Tuesday, December 29, 2009

3D and Transhumanism in James Cameron's Avatar

Some impressions of Avatar:

I have seen a low quality version downloaded by a reprehensible acquaintance of mine. It was good enough to appreciate the story, but this film must be seen with very high quality and 3D effects. Gizmodo says: Put simply, Avatar is the most visually fantastic film I've ever seen. It will be hailed as the groundbreaking 3D release of its time while setting a new standard by which all blockbusters are measured. Yes, it's that good. I will watch the movie again in 3D IMAX as soon as I get the chance, and this is, I think, the best response the film industry can give to piracy: ensuring that the original quality is much superior to that of illegal downloads. If this is the case, they may download a copy but then they will also pay to see the movie with very high quality and 3D effects. Not only in 3D IMAX theaters, but also at home once 3D technology moves to the living room.

Avatar is an important step in the fusion of film and 3D game technologies. 3D technologies were used in both Avatar the film and Avatar the Game. I think stereo and even interactive VR 3D will be more and more used in films and, at some point, films and interactive games may merge. Perhaps in 2019 we will see films delivered as 3D virtual worlds where the user can move in fully realistic scenery and watch the avatars of the actors animated with fully realistic motion capture technologies.

From the Second Tense blog: Avatar is a movie about transhumanism. Start to finish, this movie was chock full of hints both subtle and obvious that Cameron's true interest in the movie is transcendence of humanity of the human body. The storyline was about humanity's future evolution, the themes were transhumanist, there were very specific items that referred to transhumanist belief, and even the medium which the movie was delivered was transhumanist.

What is transhumanism? In short, enhancing human bodies to the point where we become more than human. It includes ideas about:
- memory and physical enhancements
- completely modifying one's body (water-breathing, fire-resistance, etc)
- uploading memories and consciousness into a computer to live as a digital life form,
- connecting into a neural network and living in connection with other individuals
And each and every one of these ideas were represented in Avatar.

See also George Dvorsky's review on the IEET blog, a technoprogressive portal where many transhumanists hang out.

There is an interesting review on the New York Times: “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world... Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.” The NYT review is also available here.

Transhumanists also feel Einstein's religious awe at the beauty and sublimity of the universe. But we thing we, and all our past and future technology development, are also part of nature. We are about to merge with our technology and enter a phase of directed evolution, which some call post-darwinian evolution but others, and I quite agree, view as a continuation of our darwinian evolution. Our efforts to master the universe and take more and more control of our environment are part of the unfolding story of our natural universe. If we don't like something, for example our own vulnerability to disease, and mortality, we can and should try to change it (after understanding it better etc., but without any trace of reverence fro nature or, even worse, humility). This is what our species _does_, and in this sense I think transhumanism affirms human nature much more than other worldviews.

Moving my blog to Blogger

I used to self-host my blog and take care of maintenance tasks, but the services in the cloud have become very powerful, networked, 2.0ed and easy to use. For a personal blog without branding requirements, there is no point in spending time to do something Google does much better for free. So my blog is now at http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/. I am importing the posts I want to keep. One of the things I want to do is integrating the blog with Google Wave, so Blogger should be the ideal choice.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Visionary futurism AND practical technoprogressivism

First, an example of visionary futurism. A few months ago I co-wrote a short entry on Ten Cosmist Convictions for Ben Goertzel's Cosmist Manifesto. One is: Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions -- and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by "copying them to the future." I have chosen one of the most visionary points, but the others are also visionary enough.

Another example: in a recent article on software consciousness and mind uploading, republished on the IEET blog as Will Uploaded Minds in Machines be Alive?. Martine Rothblatt writes: The differences between organic and cybernetic life are less important that their similarities... Mindclones are alive, just not the same kind of life that we are accustomed to. They are functionally alive, albeit with a different structure and substance than has ever existed before. Yet, that is the story of life.

Now, some examples of practical technoprogressivism. The IEET blog has many excellent technoprogressive articles written by Jamais Cascio, listed by Foreign Policy among the world’s most influential thinkers in 2009 and now a Research Fellow at IFTF, James Hughes, Mike Treder and many other brilliant technoprogressive thinkers.

In his last article on Making the Best of a Messy Real World, Mike Treder warns that the rapid growth of our cities and our industries is producing an impact that threatens to destabilize the complex ecosystem that supports us. We may be reaching a tipping point where we will be unable to control the runaway effects that could undo all that we’ve managed to build in the last ten millennia. The article is well written, scientifically sound, balanced, and a much needed input for citizens and policy makers. The IEET has the potential to play a very important role to promote sound and fair technoprogressive policies, and I am honored to be one of its founders.

Most IEET Fellows and writers are concerned with the responsible development of emerging technologies, promoting social and geopolitical fairness, equitable access to resources, and a pragmatic scientific approach to the problems of today's world. I am proud to be in the IEET because I am a citizen who wishes to see a better world and a better society. I don't care for fundamentalist extremes in one sense or another, and I want to live in a society which is both dynamic and fair. I want to live in a world where global decisions are taken together, and at the same time local autonomy is respected. I want to live in a society which offers everybody empowerment and a chance at a decent life, which in practical terms means a basic income guarantee (BIG) for everyone, and at the same time offers sufficient personal rewards to high flyers to keep them motivated. I want to see the development of emerging technologies pursued aggressively, but without killing people or the planet. I want personal freedom for everyone, but with responsibility and respect for others. These are all difficult issues for which there is no one-size-fits-all magic bullet, but I believe they can be faced with hard thinking, hard working, a scientific problem solving approach, empathy for others, and the sound application of appropriate technologies. This is why I call myself a technoprogressive.

Yes: I consider myself a visionary futurist, AND at the same time a technoprogressive, and I don't see any conflict between these two separate identities. I can and do wear both hats, but one at a time. The IEET was founded by other visionary futurists and even, God forbids, transhumanists. Before founding the IEET a few years ago, we had long discussions on transhumanist mailing lists. I was one of those urging a more mature and socially responsible "mainstream" approach, not only focused on tomorrow's world of science fiction but also on making today's world a better place.

For me, the visionary and technoprogressive approaches can co-exist and even mutually reinforce, and the IEET must be a conversational space where both are represented and encouraged. Better health today, and post-biological life tomorrow.

On the other hand, some idiots out there keep saying that responsible technoprogressive citizens should not contemplate transhumanist visions and, with the thought-policing attitude typical of fundamentalist bigots, wish to ban transhumanists from technoprogressive interest groups. Occasionally, these idiocies are echoed by our own discourse. For example, in the otherwise excellent article mentioned above, Mike writes: Techno-rapturists among our reading audience might be quick to respond with glib answers about miraculous nanotechnology solutions that are just around the corner, or the promise of a superintelligent friendly AI who can take over everything and solve all our troubles just like Daddy would.

I reply: Nobody responded with similar answers. Perhaps we should show more respect for our audience? If there are no "techno-rapturists" in the audience, then this sentence is redundant. If there are some, they may feel unnecessarily insulted. I recommend we work together on the many technoprogressive initiatives we all agree upon, and agree to disagree on unrelated personal preferences.

I have been asked: Who you can point to who does, for you, represent immature technorapturism? Who do you think should become more sophisticated about the importance of politics in achieving the vision? I would find your thoughts on that very interesting.

I think I have answered this question in my article I am a Singularitian who does not believe in the Singularity:

Most recent anti-transhumanist articles do not address real transhumanism, but a demonized, caricatural strawman of transhumanism which some intellectually dishonest critics wish to sell to their readers, which I find very annoying. In some cases, I rather agree with some specific points addressing over-optimistic predictions: While I am confident that indefinite life extension and mind uploading will eventually be achieved, I don't see it happening before the second half of the century, and closer to the end. Perhaps even later. Very few transhumanists think practical, operational indefinite life extension and mind uploading will be a reality in the next two or three decades. Probably Kurzweil himself does not _really_ believe it. Similarly, I don't see a Singularity in 2045. Perhaps later, perhaps never. But even when I agree with the letter of these articles, I very much disagree with their spirit, and I think criticizing Kurzweil for making over-optimistic predictions is entirely missing the point. Ray Kurzweil's bold optimism is a refreshing change from today's often overly cautious, timid, boring, PC and at times defeatist attitude. It reminds us that we live in a reality that can be reverse- and re- engineered if we push hard enough. It reminds us that our bodies and brains are not sacred cows but machines which can be improved by technology. He is the bard who tells us of the beautiful new world beyond the horizon, and dares us to go.

Email post to blog

Testing email to blog. See this interesting video introduction to transhumanism. If life is boring, death is even more boring!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An interesting wave: If the Singularity happens, what next?

I started this wave on "If the Singularity happens, what next?" a few weeks ago, and the discussion has been interesting. Now it has been split into other waves.

Testing Wave embedding in Blogger

You will see the wave below only if you are logged on Wave.