TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Posthumanism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Posthumanism. Show all posts

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The People Who Want to Microchip People


Image Source: CBS News.

In an earlier post, I noted how the BBC is promoting human microchipping as well as larger tech-body implants. Their poster boy for this cause, colour blind guy, Neil Harbisson, merits a special 'cyborg' passport status.

Image Source: NYT.

Image Source: Munsell Color.

The subcutaneous chip was first developed by Siemens in the United States. The human microchip implant was invented by Kevin Warwick: "He is known for his studies on direct interfaces between computer systems and the human nervous system, and has also done research concerning robotics." You can read backgrounders on human microchip technology, here and here.

If this practice becomes widely accepted, it will become an automatic, mainstream practice, and children will be microchipped at birth. There are already brain chips which can affect moods and behaviour. Let this go further, and subcutaneous implants will become an organic user interface. They will also constitute an assault on the integrity of the bodies and minds of individuals both as individuals, and as members of society. Soon, it won't be necessary to talk about human rights and freedoms, because the preconditions for them will be medically removed and technically absent. For a disturbing, unconfirmed original sources on this endgame, see here.

The BBC promoting microchipping for Humans (29 January 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

The Body, Colonized

China Behavior Rating System V/S Sweden Microchip implants | Must watch technology (18 June 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Of course, rhetoric which promotes rights and freedoms will remain. The political speeches will continue, but rights and freedoms will be erased in reality. Lip service will be paid to these archaic constructions until it is no longer necessary to do so, and people have forgotten them, or been reprogrammed. Expect whatever slavery that follows to be labeled as a new type of freedom. The Chinese have a saying about manipulation and the acquisition of power: point to a deer, and call it a horse.

Human microchipping is part of a new field called 'biointerfaced nano-engineering.' Another catch-all term is 'wearables,' created by firms like Proteus and MC10. This is not the path to convenience, progress or enlightenment. It is the path to slavery. Although it seems that the human body must become the next technological platform, it is not inevitable. Do not do it. Do not accept it.

This post is not a Luddite screed. It is a plea to save the best potentials of technology and keep them on a course that will not destroy us. We are entering a new stage in the Tech Revolution, in which we have to learn to take responsibility for progress and innovation. Thus far, citizens have been accepting actors on the receiving end of research projects released via big tech companies. These were experimental prototypes, presented as exciting consumer goods. Electronic goods were marketed with various political and socio-economic messages to make them palatable in the capitalist endeavour to build self-identity from the outside in.

Image Source: Go into the Story.

We were entranced in the first decades of the Tech Revolution by the gadgets and rapid software upgrades. Most people believed in the opening act that they acted as consumers inside the pre-existing capitalist model. They did not understand that that old system had already been effectively outdated and internally destroyed; only an illusory shell of that model persists as a form of mass behavioural control.

We can all be forgiven for assuming that consumerism was how tech was introduced into our reality. But it never was.

Although glitzy, futuristic marketing campaigns created the illusion that technology turned people into empowered, connected consumers, each new level of hardware and software between the 1980s and the 2010s blinded technophiles to the fact that they were never consumers at all. They were increasingly-conditioned lab rats, running through monitored environments, inside the biggest human behavioural study ever conducted.

Now, things must change. It is time to wake up. It is time to grow up. We can be forgiven for trusting those big corporations, helmed by intelligence agencies and Promethean research groups, as benevolent guides in the opening act of the Tech Revolution.

Image Source: Film Connection.

But we cannot be forgiven if we sleepwalk into Act Two, and deliver our children into immersive slavery. In transhumanism, the commodity is not the microchip or its successor technologies. The commodity will be a new type of interbody imperialism and colonization, developed under the banner of building safer, more efficient societies. This will be a coercive, predictable, micro-legalized system, based on live feed maps of humankind's biological processes, mass consciousness, and psychological and physical reactions as a collective of living beings.

There has to be a moment when we recognize that the integrity of our bodies and souls is worth more than a few everyday conveniences. We are not meant to become 'the Borg.' Planting a gadget in your body is not a form of self-improvement that is good for the environment. To believe this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the body as an environment in itself, and of the body as an organism functioning within the larger natural environment.

I suspect that what will happen is that humankind will split into two camps. One group will absorb technology fully into the mind and body with erotic abandon. They will love the quasi-sexual interface, and will mistake the enhanced experience for an authentic upgrade.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Prepare for the Saudi Singularity



I have published a new post (here) at Vocal Media, which argues that the upheavals in Saudi Arabia are symptomatic of a massive shift from economies based on oil, to economies based on the next stage of technology.

I argue that events in Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton suggest that the Singularity is coming, but not the way we expected. The Singularity will be commandeered by the Saudis, meaning that the dominant cultural tone of the Singularity will not be California Silicon Valley culture, or Asian culture, or German Tech-Kultur, or even Silicon Britain - or other global cultures you might expect.

Rather, the Singularity will be dominated by Wahhabist Islam.

The situation is far more complex than I have outlined in that Vocal piece; for more details, see James Corbett's summaries below. I don't always agree with Corbett's interpretations and opinions, but he has put together a decent overview of the situation, albeit from an alt-media perspective. He includes reasons why the Crown Prince may not succeed in commandeering the Singularity, much less Saudi Arabia.

Regardless, Corbett recognizes the basic new truth of our lives: Data is the New Oil. Erected before us like an unavoidable totem, this truth is not just economic or technological. Despite the scientific bent of technology, I maintain that the primary impact of this truth will be cultural and especially religious. We are at the exact moment that will determine which culture dominates and shapes the post-carbon era of the Singularity, related technocratic governments, and their official religions.

The Saudi Purge is a Global Crisis (17 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Why Big Oil Conquered The World (6 October 2017). Video Source: Youtube

How Big Oil Conquered the World (27 December 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Data is the New Oil (24 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Photo of the Day: Fresh Off the 3D Powder Press


"Sneak preview: Portrait of Chelsea Manning (one of a diptych) hot off the powder printing presses. Courtesy of Mariana Pestana." Image Source: Heather Dewey Hagbourg.

Thanks to artist Heather Dewey-Hagbourg, previously featured in this post, who just sent me a press release about her upcoming exhibition, featuring a genetically-sourced 3D printed portrait - also known as a forensic DNA phenotype - following the gender transformation of whistleblower Bradley Manning aka Chelsea Manning. Manning released information on the US military in 2010 to WikiLeaks. Manning, a former US Army soldier, was convicted in 2013 and then changed his gender to become a trans woman, joining a gnostic bandwagon previously discussed in this post and this post. Dewey-Hagbourg was interviewed about this project at Paper in September 2015, here.

The exhibition, Radical Love: Chelsea Manning,
"will premiere at the World Economic Forum in Davos [on 20-23 January 2016], as part of the Victoria and Albert exhibition This Time Tomorrow curated by Mariana Pestana. ... This is the first time the 3d prints of the DNA portraits generated from her hair and cheek swabs will be seen publicly." 
I think you've covered every last possible base from the Zeitgeist, Heather. The exhibition will explore the quest for self in the Millennial mish-mash: "Is it radical to seek justice? Is it radical to be rescued by love? Is it subversive to be sweet? Is it radical to be true to yourself?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saturation Point


Image Source: Business2Community.

Singularity experts regard ageing as a complex set of biological mechanisms which can be decoded, rebooted with stem cells, rejigged genetically, medicated, contained, redirected and even reversed. This is a literal-minded over-rationalization. Gurus like Ray Kurzweil set a date for the onset of the Singularity (the year 2045!), the way wild-eyed prophets used to arrive out of the desert to predict the end of the world. The end of the world was often a year that was almost, but not quite, over the horizon.

Perhaps ageing can be conquered by downloading human consciousness into a computer, or eased by engaging with the arts and material culture. However you choose to attack the problem, once you are out of the goldilocks zone of ages 18 to 35 - the period when the world weighs your juvenile potential and considers you to be naturally synchronized with material dynamics - the ageing process asks you one simple question about psychological agility: how much change can you take? Can you bear the emotional burden of the Singularity? What is your saturation point?

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, the scientific unlocking of ageing biology and related diseases is fairly easily accomplished. The real challenge comes when the ultra-aged face prolonged mental distress as their brains are expected to survive beyond a normal human lifespan. After the Singularity, Robinson predicted, the eternally young will go mad. Only the most resilient will learn how to survive, and the results will not be pretty.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Space Farming: Little Green Tendrils of Chaos


You can take it with you: Nigella damascena, a type of buttercup, germinated in a lab on the International Space Station. Image Source: Wiki.

When we depart for the Final Frontier, we will have to become very good at farming in zero gravity and on other worlds. Anyone who has tried the most basic seed planting and coaxed a plant to maturity under ideal earthly conditions may start to appreciate what a daunting task that is. Even in today's era of Frankenfoods, plants don't care what humans think they should be or do. If you try to force plants or their environment to run counter to the laws they expect to follow, they simply die. If scientists are able to force plants in the short term via genetic modification to satisfy artificial human fads and demands, there will always be a correction in the environment, somewhere, that will decimate the plan. Period. For thousands of years, people have tried to play god with plants. Even when they achieve some success, that never become god. Biology will never be fully instrumentalized by humans, and it's a good thing too. It is that scary unknown factor in agriculture which brings a host of problems to space colonization.

On 12 March 2015, NASA confirmed via Hubble's observations that Jupiter's moon Ganymede has a huge water ocean under an ice crust, which could mean that it harbours life. Image Souce: Sci Tech Daily.

Experts claim that the only way for humanity to survive over the long term is that we clear that hurdle in the future. According to Stephen Hawking, whatever problems we may have down here on earth, a bigger one trumps them all. Our future lies in the stars, he argues, and humanity must eventually abandon this planet or face extinction. Does God play dice he asks, paraphrasing Einstein? Yes, He does, Hawking argues, asserting that there is an underlying range of chaotic variability, an unpredictability, to everything. Hawking contradicts Einstein's insistence that there had to be an underlying order in everything which we could not yet grasp. Despite Hawking's faith that the future cannot be predicted, he is certain humankind must go through a cataclysmic bottleneck, a test of survival, a possible extinction event. Over the next thousand years, space exploration must be our inevitable future. There is no wiggle room on this, he concludes, due to global warming, nuclear annihilation, or a genetically-engineered virus.

Cultural expectations of transcendent Singularity (which include a faith in space colonization) continue the very mechanistic mentality, a 19th century positivism, which quantum physicists criticize. Humans-as-machines is a very popular idea now, and culturally speaking, it is big, but not that deep. Humans are now addicted to, and obsessed by, their species' new computing power. Pause to observe the stunning fact that 40 per cent of the world's population got a new heroin habit over the past 20 years that was socially acceptable, economically profitable (if also economically tumultuous), politically unstable, and governmentally dubious. Then imagine that the most hard core tech addicts insist that we must lose ourselves in the addiction, becoming more and more like the technological objects of our adoration.

In fact, successful space exploration might be achieved only by an antithetical stance, a renewal of the organic, in a move that counters the seductive, semi-sexual love affair with computer gadgetry. In this post, I noted how popular ideas in the 1920s and 1930s shaped scientists' early conceptions of dark matter. In cultural terms, today's Singularity and quantum aficionados are 1920s' and 1930s' revivalists.

That is the kind of point that confirms that culture and science are not contending opposites; instead, they make an unexpected pair of yoked oxen. How scientists interpret and conceptualize their findings is heavily influenced by their cultural values, about which they are rarely objective or intensively schooled. This is why science fiction author Charlie Stross argued that space colonization is not a story about extending technology, despite all the technical trappings of the exercise. It is a story, as Frank Herbert knew well, about our relationship with the environment. And that relationship, given our psychology, almost always is expressed mystically and philosophically through the expansion and transformation of religion; Stross pondered some of this:
I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar; domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore. And I don't want to spend much time talking about the unspoken ideological underpinnings of the urge to space colonization, other than to point out that they're there, that the case for space colonization isn't usually presented as an economic enterprise so much as a quasi-religious one. "We can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket" isn't so much a justification as an appeal to sentimentality.
A response to that post, quoted at the Daily Galaxy, dismissed these culturally-derived warnings because transhumanists believe we will meld with machines and morph into something non-human, or superhuman, or post-human:
[Stross doesn't take] into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system. "Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs.
That is such a 2000s' thing to say. Super-this, nano-that.  In 2005, Ray Kurzweil maintained in The Singularity is Near that we could interface with our technology, the way computers interface with each other, and in so doing we could transcend our biology. It was a fashionable, and now dated, thing to assume. The post-Singularity hypothesis tells you more about 2005 than it does about 2500.

Part of that hypothesis suggests that our addiction to computers is reaching blind adoration, and extends to the assumption that they are, or will be, smarter than we are. We love them so, such that we will either join with them (a typical, unreflective psycho-sexual assumption), and/or they will out-survive us. This is exactly the kind of thing an addict would say about his or her drug: it's stronger than I am; it's destroying me in the long term; but I love it anyway in the short term because it enhances my capabilities. The Daily Galaxy:
In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars. Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.
There is so much blind confidence in the secular window dressing around science and technology, that there is no warning that Millennial technological prophets employ the language of cult leaders. They speak the high-priestly language of a sacred mentality with religious fervour, and remain unaware of what they are actually doing, because they are scientists. They predict the future, while in the same breath admit that science tells them that the future cannot be predicted.



Eco horror from John Wyndham: alien trees might be triffid-like on planets in binary, two-sun systems. Image Source: Passenger Films.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1.

Image Source.
Will the techno-rapture break down over space farming, when the plants remind us about our bottom line dependence on the environment? That is the final cultural pre-condition. We breathe air. We drink water. And despite our love affair with our shiny tools, we need the other earthly organisms which have evolved alongside us. What will the galaxy gurus do when the plants refuse to grow, or start to die, or grow tendrils 12 feet long so that they can snag and eat the colonists?

What if, in the wilds of space, space colonies and spaceships, plants can survive better than we can, arise to occupy a superior evolutionary niche to do so, and eventually overthrow and destroy us? They are only tamed here on earth because terran conditions allow us to be dominant. Space colony die-hards forget that humans evolved to a dominant position out of, and within, this earthly ecosystem, and no other. Once humankind leaves this planet with other terran species, to interact in long-haul spacecraft and space colony ecosystems, there are no guarantees that humans will dominate those systems. Even with humans supported by the technology they developed, plants may not remain their silent slaves. And this is before animal husbandry comes into the mix.

In a related vein, Mars One - the plan to send colonists on a one way trip to Mars by 2027, aka the final apex of reality television - came under harsh criticism this week. Their candidate selection practices and media entertainment fund-raising took a bashing. Critics dismiss Mars One as a pyramid scheme, even though that is only symptomatic of a more pressing problem. The reason private companies are taking over space exploration is because of politics. For years in the United States, a bizarre scenario has unfolded in which global warming has been pitted politically against space explorationObama's government slashed NASA's budget and money for other Big Science projects, which meant that other countries are now challenging or outcompeting America in these fields. Under these conditions, private companies will merge commercial capitalism with space aspirations and exploration technology. This week, Mars One's technological feasibility critics came through the loudest because a 2014 MIT study declared that Mars One's colonists' first wheat crop would blow their life support systems.

An independent MIT study from October 2014 concluded that the maturation of Mars One colonists' wheat crops would blow their life support systems by creating an overabundance of oxygen. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

Agriculture adds an element of the universe's chaos into any plan for survival in space and space colonies. This is the chaos whose metrics physicists like Hawking constantly seek and which eludes them. This is the chaos which makes them admit that they cannot predict the future, right at the moment when technology dangles a future in front of them that they want to believe (rather than prove). This agricultural element of the unseen, of perceptual error, of the unknowable, confirms that space farming would constantly remind us of our essential humanity, right when space exploration threatened to dehumanize its technologists and engineers. It is organic chaos, culminating in our unpredictable relationship with the unwieldy environment and other organisms which may have the last laugh, which reminds us how fragile we are and that we must colonize the stars with humility. Luke, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, was raised as a farmer. It's no wonder why George Lucas did that. This is why, this week, the Mars One project came under fire around the question at the heart of all human civilizations: not media, not money, but agriculture.


An earlier post on HOTTC discussed the film, Silent Running (1972), in which the 1970s' back-to-the-land movement met the 1970s' space opera. You can hear Joan Baez's performance for the film's folksy soundtrack below the jump. Will the calls for space colonization overlap with the Millennial back-to-the land movement? So far, they haven't. Below the jump, see a selection of plants which have been planted on the International Space Station, and which plants are planned for future greenhouses on the moon and Mars. Several foods have been tested on the ISS, including the first bagels in space.

"Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission [in 2007]. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students." Image Source: NASA via Phys.org.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Farewell to H. R. Giger


H. R. Giger in 1978. Image Source: IB Times.

Very sad news today: Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf 'Ruedi' Giger died on 12 May 2014. He was 74. Giger was a Posthuman visionary who glimpsed an uncomfortable future, where humans and machines would combine biomechanically around sexuality. In the 1960s, Giger contemplated grotesque human bodies, twisted by nuclear radiation. Other influences on his work included H. P. Lovecraft, Samuel Beckett and Edgar Wallace, all of whom created fantastical worlds which were metaphors for layers of human consciousness.

Giger with alien design. Image Source: Twentieth Century Fox via Guardian.

Giger gained worldwide renown for his design of the monster on Alien (1979). Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon met Giger and saw a book of his sketches during Alejandro Jodorowsky's ill-fated film adaptation of the novel Dune. Giger's images helped inspire O'Bannon's earliest Alien script; on O'Bannon's urging, director Ridley Scott asked Giger to design the alien, based on Giger's painting Necronom IV. Giger also designed the Facehugger, the Chestburster, the Derelict spaceship, and the Space Jockey. He and fellow Alien production artists won an Oscar. Giger worked on later movies in the franchise as well as other films.

The Necronom IV (1976), inspiration for the alien. Image Source: IB Times.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Do Google's Killer Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?


Image Source: Google.

Google, free host of this Blogger blog, has always had wild things going on behind its friendly search engine face. Follow Google's history carefully, and you learn how a search engine, gathering the behavioral data generated by its users, can be the key to a whole information-driven reality. You also learn how technological developments layer one upon another, with each new functionality enabling the next. And therefore, as Bill Gates has said: "People tend to overestimate what can happen in the next year but underestimate what can happen in the next five." That is why, when Google buys a company or develops a new capability, we should ask: where is Google going?

The company's informal motto is: "Don't be evil." Wiki:
Paul Buchheit ... the creator of Gmail, said he "wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out", adding that the slogan was "also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent."
Gen Xer Astro Teller, Google’s Director of New Products, declares that we must override our linear expectations when we try to understand technology's potential:
"If something rides the rails of exponentially improving computer and data capability, and if its benefits are sufficiently powerful, it is likely to happen – whether we can imagine it today or not."
In other words, something Google may do that seems innocuous or incongruous compared to its latest mainstream developments (like its contact lens glucose monitor) can turn out to be essential to tomorrow's integrated technologies. Lately, Google's trail of breadcrumbs leads into a dark forest. From driverless cars, to offshore barges - to Google's immortality app, Calico; from poaching academia's brightest minds to Google Glass; from setting up an e-money system on the back of Google Glass, to crowd-sourcing medicine - to buying killer robots? (Hat tip: SCGNews.)

Promo for development of Google's banking capabilities, using Gmail's user base with Google Wallet and Google Glass: "OK, Glass, empty my bank account." Will Google develop its own cryptocurrency? Image Source: Quartz.

Remember Boston Dynamics? Under a DARPA contract, they have made some of the world's most terrifying weaponized robots (at least, among the ones known to the public), modeled after successful predator species: BigDog, WildCat, Cheetah, SandFlea (which can jump over 9 metres in the air) and Atlas (a real Millennial Terminator robot). In December 2013, Google bought Boston Dynamics. According to the CBC, this was the search engine's eighth robotics company purchase in the past six months, and Google's strategy here relates to the exploration of sensor technology:
CBC business commentator Kevin O'Leary, chair of O'Leary Funds, said Monday that the strategy makes sense, given the majority of "smart and new money going to startups today" is targeting sensor technology. "These robots are basically a bundle of sensors," he added. "What Google is doing here is simply buying a company that's extremely advanced at writing software to interface with sensors."

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Coming Siege Against Cognitive Liberties


Image Source: Nature.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on how researchers are debating the legal implications of technological advances in neuroscanning:
Imagine that psychologists are scanning a patients' brain, for some basic research purpose. As they do so, they stumble across a fleeting thought that their equipment is able to decode: The patient has committed a murder, or is thinking of committing one soon. What would the researchers be obliged to do with that information?

That hypothetical was floated a few weeks ago at the first meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues devoted to exploring societal and ethical issues raised by the government's Brain initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), which will put some $100-million in 2014 alone into the goal of mapping the brain. ...

One commissioner ... has been exploring precisely those sorts of far-out scenarios. Will brain scans undermine traditional notions of privacy? Are existing constitutional protections sufficient to guard our freedom of thought, or are new laws required as fMRI scanners and EEG detectors grow evermore precise?

Asking those questions is the Duke University associate professor of law Nita A. Farahany ... . "We have this idea of privacy that includes the space around our thoughts, which we only share with people we want to ... . Neuroscience shows that what we thought of as this zone of privacy can be breached." In one recent law-review article, she warned against a "coming siege against cognitive liberties."

Her particular interest is in how brain scans reshape our understanding of, or are checked by, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. Respectively, they protect against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and self-incrimination, which forbids the state to turn any citizen into "a witness against himself." Will "taking the Fifth," a time-honored tactic in American courtrooms, mean anything in a world where the government can scan your brain? The answer may depend a lot on how the law comes down on another question: Is a brain scan more like an interview or a blood test? ...

Berkeley's [Jack] Gallant says that although it will take an unforeseen breakthrough, "assuming that science keeps marching on, there will eventually be a radar detector that you can point at somebody and it will read their brain cognitions remotely." ...

Moving roughly from less protected to more protected ... [Farahany's] categories [for reading the brain in legal terms] are: identifying information, automatic information (produced by the brain or body without effort or conscious thought), memorialized information (that is, memories), and uttered information. (Contrary to idiomatic usage, her "uttered" information can include information uttered only in the mind. At the least, she observes, we may need stronger Miranda warnings, specifying that what you say, even silently to yourself, can be used against you.) ...

In a book to be published next month, Mind, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience (Oxford University Press), Michael S. Pardo and Dennis Patterson directly confront Farahany's work. They argue that her evidence categories do not necessarily track people's moral intuitions—that physical evidence can be even more personal than thought can. "We assume," they write, "that many people would expect a greater privacy interest in the content of information about their blood"—identifying or automatic information, like HIV status—"than in the content of their memories or evoked utterances on a variety of nonpersonal matters."

On the Fifth Amendment question, the two authors "resist" the notion that a memory could ever be considered analogous to a book or an MP3 file and be unprotected, the idea Farahany flirts with. And where the Fourth Amendment is concerned, Pardo, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, writes in an e-mail, "I do think that lie-detection brain scans would be treated like blood draws." ...

[Farahany] says ... her critics are overly concerned with the "bright line" of physical testimony: "All of them are just grappling with current doctrine. What I'm trying to do is reimagine and newly conceive of how we think of doctrine."

"The bright line has never worked," she continues. "Truthfully, there are things that fall in between, and a better thing to do is to describe the levels of in-betweenness than to inappropriately and with great difficulty assign them to one category or another."

Among those staking out the brightest line is Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of bioethics at Emory University. "The skull," he says, "should be an absolute zone of privacy." He maintains that position even for the scenario of the suspected terrorist and the ticking time bomb, which is invariably raised against his position.
"As Sartre said, the ultimate power or right of a person is to say, 'No,'" Wolpe observes. "What happens if that right is taken away—if I say 'No' and they strap me down and get the information anyway? I want to say the state never has a right to use those technologies." ... Farahany stakes out more of a middle ground, arguing that, as with most legal issues, the interests of the state need to be balanced against those of the individual. ...

The nonprotection of automatic information, she writes, amounts to "a disturbing secret lurking beneath the surface of existing doctrine." Telephone metadata, another kind of automatic information, can, after all, be as revealing as GPS tracking.

Farahany starts by showing how the secrets in our brains are threatened by technology. She winds up getting us to ponder all the secrets that a digitally savvy state can gain access to, with silky and ominous ease.
Much of the discussion among these legal researchers involves thinking about cognitive legal issues (motivations, actions, memories) in a way that is strongly influenced by computer-based metaphors. This is part of the new transhuman bias, evident in many branches of research. This confirms a surprising point: posthumanism is not some future hypothetical reality, where we all have chips in our brains and are cybernetically enhanced. It is an often-unconsidered way of life for people who are still 100 per cent human; it is a way that they are seeing the world.

This is the 'soft' impact of high technology, where there is an automatic assumption that we, our brains, or the living world around us, are like computers, with data which can be manipulated and downloaded.

In other words, it is not just the hard gadgetry of technological advances that initiates these insidious changes in law and society. If we really want to worry about the advent of a surveillance state, we must question the general mindset of tech industry designers, and people in general, who are unconsciously mimicking computers in the way they try to understand the world. From this unconscious mimicry comes changes to society for which computers are not technically responsible.

A false metaphorical correlation between human and machine - the expectation that organic lives must be artificially automated  - is corrosive to the assumptions upon which functioning societies currently still rest. These assumptions are what Farahany would call, "current doctrine." We take 'current doctrine' for granted. But at the same time, we now take for granted ideas that make 'current doctrine' increasingly impossible to maintain.

This is not to say that change is unnecessary or that technology has not brought vast improvements.

But is it really necessary for everything to go faster and faster? Do we need to be accessible to everyone and everything, day and night? Should our bosses, the police, the government, corporations, the media, let alone other citizens, know everything we do and think in private? Do we really need more powerful technology every six months? Why is it necessary that our gadgets increasingly become smaller, more intimate, and physically attached to us? Why is it not compulsory for all of us to learn (by this point) to a standard level how computers are built and how they are programmed?

We are accepting technology as a given, without second guessing the core assumptions driving that acceptance. Because we are not questioning what seems 'obvious,' researchers press on, in an equally unconsidered fashion, with their expectations that a total surveillance state is inevitable.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Interview: Thomas Haller Buchanan on the Millennial Humanist Renaissance


Acta non Verba by Robert McCall (1919-2010).

Today, I'm delighted to interview Thomas Haller Buchanan, blogger at The Pictorial Arts, which is an oasis of light and beauty on the Web. Thom is also a professional illustrator. Buchanan's focus on art and visual culture is now finding expression through a new online journal: The Pictorial Arts Journal. The journal makes its grand debut online today, here, and this interview supports its launch. 

An additional publication is found at the same site, Delineated Life, which is an online magazine celebrating one special artist and their work per issue. The first issue of Delineated Life celebrates the 100th birthday of Pogo creator Walt Kelly (1913–1973).

In this interview, I ask Thom some questions about his new publications and what they mean in terms of Millennial optimism. The debut issue of the The Pictorial Arts Journal describes a continuity of visual culture from the Renaissance through to the modern period, especially the Renaissance-era value of humanism. Thom's journals are dedicated to reviving a new form of humanism suitable to our times.

To read a definition of humanism to which Thom refers in the interview, see Professor Paul Kurtz's Humanist Manifesto 2000 (here).

Pictorial Arts Journal cover © Thomas Haller Buchanan.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Nile Dam and Unintended Consequences


Memento mori Pompeii mosaic (30 BCE - 40 CE). Image Source: Ancient Rome.

In June 2009, economists declared that the Great Recession ended. But to many people, it still does not feel that way. Perhaps that is because the global economy is undergoing a painful transition. The gears are grinding, but there is no sensation of everyone barreling forward. Progress reports coming from tech sectors are deceptive: the virtual economy massively expanded over the past twenty-five years. High tech computing - with hardware's planned obsolescence and non-physical wares like Facebook acquiring value, based on the marketing promises of Big Data - pumped up bubbles around illusions of productivity. Financial speculation in the 1990s and 2000s depended on the exponential expansion of our ability to speculate.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Millennial Chimeras

Image Source: Tribe.

More news from back at the lab: the mythological chimera is coming alive in Millennial medical and genetic experiments. In the Greek myths, the original chimera we know dated from around 350 BCE; it was a female creature with the combined anatomy of a lion, snake and goat (see it here). 'Chimera' used in the modern cultural sense (as here, in a recent post at Ghost Hunting Theories) has come to mean any multi-part monster or hybridized fantastic creature. Often, these creatures' liminal nature and extraordinary anatomy and abilities saw them associated in ancient times with spirits, religions, deities or divine power.

The growing scientific capacity of our society so disturbs the popular imagination that some Millennial conspiracy theorists speculate that the chimeras in Greek mythology were in fact genetic chimeras created by ancient alien scientists. In this way, they reenforce an imaginative continuity with the cultural context of the deep past; and they do this at the very point where today's findings are placing that connection with the past under its greatest moment of stress.

Recent mentions of chimeras or quasi-chimeras include:
  • 1997: The Vacanti Earmouse
  • August 2003: Rabbit-human fusion - "Researchers at the Shanghai Second Medical University in China reported that they had successfully fused human skin cells and dead rabbit eggs to create the first human chimeric embryos."
  • January 2004: Pigs with human blood - pig-human chimera cells surprise researchers: "Pigs grown from fetuses into which human stem cells were injected have surprised scientists by having cells in which the DNA from the two species is mixed at the most intimate level. It is the first time such fused cells have been seen in living creatures. ... The adult pigs that had received human stem cells as fetuses were found to have pig cells, human cells and the hybrid cells in their blood and organs."
  • April 2005: Cat-human hybrid proteins - "Allergic to cats? Then you’ll appreciate this experiment. The feline Fel d 1 protein found in cat saliva contains an allergen that affects humans. When cats lick themselves, the saliva on their fur dries and turns into dust. In April 2005, scientists at the University of California created a human-cat hybrid when they fused the Fel d 1 protein with a human protein known to suppress allergic reactions. The feline protein would bind to immune cells that would cause the reaction and the human protein would tell the immune cells to calm down. When tested in mice, the chimeric protein stifled the allergy, and researchers hope they can be used in the future to treat allergy sufferers."
  • 2005-present: Mouse-human brain - "Irving Weissman, Stanford University professor and cofounder of the biotech company StemCells Inc., was granted permission by Stanford to create a mouse-human hybrid in 2005. Weissman and his team transplanted human-brain stem cells into the brains of mice with the intention to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. In his initial experiment, the human cells only made up less than 1 percent of the mouse brain. ... In 2010, Stanford researchers announced they transformed mouse skin cells into fully functional neurons in a laboratory dish for the first time. They also announced in May [2012] that they successfully used mouse stem cells to develop sensory hair cells, which could combat human hearing loss."
  • 2007: Sheep with human livers - "scientists at the University of Nevada School of Medicine created a sheep whose blood contained 15% human cells and 85% sheep cells." From Discovery News: " In 2007, scientists at the University of Nevada-Reno announced they could grow livers made up of 20 percent human cells in sheep. Dr. Esmail Zanjani injected either human adult stem cells derived from bone marrow, or human embryonic stem cells, into growing sheep fetuses. Zanjani said he uses sheep because the circulation systems of sheep and humans are similar."
  • 2008: Cow eggs with human cells - "British researchers were given approval to conduct human-animal hybrid research in 2008 ... . The nucleus of the cow egg ... was removed, and replaced with the nucleus of a human cell such as a skin cell. Once the egg was allowed to develop and multiply it would become a early-stage cloned embryo called a blastocyst. Scientists could then extract the stem cells from this blastocyst to use in disease treatments."
  • February 2010: Mouse-human liver - "Using a mouse that was having liver problems of its own, the researchers replaced its liver with one that was made up of 95 percent human cells to study treatments for Hepatitis. Shown here is a cluster of mouse liver cells that have been replaced with human cells (shown in green). Typically, small animals can't be infected with Hepatitis, only humans and chimps can, but this "humanized" mouse not only became infected, it successfully responded to drug treatments."
  • 19 June 2011: Pigs could grow human organs in stem cell breakthrough.

"Is it OK to inject human cells into other animals like laboratory mice and create hybrids? A few weeks ago [in July 2011], scientists announced they had mixed human DNA into cows in order to make them produce human breast milk. (One justification for this was that it would help children in underdeveloped countries.)" Image Source: Zoe.

In research published in 2013, scientists reveal they have implanted human brain cells in mice in order to investigate brain cell functions to treat certain diseases (Hat tip: Evo Terra; George Dvorsky).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

'Live' Artificial Jellyfish Made from Rat Cells


Artificial jellyfish life made from rat cells on silicone. Image Source: Discovery.

From the Frankenfuture Files:
A team of scientists has taken the heart cells of a rat, arranged them on a piece of rubbery silicon[e], added a jolt of electricity, and created a “Franken-jelly.” Just like a real jellyfish, the artificial jelly swims around by pumping water in and out of its bell-shaped body. Researchers hope the advance can someday help engineers design better artificial hearts and other muscular organs. ...

Bioengineers John Dabiri from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and Kevin Kit Parker from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University adopted a motto: Copy nature, but not too much. “Some engineers build things out of concrete, copper and steel—we build things out of cells,” says Parker.

The duo and their colleagues stenciled out the ideal jellyfish shape on silicon[e], a material that would be sturdy but flexible, much like the jellyfish itself. They then coached rat muscle cells to grow in parallel bands on the silicon[e] and encased the cells with a stretchy material called elastomer. To get their artificial jellyfish, or medusoid, swimming, the researchers submerged it in a salty solution and ran an electric current through the water, jump-starting the rat cells. The mimic propelled itself rapidly in the water, swimming as effectively as a real jellyfish, the researchers report online today in Nature Biotechnology.
Will humans, whose organs will be repaired and implanted in this manner, still be fully human? You can see a film of the Franken-jelly-rat thing swimming around below the jump.

One commenter at the foot of the Wired article said: "wow, way to try to drum up a story. Shocker: when you stimulate muscle cells, they contract. Glad to see that great taxpayer money going towards this pointless research."

To this, someone responded: "Yep, slam down the whole thing to zapping cells, just like that frog in the lab you never got into cause your creationist parents didint want you to. Never mind that the issue here is isolated cell growth artificially arranged to perform a function outside its original specs. Gee, what would happen if we learnt how to make heart muscle cells grow around damaged tissue in an orderly way to re enable proper heart functions? God forbid we find out."

Another wrote: "As far as I can tell, this research was funded privately ... Seed funding for the Harvard Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering was provided by the university. In 2009, Harvard received the largest philanthropic gift in its history - $125 million - from Hansjörg Wyss for the above mentioned institute. As far as this research being useless, these quotes from the article might give you a clue as to how this particular project could be useful: 'Researchers hope the advance can someday help engineers design better artificial hearts and other muscular organs." "By studying how jellyfish manipulate liquids with their body, Parker says, scientists may be able to come up with more accurate ways to fix or even replace damaged heart valves.' My wife had to have her aortic valve replaced with an artificial valve due to a birth defect - research of this type is VERY meaningful to some people. Try to do two minutes of research before you write off important work with your politicized BS."

Yet another commenter wrote: "I, for one, welcome our new jelly-rat overlords."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Retro-futurism 24: 1968 On the Way to 2019


Real smog in Beijing.

This week, Beijing accumulated hazardous, record levels of smog. From Total Dick-Head: "Dear Readers, that's not a still from Blade Runner you're looking at. That's the smog in Beijing, and some crazy building, and, like, a video billboard." See more pictures of the city this week, here. Real life dystopia, real life noir.

Real smog in Beijing. Image Source: Kotaku.

Blade Runner cityscape.

Go inside to escape the smog and complete the Future Noir mood. From @paleofuture aka Matt Novak: "So got me those Blade Runner whiskey glasses for Christmas and I'm basically the luckiest guy I know." One of my friends, M., was so interested, he tracked them down on the Internet. You can buy them here.

Image Source: @paleofuture.

From the glass seller, Firebox:
We’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. We’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. But we haven’t seen anything half as cool as the Blade Runner Whiskey Glass.

Yes, Blade Runner fans, now you can relax after a stressful day ‘retiring’ replicants by getting to grips with the very same tumbler used by Rick Deckard in the seminal 1982 sci-fi movie. And when we say the very same we mean it because the moody Blade Runner’s glass wasn’t just a prop, it was a hand-made crystal glass, mouth-blown by artisans at boutique Italian company, Arnolfo di Cambio – and so is this!
Blade Runner still with Harrison Ford playing Deckard (1982) © Warner Bros. Image Source: Live for Films.

You can watch Ridley Scott's legendary film here. The fantastic Vangelis soundtrack is here. All the book covers for different publications of Philip K. Dick's original 1968 story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are here. In the original story, Rachael's dissociative responses are explained by her being raised on a spaceship during a botched colonization attempt of Alpha Centauri. The story opens with the death of a 200 year old turtle.

If you've never seen this film, you are lucky to be able to see it for the first time. Do not be one of the newbies on Youtube who cluelessly misses the point to this dystopic Techno-Creation Story: "Just finished watching it!!!!....possibly the worst movie ever...how did this movie get so much priase...smh."

Or:
"Can somebody help me understand why this movie is #1 on sci fi lists? i am a huge Sci fi fan and i just watched this movie due to all the glowing reviews...I was hoping for an amazing film..i must admit i found it incredibly boring with little substance...I could not get into it at all...for me the coolest part of the movie was that pyramid building and the opening scenes of the future skyline lol...yea i get it harrison ford may be a cyborg,,i am shocked that people like this so much...."
Dick's original story, written in 1968, described human alienation from the Freudian Self and from the external environment; the flip side of that alienation was the growing role of technology in propagating the Egotist as Creator. It is almost as though Dick envisioned the 20th century's ultimate dilemma, bloodbaths notwithstanding.

That dilemma was the point at which the Id, the Ego and the Superego would fracture and become separate agents, or whole groups, in society. In light of Blade Runner's continuity from 1968 to 2019, this post continues my series (begun here and here) on the ideas developed by the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers in their youths and explores what became of those ideas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 30: The Hands of Orlac

Scene from The Hands of Orlac (1924). Image Source: Old Hollywood.

For today, see one of the world's earliest horror films: The Hands of Orlac (1924). With its costumes and eerie acting, the late Expressionist Austrian silent Orlacs Hände is as fascinating as a window onto bygone culture as it is surprisingly modern. Directed by Robert Wiene, the plot is an account of fractured identity and overlapping realities, with some posthuman themes now familiar to us: "A concert pianist, Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt), loses his hands in a railway accident. Replacement hands are transplanted onto him in an experimental procedure, but the hands are those of a recently-executed murderer." The film has some genuinely creepy moments. The movie was remade in 1935 and 1960, although the theme of an alien body part transplant having a life of its own has been repeated in many other films. See the film below the jump.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chrono-Displacement Disorder: The New Normal

Image Source: Cauldrons and Cupcakes.

It used to be that the only ways our perception of the regular flow of time might change significantly were though grief, meditation, madness or trauma. At Ghost Hunting Theories, Sharon Day describes how stress makes people change their view of time, slowing the flow of time down, and transforming perception:
if you have recently lost a loved one -- that seems to make you more open to the other side, and if you have undergone major surgery or life-threatening illness. There are moments in our lives, where time slows down for us and we are out of sync with the mainstream, such as depression, illness, grief. Those times are the most often periods we are plagued with transients. Perhaps its our change in perspective of what is important, or changing our routine so we slow down and notice things.
In periods of altered temporal perception, Sharon believes that people see ghosts. This idea chimes with the idea that ghosts are electro-magnetic shades trapped in time pockets. Psychics and mediums, so the theory goes, perceive the underworld because they read time backwards, against its normal direction.

Even intensively studying history requires one spend many hours of present days in a past time period, understanding the past on its own terms. The experience of suspending one's hindsight and accepting historical actors' lack of foreknowledge is not always congruous with life in the 'now.'

Then again, now, the jarring experience once confined to superstition at worst, and to historians' archives at best, is available to anyone with a video camera and a computer. Popular gadgetry has increased people's awareness of time and their ability to manipulate it. Tech affects the temporal progression of language; it enables the mistreatment, misplacement and misunderstanding of historical events on the Internet; it takes cultural phenomena out of their temporal contexts. Computers grant access to whole bodies of historical knowledge, events and images and allow them to be treated like so much random data.  Anyone can jumble historical details together in a post-Postmodern collage. This mish-mash is ordered according to nothing but presentist impulses, with no regard for historical context and respect for forward time flow. This trend has been appearing in a lot of Millennial dramas, fiction and cinema. Tech makes the fictional illness, chrono-displacement disorder, real. Moreover, tech makes chrono-displacement disorder the new normal.

The most notable examples of individuals' personal tech-enabled time-plays have so far been fairly benign. People have been more intuitively respectful of the temporal direction of history when they are talking about their own lives. Thus, their plays on time are historically conventional: there are time lapses, wherein people photograph themselves every day over several years, and then put the photos together to make a personal time lapse video (compression of time). Sometimes people revisit a famous event which recurs, decades later (time cycles). Similarly, people retain old footage of themselves and mesh it with new videos, to create a conversation between the past and present (a fairly eternal metaphor of the older man talking to his younger self, which is classic chronal wish fulfillment). For the latest example of the latter, go to the viral video below the jump. It was made by Jeremiah McDonald (see his sites here and here), in which the Gen Y actor and film-maker, who is now 32 years old, talks to his 12-year-old self (via Mike Lynch Cartoons - thanks to -T.).