The Many Posthuman Aspects of PacificRim

Posted by on October 22nd, 2013

Or: the candy-coated man/machine rescue mission.

Pacific Rim is many things. Many shiny, spectacular, immersive, self-aware, monster genre mashing, robot smashing, crowd pleasing, city destroying, heroic dancing things. But apart from its surface appeal, it’s also the delivery system for some incredibly out there, subversive, challenging ideas. This may just be my reading of it, and that’s fine. But I suspect Guillermo Del Toro is guilty of being a clever, clever human and knew exactly what he was doing with this blockbuster movie.

Allow me to explain my thinking here. This is not a review. It’s a “User Guide for Humans”, from barely opened, posthuman eyes. This is an analog mind-meld, I mean drift; an English language sequence as slow-boot brain update. Are you ready to accept Singularity?

Want some Candy?

Taken at face value, Pacific Rim is… completely absurd. And if that wasn’t immediately apparent from its premise, it’s clear by halfway through the film that’s it’s winking hard at you. And shouting at you with Idris Elba’s mandatory “the apocalypse is cancelled” speech at the climax, that amazing actor barely containing the joy on his face in getting to deliver an epic line like this. Pure man-child bliss… just the kind you might expect to find in a mech suit vs kaiju fightfest.

Now those of the Otaku-bent might want to do a detailed analysis of the origins and influences and details of Pacific Rim, and that’s exactly what this post on Medum.com has done, if you want it.

I’m not anti-Otaku. Hell, I raced home as a kid to watch Robotech, and collected what Transformers I could afford. When I toured Japan in ’09 I stumbled onto the Mobile Suit Gundam arcade game and played it every day I was there. I clutched my pilot card when I walked into the preview screening of Pacific Rim, and wore the pirate Neon Genesis Evangelion tee I picked up in a store in Akihabara.

I have been absolutely psyched for this film, and its complement Elysium, all damn year.

What I am saying is there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pacific Rim. Just don’t expect it to cohere into a logical whole.

Go Borg or Stay Human

First we have the “dance-dance pilot systems”. With its shiny video game aesthetics, and drama engine device, it is first and foremost pro-Borg; celebrating the union of more than one human conscious into a greater whole. There’s been a lot of Borg-hate going on since Google Glass dropped into the world, and I’m looking mostly at Stop the Cyborgs.

Mind you, I walked into this movie with my head having been resident inside in Ramez Naam’s Nexus’verse for a good month. One of the elements of that future world is human hate of anything group-mind (not unlike the linear future world of the Star Trek-verse’s Federation), following various terrorist attacks and cult fiascoes.  So to immediately recognise that there were Borg heroes, front and centre in this film was yet another joyful moment.

Then we have the Robo/Borgsexuality.

Posthuman Gender & Robosexuality

It’s fair to say there are fans going into this already fetishising being inside giant robots…

…which brings us to the giant confusion of posthuman gender. Because what does that even look like from a human perspective? Maybe it’s two buff guys in shiny suits merging through a shared childhood to form a union with a rocket punching, sock’em bot? Maybe it’s also some weird, ritualised staff fighting sequence that isn’t a romantic, courtship sequence… because that would make the two brothers incestuous and homoerotic and is anyone else getting uncomfortable thinking deeply about this?

Let’s cut to the heroic scientist “drifting” with a random chunk of giant alien brain… why on Earth would a Kaiju fanboy ever be turned on by humongous glial cells of extra-dimensional origin?

Chief prosecutor for the homoerotic subtext of jockeying flightsuits argument, thinly fictionalized Quentin Tarantino, explains:

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you want subversion on a massive level…

 

Those of us raised on Robotech also obsessively watched Top Gun as teens. Hell, my gaming nick was Maverick for much of my youth. So the reconciliation scene at the end of Pacific Rim, the begrudging acceptance of the owner of worst Aussie accent ever and our hero… totally recapitulates Top Gun.

And if you’re still not convinced, you haven’t been watching True Blood; same actor, explicitly homoerotic mind-meld:

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Message received collective unconscious!

Make what you will of the fact that I really hope we get to see the bulldog don a mech suit and borg it up with friendly, genetically engineered Kaiju in a sequel. Plot that on your human linear Kinsey scale!

Move over Seven of Nine, the new borg sexiness is definitely here.

Posthuman Battlesuits

Once you’ve accepted that, the “city as a battlesuit [Matt Jones guest post on io9]” is a not a stretch of the brain meats at all. The mech suit as embodiment of the merger of humanity and its infrastructure; the champion of the Anthropocene. Especially visible when you’ve got ships being used as baseball bats and “Gipsy Danger [using] shipping containers like brass knuckles”.

Each Jaegar is built to defend a city, but really, it’s manifesting its surrounds, even merging with them.

As Matt Jones quotes from a British architecture journal:

While Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis largely reflect the character of the superheroes who inhabit them (Gotham is grim, Metropolis shines)

And as he compares to a hero of The Authority:

“Hawksmoor defeats the giant, monstrous sentient city by wrapping himself in Tokyo to form a massive concrete battlesuit.”

Posthuman defense systems with local characteristics.

And while we’re stretching that long bow of your mind, let’s add that you can argue that its also a recapitulation of one Earth’s oldest tales: Marduk the City God vs the Serpent. The Jaegar as the city turned God-like, and if the Kaiju aren’t the contemporary incarnation of the “monster of primeval chaos”, than what is?

“It’s not Posthuman without going Post-State”

It’s not a posthuman tale without things going post-state. The foolish, political human types gripped by their illusions of control decide that building a giant wall trends much better in the polls, and it’s within that construction effort that we find our hero lurking at the film’s commencement. Kaijus walk right through megastructures dramatis (or thinly disguised metaphors at the political penchant for building barriers to keep out unwanted arrivals). Anyway… our pragmatic, military leader, Idris Elba (TV’s Luther), unencumbered by the requisite trope of giant wall of video-screened suits ordering him turns to… “extra-legal funding sources”, continuing the rescue mission by any means necessary.

In this case, dealing with a bizarre caricature of a bad guy with great shoes; the hybrid Spy Kids enemy / Bond Villain. (Ranking the film just above Contact on someone’s “Top 10: Projects funded by an absolute Bond Villain?” list)

But let’s not miss the metaphor of the real villains; the Kaiju themselves. Thomas Hobbes described the State as a Leviathan. And what better way to portray the entities that have really destroyed the climate of this planet for their own ends, what more apt depiction of rogue geoengineers than as giant monsters?! It’s definitely how the various manifestations of corporate-democratic empire looks to the rest of the world.

And this is the most subversive element of all snuck into the subconscious of the audience for a gigantic popcorn flick by a Mexican director. Perhaps no surprise then that the film did terribly in the US, but made serious bank globally.

 

Maybe it’ll take the US a decade or so to appreciate it, as critics are just now accepting Southland Tales, but when you’re watching Elysium wondering why augmented super soldiers are battling with swords and chainsaws over the rights of a breakaway civilisation to exist, remember that Ron Perlman probably said it best in the post-credits scene:

where is my other shoe? -^

When will it drop?

Disproving its antecedent film on things that lurk in the cracks of the earth, beneath the waves, The Abyss: “They want us to grow up a bit, and put away childish things. Of course, it’s just a suggestion.

With Del Toro it’s posthuman man-children dancing off to the rescue, and that’s just super by me.


“it’s a Sleepless world, they’re just awaking to it”

Posted by on June 9th, 2013

Warning [SPOILERS]: if you care about the plots of Nikita, Iron Man 3, The Bourne Legacy… stop now, go watch ‘em all then come back. Hi!

Philosophy so physical makes for a very handsome tribe.

http://www.vimeo.com/67976111

This scene from Canadian science-fiction drama show Orphan Black is the best rendering of a Grinder Bar yet seen on screens small or large. In fact, I’m not even sure what the others are.

And it’s a good reason to take a whip-around look at the world of pop culture as serious business, and re-examine the state of the #transhumanfuturepresent.

First we have the latest season of the spy soap, Nikita. Referring in-show to its “spy fi” plot elements, the absolute transhuman drama of cyborg hand upgrades and cutting edge transplant dramatic problems. Don’t bring a possibly evil hand to a knife fight or something.

The settings of Iron Man 3 and The Bourne Legacy are both unquestionably transhuman. Neither film is a journey of a character to science-fictional state (see recent highlights: Limitless, Chronicle), but rather their starting condition.

(We can wedge Hanna in here too, though it’s more properly a genetically engineered super-solider girl coming of age fairy tale, innit).

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (1.0) not only has upgraded-girlfriend-dramas (well, Red She-Hulk solutions) but the plot driver is a conflict between two competing paths of self-directed human evolution: man/machine co-evolution and direct genetic hacking (hopefully not precluding the eventual arrival of Zeke Stane (Tony Stark 2.0) onto the big screen, that plot having been mined from The Five Nightmares arc of The Invincible Iron Man).

Speaking about playing Aldritch Killan, Guy Pearce mentions that Extremis also upgrades the subject to become one of the beautiful people:

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In The Bourne Legacy, our hero, who totally isn’t being chased by the mutant wolves of The Grey as it opens, is the latest iteration of the super-soldierspy program. His motivation is to hold onto his upgraded self, lest he reverts back to being the guy from The Lawnmower Man, or something.

Once you’ve gone transhuman…

Back in Canada, and actually set-in-Canada Canadian drama Continuum, which apart from featuring an absolutely bad-ass tech suit rather a lot like Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s (itself a bridge between its low-grade #peakcyberpunkfuture and today, a cyborg hand reaching back to the present), combines transhuman future cop trapped in the present drama, with standard procedural drama, and excellent sociopolitical critique. Honestly, the first show on TV that I wish I was writing for ([blink]%HIRE ME%[/blink]).

Plus in the actual RL, we have Google Glass, already getting surpassed by the Meta. Pioneers like Steve Mann and Neil HarbigesenSports stories speculating on specific upgrades already being outdated… and other things I’m sure I’ve missed. So tell me!

and while we’re talking, let’s discuss the anti-posthuman agenda of Star Trek, most recently seen in Into the Darkness:

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Litmus test: who is the real villain in X-Men: First Class?

And we leave you with the trailer for Elysium, grinder revenge pr0n if ever there was one:

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Grinders wanted for Transhuman Religion Study

Posted by on April 24th, 2013

Venetia Robertson, shown below practicing catching cyborg flies, is seeking Grinders for a survey as part of her thesis. She says:

Hi all, I am looking for people who would like to answer a brief survey regarding the intersection of transhumanism and identity, with a focus on notions of the spiritual, religious, sacred etc. I am a PhD student from the University of Sydney, Australia, and my thesis explores ideas of identity, particularly identity that is beyond that which is ‘purely human’. Any data I can get from people who are interested in or actively engaging with grinding, body-hacking, wet-ware, transhumanism and/or becoming ‘cyborgs’ would be greatly appreciated! Hit me up at venetia.robertson@sydney.edu.au to be sent the survey and a participant information statement detailing my ethics clearance, or if you simply have questions. You can also check out my academic profile page at http://sydney.academia.edu/VenetiaRobertson. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

I took it myself on the weekend, and am keen to see what she comes up with.


tachyon rich data trails of transhuman theft

Posted by on April 12th, 2013

Triggered by yetAnotherMacTheftGoneViralForGreatFirstWorldJustice, agent @interdome‘s wired consciousness achieved resonance with his near-future-self, causing the creation of the following micro-time-leaked tweets:


Guest Post: Damien Williams on The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

Posted by on March 14th, 2013

The next in our occasional series of guest posts, Damien Wolven Williams on the maladaptive forces at work in the TranshumanFuturePresent:

The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

The distribution of the future is still uneven, but more shocking than that is the fact that some people are actively working to keep it that way. More than large corporations with billions of dollars in vested interests, grass-roots movements have sprung up which claim to peak for “the people.” Indeed, there are currently groups at work which see themselves as seeking to make this world safe for “normal” humans and “natural” systems, and to keep those people and systems free from the interference of those forces which would augment, mechanise, or otherwise alter them.

Recently a group calling themselves “Individuals Tending Toward Savagery” has claimed responsibility for the 2011 high-profile assassination of a biotechnologist, and the explosion at the Pemex Executive Tower in Mexico, earlier this year. Leaving aside the fact that this latter event was reported to be due to a gas leak, the fact that a group would even lay claim to such activities and events should be the focus of our discussion, and that’s mainly because they’re not alone in their efforts. More and more people are taking to the streets, and the internets and the airwaves to protest the idea of biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, and other so-called transhumanist ideas. There is even a new group which calls itself (for fuck’s sake) Stop The Cyborgs. That is their actual name.

Now I could go into a very long rant about the nature and use of language and what that reflects about our present mental states as well as what those choices mean for our future stages of perception and our likelihood to accept new things. I could talk about how, if we continually tie the idea of “cyborgs” to the definition of “Non-Human Machine Hybrids Which Must Be Feared,” then the self-fulfilling prophecy of that definition will be harder and harder to escape. I could tell you that if you keep telling people that they should be afraid of something of which they’re already suspicious, then you’re not engaging in anything like critical, thoughtful discourse, or a meaningful engagement with our future-present. But you know all of that, already. If you’re here, reading this, you’re probably well aware of how all of this works. What you may not recognise–in fact what it may be extremely difficult for you to recognise–is that not everyone around you understands that there is a necessary engagement with the complexity of elements which make our world, if we are to do more than run and hide from the scary new technological aspects of our lives.

Groups like ITS and STC are not news. They’re people who feel as though the march of our technological progress is outstripping that of our ethical and moral progress, and that something must be done to prevent us from losing our “real selves,” and maybe they’re right. Perhaps we do need to take a long look at what is we create and become, and make sure that we are aware of the potential for effects we did not intend to cause. But this? Assassinations, bombings, and full-scale bans of technology which they themselves admit they do not yet fully understand in terms of either function or scope of application? That’s just loom-smashing for the 21st century. That Luddites exist isn’t earth-shattering news, by any stretch, but the real issue has never been that people “hate” new technology, for what it does to “humanity.” The problem with Luddism and Neo-Luddism is that it represents a perspective which takes the ever-widening aspects of our emerging future and reacts to them with blanket fear and distrust, rather than a wary hope.

Blind hope is a naive proposition. It is one in which we sit in optimism, absent any evidence that it might actually pay off in that direction. It is one which ignores the very real dangers and pitfalls of new situations, and the opportunities for unintended consequences to rear their heads. However, the fallacious notion of the “slippery slope” of technological progress– that it’ll cause us to descend into a dystopian future where everything we are and do is controlled by corporations, or disassembled into grey goo–is one based in blind fear. These have the same basic components, they’re just pointed in different directions. Blind fear takes something new, something unknown, and says that unknowns are terrifying and should be destroyed before they can destroy us. Blind fear says that there is nothing good which can come from the new. And while the groups in question may not see themselves as reactionary, on an even reading it’s hard to see them as anything but.

What is the nature of technology that we drive toward? Why do we drive toward it, at all? How do we apply that motivation, and what do we value in the mechanisms and effects of our creation? These are the questions that we can ask, if we don’t want to be blindly optimistic or pessimistic about our future. We can ask these questions and then seek to address them, recognising that whatever answers we find may not be–and most likely will not be–permanent solutions to our problems. There are groups working now, in academia, public policy, and practical solution-building to help people think of different things than the utopian promise and the dystopian terror of our current work at building a future for ourselves.

In a forthcoming paper, I write the following:

…the field of cybernetics relies heavily on the notion of an interconnected, reflexive system of interactions. Therefore, any conversations about what the world “actually looks like” when we technologically augment ourselves to remove the factors of mediation from between ourselves, our creations, and the act of their creation will be dependent on humanity’s ability to apprehend whatever perceptual and conceptual changes arise as a result of that reflexive interaction. As we deal with how other people approach our implants, modifications, and appropriations of technology, we have to deal with how that changes what they see of us. In a very real sense, the cyborg’s identity is directly connected to the continuing project of becoming and continuing to be a cyborg. In fact, being a cyborg in the contemporary sense can be said to be entirely about being at least one step “ahead” of the baseline for human technological interaction. What that means is, staying ahead of the curve of whatever it means to be “Human” today—which may, in fact, be what it meant to be a “Cyborg,” yesterday. But this is not new…

…as Donna Haraway noted in her seminal “Cyborg Manifesto,” the language of this cybernetic feedback loop is not one relegated only to humanity and its processes, but is also a framework which can be used to describe the state of nature, as a whole. Taking this tack, we can come to understand that all of nature is involved in an integrated process of adaptation, augmentation, and implementation which, far from being a simple Biological-Or-Technological division is, instead, a process or a system of becoming.

What I mean, here, is that those perceptions of self that are tied to that of which we are “naturally” composed–our biological and “base” components– has been under revision since we have been able to look at it and recognise it as a thing we possess. The questions of “what makes us human,” and “what makes us natural” have been mooted in hundreds of cultures for thousands of years, and we are no closer to a single answer, now, than when we started. Why? Because we keep changing. Everything that we are shifts and alters in reaction to our questions about what we are. Does this mean that we should thus stop seeking answers, and thus stop progressing? Obviously not.

We have a responsibility to approach hard questions while recognising that we may not always like the answers we get, and we have a duty to honestly assess the negative, positive, and unknown consequences of our actions. The philosophical and political aspects of these debates are not merely academic questions, to be tossed about from armchair to armchair; they have repercussions in the everyday lives of individuals and societies, repercussions of an existential and immediate nature. If we don’t do everything we can to engage these concerns and honestly grapple with them, we run the risk of falling headlong into a future where self-styled anarchist terrorists kill scientists who are literally trying to make the world a better place; a future where “Bio-Humans Only” signs adorn establishments to keep out people with any kinds of implanted technology; a future where corporations do use seemingly innocuous people and technology to monitor and record everyone’s every move, and use algorithms to patent and trademark words and phrases in combination, in real time. Because that will be the only future we were able to see for ourselves; the one we talked about and feared and reacted to the strongest.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of the dystopian future isn’t our only option, but first we we have to recognise and address the fact that some don’t even understand that the class “Options for the Future” is a thing which exists.

Damien Patrick Williams is a writer, essayist, autonomous-created-intelligence- and cyborg-rights-advocate, and instructor of philosophy. He has written and presented on the intersections of popular media, politics, philosophy, and future technology, and is currently raising funds to get to his presentation at the 15th International Meeting and Conferences on Virtual Reality and Converging Technologies in Laval France, next week.


Bladerunner races Horse in posthuman spectacle

Posted by on December 12th, 2012
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Because you need to be a spy agency to see the immediate future is looking very transhuman:

In the new report, the NIC describes how implants, prosthetics, and powered exoskeletons will become regular fixtures of human life — what could result in substantial improvements to innate human capacities.

The entire report can be read here.


TRANSHUMAN FUTUREPRESENT NEWS DUMP 14/12/2012

Posted by on November 13th, 2012

The Continuing Merger of Man & Machine:

  • DARPA’s Pet-Proto Robot Navigates Obstacles:YouTube Preview Imagethanks Carsten Kolassa!
  • 1st Bionic leg propels man up 103 flights:
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  • ‘Terminator’ arm is world’s most advanced prosthetic limb:
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  • Batteries not required, just plug into ear cells:

    The team behind the technology used a natural electrochemical gradient in cells within the inner ear of a guinea pig to power a wireless transmitter for up to five hours.

    The technique could one day provide an autonomous power source for brain and cochlear implants, says Tina Stankovic, an auditory neuroscientist at Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The device works well for short durations but long-term use of the electrodes risks damaging the sensitive tissue inside the ear. The next step will be to make the electrodes even smaller, reducing their invasiveness.

    Stankovic says that this is proof of concept that biological sources of energy exist that have not yet been fully considered. “A very futuristic view is that maybe we will be able to extract energy from individual cells using similar designs,” she says.

  • Assembly of nano-machines mimics human muscle:

    …for the first time, Giuseppone’s team has succeeded in synthesizing long polymer chains incorporating, via supramolecular bonds (1), thousands of nano-machines each capable of producing linear telescopic motion of around one nanometer. Under the influence of pH, their simultaneous movements allow the whole polymer chain to contract or extend over about 10 micrometers, thereby amplifying the movement by a factor of 10,000, along the same principles as those used by muscular tissues. Precise measurements of this experimental feat have been performed in collaboration with the team led by Eric Buhler, a physicist specialized in radiation scattering at the Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot).

    These results, obtained using a biomimetic approach, could lead to numerous applications for the design of artificial muscles, micro-robots or the development of new materials incorporating nano-machines endowed with novel multi-scale mechanical properties.

  • What made us human? Being ARMED with lethal ranged weapons -Early kill-tech let us beat Neanderthals, dominate world:

    “When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach,” explains Professor Curtis Marean, an expert in stone weapons who was instrumental in the research.

    These early moderns probably also had higher levels of pro-social (hyper-cooperative) behavior. These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe,” he adds. “This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.”

  • gilding primal instinct’s new Prosthetic Jewelry:

  • Nyodyme from Imagina Technologies (already SOLD OUT):

    Nyodyme Magnets give their users the ability to “sense” electromagnetic waves. The technology behind the Nyodyme Magnet is created from a beautiful gold and nickel-plated neodymium magnet that is placed within Imagina’s specially made glue that has magnetic iron filings mixed into it to enhance the vibrations.

  • Military makeup will protect soldiers from bomb-blast burns:

    A new type of camouflage makeup is able to protect wearers from skin burns. Scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi developed the makeup for use in combat situations, but the team plans on developing a transparent version for firefighters. The new material acts like sunblock, forming a barrier thinner than a sheet of paper that can protect skin from extreme heat for up to 15 seconds. After that time, the makeup itself may rise to a temperature where first-degree (mild) burns may occur, but the extra time should help soldiers to find shelter from any explosion. In some tests, the scientists found that the face paint shielded its test subjects for up to 60 seconds.


Magnetic Dreams

Posted by on October 13th, 2012

Our artist, Mike Seeler, has larger than average magnet implants in both hands. Traveling through New York City is a very different experience for the both of us. He is constantly discovering magnetic fields pouring out of the street, the subway, the bus, and buildings. He has even had a few dreams including his magnetic sense.

There is a lot in this Fast Company piece,”Biohackers And DIY Cyborgs Clone Silicon Valley Innovation”, but it is that quote in particular that interests me now.


TRUE SKIN [short film]

Posted by on October 11th, 2012
http://www.vimeo.com/51138699

via Digitalyn


Grant Morrison at Morrison Con on transhumanism

Posted by on October 3rd, 2012

From CBR:

With that bleak thought, another audience member asked, in the face of war, economic crashes and global warming, is there any hope for the future?

“Yes,” Morrison replied, and the answer had everything to do with phones.

“Everyone’s got a phone now and the phone is getting smarter and smarter, the phone’s getting smaller and smaller, children have them now, so what you’re seeing is the development of a prosthesis,” Morrison said, explaining phones were evolving alongside humans and slowly merging the two into one. He also cited Stephen Hawking’s brain-computer interface as helping speed transhumanism, seeing both things as the beginning of a way of life that would turn humanity into a literal network identical to technological networks, erasing war and all barriers by interconnecting the human race.

“It’s going to be something new, it’s going to be a networked entity,” Morrison continued. “That’s what happening right now and there’s kind of a race on between the apocalypse and this thing — It’s not aliens that are going to come in, it’s the phone that’s going to come in. The phone is ringing for us right now and is about to connect everything up.

“So don’t worry!” Morrison added as the audience burst into applause.


neoteny and neo humans

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012

Live from linear time, here’s another series of ways to look at our mid-Singularity situation.

  1. an edited excerpt from 1978′s Nova Convention, featuring William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary and a heckler:
  2. a key part of Grant Morrison’s Supergods:

    And, as if to confirm that ours was not the only universe, it was explained to me that what I was seeing was a nursery of some kind. In order to grow their “offspring,” the chrome angels had to “make” time, because, as they pointed out reasonably, only in time were things able to grow as I understood it. Time was a kind of incubator, and all life on Earth was one thing, a single weird anemone-like mega-Hydra with its single-celled immortal root in the Precambrian tides and its billions of sensory branches, from ferns to people, with every single detail having its own part to play in the life cycle of a slowly complexifying, increasingly self-aware superorganism. It was as if I had been shown an infant god, attached to a placental support system called Earth, where it could grow bigger, more elaborate, more connected, and more intelligent. Growing at its tips were machine parts; cyborg tools made from the planet s mineral resources. It kerned to be constructing around itself a part-mechanical shell, like armor or a spacesuit. “It” was us, all life seen as one from the perspective of a higher dimension. I was told to return and take up my duties as a “midwife” to this gargantuan raw nervous system. It was important to ensure the proper growth and development of the larva and to make certain it didn’t panic or struggle too much when it woke up to its true nature as a singular life form. Incidentally, what we experienced as “evil” was simply the effects of inoculation against some cosmic disease, so I wasn’t to worry much.

  3. the Neo Human rant from 2001′s Waking Life:
    http://www.vimeo.com/50643386
    transcript:

    (A very intense man is talking in front of a fish tank, gesturing wildly – Eamonn Healy, Chemistry professor at University of Texas at Austin)

    If we’re looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism and then at the development of its interaction with the environment. Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life perceived through the hominid coming to the evolution of mankind. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man. Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strings: biological, anthropological — development of the cities — and cultural, which is human expression.

    Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time scales that are involved here — two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it — you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.

    The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence. The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism. And you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping. Okay, independent from the external.

    And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process, emanating from the needs and desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So, you produce a neo-human, okay, with a new individuality and a new consciousness. But that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until we reach a crescendo in a way could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfilment of human? human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.

    And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution, manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold. It’s sterile. It’s efficient, okay? And its manifestations of those social adaptations. We’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay? Uh, war, predation, these would be subject to de-emphasis. These will be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. And that is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.

The True Revelation is where we see things as they truly were/are/shall be.


The Verge’s gonzo grinder report goes global

Posted by on August 8th, 2012
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Watch, or try the Long Read version.


Wang Zi Won’s posthuman art

Posted by on June 15th, 2012

“Can an ‘I’ cloned from my genes be considered a human being?” “Is another man with the same appearance as me, me?” “Can a cyborg have human spirituality?” “If so, how do we see the human body?” The artist Wang Zi Won’s work stems from these questions. Raising these questions, Wang sees the existence and meaning of future humans from a perspective different from the anxiety and fears of dystopian films and art.

The artist predicts that in the future humans will evolve and adapt themselves to enhanced science and technology just as men and animals in the past evolved to adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. He sees this future as our destiny, not as a negative, gloomy dystopia. His work is thus based on neither utopia nor dystopia. Wang represents the relations between man, technology and science through the bodies of cyborgs.

Keep reading…

thanks to @girlperil for the tip-off.


The Mutant Future is NOW

Posted by on June 6th, 2012

Let’s get this TED Talk out of the way first: Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species?

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Next, as we remind ourselves, anything that can be done to a rat…

The new study, which appears in Science today, takes a different approach. Instead of trying to repair the main information superhighway from the brain to the body, Grégoire Courtine, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and colleagues focused on alternative routes. Most spinal injuries in people do not sever the spinal cord completely, explains Courtine. To approximate this situation in rats, his team made two surgical cuts in the spinal cord, severing all of the direct connections from the brain, but leaving some tissue intact in between the cuts. Then they had the rodents begin a rehab regime intended to bypass the fractured freeway, as it were, by pushing more traffic onto neural back roads and building more of them.

This regime, which began about a week after the rats were injured, lasted about 30 minutes a day. During each session, the researchers injected the animals with a cocktail of drugs to improve the function of rats’ neural circuits in the part of the spinal cord involved in leg movements, and they stimulated this area with electrodes. With its spinal cord thus primed for action, a rat was fitted into a harness attached to a robotic device that supported its weight and allowed it to walk forward on its hind legs to the extent that it was able. At first, the rats could not move their legs at all, let alone walk.

But after 2 or 3 weeks, the rodents began taking steps toward a piece of food after a gentle nudge from the robot. By 5 or 6 weeks, they were able to initiate movement on their own and walk to get the food. And after a few additional weeks of intensified rehab, they were able to walk up rat-sized stairs and climb over a small barrier placed in their path. Rats that did not undergo rehab, in contrast, showed no improvement at all. Rats suspended over a moving treadmill that elicited reflex-like stepping movement, did not improve either, suggesting that full recovery depends on making intentional movements, not just any movement.

 

 

What does every Mutant teen want? Mutant kicks:

Rayfish, a custom footwear company, is marketing leather sneakers that come in every color from shimmering gold to neon green, in patterns that mimick giraffes, zebras, leopard, and lady bugs. And they claim that these designs are grown directly on the hides of custom-engineered stingrays.

 

 

And again via our good, good acquaintances at io9:

Susan Dominus has penned a remarkable piece for the New York Times about Krista and Tatiana Hogan, the 4-year old conjoined twin girls from British Columbia who are attached at the head. Scans show that the two girls have brains that are interconnected by a never-seen-before “thalamic bridge,” an indication that they might share conscious thoughts. And if their early behavior is any indication, this may very likely be the case.

 

Finally, our friend Chris Arkenberg tells us to ‘ware the body net hackers. That’s right, #transhumanproblems:

Security concerns for the nascent field of wireless implants are certainly welcomed but the event stands more broadly as a glowing sign of the times. The relentless ubiquitizing of computation is working its way into our bodies. As has been noted elsewhere [pdf] the path of finance and innovation for these waves of emerging technology typically follows the military-medical-consumer pipeline, walking down the line of survivability from being blown up by an Afghani IED, past spastic hearts and hungry cells, into urban navigation and caffeine acquisition. And maybe transdermal metabolic sleeves for networked jogging or ward implants for not-so-bad convicts squeezed out of overcrowded prison farms and remotely monitored for geofencing violations or the odd spike in muscular adrenergics. The military has the money to develop the tech and treat its soldiers, who are summarily discharged into hospitals that facilitate the transfer of technology into the private sector. Point being, if you’re starting to save up for that cybernetic occipital mat implant, you’d be most well-served to enlist the ready hand of McAfee Security to guard your mind meats from the shady legions of digital malcontents. Standard fees, of course, do apply.


who wants to live forever?

Posted by on May 21st, 2012

This is a bit big. As Bruce Sterling reminds us, “Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being.”

Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), led by its director María Blasco, have demonstrated that the mouse lifespan can be extended by the application in adult life of a single treatment acting directly on the animal’s genes. And they have done so using gene therapy, a strategy never before employed to combat aging. The therapy has been found to be safe and effective in mice.

The results were recently published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. The CNIO team, in collaboration with Eduard Ayuso and Fátima Bosch of the Centre of Animal Biotechnology and Gene Therapy at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), treated adult (one-­‐year-­‐old) and aged (two-­‐year-­‐old) mice, with the gene therapy delivering a “rejuvenating” effect in both cases, according to the authors.

Mice treated at the age of one lived longer by 24% on average, and those treated at the age of two, by 13%. The therapy, furthermore, produced an appreciable improvement in the animals’ health, delaying the onset of age-­‐related diseases — like osteoporosis and insulin resistance — and achieving improved readings on aging indicators like neuromuscular coordination.

The gene therapy consisted of treating the animals with a DNA-­modified virus, the viral genes having been replaced by those of the telomerase enzyme, with a key role in aging. Telomerase repairs the extreme ends or tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres, and in doing so slows the cell’s and therefore the body’s biological clock. When the animal is infected, the virus acts as a vehicle depositing the telomerase gene in the cells.

This study “shows that it is possible to develop a telomerase-­based anti-­aging gene therapy without increasing the incidence of cancer,” the authors affirm. “Aged organisms accumulate damage in their DNA due to telomere shortening, [this study] finds that a gene therapy based on telomerase production can repair or delay this kind of damage,” they add.

In 2007, Blasco’s group demonstrated that it was feasible to prolong the lives of transgenic mice, whose genome had been permanently altered at the embryonic stage, by causing their cells to express telomerase and, also, extra copies of cancer-­‐resistant genes. These animals live 40% longer than is normal and do not develop cancer.

The mice subjected to the gene therapy now under test are likewise free of cancer. Researchers believe this is because the therapy begins when the animals are adult so do not have time to accumulate sufficient number of aberrant divisions for tumours to appear.

Also important is the kind of virus employed to carry the telomerase gene to the cells. The authors selected demonstrably safe viruses that have been successfully used in gene therapy treatment of hemophilia and eye disease. Specifically, they are non-­‐replicating viruses derived from others that are non-­‐pathogenic in humans.

This study is viewed primarily as “a proof-­‐of-­‐principle that telomerase gene therapy is a feasible and generally safe approach to improve healthspan and treat disorders associated with short telomeres,” state Virginia Boccardi (Second University of Naples) and Utz Herbig (New Jersey Medical School-­‐University Hospital Cancer Centre) in a commentary published in the same journal.

With regard to the therapy under testing, Bosch explains: “Because the vector we use expresses the target gene (telomerase) over a long period, we were able to apply a single treatment. This might be the only practical solution for an anti-­‐aging therapy, since other strategies would require the drug to be administered over the patient’s lifetime, multiplying the risk of adverse effects.”

This is a good start. Read it in full at Science Daily.


1975

Posted by on April 17th, 2012


From 2023 with Love (#meetthenewgods)

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain.

~ Tesla (via @NikolaTeslaBot)

 

Viral video of the year goes to:

Meanwhile in the DANGERZONE… err, WIRED’s Dangerroom, fusing man and machine:

The body’s own nerves are arguably the biggest barrier towards turning the dream of lifelike replacements into a reality. Peripheral nerves, severed by amputation, can no longer transmit or receive any of the myriad sensory signals we rely on every day. Trying to fuse them with robot limbs, to create a direct neural-prosthetic interface, is no easy task.

“We think the interface problem is key to enabling the neuro-prosthetic concept,” Dr. Shawn Dirk, one of the researchers behind the finding, tells Danger Room. “And solving that is how we’re going to give amputees their bodies back.”

Dirk, alongside colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, set out to develop a synthetic substance that could act as a scaffold — that is, an artificial structure that can support tissue growth — successfully merging severed nerves with robotic limbs.

Of course, researchers have already made plenty of efforts to directly integrate nerves and prosthetics. But, according to Dirk, they typically “didn’t use technology that was compatible with nerve fibers,” which are tightly bundled and flexible. “Nerves need to grow and move around; they’re not going to integrate well with a stiff interface.”

Yes, the material comprising the scaffold had to be flexible and fluid, but it also needed to be extremely conductive. Nerve signals are highly localized, and also very, very subtle. An effective neural-prosthetic interface would need to transmit thousands of different signals per second to mimic the behavior of a real limb and its relationship to the brain and body.

To create that ideal interface, Dirk and his colleagues developed their own biocompatible polymers, meant to mimic the properties of nerve tissue. The material is also porous, so that nerves can extend through it, and lined with electrodes, to vastly enhance conductivity.

“There was a very limited inflammatory response,” Dirk says. “That’s important, because we’re looking for an interface that won’t be rejected by the body. We want something that can last years, decades, and hopefully entire lifetimes.”

The finding marks a huge, huge improvement over previous research efforts. Even Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm and a leader in prosthetic science, couldn’t seem to figure out a direct neural-prosthetic interface that was adequately sensitive and had a lifespan longer than a few months. In 2010, the agency asked for new research proposals that’d solve both those problems.

And while new prototype prosthetics have some incredible abilities, none of them include a direct interface. In fact, they’ve been designed to avoid one altogether. One Pentagon-funded project used “targeted muscle reinnervation surgery” to develop prosthetics that transmit signals from a bundle of nerves in the chest. Another, led by Johns Hopkins scientists, uses brain-implanted micro-arrays to transmit cues to an artificial limb.

A direct neural-prosthetic interface still remains years away. But if this polymer holds up in subsequent tests, it’ll mean prosthetics far more lifelike than even the most impressive artificial limbs currently in development. Most importantly, in the words of Darpa, prosthetics hooked right into the nervous system “would incorporate the [artificial] limb into the sense-of-self.”

 

But wait, perhaps I can interest you in immortality? Meet Brooke:

“Brooke is a miracle,” says her father, Howard Greenberg. “Brooke is a mystery,” says Lawrence Pakula, her pediatrician. “Brooke is an opportunity,” says Richard Walker, a geneticist with the University of South Florida College of Medicine. They all mean the girl from Reisterstown, a small town in the US state of Maryland, who may hold the answer to a human mystery. At issue is nothing less than immortality: Brooke Greenberg apparently isn’t aging.

She has no hormonal problems, and her chromosomes seem normal. But her development is proceeding “extremely slowly,” says Walker. If scientists can figure out what is causing the disorder, it might be possible to unlock the mysteries of aging itself. “Then we’ve got the golden ring,” says Walker.

He hopes to simply eliminate age-related diseases like cancer, dementia and diabetes. People who no longer age will no longer get sick, he reasons. But he also thinks eternal life is conceivable. “Biological immortality is possible,” says Walker. “If you don’t get hit by a car or by lightning, you could live at least 1,000 years.”

And we can’t talk about the New Gods without mentioning CHRONICLE (aka #newgodsproblems). Talkback anyone?


Cyborg News Special – 08-10-11

Posted by on October 8th, 2011

Some tasty news lately for aspirant cyborgs. Let’s take a look:

  • From BBC News – Monkeys’ brain waves offer paraplegics hope:


    …researchers trained the monkeys, Mango and Tangerine, to play a video game using a joystick to move the virtual arm and capture three identical targets. Each target was associated with a different vibration of the joystick.

    Multiple electrodes were implanted in the brains of the monkeys and connected to the computer screen. The joystick was removed and motor signals from the monkey’s brains then controlled the arm.

    At the same time, signals from the virtual fingers as they touched the targets were transmitted directly back into the brain.

    The monkeys had to search for a target with a specific texture to gain a reward of fruit juice. It only took four attempts for one of the monkeys to figure out how to make the system work.

    According to Prof Nicolelis, the system has now been developed so the monkeys can control the arm wirelessly.

    “We have an interface for 600 channels of brain signal transmission, so we can transmit 600 channels of brain activity wirelessly as if you had 600 cell phones broadcasting this activity.

    “For patients this will be very important because there will be no cables whatsoever connecting the patient to any equipment.”

    The scientists say that this work represents a major step on the road to developing robotic exoskeletons – wearable technology would allow patients afflicted by paralysis to regain some movement.

  • From Engadget – Cyberdyne HAL robotic arm hands-on:
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    …if all goes well, we may well see a brand new full-body suit at CES 2012 in January, so stay tuned.

  • From Gizmodo – Scientists Reconstruct Brains’ Visions Into Digital Video In Historic Experiment:
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    …according to Professor Jack Gallant—UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the research published today in the journal Current Biology—”this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.”

    Indeed, it’s mindblowing. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified. This is how it works:

    They used three different subjects for the experiments—incidentally, they were part of the research team because it requires being inside a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging system for hours at a time. The subjects were exposed to two different groups of Hollywood movie trailers as the fMRI system recorded the brain’s blood flow through their brains’ visual cortex.

    The readings were fed into a computer program in which they were divided into three-dimensional pixels units called voxels (volumetric pixels). This process effectively decodes the brain signals generated by moving pictures, connecting the shape and motion information from the movies to specific brain actions. As the sessions progressed, the computer learned more and more about how the visual activity presented on the screen corresponded to the brain activity.

    After recording this information, another group of clips was used to reconstruct the videos shown to the subjects. The computer analyzed 18 million seconds of random YouTube video, building a database of potential brain activity for each clip. From all these videos, the software picked the one hundred clips that caused a brain activity more similar to the ones the subject watched, combining them into one final movie. Although the resulting video is low resolution and blurry, it clearly matched the actual clips watched by the subjects.

    Think about those 18 million seconds of random videos as a painter’s color palette. A painter sees a red rose in real life and tries to reproduce the color using the different kinds of reds available in his palette, combining them to match what he’s seeing. The software is the painter and the 18 million seconds of random video is its color palette. It analyzes how the brain reacts to certain stimuli, compares it to the brain reactions to the 18-million-second palette, and picks what more closely matches those brain reactions. Then it combines the clips into a new one that duplicates what the subject was seeing. Notice that the 18 million seconds of motion video are not what the subject is seeing. They are random bits used just to compose the brain image.

    Given a big enough database of video material and enough computing power, the system would be able to re-create any images in your brain.

  • Let’s not forget our second-selfs. From WIRED – Clive Thompson on Memory Engineering:

    Right now, of course, our digital lives are so bloated they’re basically imponderable. Many of us generate massive amounts of personal data every day — phonecam pictures, text messages, status updates, and so on. By default, all of us are becoming lifeloggers. But we almost never go back and look at this stuff, because it’s too hard to parse.

    Memory engineers are solving that problem by creating services that reformat that data in witty, often artistic ways. 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo was coinvented this past winter by New York programmer Jonathan Wegener, who had a clever intuition: One year is a potent anniversary that makes us care about a specific moment in our past. After developing the Foursquare service, his team went on to craft PastPosts, which does the same thing with Facebook activity, and it has amassed tens of thousands of users in just a few months.

    “There are so many trails we leave through the world,” Wegener says. “I wanted to make them interesting to you again.”

Lastly, some older things that slipped through the cracks:

  • From io9 – A gallery of biotech devices that could give you superpowers right now
  • http://www.vimeo.com/10184668

    A quick tutorial on how to extract serial data from the $80 Mattel Mindflex (mindflexgames.com)

  • From MIT’s technology review – Tattoo Tracks Sodium and Glucose via an iPhone:

  • The tattoo developed by Clark’s team contains 120-nanometer-wide polymer nanodroplets consisting of a fluorescent dye, specialized sensor molecules designed to bind to specific chemicals, and a charge-neutralizing molecule.

    Once in the skin, the sensor molecules attract their target because they have the opposite charge. Once the target chemical is taken up, the sensor is forced to release ions in order to maintain an overall neutral charge, and this changes the fluorescence of the tattoo when it is hit by light. The more target molecules there are in the patient’s body, the more the molecules will bind to the sensors, and the more the fluorescence changes.

    The original reader was a large boxlike device. One of Clark’s graduate students, Matt Dubach, improved upon that by making a modified iPhone case that allows any iPhone to read the tattoos.

    Here’s how it works: a case that slips over the iPhone contains a nine-volt battery, a filter that fits over the iPhone’s camera, and an array of three LEDs that produce light in the visible part of the spectrum. This light causes the tattoos to fluoresce. A light-filtering lens is then placed over the iPhone’s camera. This filters out the light released by the LEDs, but not the light emitted by the tattoo. The device is pressed to the skin to prevent outside light from interfering.

    Dubach and Clark hope to create an iPhone app that would easily measure and record sodium levels. At the moment, the iPhone simply takes images of the fluorescence, which the researchers then export to a computer for analysis. They also hope to get the reader to draw power from the iPhone itself, rather than from a battery.

    Clark is working to expand her technology from glucose and sodium to include a wide range of potential targets. “Let’s say you have medication with a very narrow therapeutic range,” she says. Today, “you have to try it [a dosage] and see what happens.” She says her nanosensors, in contrast, could let people monitor the level of a given drug in their blood in real time, allowing for much more accurate dosing.

    The researchers hope to soon be able to measure dissolved gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, in the blood as a way of checking respiration and lung function. The more things they can track, the more applications will emerge, says Clark


Steve Fuller: Humanity 2.0 or just NO?

Posted by on September 27th, 2011

Steve Fuller, apparently a philosopher-sociologist of science and technology has released this series of book ‘trailers’ for his latest work, Humanity 2.0. This is the Introduction:

http://www.vimeo.com/29501447

The further into these trailers I got, the more concerned I became, and not just because he talks positively about Intelligent Design. What concerns me is EVERYTHING HE SAYS, and that his academic creditionals will lend authenticity to his… argument, and he will be taken as an expert by the media on the future of humanity. This man is what I am now calling a Maladaptor.

Unfortunately I don’t have the spare brain capacity at the moment to read and dissect his rationale in detail, but if you are willing to suffer so we don’t have to, please do so, send in your review/retort and we’ll publish a set of them here.


SyFy’s Alphas

Posted by on July 12th, 2011

They’re the first version of the next stage of human evolution, peope with a “neurological difference that confers some exceptional advantage.” They fight crime.

Alphas is SyFy’s new ‘superhuman’ crime drama - basically a grounded, more constrained version of the X-Men, complete with it’s own Brotherhood of Mutants, Red Flag. It’s far from perfect (it’s certainly no Misfits), but it has potential and is immediately far surperior to Heroes.

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