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Category Archives: Transhumanism
Posted: November 18, 2019 at 6:44 pm
Even if you havent heard the term biohacking before, youve probably encountered some version of it. Maybe youve seen Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey extolling the benefits of fasting intermittently and drinking salt juice each morning. Maybe youve read about former NASA employee Josiah Zayner injecting himself with DNA using the gene-editing technology CRISPR. Maybe youve heard of Bay Area folks engaging in dopamine fasting.
Maybe you, like me, have a colleague whos had a chip implanted in their hand.
These are all types of biohacking, a broad term for a lifestyle thats growing increasingly popular, and not just in Silicon Valley, where it really took off.
Biohacking also known as DIY biology is an extremely broad and amorphous term that can cover a huge range of activities, from performing science experiments on yeast or other organisms to tracking your own sleep and diet to changing your own biology by pumping a younger persons blood into your veins in the hope that itll fight aging. (Yes, that is a real thing, and its called a young blood transfusion. More on that later.)
The type of biohackers currently gaining the most notoriety are the ones who experiment outside of traditional lab spaces and institutions on their own bodies with the hope of boosting their physical and cognitive performance. They form one branch of transhumanism, a movement that holds that human beings can and should use technology to augment and evolve our species.
Some biohackers have science PhDs; others are complete amateurs. And their ways of trying to hack biology are as diverse as they are. It can be tricky to understand the different types of hacks, what differentiates them from traditional medicine, and how safe or legal they are.
As biohacking starts to appear more often in headlines and, recently, in a fascinating Netflix series called Unnatural Selection its worth getting clear on some of the fundamentals. Here are nine questions that can help you make sense of biohacking.
Depending on whom you ask, youll get a different definition of biohacking. Since it can encompass a dizzying range of pursuits, Im mostly going to look at biohacking defined as the attempt to manipulate your brain and body in order to optimize performance, outside the realm of traditional medicine. But later on, Ill also give an overview of some other types of biohacking (including some that can lead to pretty unbelievable art).
Dave Asprey, a biohacker who created the supplement company Bulletproof, told me that for him, biohacking is the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside you so that you have full control over your own biology. Hes very game to experiment on his body: He has stem cells injected into his joints, takes dozens of supplements daily, bathes in infrared light, and much more. Its all part of his quest to live until at least age 180.
One word Asprey likes to use a lot is control, and that kind of language is typical of many biohackers, who often talk about optimizing and upgrading their minds and bodies.
Some of their techniques for achieving that are things people have been doing for centuries, like Vipassana meditation and intermittent fasting. Both of those are part of Dorseys routine, which he detailed in a podcast interview. He tries to do two hours of meditation a day and eats only one meal (dinner) on weekdays; on weekends, he doesnt eat at all. (Critics worry that his dietary habits sound a bit like an eating disorder, or that they might unintentionally influence others to develop a disorder.) He also kicks off each morning with an ice bath before walking the 5 miles to Twitter HQ.
Supplements are another popular tool in the biohackers arsenal. Theres a whole host of pills people take, from anti-aging supplements to nootropics or smart drugs.
Since biohackers are often interested in quantifying every aspect of themselves, they may buy wearable devices to, say, track their sleep patterns. (For that purpose, Dorsey swears by the Oura Ring.) The more data you have on your bodys mechanical functions, the more you can optimize the machine that is you or so the thinking goes.
Then there are some of the more radical practices: cryotherapy (purposely making yourself cold), neurofeedback (training yourself to regulate your brain waves), near-infrared saunas (they supposedly help you escape stress from electromagnetic transmissions), and virtual float tanks (which are meant to induce a meditative state through sensory deprivation), among others. Some people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these treatments.
A subset of biohackers called grinders go so far as to implant devices like computer chips in their bodies. The implants allow them to do everything from opening doors without a fob to monitoring their glucose levels subcutaneously.
For some grinders, like Zoltan Istvan, who ran for president as head of the Transhumanist Party, having an implant is fun and convenient: Ive grown to relish and rely on the technology, he recently wrote in the New York Times. The electric lock on the front door of my house has a chip scanner, and its nice to go surfing and jogging without having to carry keys around.
Istvan also noted that for some people without functioning arms, chips in their feet are the simplest way to open doors or operate some household items modified with chip readers. Other grinders are deeply curious about blurring the line between human and machine, and they get a thrill out of seeing all the ways we can augment our flesh-and-blood bodies using tech. Implants, for them, are a starter experiment.
On a really basic level, biohacking comes down to something we can all relate to: the desire to feel better and to see just how far we can push the human body. That desire comes in a range of flavors, though. Some people just want to not be sick anymore. Others want to become as smart and strong as they possibly can. An even more ambitious crowd wants to be as smart and strong as possible for as long as possible in other words, they want to radically extend their life span.
These goals have a way of escalating. Once youve determined (or think youve determined) that there are concrete hacks you can use by yourself right now to go from sick to healthy, or healthy to enhanced, you start to think: Well, why stop there? Why not shoot for peak performance? Why not try to live forever? What starts as a simple wish to be free from pain can snowball into self-improvement on steroids.
That was the case for Asprey. Now in his 40s, he got into biohacking because he was unwell. Before hitting age 30, he was diagnosed with high risk of stroke and heart attack, suffered from cognitive dysfunction, and weighed 300 pounds. I just wanted to control my own biology because I was tired of being in pain and having mood swings, he told me.
Now that he feels healthier, he wants to slow the normal aging process and optimize every part of his biology. I dont want to be just healthy; thats average. I want to perform; thats daring to be above average. Instead of How do I achieve health? its How do I kick more ass?
Zayner, the biohacker who once injected himself with CRISPR DNA, has also had health problems for years, and some of his biohacking pursuits have been explicit attempts to cure himself. But hes also motivated in large part by frustration. Like some other biohackers with an anti-establishment streak, hes irritated by federal officials purported sluggishness in greenlighting all sorts of medical treatments. In the US, it can take 10 years for a new drug to be developed and approved; for people with serious health conditions, that wait time can feel cruelly long. Zayner claims thats part of why he wants to democratize science and empower people to experiment on themselves.
(However, he admits that some of his stunts have been purposely provocative and that I do ridiculous stuff also. Im sure my motives are not 100 percent pure all the time.)
The biohacking community also offers just that: community. It gives people a chance to explore unconventional ideas in a non-hierarchical setting, and to refashion the feeling of being outside the norm into a cool identity. Biohackers congregate in dedicated online networks, in Slack and WhatsApp groups WeFast, for example, is for intermittent fasters. In person, they run experiments and take classes at hacklabs, improvised laboratories that are open to the public, and attend any one of the dozens of biohacking conferences put on each year.
Certain kinds of biohacking go far beyond traditional medicine, while other kinds bleed into it.
Plenty of age-old techniques meditation, fasting can be considered a basic type of biohacking. So can going to a spin class or taking antidepressants.
What differentiates biohacking is arguably not that its a different genre of activity but that the activities are undertaken with a particular mindset. The underlying philosophy is that we dont need to accept our bodies shortcomings we can engineer our way past them using a range of high- and low-tech solutions. And we dont necessarily need to wait for a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, traditional medicines gold standard. We can start to transform our lives right now.
As millionaire Serge Faguet, who plans to live forever, put it: People here [in Silicon Valley] have a technical mindset, so they think of everything as an engineering problem. A lot of people who are not of a technical mindset assume that, Hey, people have always been dying, but I think theres going to be a greater level of awareness [of biohacking] once results start to happen.
Rob Carlson, an expert on synthetic biology whos been advocating for biohacking since the early 2000s, told me that to his mind, all of modern medicine is hacking, but that people often call certain folks hackers as a way of delegitimizing them. Its a way of categorizing the other like, Those biohackers over there do that weird thing. This is actually a bigger societal question: Whos qualified to do anything? And why do you not permit some people to explore new things and talk about that in public spheres?
If its taken to extremes, the Whos qualified to do anything? mindset can delegitimize scientific expertise in a way that can endanger public health. Luckily, biohackers dont generally seem interested in dethroning expertise to that dangerous degree; many just dont think they should be locked out of scientific discovery because they lack conventional credentials like a PhD.
Some biohacks are backed by strong scientific evidence and are likely to be beneficial. Often, these are the ones that are tried and true, debugged over centuries of experimentation. For example, clinical trials have shown that mindfulness meditation can help reduce anxiety and chronic pain.
But other hacks, based on weak or incomplete evidence, could be either ineffective or actually harmful.
After Dorsey endorsed a particular near-infrared sauna sold by SaunaSpace, which claims its product boosts cellular regeneration and fights aging by detoxing your body, the company experienced a surge in demand. But according to the New York Times, though a study of middle-aged and older Finnish men indicates that their health benefited from saunas, there have been no major studies conducted of this type of sauna, which directs incandescent light at your body. So is buying this expensive product likely to improve your health? We cant say that yet.
Similarly, the intermittent fasting that Dorsey endorses may yield health benefits for some, but scientists still have plenty of questions about it. Although theres a lot of research on the long-term health outcomes of fasting in animals and much of it is promising the research literature on humans is much thinner. Fasting has gone mainstream, but because its done so ahead of the science, it falls into the proceed with caution category. Critics have noted that for those whove struggled with eating disorders, it could be dangerous.
And while were on the topic of biohacking nutrition: My colleague Julia Belluz has previously reported on the Bulletproof Diet promoted by Asprey, who she says vilifies healthy foods and suggests part of the way to achieve a pound a day weight loss is to buy his expensive, science-based Bulletproof products. She was not convinced by the citations for his claims:
What I found was a patchwork of cherry-picked research and bad studies or articles that arent relevant to humans. He selectively reported on studies that backed up his arguments, and ignored the science that contradicted them.
Many of the studies werent done in humans but in rats and mice. Early studies on animals, especially on something as complex as nutrition, should never be extrapolated to humans. Asprey glorifies coconut oil and demonizes olive oil, ignoring the wealth of randomized trials (the highest quality of evidence) that have demonstrated olive oil is beneficial for health. Some of the research he cites was done on very specific sub-populations, such as diabetics, or on very small groups of people. These findings wouldnt be generalizable to the rest of us.
Some of the highest-risk hacks are being undertaken by people who feel desperate. On some level, thats very understandable. If youre sick and in constant pain, or if youre old and scared to die, and traditional medicine has nothing that works to quell your suffering, who can fault you for seeking a solution elsewhere?
Yet some of the solutions being tried these days are so dangerous, theyre just not worth the risk.
If youve watched HBOs Silicon Valley, then youre already familiar with young blood transfusions. As a refresher, thats when an older person pays for a young persons blood and has it pumped into their veins in the hope that itll fight aging.
This putative treatment sounds vampiric, yet its gained popularity in the Silicon Valley area, where people have actually paid $8,000 a pop to participate in trials. The billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel has expressed keen interest.
As Chavie Lieber noted for Vox, although some limited studies suggest that these transfusions might fend off diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis, these claims havent been proven.
In February, the Food and Drug Administration released a statement warning consumers away from the transfusions: Simply put, were concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies. Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses for which these clinics are advertising them and are potentially harmful.
Another biohack that definitely falls in the dont try this at home category: fecal transplants, or transferring stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient. In 2016, sick of suffering from severe stomach pain, Zayner decided to give himself a fecal transplant in a hotel room. He had procured a friends poop and planned to inoculate himself using the microbes in it. Ever the public stuntman, he invited a journalist to document the procedure. Afterward, he claimed the experiment left him feeling better.
But fecal transplants are still experimental and not approved by the FDA. The FDA recently reported that two people had contracted serious infections from fecal transplants that contained drug-resistant bacteria. One of the people died. And this was in the context of a clinical trial presumably, a DIY attempt could be even riskier. The FDA is putting a stop to clinical trials on the transplants for now.
Zayner also popularized the notion that you can edit your own DNA with CRISPR. In 2017, he injected himself with CRISPR DNA at a biotech conference, live-streaming the experiment. He later said he regretted that stunt because it could lead others to copy him and people are going to get hurt. Yet when asked whether his company, the Odin, which he runs out of his garage in Oakland, California, was going to stop selling CRISPR kits to the general public, he said no.
Ellen Jorgensen, a molecular biologist who co-founded Genspace and Biotech Without Borders, two Brooklyn-based biology labs open to the public, finds antics like Zayners worrisome. A self-identified biohacker, she told me people shouldnt buy Zayners kits, not just because they dont work half the time (shes a professional and even she couldnt get it to work), but because CRISPR is such a new technology that scientists arent yet sure of all the risks involved in using it. By tinkering with your genome, you could unintentionally cause a mutation that increases your risk of developing cancer, she said. Its a dangerous practice that should not be marketed as a DIY activity.
At Genspace and Biotech Without Borders, we always get the most heartbreaking emails from parents of children afflicted with genetic diseases, Jorgensen says. They have watched these Josiah Zayner videos and they want to come into our class and cure their kids. We have to tell them, This is a fantasy. ... That is incredibly painful.
She thinks such biohacking stunts give biohackers like her a bad name. Its bad for the DIY bio community, she said, because it makes people feel that as a general rule were irresponsible.
Existing regulations werent built to make sense of something like biohacking, which in some cases stretches the very limits of what it means to be a human being. That means that a lot of biohacking pursuits exist in a legal gray zone: frowned upon by bodies like the FDA, but not yet outright illegal, or not enforced as such. As biohackers traverse uncharted territory, regulators are scrambling to catch up with them.
After the FDA released its statement in February urging people to stay away from young blood transfusions, the San Francisco-based startup Ambrosia, which was well known for offering the transfusions, said on its website that it had ceased patient treatments. The site now says, We are currently in discussion with the FDA on the topic of young plasma.
This wasnt the FDAs first foray into biohacking. In 2016, the agency objected to Zayner selling kits to brew glow-in-the-dark beer. And after he injected himself with CRISPR, the FDA released a notice saying the sale of DIY gene-editing kits for use on humans is illegal. Zayner disregarded the warning and continued to sell his wares.
In 2019, he was, for a time, under investigation by Californias Department of Consumer Affairs, accused of practicing medicine without a license.
The biohackers I spoke to said restrictive regulation would be a counterproductive response to biohacking because itll just drive the practice underground. They say its better to encourage a culture of transparency so that people can ask questions about how to do something safely, without fear of reprisal.
According to Jorgensen, most biohackers are safety-conscious, not the sorts of people interested in engineering a pandemic. Theyve even generated and adopted their own codes of ethics. She herself has had a working relationship with law enforcement since the early 2000s.
At the beginning of the DIY bio movement, we did an awful lot of work with Homeland Security, she said. And as far back as 2009, the FBI was reaching out to the DIY community to try to build bridges.
Carlson told me hes noticed two general shifts over the past 20 years. One was after 2001, after the anthrax attacks, when Washington, DC, lost their damn minds and just went into a reactive mode and tried to shut everything down, he said. As of 2004 or 2005, the FBI was arresting people for doing biology in their homes.
Then in 2009, the National Security Council dramatically changed perspectives. It published the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, which embraced innovation and open access to the insights and materials needed to advance individual initiatives, including in private laboratories in basements and garages.
Now, though, some agencies seem to think they ought to take action. But even if there were clear regulations governing all biohacking activities, there would be no straightforward way to stop people from pursuing them behind closed doors. This technology is available and implementable anywhere, theres no physical means to control access to it, so what would regulating that mean? Carlson said.
Some biohackers believe that by leveraging technology, theyll be able to live longer but stay younger. Gerontologist Aubrey de Grey claims people will be able to live to age 1,000. In fact, he says the first person who will live to 1,000 has already been born.
De Grey focuses on developing strategies for repairing seven types of cellular and molecular damage associated with aging or, as he calls them, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. His nonprofit, the Methuselah Foundation, has attracted huge investments, including more than $6 million from Thiel. Its aim is to make 90 the new 50 by 2030.
Wondering whether de Greys goals are realistic, I reached out to Genspace co-founder Oliver Medvedik, who earned his PhD at Harvard Medical School and now directs the Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering at Cooper Union. Living to 1,000? Its definitely within our realm of possibility if we as a society that doles out money [to fund research we deem worthy] decide we want to do it, he told me.
Hes optimistic, he said, because the scientific community is finally converging on a consensus about what the root causes of aging are (damage to mitochondria and epigenetic changes are a couple of examples). And in the past five years, hes seen an explosion of promising papers on possible ways to address those causes.
Researchers who want to fight aging generally adopt two different approaches. The first is the small molecule approach, which often focuses on dietary supplements. Medvedik calls that the low-hanging fruit. He spoke excitedly about the possibility of creating a supplement from a plant compound called fisetin, noting that a recent (small) Mayo Clinic trial suggests high concentrations of fisetin can clear out senescent cells in humans cells that have stopped dividing and that contribute to aging.
The other approach is more dramatic: genetic engineering. Scientists taking this tack in mouse studies usually tinker with a genome in embryo, meaning that new mice are born with the fix already in place. Medvedik pointed out thats not very useful for treating humans we want to be able to treat people who have already been born and have begun to age.
But he sees promise here too. He cited a new study that used CRISPR to target Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a genetic disorder that manifests as accelerated aging, in a mouse model. It wasnt a total cure they extended the life span of these mice by maybe 30 percent but what I was very interested in is the fact that it was delivered into mice that had already been born.
Hes also intrigued by potential non-pharmaceutical treatments for aging-related diseases like Alzheimers for example, the use of light stimulation to influence brain waves but those probably wont help us out anytime soon, for a simple reason: Its not a drug. You cant package and sell it, he said. Pharma cant monetize it.
Like many in the biohacking community, Medvedik sounded a note of frustration about how the medical system holds back anti-aging progress. If you were to come up with a compound right now that literally cures aging, you couldnt get it approved, he said. By the definition weve set up, aging isnt a disease, and if you want to get it approved by the FDA you have to target a certain disease. That just seems very strange and antiquated and broken.
Not everyone whos interested in biohacking is interested in self-experimentation. Some come to it because they care about bringing science to the masses, alleviating the climate crisis, or making art that shakes us out of our comfort zones.
My version of biohacking is unexpected people in unexpected places doing biotechnology, Jorgensen told me. For her, the emphasis is on democratizing cutting-edge science while keeping it safe. The community labs shes helped to build, Genspace and Biotech Without Borders, offer classes on using CRISPR technology to edit a genome but participants work on the genome of yeast, never on their own bodies.
Some people in the community are altruistically motivated. They want to use biohacking to save the environment by figuring out a way to make a recyclable plastic or a biofuel. They might experiment on organisms in makeshift labs in their garages. Or they might take a Genspace class on how to make furniture out of fungi or paper out of kombucha.
Experimental artists have also taken an interest in biohacking. For them, biology is just another palette. The artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from the University of Western Australia were actually the first people to create and serve up lab-grown meat. They took some starter cells from a frog and used them to grow small steaks of frog meat, which they fed to gallery-goers in France at a 2003 art installation called Disembodied Cuisine.
More recently, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg has used old floral DNA to recreate the smell of flowers driven to extinction by humans, enabling us to catch a whiff of them once more.
And this summer, a London museum is displaying something rather less fragrant: cheese made from celebrities. Yes, you read that right: The cheese was created with bacteria harvested from the armpits, toes, bellybuttons, and nostrils of famous people. If youre thoroughly grossed out by this, dont worry: The food wont actually be eaten this bioart project is meant more as a thought experiment than as dinner.
When you hear about people genetically engineering themselves or trying young blood transfusions in an effort to ward off death, its easy to feel a sense of vertigo about what were coming to as a species.
But the fact is weve been altering human nature since the very beginning. Inventing agriculture, for example, helped us transform ourselves from nomadic hunter-gatherers into sedentary civilizations. And whether we think of it this way or not, were all already doing some kind of biohacking every day.
The deeper I delve into biohacking, the more I think a lot of the discomfort with it boils down to simple neophobia a fear of whats new. (Not all of the discomfort, mind you: The more extreme hacks really are dangerous.)
As one of my colleagues put it to me, 40 years ago, test tube babies seemed unnatural, a freak-show curiosity; now in vitro fertilization has achieved mainstream acceptance. Will biohacking undergo the same progression? Or is it really altering human nature in a more fundamental way, a way that should concern us?
When I asked Carlson, he refused to buy the premise of the question.
If you assert that hackers are changing what it means to be human, then we need to first have an agreement about what it means to be human, he said. And Im not going to buy into the idea that there is one thing that is being human. Across the sweep of history, its odd to say humans are static its not the case that humans in 1500 were the same as they are today.
Thats true. Nowadays, we live longer. Were taller. Were more mobile. And we marry and have kids with people who come from different continents, different cultures a profound departure from old customs that has nothing to do with genetic engineering but thats nonetheless resulting in genetic change.
Still, biohackers are talking about making such significant changes that the risks they carry are significant too. What if biohackers upgrades dont get distributed evenly across the human population? What if, for example, the cure for aging becomes available, but only to the rich? Will that lead to an even wider life expectancy gap, where rich people live longer and poor people die younger?
Medvedik dismissed that concern, arguing that a lot of interventions that could lengthen our lives, like supplements, wouldnt be expensive to produce. Theres no reason why that stuff cant be dirt-cheap. But that depends on what we do as a society, he said. Insulin doesnt cost much to produce, but as a society weve allowed companies to jack up the price so high that many people with diabetes are now skipping lifesaving doses. Thats horrifying, but its not a function of the technology itself.
Heres another risk associated with biohacking, one I think is even more serious: By making ourselves smarter and stronger and potentially even immortal (a difference of kind, not just of degree), we may create a society in which everyone feels pressure to alter their biology even if they dont want to. To refuse a hack would mean to be at a huge professional disadvantage, or to face moral condemnation for remaining suboptimal when optimization is possible. In a world of superhumans, it may become increasingly hard to stay merely human.
The flip side of all this is the perfect race or eugenics specter, Jorgensen acknowledged. This is a powerful set of technologies that can be used in different ways. Wed better think about it and use it wisely.
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Josiah Zayner is a biohacker whos famous for injecting himself with the gene-editing tool CRISPR. At a time when the technology exists for us to change (or hack) our own DNA, what are the ethics of experimenting on ourselves, and others, at home? On the launch episode of this new podcast, host Arielle Duhaime-Ross talks to Zayner about how hes thinking about human experimentation today. Plus: new efforts to come up with a code of conduct for biohackers, from legislation to self-regulation.
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Posted: November 2, 2019 at 9:41 am
It was 3 a.m. on a typical Saturday in Geneseo. UHots was closing and there was nothing to domy alumni friend was visiting, so we trudged through the rain back to my place for an early morning catch-up. His life is a lot more exciting than mine, so I listened intently as he told me of his post-grad misadventures.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was almost recruited into a cult? he said casually. No, he had not. I listened intently as he told me of a private subreddit he had been added to and the pseudo-intellectual who ran the page, inviting people who had like-minded views to join.
This got me thinkingthis subreddit cant be the only page like this on the internet. Since then, I have uncovered similar communities and ideas (i.e. places where spiritual thought meets modern politics and personal musings) grasping for meaning in the digital age. I believe the new frontier for religious thought lies not in the worship spaces of yesteryear, but in online forums and other digital spaces where one can make their beliefs heard and gain a following.
Spiritual groups born and bred online occupy a space somewhere between absurdism and grave sincerity. There is a whole spectrum of those who believe, dont believe or are simply curious about a given sect of online spiritual thought.
In conducting research, I came across the website for The Church of Google, a parody religion founded in 2009 with the goal of creating commentary about the sophistication and increasing symbiotic relationship that technologies like Google play in our lives. I also came across online forums such as MySpiritualgroup, which is self-described as an online spiritual group which seeks to gather all genuine truth seekers from around the world and focuses on metaphysics and esoteric thought.
Additionally, there are countless Reddit forums, like the one my friend joined, focused on the interplay between religion and psychedelics, anarchy and the alt-rightto name a few topics that have been brought into the conversation via dedicated subreddits.
One of the most intriguing online spiritual movements is one called H+, or Transhumanism. According to H+pedia, an online Wikipedia-esque transhumanist encyclopedia, transhumanism can be defined as a belief or movement in favour of human enhancement, especially beyond current human limitations and with advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, life extension and nanotechnology.
While prescribers to the philosophy might describe themselves as post-religious, there is something fundamentally spiritual about their way of thinking, which combines the concept of human transcendence with modern technological advancement. I may add that transhumanists are the same people in favor of gene modifying and strong AI technology, as well as proponents of the concept of technological singularity.
The internet is chaos, and so it only makes sense that spiritual communities that have formed from the internet are chaotic as well. The wide range of content, from intellectual to idiotic, underscores the wide range of beliefs being vocalized. Not only have we been ushered into a new age with technology providing platforms to express opinions, but the very opinions themselves have also been altered and shifted due to the emergence of the internet and what that means for human development.
As spiritual discussion online continues to mold the worldviews of many internet users, it is important that we attempt to broaden our understanding of this emerging intellectual discourse in order to better understand its real-world implications.
You can call Hayley Jones a metamorphosis rock because they do well under pressure!
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Posted: October 24, 2019 at 11:01 am
Asad J. Malik wearing the HoloLens 2
The studio behind Terminal 3 and A Jesters Tale just inked a seven-figure investment deal, recruited veteran Executive Producer Ela Topcuoglu, and established offices in Los Angeles, CA.
When asked what most excites me about the XR industryparticularly in the wake of industry cool-downs and troughsmy response always circles back to the people who comprise it. Spatial media unite a diverse spectrum of technologies, studies, and art formsand the resulting collection of professionals is equally wide-ranging.
One such person is Asad J. Malik, a director whose holographic narratives have tapped the Augmented Reality format to shape and deepen conversations around immigration, transhumanism, and the ethics of AI.
New industries like XR are spheres where the rules of creation and participation are established in real time, and Malik recognized this early on in his careerproducing holographic work like a Harry Potter HoloLens experience and Holograms from Syria in 2017 from his dorm room at Bennington College in Vermont. Through these experiences, he also launched 1RIC, an AR studio dedicated to holographic narrative content.
In partnership with RYOT, 1RIC was the studio behind festival standouts Terminal 3 and A Jesters Tale, the latter of which featured Poppy and was named the Best Augmented Reality experience at Sundance by The Verge. Each deepened Maliks understanding ofand appreciation forholographic immersive narratives.
During that time, 1RIC was effectively a vehicle for Maliks directorial efforts, with the technical expertise of studio partner Jack Daniel Gerrard, a collaborator since early Bennington days.
Building on the successes of that work, Malik moved to Los Angeles post-graduation this spring and used the summer to establish a larger frameand visionfor the studio.
The first major announcement for 1RIC is a seven-figure investmentthe specifics of which wont be announced until later this year.
1RIC is hardly the first content studio to parlay creative accomplishments to scalability, but the vision and approach indicate possible success vectors for other startups in the industry. Unlike many content or visual effects studios, which seek to showcase a wide range of capability, 1RIC is specifically an AR studioand within that, focused on producing interactive volumetric narratives.
Poppy, Titanic Sinclair and Asad J. Malik on the set of A Jesters Tale at Metastage volumetric ... [+] studio.
In a phone interview with the author, Malik explained how 1RIC will continue to lean into the disruptive potential of AR as a storytelling medium able to match the appetite of its audience.
Our focus is not on commercializing as soon as possible, there are enough people focused on that; in this time of widespread cultural anxiety, we find value in initiating creative chaos, Malik said. Whenever new tech like this comes up, it presents the opportunity to instigate change. The world, especially younger generations, are craving experiential storytelling that moves them and presents ideas that deviate from pre-existing social structures.
For at least the next few projects, 1RICs scope is even narrower, focusing on interactive educational content.
XR content in general is in a proving phasecan any given piece rise up and capture enough of the existing audience to prove financial viability? So far, only a handful major titles have been successful enough to be called a hitor even merit continuing efforts.
Maliks approach began as an impulse to create high-quality narrativesbut as word spread about his projects, this approach also managed to prove financial viability on a small scale. Since Terminal 3 left the festival circuit in 2018, professors and researchers in higher education institutions have been reaching out to license it.
Theres no website or pitch deck or contact, but people somehow find [Terminal 3] and seek me out to license it for universities, Malik said. I was honestly surprised how many people have gone out of their way to show it to their students.
The experience, produced with volumetric capture solution Depthkit, puts participants in the position of an immigration officer screening six different people for entry into the United States. The range of people hoping to license Terminal 3 for practical purposes at universities led Malik to realize that 1RIC could fill a present need.
They show it in game design departments, in journalism classes, in literature... Malik said. These narratives apply to so many verticals in education; we realized we could have an impact by building even more experiences like that.
The disruptive component also means that an AR studio focused in storytelling (and largely documentary) content has the capability of busting social structures that have left out certain voices. And, as an interactive medium, this emphasis on democratizing access also stands to inspire creators among these same populations who traditionally have felt barred from participation.
These funds will allow us to build volumetrically captured interactive characters that take up space in a way that hasnt been possible in the past and bring them to underserved communities, Malik said. Our education projects will end up in schools where kids are on lunch programs, giving them access to these narratives before anyone else.
Volumetric refers to three-dimensional video, captured through stages (such as Intel Studios and Metastagethe latter of which is where 1RIC projects capture content) that have cameras mounted all around subjects.
Where content produced in a game engine is able to offer more by way of realtime interactivity, volumetric video reads to the eye as real rather than computer-generated. In working with holographic narrative over the past three years, Malik has realized that this aspect of reality is vital to his vision with 1RIC.
Our particular brand of storytelling is interactive volumetric narrativespeople who are actually captured in real life, Malik said. Its not generative, but that allows us to focus on narrative and the dramatic arc, which is what we do best.
Within this process of story creation, which Malik says will be largely documentary in approach for its coming projects, volumetrically captured holograms lend an intuitive grounding in reality that, in turn, gives him more flexibility as a director in how he presents stories.
In this time when people have so much anxiety around simulation and fakeness and what is true, we want to present immersive subjects that were capturedwhat they say and do happened in real life.
And new innovations to the form are allowing the ability to subtly edit volumetric output to deepen the presence participants feel in an immersive context.
Now we can do things like head-retargeting, so characters look at you with their eyes, Malik said.
By keeping 1RICs focus so narrow, Malik has become one of the worlds premier volumetric directors. As new technologies and updates roll out, 1RIC has a running start in using them not just as experiments, but as powerful narrative tools.
Ela Topcuoglu is joining 1RIC as its Executive Producer
Part of 1RICs scaling involved hiring a bigger team, which now numbers at five, notably including Executive Producer Ela Topcuoglu, who Malik first worked with during her tenure as Manager of Immersive Content Development at RYOT, when she helped produce A Jesters Tale.
Elas experience producing a wide variety of projects, both fiction and nonfiction, is a huge asset to us at 1RIC, Malik said. Shes also very seriously engaged with questions around what it means to live a good life and how immersive media fits into that equation. That is exactly the kind of thinking new mediums need to develop with the most consideration possible.
Topcuoglu cited alignment in mission as a deciding factor in joining 1RIC.
I make it my goal with each project I produce to challenge expectations of how technology can be used to tell an effective story, Topcuoglu said in a statement. That is exactly what 1RIC has done time and time again with their AR work. I look forward to working with Asad as we pave the path for a new generation of storytellers and represent what AR is capable of as a medium.
Jack Daniel Gerrard and Julia Greenburger working in the 1RIC offices.
In addition to increasing the number and scope of projects at 1RIC, Malik also hopes these new offices will serve as a new gathering space in the LA community.
Im excited to have a space like this in Mid-City where we can do events to have real conversations around this stuff, Malik said. Were not a corporation or typical startup eithertheres a lot of power to have important conversations, whether its around the future of volumetric or face filters.
Newly opened 1RIC offices on Venice Blvd in Los Angeles
Ultimately, the ability to spark conversation is the charge of any good artist. But being able to foster ongoing discourse around hard, often unanswerable questions is what colleagues cite as one of the Maliks important talents within the industry.
Having worked with countless XR creators, what makes Asads work so unique is his ability to explore polarizing topics such as AI and immigration with incredible nuance, said Jake Sally, head of immersive development at RYOT. He wraps these complex societal issues into a compelling narrative shell that empowers audiences to learn through interaction, ultimately forcing them to think critically about topics that rarely, if ever, have a simple answer.
More news, such as upcoming projects, investment figures, and event listings at 1RIC offices, is forthcoming later in the year. For more information, visit the studios official website.
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Posted: October 6, 2019 at 4:41 pm
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Winter Mraz says she loves having her keys in her hand but she does not mean holding them. She has actually had her door key implanted into her left hand in the form of a microchip.
In her right hand, she has had another microchip implant that acts as her business card but could also be used to store important medical information for use in the case of an emergency.
The 31-year-old engineer also has a magnet in one finger that allows her to sense electro-magnetic fields, which she says helps in her work.
But not all her body upgrades are practical. Her latest procedure is to have two LED implants, that turn on when a magnet is passed above them, illuminating her skin from inside.
Why? "Because they are sparkly and I'm a magpie," she says. "I like things that light up."
Winter is one of a growing number of people who call themselves "transhumanists".
It is the belief that the humans can improve beyond their physical and mental limitations and "upgrade" their bodies by incorporating technology.
For Winter, her first "cyber-enhancements" were not voluntary, they were through the hospital after a serious car crash in the United States that fractured her back, both her ankles and her knees.
Her back was bolted together by surgeons and one of her kneecaps was replaced with one that was 3D-printed, on the NHS.
"If it was not for my cybernetic kneecap I would not be able to walk," she told BBC Scotland's The Nine.
After her accident she moved on to voluntary personal modifications such as the microchips in her hands.
The RFID (radio-frequency-identification) chip in her left hand works on the lock in her house door in the same way as many workplace security cards operate. This means she does not have to carry keys and keeps her hand free for her walking cane.
The NFC (near-field communication) chip in her right hand has many potential uses. It is the same type of chip that allows phones and tablets to easily share data with each other.
Winter says: "I think saying that you should not alter your body and you should not change your body is a very ableist way to go about living. People who are disabled don't have that choice. It is made for us."
Steven Ryall, a 26-year-old technical operator from Manchester, says he wants to have chips implanted to make "smart hands".
"We have smart TVs, smart phones, everything is smart," he says. "Why can't I be smart?"
Steven believes that transhumanism is the logical next step in human development. He wants be able to programme the technology in his body to respond to his personal biology.
His "technological baptism" was at a private clinic in Leicester, where he had his first implant.
The microchips are usually delivered by a syringe into the back of the hand.
"I am slowly turning myself into part machine," he says. "I don't mind being biological but if I could be part mechanical that is so much more awesome than just my plain self."
Steven says the chip is "essentially" like those in a contactless bank card. "I can get an RFID or NFC reader and hook it up to a chip that I programme and then get that chip to recognise the chip in my hand and do whatever I want," he says.
Steven is an evangelist for humans "upgrading" themselves but he can understand why people might think it is an extreme thing to do. He says friends and family think it is "weird and kooky" but he believes that in the next five years they will start getting into it too.
Winter says wearable tech such as the Apple watch and Fitbit and other "doctor on your wrist" health monitors have taken off in the past few years and she believes that implants are the next logical step.
She says: "I don't think implants are inevitable but I think they are getting better, longer-lasting, cooler and have more functionality. It's going to be one more option people have."
Steven says he can easily see a time when companies are asking employees to have implants for security ID to access building or computer networks.
"I think that people would see it as an extreme thing because they are looking from a historical perspective, they are not looking forward," he says.
At the moment there are loose regulations on who can do it and most implants are done by tattoo artists and body piercers.
There are some people who are taking things into their own hands by buying the tools off websites to perform the procedure themselves.
Bio-hacker Jenova Rain, who implanted Steven's chip at her Leicester practice, said she was doing five implants a week and the numbers were rising as interest grows.
Although regulations on bio-hacking specifically are sparse, Jenova says she is covered to do implants as a tattoo artist and piercer.
Even though she promotes the idea of upgrading yourself through her YouTube channel and website she has no chips or "upgrades" herself. She says they would be "useless" for her.
Dr Mary Neal, professor of medicine and ethics at Strathclyde University, said she was "not surprised" more people were getting involved but there needed to be better regulation.
She said the procedure was similar to other body modification such as botox but there were many ethical discussions that needed to be had around bodily autonomy and regulation.
Dr Neal also said there were safety risks with people buying the equipment from online sites and doing the procedures from home.
The Scottish government told BBC Scotland's The Nine it intended to regulate procedures carried out by non-healthcare professionals and it was consulting on how this could be done.
A spokesman said it was looking at the "most proportionate and appropriate measures" and the government's priority was the safety of those involved.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 4:41 pm
No of course there shouldnt really be a religion based on The Bionic Woman that would require you to watch the show and it is cheesy and definitely for kids, laughs Ana Matronic, pop diva and Jaime Sommers obsessive.
We are having this conversation because, in her teens, she turned her fictional hero into a quasi deity the combination of the forces of science and nature and placed her at the centre of a belief system called Bionic Love. While she may now mock her fanzine flights of fancy, she still has faith in technology to transform humanity.
Matronic has been captivated by robots and cyborgs since C-3PO squeaked into her life at the age of three. Her right arm is a declaration of love a half-sleeve tattoo which began as a mishmash of cogs and springs, la Sommers, but now incorporates other favourites such as R2-D2 and Maria, the female robot from Fritz Langs 1927 film Metropolis.
Matronic, who was originally called Ana Lynch, has always been attracted to the blurring of boundaries. This is the woman who was once the only female drag queen in San Franciscos The Trannnyshack. That was before she became lead singer of the self-consciously flamboyant Scissor Sisters: a band that revelled in its own campness.
Today, she has lost none of that flamboyance; she still hosts the BBC Radio 2 programme Dance Devotion. But, an academic at heart, she also tours the country evangelising about transhumanism the merging of human and machine as well as warning of the dangers.
Later this month, she will be appearing at an event in the Dundee University Festival of the Future, along with Graeme Gerard Halliday, aka Hallidonto, a Scottish-born, London-based artist, who creates images of cyborgs, and Kadine James, Creative Tech Lead with Hobs 3D, a company that specialises in 3D printing.
Im really interested in all aspects of technology, from the three-minute pop song to AI [Artificial Intelligence] and advances in medical treatment, says Matronic.
I am interested in how things work and how they affect humanity. Technology holds so much promise, but it moves faster than governments. Thats a dangerous thing and something we ought to talk about.
The Dundee University event is timely. Not long ago, cyborgs were of mostly hypothetical interest, explored in science and speculative fiction, but not generally regarded as a contemporary reality impacting on everyday behaviour.
In the past year or so, however, transhumanism appears to have entered the mainstream; every day seems to bring a news story that could have come straight from Charlie Brookers Black Mirror; a story that challenges our preconceptions about what it means to be human.
Some of the technology we are seeing changes us physically. Blade prostheses that allow amputee athletes to run as fast as able-bodied ones for example, and power-suits that strengthen the muscles of elderly people, mean cyborgs are already in our midst.
Just last week, we learned a Frenchman paralysed in a nightclub accident had walked again thanks to a mind-controlled exo-skeleton suit. Recording devices implanted either side of his head between the skin and the brain read brainwaves and send them to a nearby computer, where they are converted into instructions for controlling the exo-skeleton.
Technology is developing so rapidly that both scientists and philosophers are pondering the possibility that we may eventually be able to transform ourselves into beings with abilities so great as to merit the label post-human.
The extent to which the concept of transhumanism (if not the word itself) has entered the public consciousness could be seen in the recent Russell T Davies drama Years And Years in which one of the main characters, Bethany, wants to become part-machine.
She has mobile phone implants in her hands, camera implants in her eyes and brain implants that allow her to make a mental connection with the internet. Set just a few years hence, and building on existing technology, the interesting thing about the series is not how futuristic it seems, but how feasible. Even when, towards the end, her aunt Edith uploads her consciousness to the cloud so she can continue to exist after death, it does not feel too far-fetched.
Martine Rothblatt, the founder of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a super-fascinating person No 1 on my fantasy dinner party list is already developing the technology to create a mind file, says Matronic. The idea is you gather as much information on yourself as you can so that when you die your mind-file can be downloaded into a phone or into a robot and you or rather a facsimile of you can live on for your family. There are also people working on substrate independent minds brains that dont need a body to function. And people who are trying to extend life or eradicate death.
But if death becomes an option then the fairy tale of unlimited economic growth becomes even more of a fairy tale. And thats before we start thinking about storage. If you are a digital person, where do you live? And if the storage facility is so big it can store digital people then the computational power of that facility is not a what but a who. The whole thing is a crazy, crazy rabbit hole I love to jump down.
The first robot
Matronics right; it is a rabbit hole, and the further you go down it the more you lose yourself in an ethical maze.
At its best, technology has the power to tap into human potential; to make us the best we can be. When Makoto Nishimura created Japans first robot, Gakutensoku (the name means learning from natural law), he was conceived as an ideal.
At an exhibition to mark Emperor Hirohitos ascension to the throne in 1926 the year before Metropolis was released spectators were awe-struck as the God-like bronze figure appeared before them clutching a mace and arrow and smiled beatifically. Nishimura believed robots were a continuum of humanity a natural evolution. If humans are the children of nature, then robots are the grandchildren of nature, he said.
Yet, ever since the industrial revolution, western society has tended to have an adversarial attitude towards machines, viewing them as sleekit creatures who will steal our jobs or turn against us, like Frankensteins monster. In literature too, we are accustomed to the idea of scientific progress producing dystopias such as Airstrip One in 1984 or the boarding school for clones in Kazuo Ishiguros Never Let Me Go.
Overemphasising the downsides of technological advance may be discriminatory, says Matronic. When we have conversations about the evils of technology, we are being ablist. If you say, social media is bad, I will show you someone with locked-in syndrome or crippling social anxiety for whom it has opened up the possibility of friendship.
Technology could also eradicate paralysis; there would be no more quadriplegics. Also, at present we only use 10 per cent of our brains. If we have machines that can help us explore more of that, then its amazing.
Even so, neither Matronic nor Hallidonto is naive. They understand the potential pitfalls of transhumanism in a capitalist society where efficiency and profits are the most powerful drivers.
Technology initially developed for positive purposes may be subverted for negative ones, while the push to create a super-race of better, fitter, more cognitively capable humans veers perilously close to eugenics.
And then there is the question of marginalisation. We are already living in a world where those who do not own a smartphone are disadvantaged. How much greater will that socio-economic inequality become once it is possible to pay for superior physical strength and brain power?
Professor Kevin Warwick, the worlds leading expert in cybernetics, has been called the first cyborg. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, he experimented with his own body. First, he had an RIFD transmitter implanted under his skin which allowed him to control doors, lights, heaters and other devices. Then he had a BrainGate electrode array fitted which allowed him to control a robotic arm on the other side of the Atlantic a feat that conjures up the image of Thing in the Addams Family. Finally, he linked his nervous system electrically to his wifes in such a way that every time she closed her hand, his brain received a pulse. Was that not freaky? It was very intimate, he says. You are getting signals from someone elses body and nobody else knows.
The link cannot yet be made brain to brain, but when it can, it will be the basis of thought communication: telepathy, but for real.
Back in the 90s, Warwick faced criticism, not technically, just people saying: Youre a buffoon, because they didnt understand what I was doing. In the end, of course, the joke was on them.
Yet today, some people are still dubious, not about the science, but about the morality. The ethical dilemmas sparked by some of these developments are huge. For example, if you can control an arm miles from where you are, then presumably you can use it to commit crimes. Meanwhile the linking up of brains if achieved would be a useful way to communicate with someone who couldnt speak but, in the wrong hands, it could be used for coercive control.
Warwick accepts all this, but seems unperturbed. As a scientist, you are aware of things potentially going in a negative way, but you hope society will look at applications and say: Yes, this one is great it will help people and No, we dont think this one should be allowed.
Asked if it would be ethical to amputate a normal human leg in order to replace it with blades that allowed an athlete to run faster, he says yes.
I cant see a problem. We have to look to the future. At the moment, we have a body. The body does things OK and the brain controls it and its all a pretty limited package. But we have the possibility of redefining what our body and our brains can do. Why should anyone lag behind with ordinary human body parts when they could have something thats much better?
When I suggest this will exacerbate the disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable, he implies a degree of inequality is a social inevitability and points out that wealthy people can already pay for physical enhancements through cosmetic surgery.
Not everyone is this sanguine. Hallidonto is as passionate about robots as Matronic. Growing up in the 80s, the first cyborg he encountered was the one in The Terminator. I remember sitting on the sofa with my dad at three years old and being completely traumatised by it, he says. Later, I had Darth Vader toys and I would pretend I was wearing a robotic suit. I would feel quite powerful.
When he was 12, Hallidonto suffered a collapsed lung. He was put in a machine and experienced visceral, morphine-induced dreams about babies with wires coming out of their eyes. Then when he was 25, he had a brain injury on a holiday in Germany and it changed how he saw the world.
A graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee, his work has always featured robots. At the launch of his exhibition, Cyborg Cadavers, in London last week, he explored some of the pitfalls. I spoke about the Anthropocene and the Promethean allegory and pointed out that if we dont watch what we are doing we may end up, not with the body we desire, but with the body that is required, he says.
With technology developing so rapidly, Matronic believes there is an urgent need for tech companies and governments to talk about ethics before it is too late.
Most of the negative stories about robots/cyborgs, from Frankenstein on, involve someone with a God complex thinking they can do what the Creator does. Those stories are a warning against hubris.
So we definitely need to have conversations about morality and every tech company should have its own ethicist. They should be saying things like: Dear Elon Musk loving the SpaceX stuff, but do we really need a flamethrower?
Matronic says some of her worst fears, technologically speaking, are already being realised with Facebooks lack of transparency and peoples identities and data being turned into a commodity.
I am really concerned about autonomous weapons too, she says. Mines are horrible enough, but guns that can walk and speak? That is a terrifying prospect. I dont think they should be allowed to exist.
The potential for technology to reinforce inequality will have to be addressed too because otherwise only some people will lag behind. It will be: Oh my God did you get the brain update? No, I am still working with version 2.4. Well, version 3 just came out and its amazing.
Chair of the Dundee University event, Karen Petrie, associate dean for learning and teaching in science and engineering, is developing educational software that can adapt to the learning speed of individual students.
Her biggest fear is the one feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez touches on in her book Invisible Women: that as computers take over more and more tasks, they will replicate existing biases.
Most AIs are built on machine learning, she says. That means they take a large quantity of data, mine that data and learn behaviour. Unfortunately, if theres any bias in that data, even if it is implicit bias, then the machine will learn it. A good example of this is a big tech firm that was trying to use a machine learning algorithm to scan CVs and work out who they should or shouldnt employ.
However, until now this tech firm has employed 95 per cent men, so when this algorithm was used it pretty much screened out all the women.
For all the potential problems, the notion that technology could transform us aesthetically, cognitively, spiritually cannot fail to excite the imagination. The myriad possibilities it throws up are proving a rich source of inspiration for both artists and philosophers.
Indeed they have engendered a new art form: body hacktivism. Tight restrictions on the kinds of surgery that can be done on humans has led to a school of DIY body modification artists, who carry out work on themselves or others. There is Neil Harbisson, who sees the world in black and white, but wears an antennae that translates the frequency of colours into sounds; Tim Cannon, who had magnets implanted in his fingers; Lukas Zpira, author of the body hacktivism manifesto, who offers tongue splitting, implants, and subincision (the splitting of the penis); and Steve Haworth, who specialises in subdermal and transdermal implants, such as the Metal Mohawk a row of spikes inserted into the head to replicate a punk haircut.
Despite her fixation with cyborgs, Matronic is a late adopter of new technology. I am last to everything I never even have the latest smartphone. But she believes the future will be more fluid. Others have connected this fluidity to transgenderism; after all, if you can change the human body at will, then sex and gender become less important. And if your consciousness can exist without corporeal form then, arguably, they cease to matter at all.
If you see yourself as a religious person and you believe in the soul, then, when your soul leaves, is it male or female? says Matronic.
You have just your body you can be anything. Gender really is a construct something that is mandated by society. Different societies have different expressions of gender and different codes. I think as we expand as humans, we understand there are different ways of being and definitions loosen, so we are going to have new words and new definitions and new genders.
Everything will be new, new, new. It might be scary for some people and difficult conversations will have to be had but I believe that us humans learn to human better as we evolve and I look to the future with hope.
How Robots Are Shaping the World We Live In, 6.30pm, October 19, Juniper Auditorium, V&A, Dundee
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Hereticon, From Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Is a ‘Conference for People Banned From Other Conferences’ – The Daily Beast
Posted: at 4:41 pm
Being cancelled getting you down? Well now theres a conference for youand everyone else booted from mainstream political discourse for thoughtcrimes.
Imagine a conference for people banned from other conferences, the announcement for Founders Funds exclusive new three-day event reads. Imagine a safe space for people who dont feel safe in safe spaces.
Hereticon (yes, its actually called that) promises to include many of our cultures most important troublemakers, specifically ones committed to improving civilization. That might rule out a few names, but wed expect Founders Fund to highlight at least a handful of thinkers from its portfolio companies.
Palantir will probably show up, given recent protests and the decision by both the Grace Hopper Celebration and the Lesbians Who Tech conference to remove the company, which contracts with ICE, as a sponsor.
Retiring Texas Rep. Will Hurd also seems like a natural choice, after being disinvited to keynote the Black Hat security conference due to his political record on abortion. Hurd is also friendly with Founders Fund portfolio company Anduril.
Unlike gatherings of right-leaning online provocateurs that the event resembles, Hereticon will draw a more pedigreed set. The invite-only conference in May 2020 will likely attract attendees from the much-grumbled about liberal strongholds of American tech, and perhaps others whove been cast out of the silicon gates already.
From Galileo to Jesus Christ, heretical thinkers have been met with hostility, even death, and vindicated by posterity, the blog post grandly opens, going on to declare that troublemakers are essential to mankinds progress, and so we must protect them.
The topics that will take center stage at Hereticon? Theyre a doozy. Conversations will center on a smorgasbord of libertarian micro-obsessions, including transhumanism, the abolition of college (a favorite of Founders Fund partner Peter Thiel), the benefits of starvation a la Jack Dorseys fasting diet, the softer side of doomsday prepping, and immortality, naturally.
While its no surprise to see such an event emerge from the crowd that sees eye-to-eye with a man seen as Silicon Valleys seastead-loving deep-pocketed free press assassin, its interesting to see Founders Fund throw the event themselves. Some of the firms investments, like defense-friendly Palantir and Anduril, are considered controversial in techs left-leaning circles, but many of its portfolio companies are more quotidian utilities like Stripe, Facebook, and Credit Karma. Not exactly heretical.
Its likely a strategic choice for a venture firm that could benefit from drawing the self-identified misfits stalking tech's fringes in toward the center and giving them something to feel collectively persecuted and intellectually invigorated about.
Then again, they might just come together to chatter about UFOs and wax poetic about corporate counterculture. Either way, well be staying tuned to see which technocrats and/or heretics get the invite nod.
See the rest here:
Posted: at 4:41 pm
And by the time people are in a position to begin colonising other planets, mankind will be a technologically-augmented species, Bob Flint, the technology director with BPs Digital Innovation Organisation, predicted. The recent BBC One drama series Years and Years touched on such concepts, with one character voicing her desire to become transhuman - in other words, dramatically enhanced by technology - and Mr Flint said the concept was perhaps not as far-fetched as it might sound. Mr Flint, who will present his ideas during a talk entitled The Upgradeable Human at the New Scientist Live festival at Londons ExCel centre, said: Humankinds development is a story of using technology to add to our capabilities think clothing and spectacles, or more recently pacemakers and laser eye surgery.
We can imagine augmenting our strength, stamina, senses and even intelligence
Now, with technology becoming incredibly powerful through digital, the possibilities are becoming exponentially greater. We can imagine augmenting our strength, stamina, senses and even intelligence.
It was yesterday announced that a French man, known has Thiabault, had managed to walk in the exoskeleton in a pioneering experiment carried out by scientists at the University of Grenoble in France.
As a result, the next few decades could see an increasing blurring of the lines between man and machine, Mr Flint said.
He explained: Wearables are an early example of this trend, but new technology is emerging which can be incorporated more seamlessly into the body, heralding an era where humans and machines will be closely integrated.
Eventually, its possible humans may be able to move beyond the evolutionary process by selecting digital upgrades that overcome the constraints of biology and allow each of us to choose powerful new abilities, which can be used in our personal and working lives.
Such concepts have been featured in modern sci-fi shows including Charlie Brookers Black Mirror, and the aforementioned Years and Years, written by Russell T Davies and even as far back as the Six Million Dollar Man in the 1970s.
Mr Flint said: I loved Years and Years, and thought it was great to see TV drama exploring some very futuristic concepts.
Personally, I think were some way from the transhumanism that is mentioned (one of the characters wanted to upload her personality and experiences to become a purely digital being, which would need huge advances in computing).
Im actually talking about the opposite idea, using digital technology to give our human selves greater powers - this is possible now.
READ MORE: Jet suit breakthrough: Buck Rogers in the 21st Century
Im just predicting it will become easier, cheaper and much less noticeable in the near future.
I think the bigger issue is not so much whether this will be technically possible there are lots of research projects and early products which signpost the direction of travel.
Its more whether upgrading ourselves will be seen as socially acceptable. This is hard to call, but I think that if it gives us an advantage, maybe in work, sport or socially, then eventually it will simply be regarded as a normal thing to do.
There are all sorts of major ethical questions here, some of the ones weve come across are: will human upgrades only be available to the very rich? How will the most deserving get hold of necessary technology even if they dont have the means to pay for it?
DON'T MISSRobots to take on third of unskilled jobs 'in ten years' [SCIENCE]Cyborg robots: Lab-grown biohybrid muscles could MIMIC humans [PICTURES]CYBORGS one step closer as robots created which respond to TOUCH[ANALYSIS]
What does privacy mean in an age where technology can collect lots of personal information on our physical or mental state? How do we hang onto the rights to our own data?
If a company is looking to hire a new member of staff, how should they treat the technically augmented versus the non-augmented applicants? Is the playing field ever going to be level again?
We really need a public conversation on these issues, so we can decide what regulation or legal change we may need in this area.
For example, the Royal Society has recently kicked off a public dialogue on neural interfaces, which is a great start.
Looking further into the future, Mr Flint believed technological enhancements may also help humans conquer space.
He explained: I know theres a big debate about whether its preferable for humans to lead the exploration of other worlds, or robots.
Certainly, robotic methods are going to be easier (and less costly) in the short term, as you dont need to create habitable conditions on board the spacecraft or on the planet you land on.
But eventually, if humankind is going to become an interplanetary species, well need to get good at moving life across vast tracts of space.
I actually dont think that having an upgraded human is mandatory to enable this. But I do think that the timescales will coincide in other words, we will be a technologically-augmented species anyway, by the time we seriously attempt to colonise other worlds.
The Upgradeable Human is on the Humans stage on October 10 between 10.45am and 11.25am.
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Posted: at 4:41 pm
For all of those people who feel they have become victims of an ideological witch hunt or have been evicted from all forms of intellectual debate, theres a new Promised Land to share with other like-minded individuals.
Even crazy Uncle Mike, or someone like the best friend of the Oklahoma City bomber, or Aunt Lily who is obsessed with building survival bunkers and keeping an eye out for unmarked, black helicopters would be welcome with open arms.
This coming May in New Orleans, the Founders Fund, run by billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, will host a three-day event called Hereticonand the turnout promises to be unusually decent.
Imagine a conference for people banned from other conferences. Imagine a safe space for people who dont feel safe in safe spaces, the fund wrote.
The main reason for hosting the conference? The organizers believe that these apparent intellectual troublemakers are essential to mankinds progress.
We must protect them, opines the Fund. Butwhile our culture is fascinated by the righteousness of our historical heretics, it is obsessed with the destruction of the heretics among us today.
In an announcementfor the event, the fund compares potential attendees to martyrs like Galileo and Jesus Christ, and poses the question: Are our heretics the first in history who deserve to be burned?
There is no doubt that the event will attract many banned outcasted opinion havers, from all fields, since the event will welcome intellectuals from all walks of life that have been banned from other conferences.
Topics including, but are not limited to: biological self-determination, geo-engineering, transhumanism, the abolition of college, transgressive media, sex, the softer side of doomsday prepping, constitutional monarchy, immortality, drag culture, and building nations. Related: The Doodle Frenzy Is Earning Unethical Breeders Top Dollar
And at the end of the day, on the top floor of hotel, in a hidden room plastered in newspaper clippings of sightings and secret bases, there may be a talk or two on UFOs.
Though the organizers failed to include any information as to who might be presenting on this conference of heretics, media is already speculating as to who might show up. The event is invite-only, but members of the general public can apply for a spot.
While his mainstream ventures include PayPal and Facebook, many of Thiels other activities are naturally leading to something like Hereticon.
Hes been known, for instance, forusing controversial blood transfusion therapiesin pursuit of his dream of living forever.He also signed up with cryogenics company Alcor, which will freeze the ailing body in the hopes of unfreezing it in the future when there is a cure.
However, what apparently makes Thiel an intellectual outcast most is his negative attitude towards Silicon Valley. According to the Wall Street Journal, last year herelocated his home, personal funds, 50-person staff and his foundation from Silicon Valley to Los Angelesapparently because Silicon Valley was too liberal.
Thiel is one of the most vocal supporters Trump has ever enjoyed.
More recently, he accused the Google of treason for operating an artificial intelligence lab in China, which Trump promptly tweeted:
As the impeachment proceedings gain momentum, Hereticon may just gain more requests for attendance that it was planning on.
By Josh Owens for Safehaven.com
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Peter Thiel’s VC Fund to Host Conference for Ideological ‘Heretics,’ Maybe Summon a Ghost or Two – Gizmodo UK
Posted: at 4:41 pm
Ideological outcasts who have been banned from other conferences surely the most beleaguered minority can soon find a home with other like-minded individuals at Hereticon, a three-day conference being planned by the Founders Fund venture capital firm.
Thats the same Founders Fund run by billionaire Peter Thiel, a kindred soul in the world of supposed ideological witch-hunt victims. (Disclosure: Thiel secretly financed the lawsuit that bankrupted Gizmodo US former parent company, Gawker Media, back in 2016.) In an announcement for the event, the fund compares potential attendees to martyrs like Galileo and Jesus Christ and boldly asks, are our heretics the first in history who deserve to be burned?
This coming May in the US city of New Orleans, Louisiana, event attendees will be treated to discussions on a number of ominous topics, ranging from the abolition of college and the benefits of starvation to constitutional monarchy (what?!) and revisionist demography. Thiel, who has identified as libertarian and supported Donald Trumps presidential election bid, in 2009 wrote that he believed freedom and democracy are incompatible and has reportedly explored the potential of injecting ones self with youths blood to stave off death, so this tracks.
Per the Founders Fund post, after attendees are done discussing the intricacies of becoming immortal, biologically modified monarchs, they may lighten it up by summoning a ghost:
Topics including but not limited to: biological self-determination (modification, design), geo-engineering, transhumanism, the abolition of college, transgressive media, sex, the softer side of doomsday prepping, the nature of conspiracy, the benefits of starvation, constitutional monarchy (what?!), revisionist demography, immortality, drag culture, and building nations. After dark, on the top floor of our hotel, in a hidden room plastered in newspaper clippings of sightings and secret bases, there may be a talk or two on UFOs and literally a sance.
Which ghost Founders Fund hopes to summon is perhaps a question best not asked.
We believe dissent is essential to human progress and hope Hereticon will spark important conversations within our community and beyond thats really the only goal, Founders Fund vice president Michael Solana told Business Insider.
Thiel, an early Facebook investor, sold off almost all his shares in the company, while Founders Fund has totally cashed out, Reuters reported in August 2019. Hes remained on the Facebook board of directors, despite reportedly feeling that his views are unwelcome there and continual calls for his removal. Thiels other business ventures include cyberintelligence company Palantir, whose software has reportedly aided US federal immigration authorities with detention and deportation operations, and a large stake via Founders Fund in Palmer Luckeys Anduril, a virtual wall company that inked a border surveillance deal with US Customs and Border Protection.
More recently, Thiel accused Google of treason and being infiltrated by the Chinese government, which dovetails nicely with the Trump administrations continual claims that the search giant is part of a far-ranging conspiracy to undermine his constitutional monar... err, presidency.
Featured image: Alex Wong (Getty Images)
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Long live candidate Harris, Milwaukee’s US Transhumanist Party presidential hopeful – Milwaukee Record
Posted: September 25, 2019 at 11:48 am
If the election of Donald Trump has proven anything, its that anything is possible. Could a Milwaukee candidate, part of a fringe party thats main interest is prolonging human life expectancy, be our next President of the United States? Absolutely not, but the U.S. Transhumanist Party, a mix of ideas that include libertarianism and sci-fi sounding future tech, hopes their campaign will draw attention to their platform.
The U.S. Transhumanism Party was founded in 2014 by Zoltan Istvan, who ran as the partys first candidate in the 2016 election. Zoltans vision was a party that would advocate for significant life extension achieved through the process of science and technology so people could live for hundreds and thousands of years, eventually making a breakthrough where we would be able to live to the age of forrrrrevvvvvvver years old. Imagine limbs being replaced with robotic parts, cloned organs being swapped out like an oil change, and an external hard drive for your brain.
Milwaukees Kristan T. Harris is one of the nine candidates competing to be the partys nominee for presidential candidate. Harris says that besides eternal life, Transhumanists are also interested in genome biohacking, cryptocurrency, weather modification, and creating designer babies.
All of these issues will bring up questions of ethics, which Harris hopes will lead to a healthy debate amongst Transhumanists in discussions about who will have access to eternal life, and how far we will go with artificial intelligence.
What the U.S. Transhumanist Party does is bring awareness of a very autonomous and robotic future thats on its way, Harris says. Its trying to develop ideas about what were going to do about those scenarios before we get there.
Harris works for a tech company by day and bartends at The Salty Dog, a tavern in Cudahy (and his sort of unofficial headquarters), where hes known by regulars for his passion in creating the perfect Bloody Mary with infused vodkas. In his spare time, Harris has developed an online following as the passionate co-host of talk radio show The Rundown Live, and his own program American Intelligence Report. Hes covered everything from ancient aliens to secret societies and government corruption. Milwaukee Record reported how hed found alleged occult symbolism in Veterans Park. All this has led Harris to be labelled as a conspiracy theorist, a term he shrugs off.
I always thought the term conspiracy theorist was a thought-terminating clich. It prevents people from recognizing their own cognitive dissonance or recognizing logical fallacies and its been shown in history that the term has been used mostly to cover up things they dont want people to look into, Harris argues. If someone calls you a conspiracy theorist, then nothing you say should be considered relevant.
Before Harris hits the road to the White House to challenge Trump and whoever the Dems push through, he will have to outlive his eight USTP opponents, including San Franciscan cyberpunk Rachel Haywire, St. Louiss Jon Schattke (owner of Schattke Advanced Nuclear Engineering), and an extraterrestrial-human hybrid from Los Angeles named Vrillon. Not quite as crowded and eclectic as the Democratic lineup, but close.
Harris says hes gotten along well with his fellow Transhumanists for the most part, but in the past week he has developed a rivalry with Arizonas Johannon Ben Zion, who has an institute that focuses largely on left-libertarian and techno-optimist market solutions to contemporary problems. Harris says he got along with Candidate Zion until he decided to call me a technophobe cause I wanted to question ethics of Transhumanism and he says Ill ruin the party. The two candidates clashed on the ethics of designer babies and Harriss talk of naturally extending life. Thats the key word, I said naturally, then he said I was a technophobe, that I wasnt a Transhumanist. Harris challenged Zion to a one-on-one debate, which Zion declined.
Harris held his own in an online virtual debate on September 14 between five of the partys candidates, and is spending the rest of the week campaigning in preparation for September 21, when the USTP Electronic Presidential Primary opens online. Card-carrying (or e-mail-confirmed in this caseit takes about 10 seconds to join the party by filling out a simple form on their website) members who sign up by the 21st will have a week to vote for their representative for president.
If Harris doesnt seal his partys nomination, hell be able to try again in 2024. And if the Transhumanist agenda moves forward, hell also have a chance to run again in 3024, 4024whatever millennium seems like the right fit.
You can find Kristan T. Harriss Official U.S. Transhumanist Party candidate bio page HERE.