit down and get ready for 16minutes of wisdom from ‘ the Prophet’, Bruce Sterling, as he delivers a speech he’s titled “At the 9am of the Augmented Reality Industry“.
This is a sequel to his previous speech “At the dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry“, which you can find here.
I feel pretty vindicated by this that we’re doing a decent job of tracking Augmented Reality here. For the casual reader, you’ll find examples of everything he’s talking about under that link.
The latest update of the iPhone OS seems to be finally allowing the development of decent AR apps for that device. The first of these is Junaio.
But it’s still Android phones that are the place to be for the cutting-edge geek. I made the targeted jump to the aptly named HTC Desire a month ago (replacing my now ancient futurephone, the Nokia N95 8Gb), and my two favourite apps, especially for that game of ‘wow the non-tech kids’, are Google Sky Map and Google Goggles. Both of which are Android-only; both of which give you superpowers.
Now, no.. I’m not missing the point of Bruce’s speech. I’m very excited to see what happens when this industry truly augments our realities. Rest assured, we’ll continue tracking that right here.
Lurker SneakyLil left a link to this in our comments:
What I would like to pick up and extend on are his comments on how ‘cosmopolitanism’ and Peter Singer‘s ‘expanding circle’ have helped erode our feafulness of the Unknown Other, through reading about and understanding cultures and people we don’t see in the world around us. As my friend David Forbes says, There Is No They.
Our increasing connectedness, and ease of making new connections, is the great benefit of technologies such as Twitter. I daily read the stories of people on every continent on this planet and above it (thanks to tweets coming in from the residents of the ISS).
I would also point to people’s further awareness of their place of ‘privilege’ through tagging their tweets #firstworldproblems. I know it can seem a tad trite at times, and it’s often just a way for people to feel better about bitching about their iPods or Macs. But then think back to your classic literature and remember just how insular and self obsessed some of these great works seem now; completely obsessed with Upper Class Problems. Yes, I’m looking at you Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde!
So tweet away and tag them guilt free.. but do try to ever expand your circle, there’s enough inward facing collectives out there today (fuck you Glenn Beck!), let’s shake things up and dare to join hands across timezones and yes, even generational limits (I dare to believe not all Boomers are evil!).
We’ve been a bit remiss here in only sporadically covering the great work Wikileaks are doing. I promise you a more in-depth post on them in the future; the work they’re doing in Iceland in particular.
Will the real Facebook killer please stand-up? Diaspora is the latest hat being thrown in the ring to save us all from the evils of Facebook and it’s privacy-busting, corporate-favouring, people-hating walled garden.
Especially as many people, following this Gizmodo post, have jumped that wall and are looking for an alternative.
Here’s the two videos that have been circulating, if you haven’t seen them already:
It’s a little thin on exact details. All they really say on their site is that “current implementations include GPG encryption, scraping Twitter and Flickr.. and the initial stages of connection infrastructure (“friending” other Diaspora instances).”
UPDATE: This video explains the basic idea of their service in more depth:
You have to admit this is pretty fucking future though. A crowd-funded, open-source Facebook-killer perfectly timed to ride the backlash wave against it’s um, evolving, notion of privacy. Making the Kickstarter campaign quickly go viral and reach over 1000% of their target.
Still, I can’t help remembering the buzz around the launch of identi.ca. Equally open-sourced and federated, this Twitter-killer was created back when Twitter was falling down on a regular basis? (Wait.. what do you mean it still is?) Identi.ca? Anyone..?! Exactly.
And given recent events, things could get messy quickly if they try to import data from Facebook in a manner they take exception to.
Nonetheless, I’m crossing my fingers for this project’s success. I’ll even go so far as to say I’ll happily pay a subscription fee if they include data hosting; my subscription fee for a pro-account with flickr is coming up and I’d much rather scrape that clean and store everything in my own cloudlet.
Know Your Meme has a handy guide to fighting YouTube takedown requests for content – this time focused on the downfall of the Downfall videos. While admitting that DMCA challenges are more complicated than YouTube’s own internal system for taking down content at the copyright holder’s request – it is always fascinating to see how people fight back when copyright holders try to trample on Fair Use.
What exactly is a cyborg anthropologist?
Let Amber herself tell you, in this video from late last year on ‘prosthetic culture’:
Like to know more? Our friends over at Technoccult just did a great interview with her.
Thanks for the YouTube link Vertigo Jones!
To Age or Not to Age profiles the science of aging, it also addresses some of the moral, religious, practical and economic implications of increased, lifespan. Who will have access to the medicine? Who will benefit from the breakthroughs? Will the price of these compounds make this a drug for the elites?
This has had very limited screenings so far, but if you’re in, or near, Paris you can see it on the 29th.
Previously on Grinding I posted a video of Bruce talking about Gothic High-Tech and Favella Chic in his Reboot 11 closing speech. In it, he mentions he was trying to make concrete his notion of what this next decade might be, something he was calling Atemporality (“it’s steampunk with metaphysics”, he said).
At the recent Transmediale Festival, he’s back to report that all the historical narratives are broken, multi-temporality is the new multi-culturalism and network culture is the new dominant force.
Strap your brains in, take your smart drugs and drink deeply from the fount of knowledge that is Sterling’s mind:
The above picture is from Ariana Osborne’s blog, where she lays down some solid ranting regarding the “opposing” disciplines of Art and Science.
I was going to call this 50mins of pure mind candy, but that doesn’t quite capture it. Mind superfood might be a better description. Matt Webb’s opening keynote for Wedirections South is an mp3 superfood capsule for your brain. You just can’t unhear his ideas, it is true synapse rewiring material; this description barely does it justice:
The 21st century is a participatory culture, not a consumerist one. What does it mean when small teams can be responsible for world-size effects, on the same playing field as major corporations and government? We can look at the Web – breaking down publishing and consuming from day zero – for where we might be heading in a world bigger than we can really see, and we can look at design – playful and rational all at once – to help us figure out what to do when we get there.
So grab the mp3 and load it onto your prefered player, or just hit play on this embed:
You should watch this too.
I remember reading a scan of an old real print comic once. The character in it was railing against the imaginary people of his imaginary world, taking them to task about their dissatisfaction with the future they lived in. But it was really aimed at the stupid people who wanted their stupid little futures and who were too stupid to see that the future is now. It’s always now. Except it isn’t anymore. The TITANs changed that. The future is now yesterday, and last week, and ten years ago.
In August of this year, I had the opportunity to interview Rob Boyle and Brian Cross – two of the minds behind the post-singularity, transhumanist horror Role-Playing Game ECLIPSE PHASE. We covered a lot of topics — from details about the game and the game world to the singularity, technology’s influence on politics, reputation economies, anarcho-transhumanism and more.
(Also? Creative uses for bacon in the dark post-singularity future.)
You can listen to the interview (recorded August 7th, 2009 in a noisy bar during the GEN CON gaming gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana) here:
(Or you can download it in a podcast format from here.) As a minor warning, there are some setting spoilers in the interview.
ECLIPSE PHASE comes out this week in the US and elsewhere from bookstores and gaming retailers. (Or in PDF format from Drive Thru RPG.)