Saturday, December 27, 2008

'transhumanism' in the dictionary

It's taken 50 years, but finally, the words "transhumanism" and "transhumanist" have finally made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. Its definition of transhumanism is: “A belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, esp. by the use of science and technology.”

For a comparison, the definition that Nick Bostrom, the founder of the World Transhumanist Association, gives in the "Transhumanist FAQ" is given in the following quote:

"Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase. We formally define it as follows:

1. The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

2. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies."

To me it's all good that transhumanism gets more recognition, and the definition actually shows how little people think about such notions. For one thing, it's rather naive to believe that something can evolve while staying stuck to "its current limitations", since evolution per definition is about adapting to overcome limitations and meet the challenges of a different environment. If anybody gave it a thought, he would most likely be a transhumanist according to this definition, so the meaning of the word 'transhumanist' would be nothing more than 'somebody who has thought a little bit about evolution'. Now according to some, technology necessarily leads us away from evolving, and to others it can enhance us while it can also degrade us. I myself am a radical transhumanist in that I believe that every technology, as a cultural uttering of humanity, adds to our evolution. In exploring every bit of the technological landscape, we slowly but naturally and spontaneously learn to uplift our being and humanize our environment so we can come to feel "at home" in it, to use Hegelian terminology. To me even technologies like Hitler's gas
chambers and the H-bomb have contributed to our evolution in showing us more about how a humanized environment would look according to the ideas held by their creators. In externalizing our thoughts into our technologies, we reflect through the lived world, and if there's one thing clear to me about humanity, it's that we can only really learn through experience. Evolution necessarily has periods of chaos, separation, union, and transcendence, as explained by cosmologist S.S. Pope in her search for a holistic philosophy.

To me a definition of transhumanism should also include the reconsideration of the human ontology; a disidentification with the human biological form and reidentification with any other form as a reflection of our new technologized ecologies that we are free to shape. To me, we necessarily are transhumanists, we only need to realize and embrace it, critically but openly.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Honey, can you walk out the fish today?

The content of car commercials was already peaking in far-fetchedness, but this is just insane. Apparently if you drive a Volkswagen Spacefox, why not go for the Fishdog as well?

Liquid manufacturing processes

Yes, nanotechnology could dissolve the prevailing dichotomy of ugly and incomprehensible product insides and shiny looking, clean outsides. Then any angular, flat shape would probably serve nothing more than a temporary crystallization in a nostalgic reference to a time when we still thought our bodies to be media for translating mental chunks of information into abstract machine interfaces. Our extreme collective fear of physical death makes us regressively try to shape a safe womb of technology, but has us live as abstract entities, who turn out to have never fully lived in the end.

Let's throw away our fears and fragile identifications to completely go liquid, soft and organic. Let's risk dying anytime we interact with machines, but in the moment at least be in a perfect resonance with them, and with ourselves. Let's start to taste the machine.

flesh, the new plastic

Tactility it's what it's all about in the work of Jason Briggs. In looking like scrambled up versions of the human body, his sculptural objects almost pornographically refer to the details of raw, naked flesh, with names like 'toe', 'squirt', and 'cinch'. To me though, although they look rather eerie, these objects look quite like complete organisms, or should I say organic products, as well. I can easily imagine this to be future products that almost in a sexual way are able to merge with a human user, to which it could provide certain functionalities in a very intimate, empathic and mutualistic fashion, even aligning its entire physiology to that of the human carrier. What if you'd have to dial a number on your cellphone by sticking your finger into a soft, warm, throbbing hole?

In product design, a trend towards softness and providing a wider range of tactile experiences can also definitely be seen, such as with designs like the strawberry skin juice package by Fukasawa, or the Gel remote control by Panasonic (see below). We are collectively bored with anything resembling modernism with all its coldness. Moreover have we visually been conditioned to like glossy, clean and sharp looking imagery, while this is actually drawing us further and further away from the intrinsic qualities of the body with which we stand into the world, which is undeniably soft, warm, and in a way also dirty. Maybe we should learn to embrace these properties too before we can fully start living, without facades clouding our perception.

Are we ready to succumb to the intimate touch of the machine?

Mac-1000 vs. PC model 101

A bit of an extreme take about what might happen when robotics merges with the consumer electronics industry, but sure I think strange things might happen that render the physical world as dynamic, adaptive and uncontrollable as cyberspace is at the moment. Of course comparing any new technological development with a previous one is always flawed and extrapolations are always myopic in ignoring the intrinsic qualities of the new technological medium, but still I think that if we don't learn to love uncontrollability and program ways to develop empathy and cosmic consciousness into embodied intelligent agents, a big mess might result. Soon I will post a more reasoned post on this, including a justification for my belief that if we don't learn to transcend our short-sightedness and local biases, egoic behaviour will emerge in our artificial systems in a way comparable to how it emerged in our cultures and kept them infantile.

Cardboard cars

If only it were that easy. I'm sorry car manufacturers, but all cars are still fundamentally functionalistic boxes, all attempts to make the experience more humane compromising with the inherently inhuman system underlying its manufacture and distribution. Of course I'm not going to talk about the third industrial revolution, for now just enjoy this little video for the Audi Q5.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

patricia piccinini mixes human and animal physiology

In case you didn't know her yet, Patricia Piccinini is an Australian conceptual artist who explores the fusion of the artificial and the natural, her idiom being cross-overs between the anthropomorphic and the zoomorphic. Her sculptures are so life-like that they immediately make you deem possible a future where humans can be genetically shaped into any desirable physiology.

A future that I am looking forward to, because I am plain bored with that ideal beauty image our one-dimensional culture is still clinging on to. I do understand that people do not know any better, but still I await the day where suddenly one human being decides to fund research labs so they can radically transform him or her beyond any recognition of the human form, and that it brings about a wave of followers. Imagine the benefits from having a completely different physiology and thus lived experience; flying, running faster, 360 degree vision, modular bodies, and doing breakdance in ways never imagined before are only the most obvious ideas. The reason we narrow-mindedly stick to our body is that we still treat it as a sexual object with a brain inside. The brain is what makes you smart, we hold, and what defines you professionally, while the body is what defines you socially. Our rationalist roots have so much left the body behind that it is still this open platform only meant to impress others on a social level. But we need to search for a true self, throw away our identification with our body, and start living in an embodied way, realizing that the development of what we call mind is intrinsically interwoven with that what we call body. And that the purpose of life is to find a holistic way of living in the present with the entire dynamical system that we control, continuously shaping an ideal vision as the only thing we identify with, and emanating this vision onto the world to give rise to a highly dynamic symphony of embodied interactions on the brink of evolutionary beauty.

CG cyborgs by benedict campbell

For you cyborg lovers out there, an interesting CG artist is Benedict Campbell. Although many of his images concern typical naive cyborg fetish material, you know, rods sticking out of human flesh and the like, still a lot of images are quite fresh. An interesting example of the latter is the image I depicted above, of an android man recharging his system in a meditative pose.

Now I would like to see really transhuman images, where the human form becomes less and less recognizable as we as a species adapt to take up more ecological niches in our hominization of the cosmos, and lose the inherent qualities of the biological skinbag in the form that we carry it around nowadays. I'd rather become a fish than a cyborg.

Here is some more imagery:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Cosmic Cyborg

Today, I thought out my transhumanist vision for the future of technology; the Cosmic Cyborg. Here is an excerpt of my vision.

In terms of the definition of a ‘cyborg’ given by Clynes and Kline (1960) as an “exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously”, we are already cyborgs from the moment we started wearing clothing. Wearable technology will only increase the extent to which we are cyborgs, slowly fusing the organic and the artificial, and it is up to designers to critically explore what kind of cyborg we should become.

So far, explorations into wearable technologies seem to have led mainly to the following directions for human augmentation:
 The ‘radical cyborg’: a functionality led approach that keeps us in the flow of handling digital and physical data
 The ‘expressive cyborg’: emphasizing our feelings or social identity, possibly in a poetic way
 The ‘regressive cyborg’: technology will pervade our bodies although in an invisible way, so we still look like ‘ordinary humans’

What this project poses to create is a new kind of cyborg that I term the ‘cosmic cyborg’. By adopting technology into his body he is able to transcend his own local self, and live a life perfused by a cosmic awareness of everything he perceives, including his body, the world, other people, and products of technology, not necessarily identifying with these. Digital wearable technology should provide this awareness on the background of a fully lived embodied experience, where the human and the technology feel at one.

Transformer shoes

I just love transformable objects like these Nike shoes/toys. Our world is so static, cold and distant to us that people are still the most interesting things out there. I would like objects to start pulling tricks on us. To show us who we are, to mock us, to surprise and enlighten us. But most of all, to inspire us.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cyborg fashion

"The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of 'Western' science and politics--the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other - the relation between organism and machine has been a border war." - Donna Haraway, from "A Cyborg manifesto", 1991

Just another cyborg video by 1stAveMachine. Yay, we are all going to be cyborgs and look cool, it seems to proclaim. While indeed it is a slick looking movie, I must stress again that blindly believing in technological progress is a big mistake, especially now our technologies are converging and we are heading to a big technological mess, where robots are potentially self-replicating, invisible, armed, or as lifelike as a regular human being. To fuse our bodies further with our technologies seems like a good idea, but at the same time if purely infused with scientific thought this development might alienate us further from being intuitively in touch with the cosmic whole, and from realizing our happiness as something that is already present, instead of seeing it as a goal to result from progress and hence never living in the present. Futurism is merely nostalgia projected forwards, a sort of self-induced memory.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

projected skins

In a time our technologies are more and more showing how easily our brain can be tricked, the world is getting more and more surreal. This particular work by Neoproj is just breathtaking. They make even old architecture come alive by projecting animations onto it that are mapped to the particular 3D shape of the object that gets projected onto.