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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Transhumanist
Posted: December 19, 2019 at 5:46 pm
As we careen into another decade of bioengineering advances, questions about how, and how much, we ought to manipulate our own biology grow more urgent. Thankfully, the books, movies, and TV series exploring such questions have never been smarter. For proof, check out these underrated biohacking titles from the past few years.
A transhumanist entry in the recent surge of feminist reinterpretations of classics
If youve ever marveled at the timelessness of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelleys Frankenstein, at how forward-thinking and eternal the young (20-year-old!) writer was for her early-19th-century time, this novel from celebrated queer novelist Jeanette Winterson will delight you. It feels inaccurate to call Frankissstein a novel, thoughcall it more of an act of modernization, of revivification, a fitting ritual for a story that changed societys views about transcending the laws of nature.
The book jumps between two timelines, the first being a fictionalized diary of Mary Shelleys, from that one summer in which she wrote Frankenstein for husband Percy Shelley, stepsister Claire Claremont, and friends Lord Byron and John Polidori, all the way to her (imagined) meeting of computing godmother Ada Lovelace, the daughter abandoned by Lord Byron. The other is a retelling, of sorts, of both history and novel: in the near future, trans doctor Ry Shelley becomes involved with cis futurist Victor Stein, a Silicon Valley visionary seeking to recreate the brain of his mentor, a collaborator of Alan Turing. The two stories are elegantly similar; Winterson continues Shelleys line of philosophical inquiry and shows just how little weve figured out in the intervening two centuries.
The Hunger Games meets Orphan Black
If you want to get your kid thinking about the possibilities that await them, or if you are just a sucker for smart adventures, check out Emily Suvadas post-apocalyptic biohacking trilogy. In a future America where everyone is implanted with a panel in their forearm at birth, people are able to hack their own DNAor to be more precise, theyre able to wrap their own DNA in custom mods, as long as theyre proprietary apps made by Cartaxus, an Amazon/Apple-type megacorporation that ends up having just about as much ethical fortitude as youd expect from an Amazon/Apple-type megacorporation with a name like Cartaxus.
Not everyone sticks with out-of-the-box mods; fringe groups experiment with high-concept hacks like feathers (!) while people with debilitating diseases too rare to interest Cartaxus set out to design their own cures. Oh, also: A massive global pandemic is making people first hunger for human flesh, then explode into vapor, so Cartaxus is providing refuge to people in massive underground bunkersprovided they wipe their panels of any non-Cartaxus code first. The protagonist, 18-year-old Catarina Agatta, is the daughter of one of the worlds best gene hackers and has a disease that prevents her from accepting any mods; Cartaxus has re-requisitioned her father, allegedly to work on a cure for the explosion disease, and Cata biotech genius in her own rightis stuck out in the world working on a cure herself.
The series is meticulously researched without being weighed down by hard-sci-fi exposition; its exciting without being simple, and best of all, the technology, and the way it perpetuates inequality, feels plausible. Plus, youer, your kidwill learn something about the science of gene hacking along the way. The third installment, This Vicious Cure, will be released on January 21, so you(r kid) have a couple of weeks to get caught up.
Imagine Altered Carbon with a distinctly French malaise
People angry about the Gen Z retort OK, boomer dont know how good they have it. In the future imagined by this French series, the youths are literally killing themselves to escape the hellishness their parents have left for them. Its a future that might even seem desirable to the transhumanists of today: Biotechnology has uncovered a gene in jellyfish that has been reverse-engineered into a process allowing people to stay youthful, ostensibly forever. (Its not too far into the future; the oldest woman on earth is only 169.)
For the kids born into this world, however, its an eternal prison. Society has started treating childhood like a waiting room for the day one is able to start the anti-aging treatments, and even then, some people are ruled genetically incompatible and forced to live a normal life alongside immortals. So when a bunch of youths wash up dead on a beach, seemingly as a result of a mass suicide, one detective must track down the leaders of a death cult. He enlists the help of Christa Novak, a 20-year-old former member of the cult who has been institutionalized since the last mass suicide and has her own reasons to catch the leader. Where Altered Carbon thought about biohacked immortality through the lens of radical inequality, Ad Vitam presents a slightly tweaked view, in which the dangers of consumer biotech lie not just in the berpowerful demigods of the .00001%, but also in the more gradual, banal effects invited by everyone else.
Its like a super-feminist episode of Black Mirror
Jennifer Phangs film about a 40-something mother who runs out of options will haunt you for years to come. In a future in which women are becoming increasingly infertilelike right before Margaret Atwoods Gileadone biotech company has finally cracked the code on human consciousness transfers. A few weeks before the procedures commercial launch, the company lays off its spokeswoman, Gwen, implying that shes too old (and too Asian) to be the face of a product designed to eliminate aging altogether. Her daughter Juleswhose existence is itself a privilege only the rich can affordhas just been accepted to an expensive prep school; moreover, it quickly becomes clear that her former employer is railroading her into having the consciousness-transfer procedure done in exchange for having her job back.
With her daughters future on the line, Gwen makes a choice that, in reality, is no choice at all. Equal parts gorgeous and harrowing, the film is a reminder of the ways that purported biotech utopias can diminish human diversity.
A Black Mirror spin-off series about love and privacy
Look, the French are doing the most when it comes to transhumanist television. Osmosis is the most recent of the bunch. (See also: Transfers, about illegal consciousness transplantsbasically Travelers without all the time-travel insanity.) The Netflix original from showrunner Audrey Fouch imagines a near-future Paris where rising-star supergenius Esther Vanhove has developed Osmosis, a technology that uses nanobots that implant themselves in your brain; capture every fleeting desire youve ever had, conscious or subconscious; and sift through social networks to single out your soul mate. Once matched, even if youre separated by distance your respective implants link to create a virtual space where you can meet for some very sexy, emotional time together.
Together with her brother and business partner Paul, a sentient voice assistant Martin, and a few elite employees, she conducts a beta test with a handful of all-too-willing subjects, and it goes just about as smoothly as youd expect it to.
Think of the Spider-Man meme, but with two Paul Rudds
OK, so this Netflix series uses biohacking more as dark-comedy device than realistic concept. That doesnt mean its not delightful. Paul Rudds character Miles has hit a serious rough patch in his life: despite having the exact life he chose for himselfwith a high-paying job at an ad agency and a beautiful wife (Aisling Bea) and a gorgeous house in the suburbshes become depressed, listless, and close to losing it all.
Does he consider medication and therapy, you may ask? Of course not! When a colleague comes into the office one day with an entirely new, sparkling personality, Miles decides thats the kind of magical, extremely expensive fix he needs, so he gathers the savings he and his wife have collected for fertility treatments and goes to a spa, where instead of getting a really good massage (or, you know, Lexapro), he wakes up buried alive in the woods. Turns out the treatment facility is two dudes conducting a very illegal operation wherein they clone you but take out all the bad parts of your brain, leaving the best version of yourself to go back to your life none the wiser, while they kill the hard copy. Except it didnt take in Miles case, and now hes stuck fighting with a New Miles for control of a life the latter is easily better at leading. Its a light, funny snack of a series that gets at the heart of what we really mean when we say we want to use biotech to improve ourselves.
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6 Books, Movies, and Shows to Bend Your Neocortex This Winter - NEO.LIFE
Posted: at 5:46 pm
In the first episode of Years and Years, a family shindig is interrupted by the whine of air-raid sirens and the news that Donald Trump has fired a nuclear missile at the Chinese a moment of hysteria-inducing horror that doubles as the shows starter pistol. Thats right: impending Armageddon is merely an aperitif when it comes to the devastation the Lyons family faces in Russell T Daviess breathtakingly ambitious dystopian drama. By the time the series ends in 2034, the UK has experienced 80 consecutive days of rainfall, while dirty bombs have made thousands homeless, a fascistic politician in the light-entertainer mould has risen to power and the government has set up a series of secretive concentration camps. Between them, the Lyons have lost their wealth, their health, their freedom and, in some cases, their lives.
The plot of Years and Years felt like the news ticker tape of nightmares brought to life, but it was so much more than a parade of atrocities. Daviess great trick was to meld the wild catastrophising of shows such as Black Mirror with the daily trials of a Mancunian every-family you could really get behind. The result resembled a mashup of soap and sci-fi: Corrie transposed on to a backdrop of staggering political and environmental ruin.
Years and Years dramatised the tipping point at which the news becomes our lives
Opening on the actual date of broadcast, 14 May 2019, Years and Years followed the personal and increasingly political struggles of the Lyons clan: 92-year-old Muriel, her grandchildren Rosie, Stephen, Daniel and Edith, plus their partners and kids. But the Lyons werent just a family they were society under a single surname. They were gay, straight, lesbian, trans, white, black, Asian, disabled and elderly. They were lone parents trying to make ends meet, moneyed middle-class professionals, refugees, never-ending gap year nomads and wealthy retirees rattling around cavernous suburban piles. It wasnt a realistic setup Davies, who has called himself a great believer in quotas, says he was driven by a desire to be representative but it allowed its creator to flesh out a cross-section of society, and create a 3D diagram of varying degrees of privilege.
At its heart, Years and Years was not a show simply about how bad the news could get. It dramatised the tipping point at which the news becomes our lives, and worked at predicting the pain that is largely still to invade our cushy western existences. Characters fell with a shocking abruptness (Daniels descent from a plush flat to the bottom of the freezing sea) or via a piecemeal disintegration (Stephens banking-glitch-prompted slide into the gig economy) that felt frighteningly convincing.
This was realism fit for a world that no longer feels particularly real. That it felt so frighteningly convincing can be credited to its stellar cast, which included Rory Kinnear, Jessica Hynes and Emma Thompson. But it was also down to the fact that many of its atrocious events the ascent of populist leaders, the flooding, the economic crashes, the extinctions have already taken place. Davies, best known for his showrunner stint on the Doctor Who revival, first conceived of Years and Years two decades ago, and began writing after Trumps election victory in 2016. Nobody could blame him for managing to stay only a few steps ahead of the worlds increasingly distorted curve.
The shows embrace of technology is one way that Davies managed to imagine a chilling future. In the first episode, Stephens teenage daughter, Bethany, announces she is transhuman. Initially played for laughs, the idea steadily gains credence until it is revealed to underpin the entire show in a spine-tingling finale that grapples with ideas about what it means to be a human being. In fact, that uncommon optimism about technology runs through the structure of the series. The constant communication made possible by smartphones has long been the scourge of screenwriters its hard to maintain peril when salvation is only a WhatsApp message away but Davies makes it a dramatic asset, using multi-person voice-and-video calls to drive the plot.
There are superficial reasons to admire Years and Years, and there are more profound ones. The show humanises the bad news cycle one that sees the shocking morph into the status quo on a daily basis. Davies attempts to counteract the apathy that can grow out of relentless dismay. He does this not through shock value, but by creating rounded characters that draw empathy, outrage and horror from our increasingly hardened hearts. By no means an easy task, but an indisputably noble one.
Originally posted here:
The 50 best TV shows of 2019: No 4 Years and Years - The Guardian
Posted: December 13, 2019 at 1:54 pm
Photo by Frank V. via Unsplash
Alexa seems to know what I want to watch and when, Google search seems to know my wishes too when I search for my favorite restaurant online and perhaps even more interesting is that even the success of my 401(k) investments will ultimately be influenced by artificial intelligence (AI) that seemingly is becoming more real by the day.
There are a growing number of hedge fund managers even who rely on AI to outperform the market and to complete trades faster than our human mind can contemplate. They tend to exponentially outperform their non-AI counterparts with super-human ability.
So when one reads about the idea of an AI God that gained steam a couple of years ago, when self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski opened The Way of the Future Church, it seems as though the future has easily slipped into our present day-to-day activities in the blink of an eye.
According to The Way of the Future Churchs website, it is a movement about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people plus machines. It is about something called the singularity point a point in time that is fast approaching when machine intelligence will surpass that of its human makers. Remember The Matrix trilogy, anyone?
The classic line by the films hero, Neo, comes to mind: Ever have that feeling where youre not sure if youre awake or dreaming? Thats a whole other Silicon Valley philosophy that we are merely in a simulation. But thats another topic, entirely.
The idea of people and machines being in charge, however, seems far from comforting and far removed from a Lutheran ideal of grace in removing God from the equation altogether.
This month Lutheran theologian Ted Peters dives into many of the thorny issues related to artificial intelligence and how some in the transhumanism community view it as a way of advancing our humanity beyond our physical bodies.
Countless movies and T.V. shows have taken on this topic including a popular Netflix series called Altered Carbon, where society simply views physical bodies as sleeves for ones uploaded consciousness that can be slotted over and over again into new bodies. Of course, there are problems and ethical dilemmas that give way to a dramatic story line.
Still, technology always seems to have a way making us feel smarter (thanks Google!) and almost invincible. That in its own right can be problematic, which is some of what Peters writes about this month.
Whether it is a new medical device, an app on your smart phone or even your Wifi connectivity, it is well worth remembering all have a piece of Gods very creation within it as do the technology developers who creatively make the invisible, visible every day.
Considering technology as our ultimate savior and life-giver sans God is what is at issue. Worshipping a powerful algorithmic God is short sighted too as we realize that even within the code itself there is the hand of a human being created in the image of a loving God who in turn supports the human intellect that ultimately wants to surpass itself.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technologys online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.
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Living in the real AI world - Covalence
Posted: at 1:54 pm
Book launch with authors Nick Dyer-Witheford, Atle Mikkola Kjsen and James Steinhoffs, Inhuman Power: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2019).
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has seen major advances in recent years. While machines were always central to the Marxist analysis of capitalism, AI is a new kind of machine that Marx could not have anticipated. Contemporary machine-learning AI allows machines to increasingly approach human capacities for perception and reasoning in narrow domains.
This book explores the relationship between Marxist theory and AI through the lenses of different theoretical concepts, including surplus-value, labour, the general conditions of production, class composition and surplus population. It argues against left accelerationism and post-Operaismo thinkers, asserting that a deeper analysis of AI produces a more complex and disturbing picture of capitalisms future than has previously been identified. Inhuman Power argues that on its current trajectory, AI represents an ultimate weapon for capital. It will render humanity obsolete or turn it into a species of transhumans working for a wage until the heat death of the universe; a fate that is only avoidable by communist revolution.
Moderated by Tanner Mirrlees. Recorded in Toronto, 22 November 2019.
Originally posted here:
Inhuman Power: AI and the Future of Capitalism - LeftStreamed - Socialist Project
Posted: November 17, 2019 at 2:04 pm
On a recent Sunday at the Queen Anne Lutheran Church basement, parishioners sat transfixed as the Rev. Dr. Ted Peters discussed an unusual topic for an afternoon assembly: "Can technology enhance the image of God?"
Peters' discussion focused on a relatively new philosophical movement. Its followers believe humans will transcend their physical and mental limitations with wearable and implantable devices.
The movement, called transhumanism, claims that in the future, humans will be smarter and stronger and may even overcome aging and death through developments in fields such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI).
"What does it mean to be truly human?" Peters asked in a voice that boomed throughout the church basement, in a city that boasts one of the world's largest tech hubs. The visiting reverend urged the 30 congregants in attendance to consider the question during a time when "being human sounds optional to some people."
"It's sad; it makes me feel a lot of grief," a congregant said, shaking her head in disappointment.
Organized religions have long served as an outlet for humans to explore existential questions about their place in the universe, the nature of consciousness and free will. But as AI blurs the lines between the digital and physical worlds, fundamental beliefs about the essence of humanity are now called into question.
While public discourse around advanced technologies has mostly focused on changes in the workforce and surveillance, religious followers say the deeper implications of AI could be soul-shifting.
It doesn't surprise James Wellman, a University of Washington professor and chair of the Comparative Religion Program, that people of faith are interested in AI. Religious observers place their faith in an invisible agent known as God, whom they perceive as benevolent and helpful in their lives. The use of technology evokes a similar phenomenon, such as Apple's voice assistant Siri, who listens and responds to them.
"That sounds an awful lot like what people do when they think about religion," Wellman said.
CONFRONTING AI AND FAITH
When Dr. Daniel Peterson became the pastor of the Queen Anne Lutheran Church three years ago, he hoped to explore issues meaningful both to his congregants and to secular people.
Peterson's fascination with AI, as a lifelong science-fiction fan, belies skepticism in the ubiquity of technology: He's opted out of Amazon's voice assistant Alexa in his house and said he gets nervous about cameras on cellphones and computers.
He became interested in looking at AI from a "spiritual dimension" after writing an article last year about the depiction of technologies such as droids in "Star Wars" films. In Peterson's eyes, artificially intelligent machines in the films are equipped with a sense of mission that enables them to think and act like humans without needing to be preprogrammed.
His examination of AI yielded more questions than answers: "What kind of bias or brokenness are we importing in the artificial intelligence we're designing?" Peterson pondered. If AI developed consciousness, "what sort of philosophical and theological concerns does that raise?"
Peterson invited his church and surrounding community to explore these questions and more in the three-part forum called "Will AI Destroy Us?," which kicked off with a conversation held by Carissa Schoenick from the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, followed by Peters' discussion on transhumanism, and concluded with Peterson's talk on his own research around AI in science-fiction films.
Held from late September to early October, the series sought to fill what Peterson called a silence among faith leaders about the rise of AI. Peterson and other religious observers are now eager to take part in a new creation story of sorts: Local initiatives held in places of worship and educational institutions are positioning Seattle as a testing ground for the intersection of AI and religion.
The discussion on transhumanism drew members of the community unaffiliated with the church, including David Brenner, the board chair of Seattle-based organization AI and Faith. The consortium membership spans across belief systems and academic institutions in an effort to bring major religions into the discussion around the ethics of AI, and how to create machines that evoke "human flourishing and avoids unnecessary, destructive problems," Brenner said in an interview at the church. As Brenner spoke, a few congregants remained in the basement to fervently chat about the symposium.
"The questions that are being presented by AI are fundamental life questions that have now become business [ones]," said Brenner, a retired lawyer. Values including human dignity, privacy, free will, equality and freedom are called into question through the development of machines.
"Should robots ever have rights, or is it like giving your refrigerator rights even if they can function just like us?" Brenner said.
AI, RELIGION AND THE WORLD
Religious leaders around the world are starting to weigh in. Last April, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission_the public-policy section of the Southern Baptist Convention published a set of guidelines on AI adoption that affirms the dominion of humans and encourages the minimization of human biases in technology. It discourages the creation of machines that take over jobs, relegating humans to "a life of leisure" devoid of work, wrote the authors.
In a speech to a Vatican conference in September, Pope Francis echoed the guidelines' sentiment by urging tech companies and diplomats to deploy AI in an ethical manner that ensures machines don't replace human workers. "If mankind's so-called technological progress were to become an enemy of the common good, this would lead to ... a form of barbarism dictated by the law of the strongest," he said, according to The Associated Press.
On the other hand, some faith perspectives have cropped up in recent years that hold AI at the center of their value systems. Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski formed Way of the Future church in 2017 with the aim of creating a peaceful transition into an imminent world where machines surpass human capabilities. The church's website argues that human rights should be extended to machines, and that we should clear the path for technology to "take charge" as it grows in intelligence.
"We believe it may be important for machines to see who is friendly to their cause and who is not," the website warns.
But Yasmin Ali, a practicing Muslim and AI and Faith member, has seen AI used as a tool for good and bad. While Ali believes technology can make people's lives easier, she has also seen news reports and heard stories from her community about such tools being used to profile members of marginalized communities. China, for instance, has used facial-recognition technology to surveil Uighur Muslim minorities in the western region, according to a recent New York Times investigation.
"I think we need to get more diversity with the developers who provide AI, so they can get diverse thoughts and ideas into the software," Ali said. The Bellevue-based company she founded called Skillspire strives to do just that by training diverse workers in tech courses such as coding and cybersecurity.
"We have to make sure that those values of being human goes into what we're building," Ali said. "It's like teaching kids you have to be polite, disciplined."
Back at Queen Anne Lutheran, congregants expressed hope that the conversation would get the group closer to understanding and making peace with changes in society, just as churches have done for hundreds of years.
Bainbridge Island resident Monika Aring believes the rise of AI calls for an ongoing inquiry at faith-based places of worship on the role of such technologies. She shared the dismay she felt when her friend, a pastor of another congregation, said the church has largely become irrelevant.
"It mustn't be. This is the time for us to have these conversations," she said. "I think we need some kind of moral compass," one that ensures humans and the Earth continue to thrive amid the advancement of AI.
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Faith groups reckon with AI and what it means to be truly human - Worcester Telegram
Posted: November 9, 2019 at 11:45 pm
The future isnt an accident, its something we create and it seems our goal is to hack what it means to be human. What was once science fiction is now reality: the first cyborgs are here. A revolution is unfolding in operating rooms, labs, artist, and designer studios across the world.
Scientists and entrepreneurs are on a quest to unlock the secrets of the human brain through implantable technology. The documentary I am Human by Elena Gaby follows three people with varying degrees of disabilities who have been implanted with brain-computer interfaces allowing them to achieve what was once impossible. Programmes such as BrainGate, Synchron, and Neuralink are among the neurotech organisations working to restore communication, mobility, and independence in people who have lost movement due to paralysis, limb loss, or neurodegenerative disease.
In the documentary, Stephen, who is blind, has a retinal implant which connects to electrodes in his brain. Elsewhere, Anne who suffers from Parkinsons Disease is considering whether to have deep brain stimulation through inserted electrodes. These brain implants come with great societal implications as groundbreaking neurotechnologies could gradually branch out into the general population when people adopt how transformational they can be.
A future where we can type or control our cars with our mind is within reach and if the technology were to make it outside the medical domain, the future is one of brain-to-brain communication, enhanced memory, and cognition where even speaking to each other may not be as necessary. In her recent article for the Guardian, Zoe Corbyn features Dennis Degray, a paraplegic man who was able to send text messages, shop on Amazon, and stack blocks by controlling a robotic arm through the neurons of his mind. Brain implants could revolutionise the way we connect to the world around us. If harnessed, for example, in the military, in retail, the workplace or train stations, they could become the new standard for interactions between people, machines, and products.
But cognitive enhancements, although still in experimental stages, should make us question the deep implications of self-governance and privacy. In our cyber future, will humans or technology prevail? Daniela Skills short film featured on Nowness portrays a future where humanity battles with cyborgs and robots in a quest for co-existence. This appears to be a far-fetched scenario, but if we observe the signals of today and operate as cultural listeners, we can see a tipping point between humanity and machines through the rise of neurotechnology.
Bionic humans and intelligent robots are here, and you better get used to them; you might even become one of them in the future. Companies such as Youbionic aims to democratise smart prosthetics in an effort to enhance the human intellect and physiology its recent invention, the Youbionic Paw Arm, is now available through open sourcing. Another open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg designed by scientists Levi Hargrove and Elliott Rouse at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan Ability Lab will be released to the public and scientific community. This naturally redefines the changing boundaries between the human and the machine, the animate and inanimate, controller and controlled, and how accessible this may all become.
In our quest to merge the physical, digital and machine, ancient themes of Animism dating from ancient civilisations and religions such as the Golem are being played out with todays toolbox. Creatives like Princess Gollum illustrate our fascination with giving life to non-living things. Humans cannot help but explore their power and their fears in a bid to take control of the inevitable: the degradation of the human body and mind. This need for eternity has inspired us to create human-like creatures with special abilities from Frankenstein to todays alien Avatars such as Galaxia.
In her art installation Homemade RC Toy, Geumhyung Jeong questions our relationship with machines by interacting naked with homemade robotic sculptures. Flowing Water Standing Time by fashion designer Ying Pao is a robotic garment which moves according to colour and is inspired by the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks. We could see the development of garments that can be a tool for navigation, communication, and as an amplifier for VR spaces with projects like Ava Aghakouchaks soft wearable Sovar.
Meanwhile, Ai-Da, the worlds first humanoid robot artist, has had her first solo exhibition of eight drawings, twenty paintings, four sculptures and two video works. There was debate about granting personhood to AI in the EU courts in 2017. This was ultimately rejected; however, recently two professors from the University of Surrey filed patents on behalf of an AI system. They are arguing it should be recognised as inventor, and although the Patents offices in the UK, EU and US insist innovations are attributed to humans only, this now seems to be an outdated notion.
So, what does this mean for the human body, intelligence and emotions? In What humans will look like in the next 100 years, we discussed the acceptance of baby androids in our society and the manufacturing of cyborgs by 2048. The project Replika by Pleun Van Dijk, commissioned by Roskilde Festival, echoes this transhumanist concept. By staging a human production-line, designers act as gods and stage a future where human shells are reshaped by industry and capital. New research shows that we may also be able to regenerate human tissue and body parts, as scientists have discovered the human body can renew like salamanders.The paper, published in Science Advances, explains we have the same healing process as amphibians and this previously unknown ability might be exploited to enhance joint repair and establish a basis for human limb regeneration.
Science fiction artistEsmay Wagemans explores a parallel concept of re-creating body parts in a race to res-culpt humanity. This idea, paired with the developments of soft computers such as the Octobot, a chemically powered robot which can essentially take any shape, points to the potential for merging soft wearables with Augmented Reality, social media, and Artificial intelligence. This could lead to a new way of communicating and representing ourselves in which our skins would become screens reflected in Aposema, a facial prosthesis which acts as an external emotional indicator. The project speculates on our ability to empathise in an age where people prefer technological devices over in-person interactions. Built using soft robotics prosthetics, biometric sensors and an augmented reality digital layer, Aposema would translate facial expressions when we are no longer able to understand emotions.
How we relate to other humans and our own physicality is changing deeply as we race to virtualise and reinvent our body. The democratisation of technologies ranging from robotic limbs to mixed realities, coupled with the progress of 3D scanning and modelling, are suggesting the possibility of a human body that is modifiable, customisable and open source. New beauty standards will emerge out of this transhumanist scenario in which mutant creations would colonise our current traditional sense of reality.
We are creating another dimension, another human nature before our eyes. The speculative design studio Imprudence explores future beauty products with their online store selling items ranging from cat eye DNA, nano filter make-up to a skin scanning soap. Face filters are a key illustration of the viral desire for wearing 3D makeup as seen in Ines Alphas recently launched collaboration with the fashion brand Bimba y Lola.Through her digital creations, digital artist Ksenia Trifonova engages with a future where images will be projected onto our faces and give us the ability to transform and communicate data, style, social media posts on our skins.
Our clothing will not be immune to the changes in our reality paradigm. Rflctv Studios streetwear collection transforms into interactive hyperreal dichroic garments through augmented reality. Moin Roberts-Islam of the London-based Fashion Innovation Agency recently featured a prototype scanner for human body augmentation and customisation created by Cyberpunk 3D artist Rafe Johnson. It could offer new ways of trying on jewellery, accessories and tattoos.
And with Virtual humans, avatars will not only populate our feeds, but they will also enter customer service applications as we are now able to replicate human emotion and mimic meaningful and authentic interactions. Soul Machines enables highly realistic Autonomous Animations of humans through an AI-powered Digital Brain. The avatars are already planned to be rolled out in customer service for Natwest. Concurrently, Facebook has outlined its plans to turn us into holograms in a future communication where instead of using Skype, we could be teleported to our parents living room for dinner across the world. The holographic avatar in Blade Runner or the loveable operating system in Her are here.
Western philosophy makes an absolute distinction between the living and the non-living. We presumed that humans were the only thinking things but now machines think, they will sense, feel, reflect, even have a sense of self, through avatars like Josefin Jonssons virtual humans, cyborgs and humanoids. As we use advanced technologies to push the edges of humanity, machines are becoming like us. The question now is, where do we end and where do they begin? And is this a true advancement for society?
The transhuman future is here - Dazed
Transhumanism, AI, gaming and human biology to feature at Mumbrella MSIX with new session announced – mUmBRELLA*
Posted: at 11:45 pm
Learn how transhumanism and artificial intelligence are changing the way we acquire users as software engineer for PALO IT and co-founder of Transhumanism Australia, Alyse Sue, speaks at Mumbrella MSIX to lift the lid on transhumanist technologies.
Sue, a full stack Node.js and C# software developer has co-founded three ventures focusing on health and emerging technology. Shes also had vast experience working with AI and blockchain and has previously spent nearly four years at KPMG focusing on finance and technology.
Sue will speak at Mumbrella MSIX on transhumanism and artificial intelligence
At Mumbrella MSIX, Sue will discuss using artificial intelligence to completely tailor content to passers-by, while also revealing how to target digital humans living in virtual worlds created by Facebook and other tech giants.
In addition, shell uncover ways to plant messages directly in peoples brains using brain-computer-interfaces.
Also confirmed is Forethought group CEO, Ken Roberts, who will reveal how to avoid the big idea lottery. The former associate professor at Melbourne Business School and now managing partner of Forethought Research (formerly Roberts Research Group) will assert that there is still extreme ineffectiveness in advertising and that the origin of the issues is the intuition-based big idea.
Roberts will explain a scientifically proven way of forming a foundation for creative briefs and big ideas
He will share with delegates Prophecy Thoughts & Feelings, a scientifically proven, marketing science-based, method for identifying the rational and emotional motivations for category and brand-specific consumer behaviour and show how these motivational drivers should form the foundations of the creative brief and the big idea.
Meanwhile, Dr Juliette Tobias-Webb will lead an interactive session explaining the psychological reasons why consumers enjoy games and how certain structural characteristics of games elicit beliefs and behaviours that lead to continued engagement.
Tobias-Webb will reveal the real benefits of gaming and how it affects consumer thinking
Tobias-Webb, who has worked for Commonwealth Bank, Ogilvy & Mather and lectured at the University of Cambridge has spent her career focusing on understanding human behaviour and decision making and applying insight from neuroscience, psychology, and economics to create real-world, measurable behavioural change.
Curated by Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and chief thinker at Thinkerbell, Mumbrella MSIX (Marketing Sciences Ideas Xchange) explores the intersection of marketing, behavioural science, creativity, and everything in between.
It takes place on February 20 in Sydney with tickets on sale now.
Keep updated with Mumbrella MSIX by signing up to the newsletter
Posted: at 11:44 pm
Think you know Poppy, the robo-pop sensation and maker of mesmerising YouTube videos, all in the guise of a sentient Artifical Intelligence? So did NME Deputy Editor Dan Stubbs when he went to meet the LA-based star at a London fetish dungeon, only to find Poppy is more human than we might have thought. Breaking character for the first time, Poppy reveals more than ever before about her work, her life and why she wants to bring down the internet. PHOTOS: JENN FIVE
Have you ever been browsing the help page of a website when a text box pops up inviting you to a live chat with a customer service operative? You click and enter your query, only for it to quickly become apparent that youre talking to a chatbot. Its a bit like a normal conversation, except the voice on the other end picks from a selection of vacuous, tangential phrases and keeps asking you if youre happy, as if youre speaking to a Love Island contestant whos coming up on ecstasy.
That experience is pretty much what Id geared myself up for when it came to interviewing Poppy for her first NME Big Read. For those not already familiar, Poppy is many things: a pop star, an actor, a director, a composer of ambient music, a religious leader (at her own Church Of Poppy), a DJ, a comic-book character, a smash hit YouTuber, a provocateur, a performance artist and a master of multiple media. One thing she is not, she has previously insisted, is human.
We meet at a torture dungeon in Walthamstow, North-East London. And no, I dont remember stumbling upon one of those in the Yellow Pages either. Its best thought of as a gymnasium designed by Pinhead from Hellraiser, dark and leathery and full of metal hooks, and all the apparatus is disconcertingly greasy to the touch. Hanging around there for a few hours while Poppys NME photoshoot takes place, you find yourself idly leaning on some piece of kit or other only to realise its a sex gurney with stirrups and bondage rings.
Poppy, it must be said, is perfectly at home here: shes arrived accompanied by her collaborator and creative partner, Titanic Sinclair (real name Corey Mixter), a selection of PVC outfits and a massively oversized, sculptural leather overcoat that her friend Marilyn Manson might wear. Thats right, her friend Marilyn Manson, whose 50th birthday she attended this year. What do you get the goth rock icon who has everything? My presence, she replies.
That friendship and NMEs, er, sexhorror photoshoot make sense if youve been following Poppys career lately. Last year on Halloween the American singer put out Am I A Girl?, an album of candy-flavoured robo-pop that, sonically, put her in league with the PC Musics of the world. Stylistically it presented her as the real-life Ashley O months before Black Mirror and Miley Cyrus got there.
Poppy claims to have not seen that particular episode of the dystopian Netflix drama, despite the fact that the story about a transhuman pop star who covers Nine Inch Nails tracks seems directly influenced by her own career. Ive heard about it a lot, she says. Curiosity hasnt got the better of you? I dont really like shows that lots of people like, she says. If someone suggests a certain thing then Ill intentionally not watch it. Its just me being stubborn.
Am I A Girl? and the preceding Poppy.Computer, from 2017 were seemingly targeted at people who fetishise Japanese kawaii culture and futurism equally. Her forthcoming album, I Disagree, due on January 10 next year, promises to be a different beast: specifically, one with devil horns. It finds Poppy embracing the tinnitus-inducing thrash of heavy metal alongside those cute, catchy choruses.
Its a stylistic shift that follows testing times, including a lawsuit, a high profile beef, and a second bad record deal more of which later. This, then, is heavy metal as catharsis. I try to channel all of my anger steam into my artand maintain some form of composure, even when I feel I want to end everything, she says, troublingly. End herself or end the world? The world.
So you were feeling quite angry about some things? Yeah, but I would say it feels natural too. When we were making Am I A Girl? we were driving to the studio and listening to a lot of heavier music. I would go in and write a rainbows and butterflies song and I was like, OK, theres a disconnect here
Poppys reinvention is the kind of gear-change that might cost an artist a portion of their audience, but fans on YouTube seem to be getting the right idea. I run Poppy through some of their comments on her recent track Concrete, which is probably the best example of Poppys new direction, as its both sweet and heavy with deeply, deeply disturbing lyrics fetishising the idea of being buried alive in concrete. Poppy says she would kill time with a lot of thumb twiddling if that happened in real life.
So here goes with the comments:
This song makes me comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. Im confused.
Poppy: Ive become comfortable with being uncomfortable. If things are comfortable, I get anxiety.
Another: This is what having bipolar disorder feels like.
Poppy: That makes sense.
Shes clearly a victim of MK Ultra mind control, guys.
Poppy: Clearly. I like conspiracy theories. Ive seen one or two videos online about (CIA experiment) MKUltra. I know a thing or two.
And another: Its like if Slipknot, Babymetal, Queen and The Beach Boys made a song together. I dont hate it.
Poppy: I like that one.
Theres an example of Poppys self-confessed stubbornness when she and I are walking from the photoshoot to a nearby pub. Poppy drags a shiny black suitcase with one hand and holds a polystyrene head in the other. On the head is a blonde wig, which Titanic Sinclair has just named Moppy. Poppy rejects the offer of help in carrying either, which causes problems when a fan spots her Poppeeeeeeeee! comes the shout and she very quickly picks up the pace, suitcase bouncing behind her.
When we make it into the pub, she heads for a table in the furthest, quietest corner. On the way there, making chit-chat about her interests (she loves fail videos and crime documentaries, she says, and rarely sleeps), I had broached the subject: when, exactly, is she going to start pretending to be a robot? Well, she says. Well see.
Previous interviewers particularly the infamous US shock-jock Howard Stern have made a sport of trying to get Poppy to break character, or even simply to laugh. Even out of the public eye, Poppy carries herself with an air of almost supernatural composure. She sits bolt upright, doesnt slouch, and speaks carefully and with great consideration in a soft, southern American accent. Shes fiercely intelligent and quietly assured. She drinks black coffee and frequently cracks her knuckles, which snap so loudly you wonder if theres a metal skeleton in there after all.
An exaggeration of this emotionally guarded person is the one that Poppys fans have become obsessed with. In some of her YouTube videos, she asks endless questions of the viewer about their relationship with social media, and whether they validate themselves through followers. In others, she experiences crises about the nature of her own existence. In some, black goo oozes from her mouth. Theyre videos that challenge the viewer in a number of ways: not much happens, it happens very slowly, and though theyre absolutely PG rated you probably wouldnt want to be caught watching them at work. Theyre much like the trend for ASMR videos, in which people whisper and click and generally make the viewer feel a bit strange in a way they cant quite put their finger on.
Theres a supporting cast, too: Poppy has an occasional enemy, Charlotte, whos a mannequin, and a friend, whos a plant. I remind her of the latter as she tucks into vegetable crudites in the pub. People keep pet pigs and still eat pork, comes the response.
That stupid question about the ethics of eating salad when your sole companion is a houseplant and about a zillion others like it are essentially rendered moot when it becomes apparent that Poppy is breaking character today. I find myself feeling the weight of trying to work out the things fans would most like to know and the things Ive always wondered about this singular artist.
Poppy likens her stylistic shift naive pop AI to rock hellion to David Bowie killing off Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Apollo, reasoning its an artists prerogative to change. Is this interview set to be Poppys big reveal: a kind of Pinocchio moment where she declares herself a real life girl? I feel the same [as before], she says. I just feel more certain.
Information about the person behind Poppy isnt exactly a state secret. Wikipedia has her as Moriah Rose Pereira, born January 1, 1995. When I ask her about her age, its one of the few times shes guarded. I dont know, you know. I dont know. Its not what my Wikipedia says.
So what else is wrong on your Wikipedia page?
I think the dates are weird. Most of the rest, its OK.
Youre not tempted to change it?
No. Theres an element to Wikipedia that I think you know how they ask you for donations on the homepage? Im just like, Just let it go. We dont need it. I dont think the general public should be able to change information like that. I had a Google Home for a short time and of course, I had to ask it, Hey Google, whos Poppy? And it would rattle off all this information just from Wikipedia and it was all wrong, and I thought it was really funny.
So, OK, you switch the Google Home on how far down your list of questions is that one? Be honest.
It was after a little while, she says. Theres a video that Titanic and I shot where Im smashing my Google Home afterwards. I thought it would smash a lot easier than it did.
Do you trust that kind of technology?
But the Poppy we know loves AI and the idea of computer learning, right?
Im trying to move backwards. Im trying to get rid of my technology. In turn its going to make it harder to get a hold of me and my friends mad at me but its OK.
Are they going to have to fax you?
Im thinking carrier pigeon.
When previous interviewers have asked where Poppy lives, the reply would be the internet. Actually, she confirms, she grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and lives, not-quite-alone, in Los Angeles, California. I have a Sphynx cat. Hes the demon man of my home. His name is Pi and he I think he was sent to ruin my life, she says.
Its easy to imagine Poppy being an outsider in Nashville, typically the home of country music and cowboys rather than robots, and a place she describes as having that small town feeling. Its equally easy to see her being on the fringes in Hollywood. She describes her life there as feeling like Im in the middle of a lot of things, but with my journal out, just watching. So youre an anthropologist? I guess so, she says. I think everybody would say that about me. When Im in a room, Im looking everywhere. I think I would be a spy if I wasnt a singer.
Though a keen dancer, Poppy spent much of her childhood alone in her bedroom. I would intentionally isolate myself from a lot of things, she says. She did half of her education in public school, where she was bullied, and completed her studies early in homeschool. I didnt have a positive experience [at public school], says Poppy. I barely said any words, so that kind of opened me up, in a way, to be the target of everyones teasing.
For what things?
Being skinny and quiet.
Homeschool conjures images of a parent playing the teacher role. Actually, says Poppy, she did her studies alone in her bedroom, where the internet was my teacher. When you consider that image a slight, quiet girl, sat alone in a room with only the internet for company, diligently racing through the curriculum its not too difficult to join the dots to Poppys character on YouTube. Yeah, it does actually make sense when you think about it, she says, as if this might, improbably, be a fresh thought. I like that. If I could just have that be my legacy famous for being alone in a white room Id be happy with that.
The move to LA came when Pereira signed her first record contract, a major label deal under the name ThatPoppy. Having already left the family home, she relocated without telling a soul. I kept everyone in the dark because I didnt want anyone to get in the way, she says.
Poppy met Titanic Sinclair, an artist, musician and director, through a mutual friend within a few months of moving to LA, and instantly hit it off. At the photoshoot, Sinclair had described his first encounter with Poppy as being like meeting David Bowie, so shook was he by her creative force.
Meanwhile, Poppys frustration with her music career was growing. I went through the circus at that label, the changing of the representatives or whatever, and I was coming to find out I was actually just in a really bad deal, she says.
When Poppy and Sinclair began making YouTube videos together, it caused further friction with the label. I was being discouraged from making the videos, and in turn, Titanic and I were like, Were not gonna listen, so we made twice or triple the amount, she says. And that was when [the label] started to react. They were like, Hey, we dont think we should make these videos. Why are you making these videos? I was like, Why are you working at a record label?!
Whether or not they had approval, Poppy and Sinclair had hit on something with their channel. Theres an element of Kubricks 2001 A Space Odyssey about the videos, in their glacial pacing, ambient soundscapes, medical lighting and stark visuals. Though they share DNA with your average YouTuber content, they subvert the conventions: there are no jump cuts, theres no begging for likes and follows. Where your average YouTuber goes to pains to welcome the viewer into their world, Poppys videos make you feel like youre peering into a world you shouldnt be seeing. Yet by incrementing the play count by one, or liking, or commenting the viewer becomes part of the piece.
Poppys character fascinated by the world, a model of pure innocence partly came from her interest in the Myers-Briggs test, a personality test that encourages respondents to answer as they would when they were a child, which she has completed multiple times. I would say that [the Poppy character] is directly linked to how I was when I was untouched by the world, the most innocent way of thinking, she says.
I put it to Poppy that if any of her clips were exhibited in a gallery, it would be considered differently. But because its on YouTube, its considered
Which is a little bit frustrating because YouTube is just the medium that we chose to put it on, you know? We could have been on Vimeo, or PornHub, or whatever it may be, but YouTube was the one. And this goes into a bigger conversation about how social media is ruining everything.
Sorry, what? Poppy, the character, is fascinated by social media, isnt she? Obsessed with it even.
I think that at the beginning, social media was a good thing, but as of recent times, the angry internet mobs and misinformation and X, Y and Z, I think its now its a pendulum, so it started out good, now its bad and I think it will fall somewhere in the middle, hopefully. Otherwise well just need to create a new internet, which I hope I can do one day.
What would the PoppyNet look like?
Thered be a nominal fee. Thered be a screening process. You know, What are your intentions here? And no memes.
They just clog the servers.
Poppys own pendulum has swung from good to evil lately. Allowing that to happen meant listening to her gut more. I wanted to put forward this very composed and refined body of work and I so strongly believed in that that I wasnt really willing to listen to this other part of me, you know? Like the devil and the angel on [my] shoulders, she says. Im working more on impulse than before.
The shift is understandable because, in the past year, life has thrown Poppy its fair share of digital lemons. Having struggled on a major, Poppys subsequent label home proved an awkward fit, too. It wasnt really a functioning label, which I can say now, she says. It was more of a tax write-off. There wasnt a lot of consistency going on there. The partnership has now been dissolved, and Poppy is currently signed to prog metal label Sumerian Records.
Meanwhile, the dynamic between Poppy and Sinclair has been under scrutiny. Some taking the pairs artistic creations a little too seriously have been questioning whether theres an issue of coercion there. Actually, says Poppy, the opposing characters: her as the naif, him as the sinister svengali, are just part of the storyline. The narrative that we created in order to tell the story of the first album was very much Titanic is the bad guy and hes the leader, which I think is funny because its not true, says Poppy. It is very much 50:50, the effort.
In April 2018, a former creative and romantic partner of Titanic Sinclair, who goes by the name Mars Argo (real name Brittany Sheets), claimed that Poppys character was ripped off from her, and that Sinclair had been emotionally and physically abusive to her following their relationship. In May, Poppy issued a statement describing Argos actions as a desperate grab for fame, and in September the case was settled out of court, with no money exchanging hands and none of the parties acknowledging liability of wrongdoing.
Later that year Poppy had a run-in with the highly respected Canadian artist Grimes over their Am I A Girl? collaboration Play Destroy. Poppy said shed been bullied into submission by [Grimes] and her team of self-proclaimed feminists. Grimes responded publicly, posting a message saying, Poppy you dragged me into a disgusting situation and wont stop punishing me for not wanting to be part of it, I dont want to work with you, you leaked the song anyway.
Oddly, Grimess subsequent single, We Appreciate Power, sung from the perspective of an ambitious AI, seemed to be a land grab for Poppys own turf. Poppy is reluctant to dredge any of it up again today.
Its kind of dead news, she says. And my new album is good, so
It does seem like you probably admire Grimes in some ways. Is it quite sad when that sort of thing happens publicly, her posting about your professional behaviour on the internet?
I think Im just used to the way the internet works and the lifespan of the news cycle.
What was your learning from Mars Argos lawsuit last year?
I just learned more about Hollywood.
Did it make you like Hollywood more or less?
It solidified my view of Hollywood.
Will you elaborate on that?
Everything is not as it seems. That can be your headline.
If Poppys recent experiences led to the end of her wide-eyed AI innocence, you hope it might lead to her being recognised for the furiously creative force she is. Playing devils advocate, I put it to Poppy that it would be easy to look at some of her previous work and think, This is willfully vacuous. A track on Am I A Girl?, the Diplo collaboration Time Is Up, is absolutely on point with the 2019 zeitgeist of climate change activism and, coming from another artist, it may have been hailed as a culturally important moment. Coming from Poppy, it went unnoticed as the musings of a robo-girl.
Poppy agrees that the concept may have clouded the message. With pop music and my experience with it, it was interesting to like with the first album, to me its pop, but lyrically the subject matter of the songs is not digestible to anyone whos not understanding of why this album exists, you know, she says. I think with the new album, you could come out of nowhere and listen to it for the first time and get what you want from it.
I ask if her character, demeanour and gender led to her not being taken seriously in dealings with labels and collaborators, the business side of music. Not to go into gendering it and having it be about being male or female, but typically in a situation like that [people] would look at Titanic for the ideas and the commands, she says. But I find it funny, because thats not actually the case. Its very collaborative. People would be surprised.
Three weeks later, on October 31, Poppy returns to the UK to play a special show for NME. Shes on tour in the US, and has come over on an off-day especially for us. Yesterday she was, improbably, performing in the ring at a World Wrestling Entertainment event in Florida; tomorrow she plays a headline show in Texas. Tonight, shes at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston playing a headline DJ set at NMEs Ghouls To The Front the Halloween edition of our Girls To The Front series, which celebrates female and non-binary artists.
Her associate arrives first to scope out the venue. He quickly deems the grungy dressing room not Poppys vibe, which, considering we last had her in an S&M dungeon, speaks volumes about The Shacklewell Arms, and says shell arrive just before stage time instead of hanging around. And sure enough, at 9pm Poppy turns up in a black-and-white PVC catsuit, face painted like the nightmarish clown Pierrot, pitch black lips emphasising a fixed smile.
Making no bones about the lack of live DJing going on, Poppy spends much of the set reading a graphic novel handed to her by a fan, making a sport of very slowly, very purposefully turning the pages as banging techno and quotes from horror films blast out of the speakers. Poppy doesnt dance or speak, preferring to let a sample of her saying Im Poppy do the latter for her.
Posted: at 11:44 pm
Cryptozoic and Cartoon Network Enterprises announced a new board game called Rick and Morty: The Morty Zone Dice Game Wednesday, confirming that its based on the premiere. Oh boy, youve done it now, the description reads. You grabbed a Death Crystal and can see all of your potential fates.
Death Crystals are indeed the main plot hook for the episode introduced almost immediately, allowing anyone who touches them to perceive how theyll die. But every decision a person makes alters their fate, so their death is always changing. Collecting these crystals is another shameless business venture of Ricks, but things go off the rails very quickly.
The cover of the dice game depicts Morty with a crystal on his forehead and eyes aglow with the same vest and gear on his body as we see in the Akira-type situation featured in the Season 4 trailer. Mortys transformation comments on toxic masculinity and why someone who hasnt even fully matured yet should never get too much power.
The way the episode incorporates this Death Crystal mechanic feels earth-shattering once things jump into high gear, but the story course-corrects to a sense of normalcy by the end as Rick and Morty often does making good on Beths promise in the final moments of the Season 3 finale that things will be like Season 1 but more streamlined.
Season 3 explored how Beth and Jerrys separation impacted their children, but after they reconciled with one another in the Season 3 finale, we began to see them in a happier marriage for the first time (in this reality, anyway).
Jerry moved back into the house, Beth found peace of mind despite doubts that she might be a clone, and a more wholesome vibe developed between all members of the family except for Rick. Everyone presents a united front against their mad scientist grandpa.
Dad, you cant talk to Jerry that way anymore, Beth said at the end of Season 3. Were a real family now. In many ways, things will be like Season 1 but more streamlined. Now Jerry and I are happily married parents, and the idea that I was motivated by a fear of you leaving can be eschewed.
Read the rest here:
'Rick and Morty' Season 4 Episode 1 review: The most mind-bending yet - Inverse
Publishers are going to live or die based on their relationship with readers: How Quartz is rethinking its membership offerings – Nieman Journalism…
Posted: October 20, 2019 at 4:46 am
It has been a bumpy stretch for Quartz, one of the most lauded digital news startups of the past decade.
Not long after the Atlantic Media site was sold for $86 million to Japanese company Uzabase, web traffic started going in the wrong direction. Quartz says its monthly uniques were down 11 percent year over year between 2018 and 2019. Its membership program, launched nearly a year ago, didnt seem to generating as much traction as desired. It put up a paywall in May after building its business on free distribution across all channels.
Then came last week. On Monday, anticipated leadership changes replaced co-CEOs Kevin Delaney and Jay Lauf with chief product officer Zach Seward (as CEO) and chief commercial officer Katie Weber (as president). The New York Times reported that Quartz lost more than $16 million on less than $12 million in revenue through the first half of 2019. On Wednesday, its iOS app was removed from the App Store in China after its reporting on the uprising in Hong Kong. And on Thursday, it debuted a new homepage and a refined, more member-focused vision of its future.
The way I think about Quartzs evolution is: We just turned seven years old and thats 50 years in internet years. In that time Quartz has gone through several different eras of digital media, said Seward, who, full disclosure, worked here at Nieman Lab a decade ago.
There was this era at the beginning when it was considered smart and prescient to be mobile-first. Then there was the Facebook era where we and a whole lot of other digital publishers were able to really dramatically expand our audience and introduce our brands to the world on the backs of this distribution of social media. That era is clearly over. The way I would describe the new era weve entered is one where publishers are going to live or die based on their relationship with readers.
Seward said Lauf and Delaney had decided to leave Quartz by early September, as 2020 budgeting and planning commenced. (Weber, Sewards new leadership partner, is currently on parental leave. Lauf is staying on as chairman and Delaney will be an advisor.)
Quartz is far from the only outlet to be focusing more on members these days (reader revenue, reader revenue, reader revenue). One of the biggest questions is how to convince a reader to support your specific outlet over another in a world of finite personal budgets for journalism and broad competition. Especially since the biggest reader-revenue success stories (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal) are all broad general-interest publications that overlap in subject matter with, well, everyone at one time or another.
The sticker price for Quartzs membership program $100 a year is also higher than that of some of its non-newspaper peers, like The Atlantic ($50), New York ($50), Wired ($10), Vanity Fair ($15), and The Athletic ($60).
Weve tracked many of Quartzs strategies and changes since launch because the outlet has been an unusually bold innovator in the industry. Its Quartz Daily Brief was one of the first email newsletters to show the mediums potential for media companies. At a time of mostly interchangeable mobile news apps, it built one entirely around a GIF-heavy chat interface. Its invested in augmented reality, news-breaking bots, and an AI studio.
Throughout all those twists, though, the more revenue model was mostly unchanged: Quartz makes money from advertising mostly high-quality, high-cost bespoke advertising for high-end brands (Prada! Infiniti! Credit Suisse! Boeing!). That model typically requires the kind of scale you get with relatively friction-free distribution social-friendly, mobile-friendly, and outside any paywalls.
Our revenue is still predominantly advertising, although within advertising theres a lot of nuance to that business, Seward said. At this point, reader revenue the membership business accounts for a small percentage of our revenue. Thats precisely why were putting such a focus on it. Subscription businesses are a very different kind of business and the faster we can build up that business the more that will pay off in the long term. He wouldnt share any specific numbers [cmon Zach, not even for Nieman Lab? Ed.] but said theyre closely watching the total number of members and daily active users across Quartzs email newsletters and apps. Uzabase financial filings say the company expects Quartzs traditional ad-driven business to be profitable for the full year 2019 (anticipating the usual holidays bump in Q4), but that investments in the membership program will fuel that large expected overall loss.
Membership was a key part of Uzabases plans for Quartz; this was our Ken Doctors take on the sale last year:
At the core of this transaction: a lack of overlap and a promise of synergy. Quartz brings a big English-language audience and sophisticated ad selling and event marketing. Uzabase emerging in Japan and more widely in Asia with both B2B and B2C business news products opens up possibilities for faster Quartz expansion
The move also clears the way for Quartz itself to move into the digital subscription space, a plan that has been awaiting execution as its audience grew. With its high-rate ad business, Lauf has told me the company wanted to move carefully as it added another leg of revenue. Now, it looks the time may be right.
Lauf told me today that the company had already accelerated its subscription plans earlier this year, before the sale became likely. Could Quartz offer a subscription product within 18 months. Yes, he said.
(It barely took four.)
While Quartz now has a traditional metered paywall, its membership offering is pitched differently than most outlets more as an investment in the readers career, almost an educational product. Along with no paywall, it promises:
Its meant to be a core part of the Quartz user experience rather than a premium-content add-on, Seward says. Quartz is focused on repackaging its journalism into longer-lasting resources for members like field guides and slide decks (it is a business audience, after all). Thats how he sees the outlet breaking out of the rest of the business reporting pack. Quartz is best at is providing a guide to the global economy with a particular focus on how businesses and industries are changing, he said.
For example: Every week we produce a really deep dive on a company or industry or business trend that weve identified as really for you to understand if you want to understand the global economy. Weve done nearly 50 of them at this point. Those are very unlike news coverage, in that all 50 of the news guides weve produced remain valuable today. As members you get access to all of it. In that sense its more similar to an Audible.com subscription, where youre getting access to this huge library of journalism, than it is to a daily news subscription. Members can also tune into conference calls with Quartz reporters digesting the issues or watch mini-documentaries about them.
Quartz has probably changed its homepage more than any other major digital outlet: It launched without a traditional homepage at all you were thrown straight into the top story of the moment launched without a homepage at all, later turned it into a web version of its morning Daily Brief email, and eventually an artier version of something more traditional.
Quartzs new homepage looks less like a news site and more like a personal dashboard, greeting members by name with a time-appropriate Good afternoon and offering a briefing-like experience covering what Quartz sees as the top stories of the moment, usually grouped into larger topics. To emphasize its members, a selection of their comments appear right on the homepage itself underneath stories. (Members are usually identified by their titles; some highlighted on the homepage today include a Futurist, Strategist, Philosopher, someone Spearheading the Transhumanist Movement, and a Founder at Virgin Group. That would be Richard Branson.)
(Its also being a bit more aggressive on pricing, offering a 40-percent-off coupon that lowers a new subscribers first-year price to $60.)
Quartz announced a key hire this morning, bringing Walt Frick (a former Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow here) aboard as membership editor, coming over from Harvard Business Review.
In the meantime, Quartz is also working on strengthening the journalism as well as broadening the perks. It recently launched its first-ever investigations team, which isnt usually a short-term, small expense. John Keefe will lead the four-person reporting team digging into online advertising and political influence ahead of the U.S. presidential election, leaning on the grant-funded Quartz AI Studio to infuse more machine learning-powered reporting into the investigations. Seward said it wasnt a hard choice as an investment:
As we focus on membership and our relationship to members, a number one thing that members and potential members want from Quartz is our journalism. So it becomes a pretty easy calculus.