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      CommentAuthorWillow Bl00
    • CommentTimeAug 26th 2010 edited
    So, Chris Pirillo invited me to speak at Gnomedex on... Transhumanism.

    Gnomedex has run for 10 years, is a social tech conference, and not in the "social media guru douchebag" way, but in the "we're altering our society with the technologies we use" way. Super super fun and interesting.

    I found a picture!
    img credit: Mr Noded

    The discussion I gave is here, the prezi I used is here. I want to fill it out more about all the aspects of H+, so anyone can use any part of it to explain it. Please do offer your feedback.
    (Prezi is also rad, especially for those of us who grew up looking at comics - you can see the whole storyline, and then focus on bits of it)

    Follow-up questions, which I will post to Ze Blog (which I know is in dire need of themeing etc):
    *how does this tie back into sustainability?
    *is this a new movement, or just how we're adapting new tech to our bodies? is tool use still human?
    *presented in a nonjudgemental way: are there any of these that scare you?
    *if you could have an extra something, what would it be?
    *Postgenderism, Transgenderism
    *Is this approach acceleration? 100 years ago, we didn't think about going at Mac3. Already doing stuff we're not designed to do.
    *Who is working on the Legal-Political front on these things?

    edited because I found a picture
  1.  (8811.2)
    Congrats on getting the gig, Willow.

    I would quickly note:

    is tool use still human?

    It's not exclusively human, but it's certainly so associated with the rise of humanity as to be indivisible from our classification, I would think.

    We have never not been in a period of adapting new tech to our bodies.
  2.  (8811.3)
    Thanks, Warren.

    Right. Which is why I dislike the blanket argument of Donna Harraway followers, who claim any tool use makes you a cyborg. The question was one that came from an audience member, and I want to follow up about why these tools are Transhuman. Which is the question, really.
    As "transhuman" is the stage between the two states of "human" and "post human," it makes it nebulous and difficult to define.

    And considering how much I hate philosophy, this set of discourse sure does evoke a lot.
  3.  (8811.4)
    Defining the line between enhancement tools and transformative tools will be painful but useful, I think.
  4.  (8811.5)
    Fair enough. Tacking on extra limbs (Stelarc) and/or abilities (magnetic implants) a good start? Those don't enhance anything (that means something already exists), but they do transform our interactions and capabilities.
    • CommentTimeAug 26th 2010
    That doesn't strike me as a clear distinction, since many existing tools which are generally not considered "transformative" in this sense don't actually enhance any existing part of us, e.g. thrown tools, and many transformative tools may enhance something existing.

    I think the distinction may be easiest to make within the perspective of the user. A transformative tool may be, for example, something which quickly integrates itself into the user's sense of self. When I use my cellphone, I consider it an intermediary to the action. When I use an extra limb, it may be the case that I don't think of it as using anything at all, but rather extending my agency directly. I did the thing, rather than I used my arm to do the thing.

    I'm not entirely satisfied with this separation, but I feel like it's going in the right direction.
  5.  (8811.7)
    Thrown tools enhance reach. Force projection of any kind is a natural extension of reach.
  6.  (8811.8)
    To me an easy distinction seems to be asking the question, "Am I obtaining sensory information from this object?" Not, "Am I sensing this object?" but "Is this object's awareness linked into my own?" You can implant a rock into my arm and it's still just a rock in my arm. Implant a rock that can tell my brain what it's touching/seeing/tasting/feeling and now we're talking a transformative tool...since it's just a rock, it's only body armor that I can still feel through, but the example can be extended to include other things.

    And that can apply to thrown objects too. Go bluetooth.

    I think so far the tools that humans have produced have enhanced either our ability to sense OR our ability to create/destroy. Please tell me if there's a counterexample. Merge those disciplines and you transform the human.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    It's not exclusively human, but it's certainly so associated with the rise of humanity as to be indivisible from our classification, I would think.

    I think that the important differentiator isn't tools but language: story-telling, and writing.

    We have the same bodies (DNA) now as we had 10,000+ years ago: what makes our lives different (no longer so "animal-like": i.e. "nasty, brutish, and short") is that we now have 10,000+ of history (including technology) available to us.
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    I think that the important differentiator isn't tools but language: story-telling, and writing.

    I have always perceived language as a tool: it is what is used to communicate something internal (thought, want, need, warning) to something external (an other).

    How it is used could be an element of argument establishing human-ness, but I am not well-equipped to develop that.
    • CommentAuthor256
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    I have always perceived language as a tool: it is what is used to communicate something internal

    Interestingly, language is certainly, literally, transformative: The language that you learn changes the physical structure of your brain. This can even have effects in fields that are (usually considered) separate from language - people who speak tonal languages like Chinese are more likely to have perfect pitch than people who speak English, for example.

    I wonder, then: For people born in the present/near future, what will be the effect of the "language" that they use to interact with the ubiquitous computing environment? This language is partially made up of commands in their native human language, but also visual/iconographic/touch/gestures that are unique to computers/to that computer.

    is tool use still human?
    It's not exclusively human, but it's certainly so associated with the rise of humanity as to be indivisible from our classification, I would think.

    This is interesting to me because it conjures the image of nonhuman tool-using species as potential cyborgs. Which I suppose has been conceived and possibly even enacted before. But chimpborgs are still funny.
  7.  (8811.12)
    I like the language-as-a-tool riff.

    Following on from @256's post saying that language changes the physical structure of your brain, and the recent research into the effect of language on cognitive processing and perception (one example being that Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue) then the idea that conscious evolution through technology will involve mechanical/electrical technology may end up seeming quaint, when the actual way to evolve humanity's perceptual or cognitive abilities is to devise a custom language developed especially for that purpose. We won't be dealing with prosthetic eyes, but prosthetic languages. Whether you could use such a language meme to cause changes beyond the cognitive has already been explored in SF by the like of Neal Stephenson (and doubtless many others).

    Interestingly, the research indicates that when bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently too. So you could be armed with multiple languages to deal with different situations.

    @Willow Bl00 - interesting presentation - I really enjoyed it.
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    @Warren: Alright I'll take that, but what about a match? That provides me with an entirely new ability, something I'm totally unable to do without some tool.

    The question of language combined with the question of interaction with machines is interesting to me. And it strikes me as a major factor in what technology we may consider transformative.
      CommentAuthorWillow Bl00
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010 edited
    I think the question is "What is transformative?" That means transformative outside our inherent drive to be more.

    Post-Human means we're no longer human - genetically, due to extensive gene therapy on a large scale; mechanically, if we leave our bodies (foglets).
    So what's on the way, which is not human? Which is transformative?

    Language, throwing, etc don't count because, like Warren said, they simply make us more of what we already are. These things augment us.
    The issue is to break out of what we know, and create something which actually sets us on a different path. These things would transform us.

    At least that's one take on H+.
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    That's interesting. I'd always looked at the drive towards posthumanism as precisely an attempt to be something more. Clearly not more human, but more in some more nebulous form. Outside of that context, I'm not sure how or why we would get there. What is the motivation behind transformation, if not to be more?
  8.  (8811.16)
    Then "more" has to be in relation to something. "More then human" is one tagline of H+ .. but what does that even MEAN?
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2010
    I'm not sure what that might mean. It seems to me, at least from our perspective, that "more than human" would have to be more along some spectrum we already exist on. What changes would we consider to make us "more" without becoming more of something in particular? The spectrum may be a very abstract one, but I feel like it would always be there. I don't know.
  9.  (8811.18)
    Then "more" has to be in relation to something. "More then human" is one tagline of H+ .. but what does that even MEAN?

    To try and answer this, let me present my definition of "human" beyond the clear-cut biological sense.

    Willow, you said in your presentation -- which is very interesting, by the way, and congratulations -- that if you could have an extra something, that would be extra time. But for what?

    A lot of our time goes into remaining alive. We're used to that, so we only realize the effort that goes into it when we stop to think about it. Not only are we used to it, we take pleasure on doing things whose sole purpose is self-preservation.

    We need to feed ourselves, to evacuate the useless parts of the matter we ingested, we need to sleep for a third of our lives, we must breathe constantly -- a lot of our energy and a lot of our time are spent on that.

    Not to mention our body is full of flaws, such as pain. If I dislocate my shoulder, pain will let me know it happened, and it will also delay me from putting it back into place, not to mention the suffering it will cause when I finally do.

    What defines a human? Every animal spends time on self-preservation. A human could feel like they're wasting it. We want more than just being alive. We want to know why we're alive. We want to explore and understand everything to its furthest. And why do we want to do that? Because we want to be happy. We want to prolong that feeling, but every time we experience it, our standards raise. Happiness gets old, so we must look for the new. And what makes one happy varies from person to person.

    Let me use this to suggest a line between transhuman and posthuman. Say you're willing to let go of a lot of things to free up more time:

    As a transhuman, you start ingesting a high-calorie pill with all the nutrients you need. It eliminates hunger for a day, and takes mere five seconds to ingest. Now you only use the bathroom to urinate (as water if of course still needed). Hemmorrhoids permanently cured. You use a machine that tells you which parts of your body are in need of attention or seriously injured, while disabling pain completely. Perhaps this machine makes said diagnosis appear in your retina. And so on and so forth.

    As a posthuman, you leave your body and upload your mind into a foglet cloud. No need to eat, drink or sleep. No reproductive ability. Irreversible. But far easier to simply exist.

    In other words: as a transhuman, you used your existing body as a blueprint and modified it into what is, to your interests, an improvement. As a posthuman, you discarded your existing body irreversibly. But you've reached the same goal by different means -- now you have more time.

    If a human being is defined as a self-aware creature, evolved on Earth, and set apart by its curiosity and the pursuit of happiness -- then you could say both paths, transhuman and posthuman, have diminished your similarities to the rest of the animal kingdom, while freeing up more time to exercise the very aspects that separate you from it.

    Does this make you "more than human" or simply "more human"?

    Also, did any of this make any sense, and what did I overlook and get wrong?

    (September 3rd edit: in retrospect, this post is too simplistic at places (to refer to "pain" solely as a flaw was ridiculous of me), fairly mad at others and excessively philosophical -- so overall I guess it's quite stupid. I do think about its subject quite a lot but I didn't write it down properly. In my defense, I'd been sleep-deprived for weeks when I wrote it and only now that I've had full eight hours of rest do I realize it.)
  10.  (8811.19)
    Damn, it's like an episode of Standalone Complex in here...

    It would seem to me there would be an unbreakable link between humanism and the society they interact with in order to judge humanism. Am I wrong?

    As far as tools go, perhaps 'phantom limb' would illustrate the boundary of the things that would expand from simple tool use to the transhuman state you speak of...
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeAug 28th 2010
    We have the same bodies (DNA) now as we had 10,000+ years ago

    Maybe that's not quite true: for example, there's the Russian experiment to breed domesticatable foxes; with has resulted in a breed of fox whose social behaviour to humans is very different, after a breeding program that only started in the 1950s (so, I don't know, maybe only about 15 generations).