----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2001 3:12 AM
Subject: Interview for all Extropians
Hello Extropian crew:
Below are some questions I originally submitted to T.O. Morrow. If anyone
would like to add their own replies to my questions, please do so under each
T.O. Morrow entry. A bio of each contributor would also be appreciated.
Samples are provided below. If this mega-interview is successful, there is
very good chance that C-Theory (<A
HREF="http://www.ctheory.net/">www.ctheory.net</A>) will publish this online
they are about to publish 2 of my other interviews.
Jeremy Turner (scroll down for the interview)…
JEREMY: As far as current paradigms go, it has been a pet-peeve of mine to
see critiques of Virtual Reality constantly tied to the limits posed by
“immersion”. For example, in the seminal work “DataTrash” by Arthur and
Marilouise Kroker, virtualization is seen as a process where the physical
properties of the flesh are consumed or “harvested” into a partial and
incomplete reality. In a sense, one would become immersed in a space that
not equally co-existing with reality. Therefore, some critics are saying
that virtualization initially seduces the body through its promise of
(immersive) escapism but eventually degrades the physical integrity of
meatspace by retreating into a false and secondary reality. Even today, new
realities being built by developing and speculative technologies are being
confused with having exclusively immersive properties. An Extropian example
that comes to mind is the dream of uploading our minds into an immersed
collective-super-conscious entity. As far as I understand, this is still a
desirable Extropian vision.
TOMORROW: Though I cannot pretend to speak for every self-proclaimed
Extropian, I for one do not aim at Borganization. I certainly aim to change
and grow, understand; I do not aim to obliterate my individuality, however.
Mark: There are two quite distinct questions here: whether we will loose an
essential aspect of ourselves if we loose "meat embodiment" and the question
of individual identity. The Borg of course are meat creatures with a
collective identity, the denizens of the virtual world of The Matrix are
individuals with virtual bodies. The idea that virtual reality is a "false
and secondary" reality is an ontological prejudice. What is true is that
technology promises to allow any number of experiments in living and
experiments in identity.
JEREMY: Has “immersion” become synonymous with “evolution”? If not, do you
see the possibility that our definition of the world “virtual” is at this
point narrow and that a future VR will include extroverted realities that
harmonize with the“real” rather than harvest it?
TOMORROW: I recognize the possibility that you describe--that virtual
realities will always retain links with external meatspace. And, indeed, I
regard purely virtual realities as more a theoretical possibility than a
likely eventuality. But at any rate, your question concerns conditions at
too far a remove to allow very confident claims.
MARK: The short answer is no. Transhumanists and Extropians generally
concentrate on nanotechnology and AI but evolution may take place initially,
or concurrently via genetic engineering. Imagine, for instance, a creature
with a brain and intelligence that stands to ours as ours does to a chimp's.
Genetic engineering experiments were done on frog zygotes about 5 years ago
that resulted in frogs with larger brains. There is no technological reason
why same sorts of experiments could be done this year on humans--we have
analogues of the same sorts of genes done in the frog experiments. Those
with a meat preference might opt for this course of evolution.
JEREMY: As of today (November 08, 2001), I have heard the news that the
single-molecule transistor has been developed by Bell Labs (a division of
Lucent Technologies). From hearing this news, I am reminded of a prediction
by Wired Magazine (I think in 1998) that if we progress according to plan,
will have the first commercial nano-assembler on the market by 2004. Given
the current rate of technological benchmarks and breakthroughs, do you think
that such a prediction by Wired may still be accurate?
TOMORROW: No, I would not bet on that prediction.
MARK: Possible, but not probable.
JEREMY: Given this, what do you think will be the first commercial
applications of the assembler? Do you envision any immediate
artistic/cultural/aesthetic applications of the assembler once it is on the
TOMORROW: I predict the first assemblers will work mainly on materials
manufacturing, since they offer a relatively easy first job. For that
reason, I do not foresee any immediate culture effects--unless you include
recouping R&D costs as part of culture!
MARK: I agree with Tomorrow that the first commercial applications will
likely be materials manufacturing. Assuming it is available to artists, I
imagine that there will be any number of artistic experiments with
nanotechnology--especially if the general consensus is that there will not
be any artistic/cultural/aesthetic applications! Imagine, for example, a
sculpture that was simultaneously being constructed by one set of nanobots
and disassembled by another. Parts of the sculpture would continuously
appear and disappear yet the whole sculpture would never be seen at once.
We'll call this exhibit entropy/extropy. (No, no I don't have any plans to
quite my day job). I imagine there will be some
protest pieces that call attention to the dangers of nanotechnology, e.g.,
the "Black Goo" piece might feature human figurines being disassembled by an
army of nanobots. The future for nanoart is so bright I think that artists
should heed the time honored advice and wear shades.
JEREMY: Here is an elaboration/extension on Question #2. Since September
11th, there has been a lot of government money thrown towards the U.S.
National Nanotechnology Initiative and Nanotech startup companies such as
Zyvex Corp. in Dallas. Given the logic of the “trickle down effect”, when
do you see this technology filtering down from the Defense and Medical
priorities down to the level of the personal prosumer?
TOMORROW: I'm not really very well placed to make predictions on
so I'll only venture a range from 2015-2050.
MARK: Indeed, there is room to speculate whether it will reach the hands of
the individual consumer in the foreseeable future. There are so many issues
here covering patents, patent enforcement and how we protect ourselves
against the potential dangers of nanotechnology. (Consider how long nuclear
technology has been around. We don't have personal reactors now, not just
because of the expense but because governments deem the technology too
JEREMY: The Foresight Institute has given a lot of attention to cautious
thoughtful discussions towards the practical and moral implications of
Nanotechnology but little foresight has happened with regards to discussions
dealing with the future of cultural discourse once this promised technology
has arrived.. At first glance, this may not seem too strange because the
immediate foresight necessarily needs to deal with issues that may mold or
destroy our environment totally. However, the apparent lack of initiating
any active cultural thinktank devoted to foresight may be lacking foresight
itself as K. Eric Drexler in his book “Engines of Creation” (1986) seemed
to suggest that the end-goal of Nanotechnology is to create a generation of
liberated Performance Artists because Nanotechnology should in theory,
provide for all our material wants and needs. The only thing left to
and maintain would ultimately be culture. So, what importance do you place
the value of developing a creative thinktank at his time? Or, do you think
it is best for the technology to arrive first before the context is
appropriate for thinking about the specific direction that creative
individuals will take?
TOMORROW: I think Foresight has taken the correct focus. To try to predict
culture would at best waste time, and at worst fritter away resources better
spent on more concrete and preliminary matters. The very nature of culture
renders it immune to prediction; it arises out of the interactions of free
individuals in a particular place and time. We can only wait and see--with
great anticipation--what tomorrow's artists will create with
nanotechnological tools. I think Foresight has taken the correct focus. To
try to predict culture would at best waste time, and at worst fritter away
resources better spent on more concrete and preliminary matters. The very
nature of culture renders it immune to prediction; it arises out of the
interactions of free individuals in a particular place and time. We can
wait and see--with great anticipation--what tomorrow's artists will create
with nanotechnological tools.
Mark: I think a thinktank of perhaps broader scope is a good idea. Not just
nanotechnology but the other two members of the great triumvirate: AI and
genetic engineering. Unlike Tomorrow I am not sure that this endeavor would
ultimately draw away resources from the nano endeavor--indeed, it might
serve to attract resources. The question of these emerging technologies is
not just how to realize them but also, and perhaps more importantly, why.
What will these technologies mean for us as human beings?, as philosophers?,
as scientists?, as artists? These technologies promise to affect our lives
so significantly that there is no parallel in human history. Perhaps the
closest analogue is the emergence of Hominids from Australopithecines. I
think it is incumbent upon all of us to explore the question of the meaning
of these technologies. Artists can contribute today to this task by
exploring facets of this question through art. Let me give you one example
from art itself. Talk of the end of art has surfaced occasionally in Western
Culture since Hegel; most recently and famously the idea is associated with
the German art historian Hans Belting and the American philosopher Arthur
Danto. The idea, very roughly, is that art has explored all the conceptual
spaces possible: from the representational tradition of the Enlightenment
through Impressionism, Expressionism, Abstract Expression (etc.) so that art
has exhausted its possibilities. The idea of course is not that art will not
be made any more, it is simply that in a sense there can be no progress in
art. As an analogy think of the game of tic-tac-toe. The game is still
played, although there is no longer progress in the grand tradition of
tic-tac-toe--its conceptual possibilities have long been exhausted. The end
of art thesis says that art is like tic-tac-toe in this sense: the "art
game" will still be played but all new productions will be but variants on
themes already explored. I think that artist ought to explore the
possibility that Belting and Danto are too human, all too human, in their
thinking. Technology will allow us to redesign artists themselves, to make
them better artists. The art of our posthuman descendents may usher in a
whole new Renaissance of art. In any event, these are the sorts of questions
that your thinktank proposal might want to address.
Jeremy Turner is instructing a new course on the “History of Digital Audio”
starting this April, 2002 at the Vancouver Community College in Vancouver,
Canada. Turner is also a composer and inter-disciplinary artist. He is the
co-founder of an international artist collective, 536
Turner used to be a regular Arts/Entertainment critic for AOL Canada and
website reviewer for Intelligentagent.com in New York.
Mark Walker is a research fellow at Trinity College, University of Toronto.
He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Evolution and Technology
(www.transhumanist.com). He received his Ph.D. from the Australian National
University in 1994. His dissertation, Becoming Gods, is a Transhumanist
argument for the thesis that the telos of science and philosophy demands the
attempt to use technology to make better scientists and philosophers.
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