Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Real cyborgs"


Today, I gave my annual lecture on transhumanism to the freshmen.

In addition to giving me the chance to extol William Gibson (as anyone rightly should), I peppered the presentation with examples of people who have already become "real cyborgs." I'm talking about Nigel Auckland, Johnny Methany, and the like who already have implants or full prosthetic devices, but what I neglected to find in time was this gallery posted at CNN of other people who have connected their bodies to technology. Among them are:

-Neil Harbisson had an antenna implanted at the top of his skull. To hear him describe it, the implanted device allows him to experience synesthesia. For example, he can "hear colors." Blue apparently sounds like a C sharp.

-"We are not the endpoint of evolution. We should enhance ourselves." Truer words were never spoken. They were said by Dr. Andrew Vladimirov. He is conducting experiments on consciousness and brainwaves by bombarding his prefrontal cortex with infrared lasers.

-I showed a slide of students and faculty at the University of Minnesota controlling a drone by thoughts. That's old news, really, and the technology involved has come a long way in a short time. The CNN gallery shows startup founder, Tiana Sinclair operating her own drone through bio-interface. The drone is "like a huge biosensor" or "EEG device" that senses alpha and beta brainwaves. "I'm kind of a big believer that the world is broken and we can solve its problems with technology," says Sinclair.

I know that I seem to forever be harping on what transhumanism is going to do for us. It gives me at least a bit of hope for the World of Tomorrow. Today after lecture however, I just felt sort of...I don't know...flat. Maybe it's the news, maybe it's other things I have going on, but I just can't help but feel that transhumanism is gradually being co-opted into the realms of the said same all-too human failings that we've been trying to overcome. The current zeitgeist of transhumanism is politically charged. "Who speaks for us?" "I don't like who's running for the Transhumanist Party." Human beings are political animals so I really shouldn't be surprised, but...somehow I was hoping we'd rise above it. Stop arguing! Go back to developing my AI personal assistant that speaks with a hot female voice! Better yet, those cybernetic replacements that will do away with all of my frailties.

Do I sound like a fundamentalist awaiting rapture? Probably. Maybe this is just reality and logic intruding on my formerly Panglossian thinking.

I'm also a bit soured on the nature of the discourse. Look at that CNN article again and the language it uses. "Human cyborg?" By definition, doesn't a cyborg have to be at least partly human? Redundant. I know it's a "lamestream" media source (geez, did I just write that?) but does no one consider what they're writing? Or was this done by a "techno-pundit" thinking they were helping CNN "surf ahead of the zeitgeist"?

Or maybe they just don't know what they're talking about.

Then again, it could be my recent reading habits. In order to set the spirit and "get the feel" of writing literary journalism/nonfiction for my Dulce book, I've been poring over Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer. A lot of Norman Mailer. This is writing that is grounded deeply in reality and not speculation. I am hoping to bring that sensibility to the subject of Dulce Base. Through that effort, the same point of view may be bleeding over into my other interests.

I probably just need to eat. I'm thinking fish and chips.

Of course if I were transhuman, I would crave not such things.


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