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The finale issue of House of X/Powers of X: We dig into every detail – Polygon

Posted: October 13, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Marvels House of X/Powers of X event is complicated, full of references to the X-Men past and hints at the X-Men future. Jonathan Hickman, R. B Silva, and Pepe Larraz are delivering a beautifully rendered and textually dense reinvention of one of the biggest franchises in comics history.

Thats too much for just one comics editor to dig into, so we reached out to the folks at the Xavier Files, whose in-depth annotations of House of X and Powers of X impressed us, educated us, and entertained us. Now you can enjoy the Xavier Files Hox Pox Tox right here on Polygon so crack open your copy of House of X #4, and read along! (You can find the first three annotations here).

In this oversized finale, Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and David Curiel reveal the nefarious truth behind all of Moiras lives. Explained by The Librarian in X, mutants are only the next organic step in evolution. Transhuman experimentation through robotics and genetic manipulation pushed human evolution past mutants. Mutants will always lose. Hearing this in her Sixth Life, Moira relays the ugly truth to Xavier back on the park bench of X0, and they begin their mission to beat the odds. In her Krakoan No-Place, Moira clashes with Xavier and Magneto, as she has her whole life. They know mutants may lose, but they wont lose without a fight.

Robert Secundus: I dont know what to say; this is the end. Im excited to dive in one last time.

Chris Eddleman: Rob, were finally at the end. Weve been writing about HoXPoX for twelve weeks now, looking frankly far too closely at this series. Weve talked biology, theoretical physics, philosophy, religion, art, and history. Ive said it many times that its great to see a creative team inspired by a wide range of topics and this might be one of the widest. And to the readers, weve loved your response and your correspondence its been really fun being in the HoXPoX community for the duration of this run. So, we hope youre game for our last go but I figure you are, youve been game for 12 weeks.

[Ed. note: Its a double-sized finale boys, we need to get started.]

CE: Our final epigraph from Xavier (still called Alpha, which after this issue will seem very silly) reminds us that while were at the end of this double miniseries, the journey is really only beginning with this new era of X-Men.

RS: That the title of the final chapter of Powers Of X is House of X really emphasizes the fact that these are two series only in marketing, not in reality. Its also appropriate because, in many ways, this issue concerns recursion and returning to beginnings.

CE: Plus, as X-Men has taught us so often the X can be, and will be, ten. In this case, it refers to House of Ten, meaning the House of Moira. As this issue will go on to state, its really all her plans that have led to this moment, despite setbacks from the other players.

RS: I cant believe that the final twist is It was pronounced House of Ten, actually.

CE: Grant Morrison would be proud.

RS: I expect the flashback sequence to PoX #1 to be fairly controversial, but I really like it. I like that we dont just get a sequel, but we get to see this scene play out again in fuller context. Every single reader, not just those who stop, go back, and pick up the older comics, now experiences that moment again in its full light.

CE: Its interesting to me that the Page 4 has an addition, which just gives us another panel of a very happy Charles Xavier. I guess that hammers home how naive he is prior to meeting Moira in her tenth incarnation. He has a very simple, and to him, achievable dream of mutant coexistence with humanity. This contrasts with Moira, who has seen with her own death, the death of that dream over and over again.

CE: While it could just be the fact that its a jungle, the Preserve to me looks very Krakoan. I wonder if Librarian and friends created this to resemble Krakoa as a sort of comfort to the mutants. Also, of note, its a Preserve of many species. Im guessing the blue folks have done much to the biome of Earth at large that requires extra preservation. I mean, tomorrow its going to be eaten so its a moot point.

RS: Here we start to see that weve misunderstood the nature of the Preserve, the New Eden, from PoX #1 onwards, as those background figures are not those of humans. We approached the Eden from an incorrect paradigm, one that assumed that mutants and humans were a simple dichotomy, and that transhuman individuals belonged to the latter species.

CE: I feel like we were certainly led to believe that. But of course, we X-Men fans like to think of mutants as the evolutionarily superior branch. In fact, in Powers of X #1, Nimrod the Greater says to the Librarian Homo sapiens, so glad to be done with all of that, which cued us to believe those were the ones in the preserve. It was a good swerve. [Ed. note: Though it brings up the question of if post-humans see much difference between Homo sapiens and Homo superior.]

RS: At first, a disembodied voice from the Edenic trees begins to talk about freedom, and raging against ones masters, against the creators of that Eden. Logan is this Edens Miltonic Satan, it seems, and Moira its Lilith, or else they are its Adam and Eve, about to receive knowledge that will lead to their death and expulsion from the garden.

CE: We are reminded how much Wolverine hates to be caged, to be deprived of his freedom in this zoo. [Ed. note: Also how much he loves overthrowing authority figures!]

CE: Its really odd to me after seeing the theoretically benevolent, sometimes childlike Librarian looking like the bad guy, but that was of course more clever storytelling to play with our expectations. Its brilliant.

CE: The Librarian uses the morally kind excuse for incarceration preservation (or protection), when of course he really just cant kill Moira, and wants to know her plans. He is 1000 years of petty, I suppose.

CE: The Librarian reminds us of the entire X storyline- the Ascension of the post-human civilization to godhood, in the convoluted getting eaten and absorbed method. The Librarian dreams of existing outside space and time not immortality exactly, but complete omniscient permanence. [Ed. note: Thankfully, someone understands whats going on in X.]

RS: Two important things to note about intra-singularity aeviternity. If Moiras powers do annihilate the timeline, then mutants are safe, but if her consciousness merely travels back and splits the timeline, the Dominions still know about Moira, and are likely coming for her. Even if they annihilate the timeline, being-in-a-black-hole unsticks you from that timeline, and so Cardinal, Xorn, Dougkoa, and Rasputin may be coming to Life X (Main X-Men continuity), but so may Nimrod and an entire machine Earth. [Ed. note: Of course, they may all be part of a Dominion godhead now, which seems dangerous.]

CE: The Librarian likely wants nothing more than to be rid of Moira, but he absolutely must preserve her until godhood. This very much smacks of bad guy explaining his scheme which as we see carries a purpose. In this Garden of Eden, our zookeeper needs to undergo a confession.

CE: In case you thought that we werent philosophical enough, the Librarian is getting into the meaning of existence. He seems to be implying that existence within the Dominion is merely a simulation, the idea of which puzzles contemporary scientists. [Ed. note: As well as teens who just saw The Matrix for the first time.] Is this nature of existence simply what our senses tell us? Could a manufactured existence be just as real as a material existence? Hes very afraid to find out. I noticed he keeps referring to himself as post-human, which seems to be a coping mechanism to try to escape his very human fear of having his existence compromised.

RS: This gets at older philosophical and theological problems too; how can an immaterial soul in heaven, someones pure essence, their form, without individuating matter, maintain an independent existence in a heaven? How can an individual remain an individual after deification? How can individual humanity retain any identity when it is one human drop among the endless eternal ocean of god?

RS: Homo novissima would be latin for the Last Man. [Ed. note: Not to be confused with the comic book.]

CE: Our robot friend Nimrod spoke quite a bit of his own inevitability. Here we have an argument between Moira, Wolverine, and the Librarian about what existence is truly inevitable, and mutantkinds place in it. This harkens back to the Orchis Protocol, which activated when the inevitability of mutants became a growing concern.

RS: Whats thematically happening here is really interesting in two ways. First of all, PoX is picking up something that was inherent to the original X-Men but quickly dropped. Mutants were, originally, written as the Children of the Atom, as a species that in part resulted from humanitys dominance over nature, over its ability to control even the basic building blocks of our universe. Here its just the post-humans who get to claim that role.

Second of all, its building on the thematic concerns of Morrisons New X-Men. Morrison was primarily interested in using the Mutant Metaphor as a means to explore not oppression but evolution, and not just biological but societal, cultural, and even cosmic evolution. This grand design unites both of those concerns. Humanitys triumph over evolution allows them to oppress mutants, and the evolution of machine intelligences into gods grants them power over the entire universe.

CE: A great deal of this series seems to be dealing with machine intelligence, and the story deceiving us a bit into making them seem like a real threat. I like this reveal that machines are, as always, a tool that humans use in this case to oppress. Also, quite importantly, the vignettes we see are Project: Rebirth (the creation of Captain America) as well as a showcase of the Omega Sentinel. The definition of engineered post-humans includes the rest of the Marvel Universe, which seems to put mutants at odds with other superheroes. But, please, God, no more Avengers vs. X-Men.

RS: Also, if Project: Rebirth is part of trans-human history, then so should be the following Weapon Plus program, which means that a number of mutants guest star in that story.

CE: Weapon Plus was recently featured in a one-shot as well. It would be interesting to see if theres going to be any connection coming up with the Dawn of X titles. [Ed. note: There is an upcoming one-shot tying into Absolute Carnage.]

CE: The Librarian, in all of his post-human intelligence, definitely gives the entire plan of humanity (which doesnt seem to change, timeline to timeline) away here. Very arch of him.

CE: And of course he pays for it here. [Ed. note: You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I cant believe it. The Librarian probably.] Its hard to become a small part of godhood with your head clawed into a tree. Its wild that Moira and Wolverine waited 1000+ years for this conversation, but it sets up her remaining lives. This is the high level plan that Moira needed to know, and she seems to be set on getting the details right as time goes on.

RS: Does he pay for it? I think, given his fears about Ascension, this might be what he really wanted, gruesome as his end is.

CE: That is definitely a distinct possibility. I have an odd feeling this isnt the end of our cerulean friends. But then again, I think that about all the stuff in HoXPoX.

RS: And so we get the major twist of the issue. As was popularly theorized, X is the life of Moira VI. With this blank filled in, we know what she was doing in lives VII and IX: trying to find ways to buy Mutants time, to get back those years and decades that the Librarian believes were key to Post-Humanitys victory. In VII she tries to end all Sentinels and finds them an inevitability; in IX she tries to find a way to keep Nimrod from coming online. She also learned of the nature of the Phalanx and the existence of Dominions in VI, which indicates that both Sinisters experiments in biological hiveminds and singularities in IX as well as Krakoan experiments in archived minds, biotech, and the great machines of society may be attempts to create Mutant Strongholds and Dominions.

CE: Not to mention his delving into chimera creation. This timeline tells us that mutants didnt realize or were too squeamish to delve into their own genomes. As we see in timelines IX (and X for that matter), Sinister breaks that mold.

We get another best there is at what he does reference. Remember, in timeline IX, Moira completes this line. Nice callback.

CE: The Krakoan symbols are M for Mutant in Homo superior, H for Human in Homo sapiens, and P-H for Post-Human in Homo novissima. The note under Homo novissima refers to a self-perpetuating cycle of technological (and in the post-human case, evolutionary) singularities. This shows how easily the post-humans blow past mutants evolutionarily.

RS: Just as House of Xs approach to Society finds antecedents in Hickmans early work (Red Mass for Mars in particular is structured around Bubers ideas), so too does Powers of X. Transhuman focused on an economic war between two rival conceptions of post-humanity, between the biological post-humans and technological post-humans. The former were strongly associated with the X-Men.

CE: I havent read Transhuman but that is completely wild. [Ed. note: Transhuman takes this into a dark direction that may be uncomfortable for some folks. So read at your own risk.]

RS: Poor Charles. I suppose a telepathically induced paradigm shift can be a bit of a Brain Freeze.

CE: Rob, he went from having a delightful day at the fair, thinking about his very nice dream of the future, only to have it blown to pieces. I would feel the same, probably. Love the change in lighting here.

CE: Moira is reminded us, Xaviers dream cannot work, and will never work. This is rather hard for him to grasp.

CE: Doubling down on the naivety of Xavier. Even immediately after seeing the many ways that humanity wins and destroys mutantkind, he thinks little tiny changes can cause a rippling butterfly effect.

CE: And Moira quickly breaks him of that notion. The response of Its not a compliment is fantastic because it shows how frustrated Moira is. The theme of her frustration with partners that dont fully grasp what seems to be at stake continues throughout the issue.

CE: Moira begins her role as the adult in the room as the only one of the triumvirate that seems to really have their eye on the prize. Mind you, this is still Earth-616, which means everything weve seen every schism and failure, is all in canon after this knowledge. This speaks to the unyielding nature of Xavier and Magnetos ideologies. She spends literally her whole tenth life trying to bend them into place.

RS: At this point, is she older than Apocalypse? From her perspective, she may be the only adult on the planet.

CE: I think En Sabah is a bit older but, he spends a ton of time napping. X, as we recall, doesnt literally mean year 1000, just more thousands on a logarithmic scale. She could be incredibly old.

RS: Anyway, I think youre describing her role really nicely there, bending them, and that worries me. The specific way Moira frames the Truth in Entry 5, as a tool to be used given her circumstances, makes me think shes not to be trusted, that she has plans beyond what shes shown to Xavier and Magneto. Truth can be used to deceive, especially when someone has imperfect access to the truth, as she specifically notes that Xavier does here. She has perfect recall. He has limited perception.

CE: Eidetic memory can sometimes be horrifying and inconvenient for people in real life, and I cant imagine how thousands of years of it can affect you, especially in the limited perception of other people. Even after reading her mind, Xavier likely immediately starts forgetting parts of it, and as we know memory is incredibly malleable to most people.

RS: I wonder if Entry 14 is meant to make us think of Onslaught, or else if its meant to make us worry about the state of the present day masked Xavier.

CE: Gosh, it could honestly be both.

RS: Entry 17 mentions Primal Matter. This is the first time that phrase has appeared in HoXPoX and in our discussions, but it should sound familiar to you if youve been following other HoXPoX conversations. The Abyss has appeared several times in HoXPoX, and that is a common translation for (tehom), the primal state of the universe in the book of Genesis before creation.

Genesis abyss isnt pure nothingness, but rather is a kind of primal matter, which in turn may be defined as the most basic form of matter, out of which all materially existing things are composed. If youre picturing fundamental particles or superstrings, go even more basic. Primal matter is entirely undifferentiated. It is materiality itself without any kind of form. This phrase here is important both because it handwaves the metallic nature of Podverine and Archpodgel and because it points toward some kind of connection between Proteus and the Dominions.

CE: I wonder what this redaction is. Speculation though is kind of impossible. Moira alluding to breaking Xavier makes me wonder if were going to see any repercussions later.

RS: Entry 17 also implicitly retcons Moiras relationship with Joseph MacTaggert; his DNA is necessary for her plan. This also implies a retcon that somehow makes Xaviers relationship with his patient Gabriel Haller even less ethical; just as it implies that Moira sought out Joseph to create Proteus, so too it implies that Xavier sought out Haller to create Legion.

CE: Boy oh boy, that has some gross implications though unless the retcon is rather large on Moiras side. In Entry 22, Moira mentions the possibility of strongholds to Magneto, which explains why he makes so many bases and islands the finale of which is Krakoa, of course.

RS: Thats a carefully chosen word, stronghold. Its the name given to Machine Intelligences which have collapsed into a black hole, so here we have Moira connecting the idea of Krakoa to the end of that kind of existence.

CE: We have lost Magneto for sure references Mutant Genesis. This reiterates that all of the conflicts between mutants in the past were completely real, which is extremely good.

[Ed. note: For those of you who havent read the best selling comic of all time, Magneto got turned into a baby once and Moira messed with his genetic code in an attempt to make him less evil. Magento was upset when he found out.]

RS: Its the best kind of retcon. It doesnt eliminate past continuity, but rather it adds significance to it. Entry 57 is extremely troubling. If Moira and Xavier used a prototypical variant of the Pod Process to fake her death, then the process creates copies of the original person rather than restores them and Moira and Xavier killed an innocent sentient individual they created in order to further their plans. [Ed. note: Dont worry, they had a backup.]

CE: I wonder if they just kind of left a body? Moira did seal herself in a room while working on the Legacy Virus, leaving ample opportunity to escape. This retcon might be one of the most clean that I can remember.

RS: Odds on the city which Moiras No-Place opens to? Im guessing New Orleans, and Moira just loves her some gumbo.

CE: Its a little town in like, Ohio, where a cafe makes perfect corned beef hash. Anyway, Magneto bringing tea as an excuse is hilarious. Did Charles and Magneto discuss how they were going to break bad news to her, and settled on tea as an olive branch? These boys are goofs. [Ed. note: Mankinds greatest culinary city is Cincinnati, home of the best chili in the world.]

RS: Before we move on, those final two panels are suggestive, placing Moira in parallel with the masked Xavier, and cutting off her eyes. If anything in this issue frames Moira as sinister, its this depiction here.

CE: Smiling without eyes is a classic in comics for devious intent. I agree with your take here absolutely.

CE: The boys specifically say that they put the bad guys on the council to keep a close eye on them. Theyre well aware of the possibility of them doing something nefarious. Thats a cool detail.

RS: I dont know why Moiras so frustrated; it seems like a great plan, keeping an eye on the evil villains by giving them 50% of the governing power of this nation.

Uncanny X-Men #11 (2019) Matthew Rosenberg, Juanan Ramrez

CE: No precogs on Krakoa is a fascinating rule, and Moira seems to hint that its because Destiny can see Moiras lives. Blindfold, another precognitive mutant, recently died in Rosenberg and Cos Uncanny X-Men. [Ed. note: She fell into a depression and committed suicide after being broken by the inevitability of the mutant cause.]

CE: Magnetos rhyme is an adaptation of a German rhyme about procrastination Tomorrow, tomorrow, not today, all the lazy people say. Moira must be incredibly frustrated with the arrogance of the mutant men in her life. However, to some extent she seems hopelessly pessimistic, even with all her planning.

CE: The boys remind Moira how great she is, as they also undercut her wishes. But even in their praise of her, they also puff themselves up, stating basically that Moira is no longer necessary. This plays interestingly with her Journal Entries, through which we learn the ways she tries to manipulate them. I like that Moira gets to have a complicated, flawed character. Its quite refreshing.

RS: It also plays with the previous version of this scene, which was also set against Xaviers narration. In that scene Xavier acted as though they were all equals and that they were all the dominant powers leading Krakoa forward. But here we see that the Quiet Council is just a set of pawns, and its their secret alliance, the power behind the throne, that actually matters.

CE: I am not ashamed of what I am was the tagline for the last issue. We close on the triumph of these men, and the start of our new status quo. We see a blending of their philosophies in both men, as even Xavier tempts to humans to try to stop them.

CE: Truly, a great ending coda. Mutants arent going away, and they will not be less than again.

RS: That said, Chris, I cant help but think of your observation about the Preserve way back at the start. When I look at this scene, of mutants flying into lively purple, golden trees, I cant help but see a resemblance to X. Our last image of HoXPoX is a very hopeful one, a moment of both celebration and defiance, but that visual parallel adds just a tinge of doubt to the scene for me, makes me worry that theyre still marching to their old doom.

CE: Normally we dont dig too hard into the reading order but, the code at the bottom says Dawn of X 19 and Arakko 20. Perhaps a preview of a comic or event from next year?

CE: Krakoan reads X-Men. Rob, I sight read this one. I have a problem. [Ed. note: Cant remember a thing from three years of Spanish but I can just read this made up language now.]

The rest of the Krakoan reads as the names of our Dawn of X titles, in order: Marauders, Excalibur, X-Force, New Mutants, and Fallen Angels.

RS: I struggled with coming up with the right words for our introduction, and Im struggling again here. How can we sum up this series? It was a wild experience. Never before have I looked forward so much to a weekly release. Never before have I experienced a comics community coming together to read and discuss and theorize about and critique and celebrate one comic.

CE: The sun sets on Krakoa, more darkly than before, and thus does our 12-week journey end. We got a conclusion of sorts, but also an incredibly engaging start on a brand new story and setting. The X-Men have been yet again redefined for the better, in my opinion. I want to see what happens in a world with mutants on top, but with the inevitability of human engineering looming. The possible plot threads abound as we close out this series, and Im sure well have lots to talk about come Dawn of X.

[Ed. note: Thank you for overthinking comic books with us for the last 12 weeks, and thanks to Polygon for bringing us in to talk about X-Men. Lets get a good rest, because Dawn awaits us.]

Chris Eddleman is a biologist and co-host of Chrises On Infinite Earths

Robert Secundus is an amateur angelologist

Zachary Jenkins runs the Xavier Files Media Empire and is a co-host on the podcast Battle of the Atom. Shocking everyone, he has a full and vibrant life outside of X-Men.

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Are LED lights and other techno-implants slowly turning us into the Borg? – SYFY WIRE

Posted: at 12:48 pm

You can sleep tonight, because we probably wont be assimilated into a colony of cyborgs who are more machine than human and call each other by number instead of their names. No one isturning into the Borg (like Captain Picardabove). The thing is that some transhumanists are willingly getting cyber-implants to fast-forward themselves into a future where man fuses with machine.

Transhumanists believe that we can upgrade ourselves through LED lights, computer chips and other implants that can give different human capacities an assist. Were already seeing this in the plans for Elon Musks Neuralink. Now an interview with BBC Scotlands The Nine has given us some insight into the people who voluntarily got LED lights under their skin for some cosmic sparkle or have chip implants in their hands that can open a car doorand already make keys seem archaic.

After engineer Winter Mraz nearly lost her life in a car accident that sent her to the operating room with a fractured back, ankle and knees, she had no idea how cybernetic enhancements would change her life forever. Her back needed to be bolted together, and one of her kneecap was so busted that she needed a 3D-printed replacement.

It if was not for my cybernetic kneecap I would not be able to walk, Mraz told the news channel. She also didnt know what she would be getting herself into.

It was the nearly fatal accident that convinced Mraz to get personal modifications unrelated to her injuries, like the microchips in her hands that can operate things as if by magic. She has a NFC (near-field communication) chip in her right hand that lets her phone, tablet and other gadgets share data. The RFID (radio-frequency-identification) chip in her left hand locks and unlocks her house door kind of like a workplace security card lets you open the door to the office. It also keeps her hand free for the cane she needs to get around.

Microchips are usually injected into the back of the hand like a syringe. When you really think about it, if you have a device like an Apple watch or Fitbit, microchip implants might freak you out right now, but they are (at least according to many transhumanists) the evolution of that technology.

If you want to see a really futuristic view of transhumanism, as in something that takes place in a fictional altverse where the cybernetically enhanced are at odds with the non-enhanced, read Steve Aokis Neon Future comic series. It will blow your mind.

(via BBC Scotland)

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Could a robot be prime minister? Machines will soon be smart enough to run the world, says futurist – CBC.ca

Posted: at 12:48 pm

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Canadians are heading to the polls in two weeks, but one futurist argues that one day we'll be casting our votes for a robot prime minister.

"At some point we're going to create a machine that's better than the human brain, and that machine is going to be better at running the planet and running the world," said Zoltan Istvan.

"You really have an opportunity here to maybe get what we can see as true leadership, for the very first time in perhaps everyone's lifetime."

Istvan ran in the 2016 U.S. presidential election under the banner of the Transhumanist Party, a group that believes in using technology to modify and enhance our intellect and bodies as long as no harm results to anyone else. He is not running in the 2020 campaign.

He said people he met along the campaign trailwere skeptical of the Transhumanist pitch, but argued that people underestimate how quickly technology is advancing.

He told The Current's Laura Lynch that "almost every single action that a human does, a machine can almost certainly do dramatically better."

"When you talk about running a country, you talk about governing for the greatest good," Istvansaid. "Amachine is going to have better algorithms."

He added that one benefit of robot leaders would be that they could improve over time, weeding out idiosyncrasies or issues experienced by previous iterations.

A robotprogrammed to lead wouldn't necessarilybe stuck behind a desk on Parliament Hill it could beartificial intelligence that you could access anywhere, like a smart speaker in your living room.

The implication for democracy would be that "in the future, an AI will be able to keep on millions and millions of close relationships with its voters base," Istvansaid.

It "might be campaigning right in your living room," he added.

"That's where this becomes really interesting, is a really direct relationship with a potential AI political leader."

Kerstin Dautenhahn, Canada 150 research chair in intelligent robotics, said she "would definitely not want political leaders to be robots."

She told Lynch that "we need to maybe be realistic on what machines are good at, and what humans are good at."

"AI is certainly very good [at] enhancing vast amounts of data, so for example, recognizing one face in a million different faces, or collecting data on people's habits and then recognizing patterns," said Dautenhahn, director of the social and intelligentrobotics research lab at the University of Waterloo.

"What machines are not very good at is common sense and general intelligence, so for example machines lack compassion, they lack empathy."

Dautenhahn said those common sense decisions are vital for politicians "because they are dealing with incomplete information, they have to make quick decisions, they have to make predictions."

"That's what people are very good at and it is because we are human beings," she said.

Istvan argued that decisions based on emotion can lead to "total chaos."

"That's why we want pure reason, pure statistical analysis," he said.

He told Lynch that "even if the picture is incomplete, a statistical analysis of that would make a much better decision than something that comes out with emotions."

"Frankly, the last thing I want is [U.S. President Donald] Trump to be emotional as he's making decisions with the military and things like that."

Istvan said the qualities needed for leadership could eventually be programmed into robots, but Dautenhahn warned that the people programming them could unwittingly introduce their own biases.

"I would certainly not vote for a robot because ... there's no such thing as pure rational decision-making," she said.

Dautenhahn acknowledged that humans make mistakes, but perhaps robotics could be used to help us make better-informed decisions, rather than just making them for us.

"I think humans are pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good in what they're doing, and they can certainly be complemented by AI, in areas where the AI is very good."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ben Jamieson.

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Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic, Phill Jupitus and Johnny Ball to star in Festival of the Future in Dundee – The Courier

Posted: at 12:48 pm

Scissor Sisters star Ana Matronic, maths whizz Johnny Ball and comedian Phill Jupitus are among the headline acts at this years Festival of the Future.

As part of Dundee Universitys flagship celebration of art, culture and science, venues across the city will host talks, shows and panels for people of all ages across five fascinating days.

The theme of this years festival the second Festival of the Future is social change, and more than 50 events will explore this.

The festival has grown beyond its base at Bonar Hall to include collaborations at V&A Dundee, Dundee Rep Theatre and Dundee Contemporary Arts. Comedy clubs, exclusive film screenings and music and lunchtime concerts are among the arts events taking place.

Best-selling authors Christopher Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville and Luca Veste used to dishing up blood and gore in their books will be murdering songs for fun when they appear at Bonar Hall as the Fun Lovin Crime Writers on October 18.

Scissor Sisters frontwoman Ana Matronic is a transhumanism activist. She will be part of a panel examining how robots are shaping the world we live in, challenging prejudices around transhumanism and celebrating the potential of this technology.

Ana is also well known as the host of Radio 2s Disco Devotion and Dance Devotion, and will perform a DJ set at V&A Dundee on October 19.

Veteran stand-up and Never Mind The Buzzcocks fixture Phill Jupitus, who these days lives in the East Neuk of Fife, will be hosting this years Festival of the Future Comedy Club at Bonar Hall on the same night. He will compere a night of stand-up featuring fledgling comedians. Jupitus will also host The Courier Business Awards on October 26.

Legendary TV presenter Johnny Ball will visit Dundee to discuss The Wonder Of Numbers. Johnny has been a champion of mathematics for more than 40 years, opening up the subject for a popular audience with wit and wisdom.

YouTube star James Bruton, whose DIY engineering projects have captivated tens of millions of viewers across the globe, will bring his one-man (and robot) show to the festival on October 17. The former toy designer has an extensive background in robotics and electrical and mechanical engineering.

Journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason believes there is an all-out attack on values that have underpinned Western societies for hundreds of years, eroding humanity like never before. He will ask if the time is right to fight for universal rights, human-centric institutions, and the right to resist control of our lives by algorithms.

Special performances by Scottish Dance Theatre will take place at Dundee Rep, while families can look forward to The Whirlybird by Ecodrama, Slug by Visible Fictions and other events aimed at youngsters.

Dundee Contemporary Arts will play host to exclusive screenings of Schemebirds and Ken Loachs Sorry We Missed You, films that strongly relate to social change.

Programme director Emma Beatt said: This year we have such wonderful performances and music events as part of the festival. We are super-excited to welcome our guests to Dundee for what is going to be a fantastic five days of fun.

Vice-principal Professor John Rowan added: This year, in collaboration with partners including Dundee Science Festival, DCA and Dundee Rep Theatre, we will journey to Mars, discuss robots, act as a jury, create comic strips, learn how to recycle clothes and jewellery and experience cutting-edge dance and film. We have great writers and celebrity visitors.

dundee.ac.uk/futurefest

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Sports Man of the Future – The Good Men Project

Posted: at 12:48 pm

Im at a challenging place in my manhood. Im developed enough to know that sports dont really matter, at all. In a world threatened by global warming and profound political corruption, while being transformed by quantum technological advancement, the Super Bowl, for example, is so obviously irrelevant that even having an opinion about who wins is basically absurd.

I know this. I read books. I write plays. I publish essays like this one. Companies hire me to create their communications strategies. Im a thinking person, dammit. But I really wanted the Rams to kick the Patriots asses. And I dont even follow football.

My partner Bernie relieves herself instantly of any potential sports angst by simply switching allegiance to whoevers winning. Even the Dodgers. She has no idea why I object to this. Why do I object to this? Im a transhumanist. I see us using technology to take charge of our destinies, create abundance, and live unlimited lifespans. Why should we be subject to the whims of sports?

It helps that the hometown Phoenix Suns are so hideously, perpetually incompetent that I cant bear to care. But thats a bit like a smoker being too depressed to light up, isnt it? Eventually, things will turn around and then where are you?

Growing up in Washington DC, my oldest brother taught me to play basketball in fifth grade and I loved everything about it. The sounds alone quickened me the thump of dribbling, the sneaker squeak of cutting, the swish of a made shot. And I loved, just as much the movement the full court sprint, the change of direction, and the jumping, always the jumping, filling walls then ceilings all over the house with my fingerprints. I loved the ball itself, its size and heft and subtle texture, which spoke to my fingertips in a language that so exquisitely bypassed my brain.

I poured my solitude into basketball, even when asthma made my lungs feel like sacks of sand. When I wasnt playing at school, I played at the playground in my DC neighborhood. I idolized the lanky high school-aged black kids that played in that smooth style that is DC basketball. They didnt think and then move; they played at the speed of spontaneity, out of their minds. I wanted that freedom.

A little white kid, I looked like the type who worked tirelessly to develop a pure jump shot, his one ticket to be on the court. But I was at my best on the move, driving to the basket. This consistently surprised the black kids, who had their own stereotypes. Plus, who wanted to defend a whirling, wheezing white kid who played as if his very self-worth depended on beating you to the spot?

In high school, I finally outgrew asthma and developed physically. By tenth grade, I was winning trophies. I played in a kind of mental bubble, holding my brain at bay, so that it would not block me from moving freely through the game. I had my best games when I was sick; the weakness forced me to an extreme focus, which shut out thought entirely, and the points came in a seemingly automatic flow.

But one day the schools athletic director made a point of taking me aside to inform me that I wasnt as good as I thought and that I would never play at the next level. I had dreamed of being great. It may have always been just a fantasy, but I had already taken a little boys vision of being a high school star and birthed it whole out of my heart, so who was to say? I had the love and the legs, and I had no other dream.

But his words instantly jarred me out of that reverie. Perhaps Id never really believed in myself. Or maybe I just didnt understand where belief came from, thinking it originated from others who could be relied upon to accurately inform me of what I could and could not be. But now I know better.

Ive had brushes with real sports stars. I worked at the first PF Changs restaurant in Scottsdale, outside of Phoenix, back when it was the hot spot in town, when Charles Barkley brought in Michael Jordan, who walked through the restaurant like a god, as the Saturday night din noticeably lowered, heads turned, the air buzzing with awareness of him.

I brought the food to their table once, putting a dish of Orange Peel Chicken in front of Jordan. But the server whod taken the order had somehow botched it Jordan didnt want Orange Peel Chicken. The poor girl, of course, apologized profusely and offered to bring him what hed like. Everything was wok preparedit would only take moments. But he wouldnt let her correct her error, and sedately ate nothing while the rest dug in. Asshole.

I played basketball with the Hall of Fame Quarterback Kurt Warner at the YMCA when he was working his way back to the Cardinals from an injury. The first time I saw him, he was reading his leather-bound bible, waiting for his game. Kurt competed hard, sometimes dominating games, but he played clean and fair, more so than some of the regulars.

Of course, it doesnt matter who these stars really are; it matters who we are. This came to me recently as I was listening to sports talk radio on the way to a client meeting. I know, what could be dumber than listening to people who are so moronic they not only think and talk about sports all day, they get intense, even self-righteous about their utterly trivial perspectives on events with no inherent significance in the first place.

Ill tell you what could be dumber, its the desire to call in.

But they were talking about the freshman basketball phenom at Duke, Zion Williamson, and comparing him to Charles Barkley and Sean Kemp. No way! Hes like a young Dominique Wilkins, the Human Highlight Film, who played for the Atlanta Hawks in the 80s and early 90s, after a sterling career at the University of Georgia. Dont they know anything?

I didnt call in. The freeway traffic was roiling around me like a rodeo, which demanded my focus, considering my unlimited, tech-enabled future might be at stake. But it did make me reflect. I mean, what if the Suns, as a reward for their heinousness, got the number one overall draft pick again? What if they drafted Williamson and turned it around and became contenders? Would that make me any more of a human being? Would that advance me in any significant way as a man?

I dont know, but that 2001 World Series victory by the Diamondbacks was pretty sweet! But was all the suffering before and after made good by that one season of fulfillment?

While Im asking myself these questions another part of me, my cerebral cortex perhaps, which is supposed to give humans the ability to self-evolve and innovate, is trying to make the point that these questions are really irrelevant because its all joy or suffering by proxy anyway; because Im not actually a player on a winning or a losing team; Im just a guy watching. So emotionally, sports is just a simulation, like the Matrix. Its not really happening, not to me.

I may be overthinking this.

I get to my appointment and present the communications strategy. The client gets it, they love it, were good. Which is important. Because this is how I actually earn a living. Back to sports.

Driving home on the radio, theyre talking about the very scenario Id run in my own mind, with the Suns tanking so they could draft Williamson. Weird. Is this evidence of a simulation in action?

Another thought: maybe the car radio is the trigger. Maybe when we have self-driving cars and I can nap my way to appointments the future is going to be amazing maybe then I can beat this sports thing.

Alternatively, several decades down the road, because Im still alive and well, maybe Ill look back on this moment and be so evolved, so advanced, not just technologically, but emotionally, spiritually even, that the whole thing will seem like some kindergarten drama Ive so far outgrown I cant even grasp now what it was about.

Or maybe, just maybe, a millennium from now, Ill have lived long enough to see the Suns get their act together, and build not just a contender, but a champion, no a repeat champion, and it will all have been worth it.

Excerpted from Outlier Heart by Joe Bardin

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Ben Affleck Promises a Heroic Batman in ‘Justice League’ – TVOvermind

Posted: August 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

Youd think that itd pretty hard for Warner Bros. to mess up Batman. Since his first appearance in 1939, he has proven to be DC Comics biggest cash cow. He has appeared in more movies, TV series and comics than any other character in DCs expansive stable of heroes: even the Man of Steel himself.

And yet somehow, Warner Bros. has screwed the pooch with Batmans most recent film version. Although Ben Affleck is perfect casting for the character, Snyders interpretation of the character as an angst-driven psychopath has turned many fans off from this version of the character.

Sure, Nolans version of the Batmobile a heavily armored assault vehicle was great in his grounded, more realistic take on the franchise, but the version we saw in Batman v Superman was nothing short of a tank used for mindlessly running over criminals. The same character who famously snapped a gun in half, saying this is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it was seen in the movie blinding firing machine guns into crowds of thugs on multiple occasions.

He didnt just hunt down criminals either: he disfigured them. He would heat a branding iron and then burn his insignia into their bodies as a permanent reminder of crossing paths with the vigilante. But dont worry, its not like they lasted long in prison. It is explicitly stated that criminals with the Bat branding were killed shortly after being admitted.

This isnt the Batman I know: the one that I grew up with on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. Hes not some xenophobic madman screaming that if theres even a one percent chance that [Superman] is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty. Hes a man who would stay with [Harley Quinn] all day, risking [his] butt for somebody whos never given [him] anything but trouble simply because he know[s] what its like to try and rebuild a life, [because he] had a bad day too once.

According to Ben Affleck, this is the kind of Batman we can expect going forward in the DCEU. Speaking in a recent interview, he stated that:

[Batman] started out with all this rage directed at Superman, because of his coworkers who had died in the fight Superman had with Zod. He was holding on to a lot of anger, in a little bit of an irrational way. Whereas this is a much more traditional Batman. Hes heroic. He does things in his own way, but he wants to save people, help people.

The actor and Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder have suggested in the past that this was always going to be the case. Theyve previously argued that we were simply introduced to this version of Batman at a particularly low point in his life, shortly after the death of Jason Todd, his most recent Robin, and that his character arc would involve him clawing up from that tragedy.

Thats all well and good in the abstract, but we have never been given any context for this character other than the off-camera word of these men during the press junket for the movie. We never see him before Todds death and are given no reason in the movies themselves to suggest that that is the case.

While Justice League is looking to be an increasingly sketchy prospect, this is at least the right direction to take this character. Hes not a superpowered lab rat, omnipotent alien, transhuman cyborg or a literal God. Hes just a man: the one member of the Justice League who really understands what it means to be Human, able to take down the bad guys just as easily as he can empathize with their victims.

Hes more than just some savage, blood-sucking animal, and its high time that Warner Bros. realizes this. They desperately need to put the man back in Batman.

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Transhumanism could lead to immortality for the elite – Gears Of Biz

Posted: August 6, 2017 at 2:43 am

The rapid development of so-called NBIC technologies nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science are giving rise to possibilities that have long been the domain of science fiction.

Disease, ageing and even death are all human realities that these technologies seek to end.

They may enable us to enjoy greater morphological freedom we could take on new forms through prosthetics or genetic engineering.

Or advance our cognitive capacities.

We could use brain-computer interfaces to link us to advanced artificial intelligence (AI).

Nanobots could roam our bloodstream to monitor our health and enhance our emotional propensities for joy, love or other emotions.

Advances in one area often raise new possibilities in others, and this convergence may bring about radical changes to our world in the near-future.

Transhumanism is the idea that humans should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology that we should embrace self-directed human evolution.

If the history of technological progress can be seen as humankinds attempt to tame nature to better serve its needs, transhumanism is the logical continuation: the revision of humankinds nature to better serve its fantasies.

As David Pearce, a leading proponent of transhumanism and co-founder of Humanity+, says:

If we want to live in paradise, we will have to engineer it ourselves.

If we want eternal life, then well need to rewrite our bug-ridden genetic code and become god-like only hi-tech solutions can ever eradicate suffering from the world.

Compassion alone is not enough.

But there is a darker side to the naive faith that Pearce and other proponents have in transhumanism one that is decidedly dystopian.

There is unlikely to be a clear moment when we emerge as transhuman.

Rather technologies will become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly with the human body.

Technology has long been thought of as an extension of the self.

Many aspects of our social world, not least our financial systems, are already largely machine-based.

There is much to learn from these evolving human/machine hybrid systems.

Yet the often Utopian language and expectations that surround and shape our understanding of these developments have been under-interrogated.

The profound changes that lie ahead are often talked about in abstract ways, because evolutionary advancements are deemed so radical that they ignore the reality of current social conditions.

In this way, transhumanism becomes a kind of techno-anthropocentrism, in which transhumanists often underestimate the complexity of our relationship with technology.

They see it as a controllable, malleable tool that, with the correct logic and scientific rigour, can be turned to any end.

In fact, just as technological developments are dependent on and reflective of the environment in which they arise, they in turn feed back into the culture and create new dynamics often imperceptibly.

Situating transhumanism, then, within the broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts within which it emerges is vital to understanding how ethical it is.

Max More and Natasha Vita-More, in their edited volume The Transhumanist Reader, claim the need in transhumanism for inclusivity, plurality and continuous questioning of our knowledge.

Yet these three principles are incompatible with developing transformative technologies within the prevailing system from which they are currently emerging: advanced capitalism.

One problem is that a highly competitive social environment doesnt lend itself to diverse ways of being.

Instead it demands increasingly efficient behaviour.

Take students, for example.

If some have access to pills that allow them to achieve better results, can other students afford not to follow?

This is already a quandary.

Increasing numbers of students reportedly pop performance-enhancing pills.

And if pills become more powerful, or if the enhancements involve genetic engineering or intrusive nanotechnology that offer even stronger competitive advantages, what then?

Rejecting an advanced technological orthodoxy could potentially render someone socially and economically moribund (perhaps evolutionarily so), while everyone with access is effectively forced to participate to keep up.

Going beyond everyday limits is suggestive of some kind of liberation.

However, here it is an imprisoning compulsion to act a certain way.

We literally have to transcend in order to conform (and survive).

The more extreme the transcendence, the more profound the decision to conform and the imperative to do so.

The systemic forces cajoling the individual into being upgraded to remain competitive also play out on a geo-political level.

One area where technology R&D has the greatest transhumanist potential is defence.

DARPA (the US defence department responsible for developing military technologies), which is attempting to create metabolically dominant soldiers, is a clear example of how vested interests of a particular social system could determine the development of radically powerful transformative technologies that have destructive rather than Utopian applications.

The rush to develop super-intelligent AI by globally competitive and mutually distrustful nation states could also become an arms race.

In Radical Evolution, novelist Verner Vinge describes a scenario in which superhuman intelligence is the ultimate weapon.

Ideally, mankind would proceed with the utmost care in developing such a powerful and transformative innovation.

There is quite rightly a huge amount of trepidation around the creation of super-intelligence and the emergence of the singularity the idea that once AI reaches a certain level it will rapidly redesign itself, leading to an explosion of intelligence that will quickly surpass that of humans (something that will happen by 2029 according to futurist Ray Kurzweil).

If the world takes the shape of whatever the most powerful AI is programmed (or reprograms itself) to desire, it even opens the possibility of evolution taking a turn for the entirely banal could an AI destroy humankind from a desire to produce the most paperclips for example?

Its also difficult to conceive of any aspect of humanity that could not be improved by being made more efficient at satisfying the demands of a competitive system. It is the system, then, that determines humanitys evolution without taking any view on what humans are or what they should be.

One of the ways in which advanced capitalism proves extremely dynamic is in its ideology of moral and metaphysical neutrality.

As philosopher Michael Sandel says: markets dont wag fingers.

In advanced capitalism, maximising ones spending power maximises ones ability to flourish hence shopping could be said to be a primary moral imperative of the individual.

Philosopher Bob Doede rightly suggests it is this banal logic of the market that will dominate:

If biotech has rendered human nature entirely revisable, then it has no grain to direct or constrain our designs on it.

And so whose designs will our successor post-human artefacts likely bear?

I have little doubt that in our vastly consumerist, media-saturated capitalist economy, market forces will have their way.

So the commercial imperative would be the true architect of the future human.

Whether the evolutionary process is determined by a super-intelligent AI or advanced capitalism, we may be compelled to conform to a perpetual transcendence that only makes us more efficient at activities demanded by the most powerful system.

The end point is predictably an entirely nonhuman though very efficient technological entity derived from humanity that doesnt necessarily serve a purpose that a modern-day human would value in any way.

The ability to serve the system effectively will be the driving force.

This is also true of natural evolution technology is not a simple tool that allows us to engineer ourselves out of this conundrum.

But transhumanism could amplify the speed and least desirable aspects of the process.

For bioethicist Julian Savulescu, the main reason humans must be enhanced is for our species to survive.

He says we face a Bermuda Triangle of extinction: radical technological power, liberal democracy and our moral nature.

As a transhumanist, Savulescu extols technological progress, also deeming it inevitable and unstoppable.

It is liberal democracy and particularly our moral nature that should alter.

The failings of humankind to deal with global problems are increasingly obvious.

But Savulescu neglects to situate our moral failings within their wider cultural, political and economic context, instead believing that solutions lie within our biological make up.

Yet how would Savulescus morality-enhancing technologies be disseminated, prescribed and potentially enforced to address the moral failings they seek to cure?

This would likely reside in the power structures that may well bear much of the responsibility for these failings in the first place.

Hes also quickly drawn into revealing how relative and contestable the concept of morality is:

We will need to relax our commitment to maximum protection of privacy.

Were seeing an increase in the surveillance of individuals and that will be necessary if we are to avert the threats that those with antisocial personality disorder, fanaticism, represent through their access to radically enhanced technology.

Such surveillance allows corporations and governments to access and make use of extremely valuable information.

In Who Owns the Future, internet pioneer Jaron Lanier explains:

Troves of dossiers on the private lives and inner beings of ordinary people, collected over digital networks, are packaged into a new private form of elite money

It is a new kind of security the rich trade in, and the value is naturally driven up. It becomes a giant-scale levee inaccessible to ordinary people.

Crucially, this levee is also invisible to most people.

Its impacts extend beyond skewing the economic system towards elites to significantly altering the very conception of liberty, because the authority of power is both radically more effective and dispersed.

Foucaults notion that we live in a panoptic society one in which the sense of being perpetually watched instils discipline is now stretched to the point where todays incessant machinery has been called a superpanopticon.

The knowledge and information that transhumanist technologies will tend to create could strengthen existing power structures that cement the inherent logic of the system in which the knowledge arises.

This is in part evident in the tendency of algorithms toward race and gender bias, which reflects our already existing social failings.

Information technology tends to interpret the world in defined ways: it privileges information that is easily measurable, such as GDP, at the expense of unquantifiable information such as human happiness or well-being.

As invasive technologies provide ever more granular data about us, this data may in a very real sense come to define the world and intangible information may not maintain its rightful place in human affairs.

Existing inequities will surely be magnified with the introduction of highly effective psycho-pharmaceuticals, genetic modification, super intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotic prosthetics, and the possible development of life expansion.

They are all fundamentally inegalitarian, based on a notion of limitlessness rather than a standard level of physical and mental well-being weve come to assume in healthcare.

Its not easy to conceive of a way in which these potentialities can be enjoyed by all.

Sociologist Saskia Sassen talks of the new logics of expulsion, that capture the pathologies of todays global capitalism.

The expelled include the more than 60,000 migrants who have lost their lives on fatal journeys in the past 20 years, and the victims of the racially skewed profile of the increasing prison population.

In Britain, they include the 30,000 people whose deaths in 2015 were linked to health and social care cuts and the many who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Their deaths can be said to have resulted from systematic marginalisation.

Unprecedented acute concentration of wealth happens alongside these expulsions.

Advanced economic and technical achievements enable this wealth and the expulsion of surplus groups.

At the same time, Sassen writes, they create a kind of nebulous centrelessness as the locus of power:

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The risk of a transhumanist future – BioEdge

Posted: at 2:43 am

Transhumanism has received significant media attention in recent times not in the least because the one of the movements leaders, Zoltan Istvan, ran for president in 2016 US elections.

But a British PhD candidate has warned of the darker side of a transhumanist future.

Sociologist Alex Thomas of East London University believes that transhumanism will further enforce a societal obsession with progress and efficiency at the expense of social justice and environmental sustainability. In an article published this week in The Conversation, Thomas argues that unbridled technological progress, in which technology become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly with the human body, could lead to a loss of basic societal values such as compassion and a concern for the environment.

Thomas interweaves examples ranging from new military technologies to powerful enhancement medications, arguing that, rather than assisting humanity, these technologies could potentially lead to a mechanisation of humanity and facilitate a subtle form of authoritarian control.

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William Gibson: what we talk about, when we talk about dystopia – Boing Boing

Posted: August 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm

With pre-orders open for the graphic novel collecting William Gibson's amazing comic book Archangel, and a linked novel on the way that ties the 2016 election to the world of The Peripheral, William Gibson has conducted a fascinating interview with Vulture on the surge in popularity in dystopian literature.

Gibson reads literary trends as a kind of window into our collective fears and desires about the future -- he notes that while the 20th century was rife with speculation about the 21st; here in the early decades of 21C we almost never talk about 2200 and beyond (I wonder if that's not just a function of the fact that we're in the first half of the 21st century, while most sf was written in the back half of 20C).

Where things get sharp is where Gibson points out that huge swathes of the human population are living in dystopias as grim as any cyberpunk future ("dystopia is not evenly distributed"). In the 1960s, during the civil rights movement's heyday, LBJ said "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket," while Trump's 2016 campaign was a long exercise in telling poor white people that they may end up in the same dire straits that racialized Americans had navigated since the colonialism's first genocidal years on the continent -- proving the corollary to LBJ, namely, convincing white people they may be the next underclass will stampede them into voting for anyone who promises to stop it.

The steady accumulation of wealth at the top of the income distribution since the Reagan years are a kind of macroscopic version of the Trump phenomenon: if you want to convince first-worlders that the end-times are coming, simply convince them that they will live in the dystopian conditions that already prevail elsewhere, confirm their lurking anxiety that the privilege they've enjoyed was an accident of history and not a vote of confidence in their innate superiority. Convince them that they are one bad beat away from having kids with swollen bellies lying outside rude huts, too weak to brush the flies away from their eyes.

I think this is the special genius of The Handmaid's Tale: by putting a white, educated, formerly middle-class woman in the position of a sex-slave to a religious fascist -- by putting a North American in the place of a woman under the Taliban or Isis -- the entwined destiny and fragility of all people on earth (including those in the unevenly distributed dystopias of the Rest of the World) is manifested and our worst fears are confirmed.

There are other reasons that dystopian stories flourish. Science fiction, as Gibson has pointed out, is a pulp literature, a storytelling mode in which the plot is the highest priority. These stories demand a series of ever-raising stakes to keep the tension ratcheting up towards a climax. Disaster stories in which the small problems of workaday life are turned into ever-larger problems of "natural" disaster, human misconduct, worsening disaster, human atrocities, build to an unbeatable crescendo of man-against-nature-against-man that you can't bear to look away from.

As Gibson says, our resonating stories are a window into our collective fears and hopes. We're still talking about Skynet and The Matrix because the fear of transhuman, immortal colony-organisms that use humans as their energy-source and gut-flora is a great metaphor for the relationship most of us have to limited liability transnational corporations.

These, in turn, are the result of extreme market ideology, the idea that markets aren't just places were you go every other week -- they're moral arbiters that tell us who the worthy and unworthy are among us. The Thatcherite doctrine that "there is no such thing as society" is a claim that we have no solidarity, no shared destiny, that "greed is good" and that we are all brands and businesses, and that "there is one and only one social responsibility of businessto use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits."

This is a common motif of dystopia: neighbor against neighbor, families turning on each other. In our hearts, we know that we have a common destiny. Not only are do we require other people to help us accomplish anything truly ambitious -- we also are entwined at the level of our very microbes, in our very climate. You can't find high enough ground to escape climate change, not when the people dying in the lowlands are breeding antibiotic resistant TB and coughing it into the air we all breathe. You could try for ever-more baroque secession strategies -- underground shelters, air scrubbers, hydroponics -- but at a certain point, it's far cheaper to just take care of the people around you and vice-versa.

The popularity of today's dystopias might represent the fear of shear between the contradictions of believing in the primacy of the individual (and the idea that our shared destiny is a delusion) and the certainty of the very small and unimaginably large ways in which we are linked. If we go on believing that we owe each other nothing, we'll arrive at a world in which we behave that way -- a perfect dystopia.

There are those who say dystopian and apocalyptic fiction are masturbatory; that they placate us with catharsis when we need to be agitated into action to prevent the real-life collapse of civilization. To what extent do you agree with that outlook?

Much of the planets human population, today, lives in conditions that many inhabitants of North America would regard as dystopian. Quite a few citizens of the United States live under conditions that many people would regard as dystopian. Dystopia is not very evenly distributed. Fantasy is fun, but naturalism is the necessary balance realism, to be less precise. Naturalistic fiction written today is necessarily fairly pessimistic otherwise, it wouldnt be a realistic depiction of the present. If you were, say, a tiger, and you knew whats about to happen to your species (extinction, almost certainly), wouldnt it be realistic to have a pessimistic view of things? I think its realistic, as a human, to have a pessimistic view of a world minus tigers.

William Gibson Has a Theory About Our Cultural Obsession With Dystopias [Abraham Riesman/Vulture]

(Image: Fred Armitage, CC-BY-SA)

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Before Laurie Penny was a brilliant young feminist novelist, she was a brilliant young essayist, blazing through the British (and then the worlds) media with column after column that skewered social ills on what Warren Ellis aptly dubbed her red pen of justice.

Web technology has matured considerably in the last decade, and developers are continually in demand. If youre looking to add some skills to your resume, or are just interested in exploring the possibilities of the web, check out this Interactive Web Developer Bootcamp.In this course, youll get a comprehensive overview of full-stack development using modern []

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Transhumanism: Can technology help mankind transcend its natural limitations? – Scroll.in

Posted: August 3, 2017 at 9:43 am

The rapid development of so-called NBIC technologies nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science are giving rise to possibilities that have long been the domain of science fiction. Disease, ageing and even death are all human realities that these technologies seek to end.

They may enable us to enjoy greater morphological freedom we could take on new forms through prosthetics or genetic engineering. Or advance our cognitive capacities. We could use brain-computer interfaces to link us to advanced artificial intelligence.

Nanobots could roam our bloodstream to monitor our health and enhance our emotional propensities for joy, love or other emotions. Advances in one area often raise new possibilities in others, and this convergence may bring about radical changes to our world in the near-future.

Transhumanism is the idea that humans should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology that we should embrace self-directed human evolution. If the history of technological progress can be seen as humankinds attempt to tame nature to better serve its needs, trans-humanism is the logical continuation: the revision of humankinds nature to better serve its fantasies.

As David Pearce, a leading proponent of transhumanism and co-founder of Humanity+, says:

If we want to live in paradise, we will have to engineer it ourselves. If we want eternal life, then well need to rewrite our bug-ridden genetic code and become god-like only hi-tech solutions can ever eradicate suffering from the world. Compassion alone is not enough.

But there is a darker side to the naive faith that Pearce and other proponents have in transhumanism one that is decidedly dystopian.

There is unlikely to be a clear moment when we emerge as transhuman. Rather, technologies will become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly with the human body. Technology has long been thought of as an extension of the self. Many aspects of our social world, not least our financial systems, are already largely machine-based. There is much to learn from these evolving human/machine hybrid systems.

Yet the often Utopian language and expectations that surround and shape our understanding of these developments have been under-interrogated. The profound changes that lie ahead are often talked about in abstract ways, because evolutionary advancements are deemed so radical that they ignore the reality of current social conditions.

In this way, transhumanism becomes a kind of techno-anthropocentrism, in which transhumanists often underestimate the complexity of our relationship with technology. They see it as a controllable, malleable tool that, with the correct logic and scientific rigour, can be turned to any end. In fact, just as technological developments are dependent on and reflective of the environment in which they arise, they in turn feed back into the culture and create new dynamics often imperceptibly.

Situating transhumanism, then, within the broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts within which it emerges is vital to understanding how ethical it is.

Max More and Natasha Vita-More, in their edited volume The Transhumanist Reader, claim the need in transhumanism for inclusivity, plurality and continuous questioning of our knowledge.

Yet these three principles are incompatible with developing transformative technologies within the prevailing system from which they are currently emerging: advanced capitalism.

One problem is that a highly competitive social environment doesnt lend itself to diverse ways of being. Instead it demands increasingly efficient behaviour. Take students, for example. If some have access to pills that allow them to achieve better results, can other students afford not to follow? This is already a quandary. Increasing numbers of students reportedly pop performance-enhancing pills. And if pills become more powerful, or if the enhancements involve genetic engineering or intrusive nanotechnology that offer even stronger competitive advantages, what then? Rejecting an advanced technological orthodoxy could potentially render someone socially and economically moribund (perhaps evolutionarily so), while everyone with access is effectively forced to participate to keep up.

Going beyond everyday limits is suggestive of some kind of liberation. However, here it is an imprisoning compulsion to act a certain way. We literally have to transcend in order to conform (and survive). The more extreme the transcendence, the more profound the decision to conform and the imperative to do so.

The systemic forces cajoling the individual into being upgraded to remain competitive also play out on a geo-political level. One area where technology R&D has the greatest transhumanist potential is defence. DARPA (the US defence department responsible for developing military technologies), which is attempting to create metabolically dominant soldiers, is a clear example of how vested interests of a particular social system could determine the development of radically powerful transformative technologies that have destructive rather than Utopian applications.

The rush to develop super-intelligent AI by globally competitive and mutually distrustful nation states could also become an arms race. In Radical Evolution, novelist Verner Vinge describes a scenario in which superhuman intelligence is the ultimate weapon. Ideally, mankind would proceed with the utmost care in developing such a powerful and transformative innovation.

There is quite rightly a huge amount of trepidation around the creation of super-intelligence and the emergence of the singularity the idea that once AI reaches a certain level it will rapidly redesign itself, leading to an explosion of intelligence that will quickly surpass that of humans (something that will happen by 2029 according to futurist Ray Kurzweil). If the world takes the shape of whatever the most powerful AI is programmed (or reprograms itself) to desire, it even opens the possibility of evolution taking a turn for the entirely banal could an AI destroy humankind from a desire to produce the most paperclips for example?

Its also difficult to conceive of any aspect of humanity that could not be improved by being made more efficient at satisfying the demands of a competitive system. It is the system, then, that determines humanitys evolution without taking any view on what humans are or what they should be. One of the ways in which advanced capitalism proves extremely dynamic is in its ideology of moral and metaphysical neutrality. As philosopher Michael Sandel says: markets dont wag fingers. In advanced capitalism, maximising ones spending power maximises ones ability to flourish hence shopping could be said to be a primary moral imperative of the individual.

Philosopher Bob Doede rightly suggests it is this banal logic of the market that will dominate:

If biotech has rendered human nature entirely revisable, then it has no grain to direct or constrain our designs on it. And so whose designs will our successor post-human artefacts likely bear? I have little doubt that in our vastly consumerist, media-saturated capitalist economy, market forces will have their way. So the commercial imperative would be the true architect of the future human.

Whether the evolutionary process is determined by a super-intelligent AI or advanced capitalism, we may be compelled to conform to a perpetual transcendence that only makes us more efficient at activities demanded by the most powerful system. The end point is predictably an entirely nonhuman though very efficient technological entity derived from humanity that doesnt necessarily serve a purpose that a modern-day human would value in any way. The ability to serve the system effectively will be the driving force. This is also true of natural evolution technology is not a simple tool that allows us to engineer ourselves out of this conundrum. But transhumanism could amplify the speed and least desirable aspects of the process.

For bioethicist Julian Savulescu, the main reason humans must be enhanced is for our species to survive. He says we face a Bermuda Triangle of extinction: radical technological power, liberal democracy and our moral nature. As a transhumanist, Savulescu extols technological progress, also deeming it inevitable and unstoppable. It is liberal democracy and particularly our moral nature that should alter.

The failings of humankind to deal with global problems are increasingly obvious. But Savulescu neglects to situate our moral failings within their wider cultural, political and economic context, instead believing that solutions lie within our biological make up.

Yet how would Savulescus morality-enhancing technologies be disseminated, prescribed and potentially enforced to address the moral failings they seek to cure? This would likely reside in the power structures that may well bear much of the responsibility for these failings in the first place. Hes also quickly drawn into revealing how relative and contestable the concept of morality is:

We will need to relax our commitment to maximum protection of privacy. Were seeing an increase in the surveillance of individuals and that will be necessary if we are to avert the threats that those with antisocial personality disorder, fanaticism, represent through their access to radically enhanced technology.

Such surveillance allows corporations and governments to access and make use of extremely valuable information. In Who Owns the Future, internet pioneer Jaron Lanier explains:

Troves of dossiers on the private lives and inner beings of ordinary people, collected over digital networks, are packaged into a new private form of elite money...It is a new kind of security the rich trade in, and the value is naturally driven up. It becomes a giant-scale levee inaccessible to ordinary people.

Crucially, this levee is also invisible to most people. Its impacts extend beyond skewing the economic system towards elites to significantly altering the very conception of liberty, because the authority of power is both radically more effective and dispersed.

Foucaults notion that we live in a panoptic society one in which the sense of being perpetually watched instils discipline is now stretched to the point where todays incessant machinery has been called a superpanopticon. The knowledge and information that transhumanist technologies will tend to create could strengthen existing power structures that cement the inherent logic of the system in which the knowledge arises.

This is in part evident in the tendency of algorithms toward race and gender bias, which reflects our already existing social failings. Information technology tends to interpret the world in defined ways: it privileges information that is easily measurable, such as GDP, at the expense of unquantifiable information such as human happiness or well-being. As invasive technologies provide ever more granular data about us, this data may in a very real sense come to define the world and intangible information may not maintain its rightful place in human affairs.

Existing inequities will surely be magnified with the introduction of highly effective psycho-pharmaceuticals, genetic modification, super intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotic prosthetics, and the possible development of life expansion. They are all fundamentally inegalitarian, based on a notion of limitlessness rather than a standard level of physical and mental well-being weve come to assume in healthcare. Its not easy to conceive of a way in which these potentialities can be enjoyed by all.

Sociologist Saskia Sassen talks of the new logics of expulsion, that capture the pathologies of todays global capitalism. The expelled include the more than 60,000 migrants who have lost their lives on fatal journeys in the past 20 years, and the victims of the racially skewed profile of the increasing prison population.

In Britain, they include the 30,000 people whose deaths in 2015 were linked to health and social care cuts and the many who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their deaths can be said to have resulted from systematic marginalisation.

Unprecedented acute concentration of wealth happens alongside these expulsions. Advanced economic and technical achievements enable this wealth and the expulsion of surplus groups. At the same time, Sassen writes, they create a kind of nebulous centrelessness as the locus of power:

The oppressed have often risen against their masters. But today the oppressed have mostly been expelled and survive a great distance from their oppressors The oppressor is increasingly a complex system that combines persons, networks, and machines with no obvious centre.

Surplus populations removed from the productive aspects of the social world may rapidly increase in the near future as improvements in AI and robotics potentially result in significant automation unemployment. Large swaths of society may become productively and economically redundant. For historian Yuval Noah Harari the most important question in 21st-century economics may well be: what should we do with all the superfluous people?

We would be left with the scenario of a small elite that has an almost total concentration of wealth with access to the most powerfully transformative technologies in world history and a redundant mass of people, no longer suited to the evolutionary environment in which they find themselves and entirely dependent on the benevolence of that elite. The dehumanising treatment of todays expelled groups shows that prevailing liberal values in developed countries dont always extend to those who dont share the same privilege, race, culture or religion.

In an era of radical technological power, the masses may even represent a significant security threat to the elite, which could be used to justify aggressive and authoritarian actions (perhaps enabled further by a culture of surveillance).

In their transhumanist tract, The Proactionary Imperative, Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska argue that we are obliged to pursue techno-scientific progress relentlessly, until we achieve our god-like destiny or infinite power effectively to serve god by becoming god. They unabashedly reveal the incipient violence and destruction such Promethean aims would require: replacing the natural with the artificial is so key to proactionary strategy at least as a serious possibility if not a likelihood [it will lead to] the long-term environmental degradation of the Earth.

The extent of suffering they would be willing to gamble in their cosmic casino is only fully evident when analysing what their project would mean for individual human beings:

A proactionary world would not merely tolerate risk-taking but outright encourage it, as people are provided with legal incentives to speculate with their bio-economic assets. Living riskily would amount to an entrepreneurship of the self [proactionaries] seek large long-term benefits for survivors of a revolutionary regime that would permit many harms along the way.

Progress on overdrive will require sacrifices.

The economic fragility that humans may soon be faced with as a result of automation unemployment would likely prove extremely useful to proactionary goals. In a society where vast swaths of people are reliant on handouts for survival, market forces would determine that less social security means people will risk more for a lower reward, so proactionaries would reinvent the welfare state as a vehicle for fostering securitised risk taking while the proactionary state would operate like a venture capitalist writ large.

At the heart of this is the removal of basic rights for Humanity 1.0, Fullers term for modern, non-augmented human beings, replaced with duties towards the future augmented Humanity 2.0. Hence the very code of our being can and perhaps must be monetised: personal autonomy should be seen as a politically licensed franchise whereby individuals understand their bodies as akin to plots of land in what might be called the genetic commons.

The neo-liberal preoccupation with privatisation would so extend to human beings. Indeed, the lifetime of debt that is the reality for most citizens in developed advanced capitalist nations, takes a further step when you are born into debt simply by being alive you are invested with capital on which a return is expected.

Socially moribund masses may thus be forced to serve the technoscientific super-project of Humanity 2.0, which uses the ideology of market fundamentalism in its quest for perpetual progress and maximum productivity. The only significant difference is that the stated aim of godlike capabilities in Humanity 2.0 is overt, as opposed to the undefined end determined by the infinite progress of an ever more efficient market logic that we have now.

Some transhumanists are beginning to understand that the most serious limitations to what humans can achieve are social and cultural not technical. However, all too often their reframing of politics falls into the same trap as their techno-centric worldview. They commonly argue the new political poles are not left-right but techno-conservative or techno-progressive (and even techno-libertarian and techno-sceptic). Meanwhile Fuller and Lipinska argue that the new political poles will be up and down instead of left and right: those who want to dominate the skies and became all powerful, and those who want to preserve the Earth and its species-rich diversity. It is a false dichotomy. Preservation of the latter is likely to be necessary for any hope of achieving the former.

Transhumanism and advanced capitalism are two processes which value progress and efficiency above everything else. The former as a means to power and the latter as a means to profit. Humans become vessels to serve these values. Transhuman possibilities urgently call for a politics with more clearly delineated and explicit humane values to provide a safer environment in which to foster these profound changes.

Where we stand on questions of social justice and environmental sustainability has never been more important. Technology doesnt allow us to escape these questions it doesnt permit political neutrality. The contrary is true. It determines that our politics have never been important. Savulescu is right when he says radical technologies are coming. He is wrong in thinking they will fix our morality. They will reflect it.

Alexander Thomas, PhD Candidate, University of East London.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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