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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘transhumanism

[MUSIC] Grimes, “We Appreciate Power”

I have been thinking a lot about Grimes‘ new single, “We Appreciate Power”, since its release last week.

This song is incredibly catchy, a development of Grimes’ dreamier earlier music in a harder direction. The lyrical direction takes an even harder turn, moving beyond the cyberpunk evoked by Grimes and her collaborator HANA in the lyric video for “We Appreciate Power” towards hard transhumanism.

Simulation, give me something good
God’s creation, so misunderstood
Pray to the divinity, the keeper of the key
One day everyone will believe

[. . .]

People like to say that we’re insane
But AI will reward us when it reigns
Pledge allegiance to the world’s most powerful computer
Simulation: it’s the future

“We Appreciate Power” is the pop music of the singularity.

Jeremy Gordon’s essay at The Outline makes a compelling case for considering the techno-futurism of Grimes’ partner Elon Musk as an influence on her musical direction. I can see it, though I can also see this song as being a product of an ambient cultural moment. As Erica Russell’s thoughtful review at Paper Magazine makes clear, the recognition of the power of AI is becoming increasingly common.

According to a press release, the technocultural song was inspired by North Korean-formed propagandist music group Moranbong, and is “written from the perspective of a Pro-A.I. Girl Group Propaganda machine who use song, dance, sex and fashion to spread goodwill towards Artificial Intelligence — it’s coming whether you like it or not.”

That chilling final warning fits perfectly in line with “We Appreciate Power’s” maniacal dystopian energy, which fully leans into the ever-impending cyber-apocalypse with unhinged glee: “Submit, submit, submit, submit, submit…” Grimes diabolically commands on the outro. If the rise of artificial intelligence is upon us, who are we to deny our own brainwashing at the hands of our creations? We’re already glued to our laptops/cell phones just listening to this song, aren’t we?

In 2018, AI is much more than just the plot device for many of our favorite sci-fi films, from Blade Runner to Ex-Machina. It’s the new normal — a reality we’re currently living in while simultaneously rushing even faster towards. Every day, AI infiltrates our lives, whether we realize it or not. Using facial recognition, Facebook automatically offers to tag our friends in the photos we upload; Siri helps us find that perfect restaurant we’ve been craving but totally forgot the name of; each week, Spotify curates an eerily on-point Discover Weekly playlist for us. AI is useful — imperative even, perhaps, in our newly advanced and increasingly tech-dependent world — but is it really more evil than necessary?

On “We Appreciate Power,” Grimes crafts a complex industrial cyber-pop anthem that leans into technological determinism and the very real possibility of a future AI revolution which, depending on how you feel about living in The Matrix, might sound totally terrifying or, in the case of Grimes, exciting. “Neanderthal to human being/ Evolution, kill the gene/ Biology is superficial/ Intelligence is artificial,” she sings, pointing out the cyclical and temporary nature of humanity. She also appears to celebrate tech’s superiority as the next stage of societal advancement… even if it may spell doom for some. Maybe.

I will be definitely very interested to see where Grimes goes next, with her upcoming album and all. I will also be interested to see, as described in the NME, the continuing influence of these ideas on the global pop music scene. What next?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 6, 2018 at 11:58 pm

[NEWS] Five links from around the world: Montenegro, Donbas, Warmbier, IKEA in India, futures

  • This Open Democracy article examines how, exactly, Montenegro could start a Third World War. (It would need help from the Great Powers, for starters.)
  • Politico Europe notes that wildlife seems to thrive on the depopulated front line in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.
  • Doug Bock Clark writes at GQ about the sad story of Otto Warmbier, finding much evidence to confirm that he was not tortured but rather that he suffered a sadder fate.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the first IKEA in India, still recognizably an IKEA but tailored to fit local conditions.
  • Douglas Rushkoff writes at The Guardian about the blind alleys of nihilism and fear that at least some corporate futurists and transhumanists are racing into.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • The Buzz recommends twenty-four different novels for Valentine’s Day, drawing on the recommendations of employees of the Toronto Public Library.
  • Centauri Dreams links to a new paper suggesting there are thousands of objects of extrasolar origin, some tens of kilometres in size, in our planetary system right now.
  • D-Brief notes that cryptocurrency is hindering the search for extraterrestrial life, as miners buy up the graphics cards SETI researchers need.
  • Lyman Stone at In A State of Migration notes how unbalanced the marriage market can be for professional women in the United States interested in similar partners, especially for African-American women.
  • JSTOR Daily notes how deeply the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. for racial equality in the United States were driven by anti-colonial nationalism in Africa.
  • The LRB Blog notes how the life and writing of Penelope Fitzgerald was influenced by two decades of living on the English coast, suspended between land and water.
  • At the NYR Daily, Melissa Chadburn tells of what she learned from counting, and queueing, and perservering in routines.
  • At The Numerati, Stephen Baker shares an excerpt from his new book, Dark Site, describing a teenager’s attempts to control a cognitive implant.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer takes issue with elements of the timing of Lyman Stone’s schedule for immigration controls imposed in the United Kingdom on Caribbean migrants.
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Emily Lakdawalla explains how scientists are keeping the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in good stead despite its age.
  • At Roads and Kingdoms, Timi Siytangco explains the history of the Philippines through nine Filipino foods.
  • Drew Rowsome is impressed by the power of The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
  • Ethan Siegel at Starts With A Bang explains why black holes have to contain singularities, not merely superdense normal matter.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the rather misogynistic essay of ideologue Vladimir Surkin about women and power, timed for Valentine’s Day.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait takes a look at how contemporary lunar probes are prospecting for ice deposits on the dry Moon.
  • Centauri Dreams notes new models for the evolution of the orbit of the early Moon, and how this could well have influence the environment of the young Earth.
  • Crooked Timber takes issue with the idea that sponsoring women’s entrepreneurship, rooted in the belief that women are limited by their income, is enough to deal with deeper gender inequity.
  • D-Brief notes that a brain implant–specifically, one making use of deep brain stimulation–actually can significantly improve memory in implantees.
  • Gizmodo notes that extrasolar objects like ‘Oumuamua may well have played a significant role in interstellar panspermia, introducing life from one system to another.
  • At In A State of Migration, Lyman Stone does the work and finds out that the Amish are not, in fact, destined to eventually repopulate the US, that despite high fertility rates Amish fertility rates have consistently fell over time, influenced by external issues like the economy.
  • JSTOR Daily has a thought-provoking essay taking a look at the feedback loops between envy and social media. Does social media encourage too narrow a realm of human achievements to be valued?
  • Language Hat notes a new book, Giorgio Van Straten’s In Search of Lost Books, noting all those texts which once existed but have since gone missing.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money, noting the strongly negative reaction to Katie Roiphe’s essay in Harper’s against feminism, takes care to note that “disagreement” is not at all the same thing as “silencing”.
  • The NYR Daily looks at the many ways in which Sweden has been taken as a symbol for progressivism, and the reasons why some on the right look so obsessively for signs that it is failing.
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Casey Dreier writes about the ways in which the Falcon Heavy, if it proves to be as inexpensive as promised, could revolutionize the exploration of (for instance) outer system ocean worlds like Europa and Enceladus.
  • Drew Rowsome quite likes Rumours, a performance of the famous Fleetwood Mac album of that name, at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre.

[NEWS] Five sci-tech links: ancient stars, Great Filter, Luxembourg, uploading, beacons for ET

  • Matt Williams at Universe Today notes that the discovery, by a team of astronomers based in the Canaries, of J0815+4729, an ancient metal-poor star in the Galactic Halo some 13.5 billion years old.
  • Fraser Cain at Universe Today shares a video making the argument that finding extraterrestrial life would be bad for us, since it would suggest the Great Filter lies in our future.
  • David Schrieberg at Forbes notes early signs that the decision of Luxembourg to market itself as a headquarters for the commercial space industry is paying off.
  • Beth Elderkin at Gizmodo interviews a collection of experts to see if the possibility of uploading a human mind, as depicted in (among others) Altered Carbon, is possible. Most seem to think something is imaginable, actually.
  • At Wired, Stephen Wolfram expands upon a blog post of his to consider what sort of archive, containing what sort of information, might be suitable as a beacon for future extraterrestrial civilizations after we are gone.

[NEWS] Four science and technology links: Quayside, Wattpad, disasters, transhumanism

  • We’ve got more data on the impending Google investments in the emergent Toronto neighbourhood of Quayside. The Toronto Star reports.
  • Tencent has just invested $C 40 million in Toronto online fiction startup Wattpad. The Globe and Mail reports.
  • Canadian cities are starting to integrate nature into their defense planning against natural disasters. The Globe and Mail reports.
  • Tim Adams visits a transhumanist fair in Texas and considers what the future bodes for the modification of humanity. HIs article is in the Observer.

[LINK] “Do We Already Have Cyborgs in Our Midst?”

Gizmodo’s Frieda Klotz describes the quiet introduction of the cyborg into our contemporary world. The future is here.

Michael Bareev-Rudy never expected to have his finger implanted with a magnet. But in November 2015, the 18-year-old decided to embed a tiny magnet in his index finger at an event held in Dusseldorf, Germany. A crowd gathered to watch as a man in a smart grey suit and green surgical mask carefully sliced open the sandy-haired 18-year-old’s finger.

“After this he cuts with a scalpel on the side of my finger – yes, he cuts my finger open,” Michael recalled moments later, looking decidedly pale as he smiled nervously before the flashing cameras. After sterilising the table and numbing Michael’s finger with a local anaesthetic, “he uses – I don’t really know how to describe this tool – it was like a pen, sharp on the end with a little spoon on the top. He carved a tunnel through my finger to get the magnet inside and then he tried to put it there.” Because the magnet refused to slip easily into the young man’s finger, they had to try six times before succeeding.

Afterwards Michael’s finger was still numb, meaning that the real pain would come later. A dissolvable string remained inside, which he would need to pull out within ten days. Michael had paid €100 for the magnet and implantation. “What can I say?” he laughed, gazing at his newly transformed digit. “I was sitting there thinking for a moment, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But on the other hand, I thought it’s a great opportunity, and I think it’s kind of cool to modify your own body – and yes, of course it hurts, but this is a small price for what I get.”

Michael, who studies electrotechnics in Cologne, looks like a pretty normal guy, sporting a black T-shirt with a red alien on the front. And that’s the point: Once the realm of piercers and body modifiers, tech implantation is fast becoming the territory of software developers, students and web entrepreneurs. Magnets allow users to sense magnetic or electromagnetic fields; RFID (radio-frequency identification) or NFC (near field communication, a related technology) chips, encased in biocompatible glass, can be programmed to communicate with Android phones and other compatible devices, allowing users to unlock their phones, open doors, turn lights on and off or even buy a beer with a literal wave of the hand. The connected devices of the internet of things are a gold mine for experimentation. Analysts predict that there will be 25 billion connected objects by 2020, and this swift rise gives implant technologies a wealth of new applicability and appeal. People with such implants we call cyborgs. And this event in Dusseldorf was dubbed ‘Science + Fiction: The world’s first Cyborg-fair’.

People have these visions that this is evil. But in the real world, it’s not.

‘Cyborg’ is a loaded and attention-grabbing term, bearing associations from sci-fi novels and Hollywood, and whether it’s an entirely accurate label for these activities is up for debate. Some commentators broaden the definition to include anyone who uses artificial devices, such as computer screens or iPhones. Others prefer to narrow it. As early as 2003, in an article entitled ‘Cyborg morals, cyborg values, cyborg ethics’, Kevin Warwick, the professor who pioneered the cyborg movement in the academic sphere, described ‘cyborgs’ as being only those entities formed by a “human, machine brain/nervous system coupling” – essentially “a human whose nervous system is linked to a computer”.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 12, 2016 at 1:36 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Charlie Stross starts a discussion about the possible consequences of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. (He’s against.)
  • Will Baird, at The Dragon’s Tales, celebrates the 4000th post at his blog by imagining what an updated version of Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium future history would be. A Sino-Indian alliance eventually at odds with transhumanists is fun.
  • Daniel Drezner doesn’t think much of gold fetishism.
  • Eastern Approaches notes rising nationalism in Slovakia.
  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh thinks that the ongoing crises of the Eurozone might be handled for the time being by the policies advocated by Mario Draghi. For the time being.
  • Geocurrents observes, drawing from the example of Punjabi, the blurry nature of dialect continua.
  • Language Hat points to an online compendium of Canadianisms in English.
  • Torontoist notes that if you now search for a book on the Toronto Public Library catalogue, you’ll find links inviting you to buy the book at Indigo. (The library is expecting about $C 20 000 from this.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little asks what happened to Detroit and comes to the conclusion that the severe racial polarization certainly didn’t help.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that many of the smallest nationalities in Russia, indigenous peoples of Siberia mainly, are fast losing their numbers to assimilation.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell seems skeptical about a Kickstarter project aiming at buying a communications satellite and making it available to the Third World. Apparently the lack of suitable satellite modems is an issue.

[LINK] “Benedict vs. Mirandola: how gay rights and transhumanism are related”

Transhumanist writer and researcher Anders Sandberg–incidentally gay himself–reacts to the latest criticisms of same-sex marriage by the Pope. He argues at his blog that the particular critique made by the Pope about the unnatural nature of same-sex marriage, indeed its violations of nature, connects to criticisms of visions of the human future that see the human form transformed. Shades of Shulamith Firestone, here.

The important difference between me and the pope is that he has an essentialist view of human nature (and hence human dignity): it is something given and fixed, so changing it is both impolite (since it was a gift) and impossible (since it is absolute). We might try, but we will become inauthentic and hence unhappy. This is very much the same argument Michael Sandel makes in a secular form. It also has the same problem: there are obviously many parts of the human condition that are bad and we can and ought to change (ignorance, cruelty), and it is not clear how to delineate which ones are in that category, in the optional category (hair color? circumcision?), and in the impossible and/or bad categories (better than healthy). One can make some arguments for what goes where, but they typically seem to be consequentialist arguments – in which case there is no need to invoke human nature. Deontological arguments run into problems since typically they make claims of the type “One should always do X, when it is possible”, and these arguments then produce the “wrong” conclusions as the borders of the possible are shifted by new technology.

[. . .]

It seems to me that the family obsession of Christianity is very much based on the transcendentalisation of certain family relations typical of humans – parent-child relations, strong altruist bonds to family members, social emotions such as gratitude, and strict gender roles. But the last one does not seem to have the same deep biological basis as the first three: we know a bit about their neuroscience already, but as far as I know there are no neural correlates of fixed gender roles. There are certainly biological gender differences in the brain, but the various meta analyses collected by J.S. Hydes suggest that few of them are very large, and even those that do exist do not have much moral implications. This later point was dealt with at length in Janet Radcliffe Richard’s excellent 2012 Uehiro lectures, and she also argued that conservatives of all colors tend to think of the world as having a fixed underlying moral/natural order that must be preserved at all costs – and against all evidence (see here, here and here for a brief summary; the lectures will appear as a book sooner or later). Opposed to this “natural order” view is the view that humans must be active in both structuring the moral order, and changing the world to fit it. We are moral agents, so we better figure out a good morality and try to implement it – all based on empirical data as much as possible. You can guess where I stand.

The pope’s model predicts that changed gender roles, such as female suffrage, gender equality and gay rights, produce bad psychological effects. Not just occasional or individual problems (no doubt there are some) but profound malaise since they supposedly interfere with the essential human nature. His model predicts that very equal places like Scandinavia would be hotbeds of mental trouble, while traditional societies should work very well. Playing around a bit with tools like Gapminder tends to dispel that view. Just like anybody predicting dire consequences from new technology the pope can of course claim that they are long-term and invisible so far, but I think we would have seen some effects by now from female suffrage.

Of course, being a dualist the pope could conveniently claim there are profound damage in some spiritual dimension not accessible to empirical study. We Swedes might be thoroughly spiritually corrupt, we just don’t know it. Except that if there is no clear way of detecting it even from the inside we will just have to take it on faith, and it is going to be a hard sell to claim something that does provide real, observable benefits to people is actually very bad. It won’t be the first time for the Catholic church, of course, but given the past results of opposing contraception the pope should not feel optimistic about doing much good.

Go, read the whole essay.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm

[REVIEW] Greg Bear, Eon

Greg Bear, Eon
Originally uploaded by randyfmcdonald

I suppose that Greg Bear‘s 1985 novel Eon is, like its contemporary Rocheworld one of those science fiction novels that’s better with its science than with its writing. Alma Hromic‘s 2002 review isn’t entirely off.

Even in 1985, when the Cold War was still very much within living memory and the way of life it had dictated something familiar to every thinking reader out there, this book must have had a terribly anachronistic feel to it. The technology is there, the potential is there, but none of the characters seem to have evolved past the primal Cold Warrior types. The Americans come across as paranoid and greedy to keep all the treasures for themselves (“The Libraries were a purely American preserve… by order of the President,” as though the American president could have the power of actually enforcing such an edict short of threatening to blow up the libraries if an impure and non-American foot ever crossed their threshold…), the Russians seem to be straight out of the worst parodies of early James Bond, the Chinese are kind of tapping in place trying to figure out what their role in all this is, and the rest of the nationalities up there seem to have been tossed in to season the polyglot nationalist salad. Eon, twenty years after its initial publication, suffers from this hindsight, to the extent that it sometimes gets so annoying and in-the-way that it’s hard to concentrate on the storyline.

Then again, Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels with the same clichéd geopolitics (2010, anyone?) and arguably similar problems with believable characters and no one finds that particular cause to trash his works, do they?

Eon‘s fundamentally a work concerned with opening and closing possibilities. The opening comes when a vehicle bearing a suspicious resemblance to the asteroid Juno emerges in a burst of gamma rays at the edge of the Solar System and decelerates into Earth orbit. The explorers (NATO, Soviet, Chinese) who arrive discover not only a generation starship but–quickly hushed up–evidence that it was not only populated by humans, but that its inhabitants disappeared down a mysterious space-time corridor extending beyond, somehow. On the Earth, possibilities are starting to close down thanks to an intensifying Cold War, one that already broke out into a minor nuclear war, is getting worse as the different parties fear that the advanced technology of the generation starship could change everything. And in the meantime, the generation starship’s descendents, living down the Way in their artificial city, are starting to be distracted from their trade and their wars with other factions in other places of their bizarre universe by events at home.

Early Greg Bear may not have been a convincing writer, but he was certainly good at depicting vast impressive things. His generation starship impresses; his depiction of an Earth on the verge of catastrophe scares; his depiction of the Way and its cities and its connections awes. And, at the novel’s end he provides readers with another way to check whether or not they’re in an alternate history. I can’t go into the details of the plot in much detail since Eon is rather spoiler-heavy, but I can say that the novel is ultimately concerned with the characters’ efforts to find some sort of home, perhaps particularly brilliant Los Angeleno physicist Patricia Vasquez to find her home again.

So. Read Eon for Bear’s grand scheme. Don’t read Eon looking for especially convincing characters or moving writing (although there is that one passage–no, no spoilers).

Written by Randy McDonald

November 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm