by Benjamin Ross Hayden – Filmmaker, Graduate of University of Calgary and SAIT Polytechnic Film Studies Programs
Mr. Hayden recently won the AMPIA Best Special Effects award for his critically acclaimed short AGOPHOBIA.
This New Function is a critical perspective on the topic of contemporary humanity’s permeation by technology in terms of interpersonal and moral ethics juxtaposed with mass communication theories and technological singularity theory. The fundamental research question deals with the matter of as human scientific, medical, and communication technology advances forward, how is humanity altered? New film director Benjamin Ross Hayden authored the critical perspective when concluding a Bachelor of Film Studies at University of Calgary in 2012. This perspective displays root as commentary embedded throughout his work in cinema, chiefly the Trans-human science fiction, Agophobia.
The critique explores perspectives of modern mass communications theories contested by Mark B. Hansen, Wendy Hui Hyong Chun, and Myron Kruger. Theories are examined in particular with the singularity theorists such as Ray Kurzweil, and Vernor Vinge, and anchored by direct interviews with renowned Neuro-scientist Dr. Naweed Syed. This is anchored with relative communication and technology statistics. The method employed for this research include synthesizing studies conducted from medical “patchclamp” brain augmentation processes, the Bitcoin system, and Google Glass® that two years later are persisting as economic and technologic phenomena. The results of this examination indicate progress towards divergence of humanization, intuitive prospects for cognitions of data, and a human fascination that strangely advances deterministically towards singularity theory.
At this time of research, Agophobia was created in order to serve as a vessel for the understandings in This New Function. Narratively, Agophobia is based on a fantastical era in reciprocated time beyond the point of singularity when humanity is entirely merged with its brainchild. Such a fusion reflects the behavior of characters in this story world, and the need for the protagonist agent, the RAM, the force of memory in a computer, to escape. Agophobia personifies these growing data systems that humanity can now perceive and visualize. Agophobia went on to receive acclaim in the international world of film.
View the trailer for Agophobia on Vimeo. http://vimeo.com/72681903
THIS NEW FUNCTION: PERSPECTIVES ON HUMANITY WITHIN DIGITAL SOCIATIES
Vernor Vinge, Professor of Mathematics at San Diego State University launches a foresight of inevitability for humanity – the observations that follow are concerned with the future progress of mankind. The future of mankind is outlined further by others, on the edge facing monitor screen diodes, as we all now are. Vinge expresses a theory of the future:
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century… we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life of earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation of technologic entities with greater than human intelligence. (Vinge, 1993. The Coming Technological Singularity).
This text functions to examine new realities of humanity in societies “absorbed by data” – defined as any single person or cluster of individuals interacting with digital technologies in daily life. This examination surveys supporting evidence through scholarly publications, online newspaper articles, blog entries, photographs, and a formal interview with neuroscientist and nanotechnologist, Dr. Naweed Syed – to provide insight supporting and opposing theories of Singularity. Under peer review, the existing areas of research into the subject of singularity present theories and examinations and include relevant case studies for contextualization of the argument. Theories about singularity are evident in the writings of Ray Kurzweil, including The Singularity is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. Both serve as texts establishing foundations for this examination. Other scholars and writers whose examinations of singularity are relevant in support and opposition to theories of singularity include publications such as Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk by Eliezer Yudkowsky, Bodies in Code by Mark B. Hansen, Control and Freedom by Wendy Hui Kyung Chun, Artificial Intelligence: Mirrors for the Mind by Harry Henderson, Virtual Reality by Myron W. Krueger, Singularity and Nightmares by David Brin, and The Coming Age of Calm Technology by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brow. With other events presented, such as the “Blackberry Riots”, Google Glasses, ever-new Apple devices, the Bitcoin system, and emerging forms of “visual data” relevant to the argument correlate with theories of singularity. With the investigation of the above sources outlined, further insights are developed and contrasted with respect to the current state of understanding in the field.
The central position of this thesis is that individuals, companies, and developmental experiments with new technologies involved in digital societies are carrying forward by example the theories of singularity, such that the relationships between humans and their technologies are shifting and altering, humanity’s interpersonal and moral ethics are undergoing transformation through interactions with new technologies, and thus fulfilling theories of Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion – thus introducing new evidence for the previously forecasted Technological Singularity.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is a Research Fellow for the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in San Francisco California. He describes three major schools of singularity by introducing that “Singularity discussions seem to be splitting up into three major schools of thought: Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion”(Yudkowsky, 2007. The Singularity Institute). He describes the school of thought for Accelerating Change:
Our intuitions about change are linear; we expect roughly as much change as has occurred in the past over our own lifetimes. But technological change feeds on itself, and therefore accelerates. Change today is faster than it was 500 years ago, which in turn is faster than it was 5000 years ago. Our recent past is not a reliable guide to how much change we should expect in the future. [He next describes the school of thought for the Event Horizon]… For the last hundred thousand years, humans have been the smartest intelligences on the planet. All our social and technological progress was produced by human brains. Shortly, technology will advance to the point of improving on human intelligence (brain-computer interfaces, Artificial Intelligence). This will create a future that is weirder by far than most science fiction, a difference-in-kind that goes beyond amazing shiny gadgets. [He finally describes the school of thought for the Intelligence Explosion]… Intelligence has always been the source of technology. If technology can significantly improve on human intelligence – create minds smarter than the smartest existing humans – then this closes the loop and creates a positive feedback cycle. What would humans with brain-computer interfaces do with their augmented intelligence? One good bet is that they’d design the next generation of brain-computer interfaces. Intelligence enhancement is a classic tipping point; the smarter you get, the more intelligence you can apply to making yourself even smarter” (Yudkowsky, 2007. The Singularity Institute).
These three distinct schools of thought concern the rate of technological progress, technology providing service to improve human intelligence, and finally the process and results of unifying technology and the body and mind. The three schools concerning these three processes similarly position humanity and technology as fated for certain degrees of accelerated interaction.
Kurzweil describes the first school of thought for Accelerating Change, revisiting Gordon Moore’s Law of Accelerating Returns:
The prediction that the number of transistors in an affordable chip will double every 18 months. In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel Corporation, observed that the number of transistors that could be affordably put into an integrated circuit had been doubling every year. Moore later predicted that the number of transistors would double every two years, and claims never to have specified a period of 18 months. Nevertheless, the prediction has largely held true; chip components have become ever-smaller, resulting in increased computing power on affordable computers. (Moore, 2006)
Accelerating Change as a fundamental to Kurzweil’s explanation of singularity consults Moore’s Law of Accelerating Returns to Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines and his more recent publication The Singularity is Near. Presently in 2012, the following rhetoric concerning the size of computer transistor circuitry by Kurzweil is noteworthy as the size of circuitry is diminishing in size and price, “how much longer can this go on?.. After almost sixty years – this paradigm will break down… What then?” (Kurzweil, 1999. P. 37).
Dr. Naweed Syed – Neuroscientist and Nanotechologist working with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at University of Calgary offers insight detailing his neuroscientific “pattern generating” experimentations in vitro. According to Syed, “This work has been the focus of many text books and review articles and provides direct insights into the cellular and synaptic basis of rhythm generation” (Syed, 8i). Carolyn Abraham for The Globe and Mail Newspaper paraphrases, stating that “[Syed and company] have made a key advancement in connecting brain cells to a newly designed silicon chip”(Abraham, 2010). Published in Neuron scientific journal, Syed’s documented lab experiments led to “[the] first successful demonstration that a single transplanted neuron restoring the deficit in the respiratory behavior by integrating into [digital] host circuitry”(Syed et al., p. 767). According to Syed, concerning the process behind his scientific efforts, in person he states that:
[our lab] developed the first patch clamp chip, where we could record not only ionic currents, but also record synaptic currents for the first time. This chip offers us the ability for the first time ever the ability to record the ion channels and perhaps understand how diseases or disorders such as epilepsy occur, and how best to treat them with different drugs. (Syed, Interview).
Syed’s medical advancement provides evidence concerning the perspectives of Kurzweil and the school of singularity concerning Accelerating Change. According to Kurzweil, “the key idea underlying the impending singularity is that the pace of change in our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace”(Kurzweil. 2005 P. 8). Divergent speculation about this unity stands between Syed and Kurzweil. Kurzweil states that, “within two decades, we will have a detailed understanding of how all the regions of the human brain work”(Kurzweil, 2005. p. 25). Syed’s opinion on the above statement is divergent from Kurzweil’s theories, stating “[with respect to] understanding how all regions of the human brain work [in twenty years] it is a possibility. However, I don’t believe that we will reach the level of understanding the cognitive intuitiveness, and the sense of, for example, feelings. Even the subconscious dream world, we would not near this in twenty years”(Syed, Interview). What becomes introduced through this polarity of opinion concerning the Accelerating Change theory is the present status quo.
Syed and Kurzweil offer divergent speculation with respect to the state of human/technology relations in twenty years. Syed holds that it will be difficult to reach a point in twenty years that permits technology to understand the complex human subconscious state. At the very least, this opposition eludes a frontier for new fieldwork.
This also serves to contextualize the presence of emerging technologies and apparatuses that reflect the Accelerating Change theory. In consumer environments where the societal indoctrination of mobile devices, for example, the iPad 2, has significant consumer influence upon individuals in societies affording these technologies.
According to Jameson Berkow for Financial Post Newspaper, “[Apple’s “new” iPad 2] sold a total of three million units since becoming available in ten countries [in three days], Apple states that 300,000 units of the first iPad were sold on launch day in the USA in mid-April 2010”(Jameson, The Financial Post). Apple creates an edition of the same product with minor technical improvement such as screen resolution and battery life. Thus creating demand through marketing as a spectacle to supply ten-fold the product containing the same basic functions two years after a release of virtually the same product. This indicates that the demand for consumer-grade technologies with quite simply improved “features” is desirable for consumers in “ten countries” to desire and afford these technologies. With this in mind, further evidence is raised when considering a similarly prodigious digital organization, Google, Inc.
Nick Bilton for The New York Times states:
[in late 2012] Google is expected to start selling eyeglasses that will project information, entertainment and… advertisements onto the lenses… the glasses will be equipped with GPS and motion sensors. For instance, a person looking at a landmark could see detailed historical information… They might also be used for virtual reality games that use the real world as the playground. (Bilton, 2012. The New York Times)
Google embracing the concept of introducing an ocular-interfacing technology, these “glasses” – an HMD (Head-Mounting Display) is marketed to be an affordable information-providing tool with screen technology that provides facts, relays past images and videos from previous experiences. This serves to contextualize the critique of body-augmenting technologies by Myron Krueger, he states that “artificial realities… our perceptual intelligence that all men share is more powerful that the symbol manipulation skills that are the province of the few”(Krueger, 1993. p. 161). Google introducing this device embraces and re-positions reality to become a distorted artificial experience when the user chooses to believe that the world – the world that the user looks, lives, and moves within – now contains identifiable metadata, including forms of advertisement seemingly positioned to be as “meta-” of the surrounding environment – thus further situating human perception closer to an experience of digitized interaction and simulation. The above concerns Accelerating Change when Kurzweil asks, “What’s Next?”
If technology is presently at a stage of cradling unto the body, and with viewing the world through a perception-enhancing tool, are theories of singularity worth taking into account in order to come to terms in this year of 2012, at the time of this examination, evidence exists that these current technologies presently concern the theory of The Event Horizon – for a new set of emerging conglomerate companies? Yudkowsky’s explanation of the Event Horizon inverts the relations of humanity continually improving technology, “shortly, technology will advance to the point of
Yudkowsky’s explanation of the Event Horizon inverts the relations of humanity continually improving technology, “shortly, technology will advance to the point of improving on human intelligence”(Yudkowsky, The Singularity Institute). The question being – whose intelligence will it inform?
Kurzweil suggests “we will have effective software models of human intelligence by the mid-2020’s”(Kurzweil, 2006. p. 25) is further supported with consumer-monitoring technologies emerging by the Google organization. According to a survey of web-traffic information tracking services by Anonymous, the W3Techs website provides statistical evidence supporting the Google Analytics service as the most widely used web traffic statistic service online, “Google Analytics is used by 55.8% of all the websites using traffic tracking service” (W3Techs, 2012). This service supplies web user-traffic information and generates statistical data evidence for Google and other interested parties regarding trends, demographics, interests, and decisions made by cognitive users.
Google holds the most widely utilized web statistic-generating tool. It would be in that of Google’s interest to accumulate statistics gathered by the signals of data-generating products such as the Google Glasses, and will indeed be prioritized as an information-gathering tool for the future. Whatsoever the user of the glasses is consciously driven to gaze upon will inform the organization what the user is placing interest towards, including proof of ocular “mental transitions” from object to object, product to product, user to user, and thus triangulating – to certain extents – the perceptual experiences of a user – of particular demographics – who previously provided a location, gender, age, weight, religion, marital status, and a registered gaze. If Google were to synthesize and understand the information gathered by the glasses, a new area of research may possibly develop through processing the information of perceptual cognitive experience, thus supporting Kurzweil’s speculation in modeling human intelligence whereby new statistical evidence will be made available through a technology that – upon prior evidence of consumer demands for enhanced digital products – may possibly become adopted into digital societies and provide further understanding of human psychological experiences – which could also inform creative endeavors.
Information generating technologies currently support the Event Horizon theory. Visual programming data diagrams afford the optical visualization of SMS messages to represent cellular signal activity. Accomplishments by data programmers such as Aaron Koblin visualizing the SMS message system of Amsterdam support the Event Horizon theory by Yudkowsky that “technology now informs human intelligence”.
Dr. Syed offers similar interest regarding the implantation of optical nanotechnologies, he states “in fifteen year, [nanotechnologies] will become the norm in medicine, and revolutionize the medical industry…Squishy silicon [nanochips] will herald as a suitable cure for blindness. Silicon chips would be connected to the optic nerve… the user puts on their glasses, and inside the glasses there is a little camera that is a photodiode. Looking outside, just like a camera, it powers the chip off site – given the proximity of the glasses to the silicone chip. The glasses would then project the image across to the chip, which is connected to the user’s optic nerve”(Syed, Interview).
Dr. Syed conducts a team of Biomedical Scientists at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Canada. Dr. Syed views biomedical bodily augmentation as viable in the near future, “in ten years, you will begin to see brain control prosthetic devices”(Dr. Syed, Interview). They have produced the world’s first bionic hybrid. This attests evidence to bodily augmentation, and the Singularity concept of the Intelligence Explosion. This Patchclamp Chip registers biological neuro-synaptic impulses by “test[ing] the involvement of individual neurons in the control of respiratory behavior …to develop techniques to perform successful brain cell transplants”(Syed et al. 1992, 767-74). Dr. Syed forecasts the immediate uses of the chip extending to medical purposes such as advancements in epileptic seizure control, prosthetic ligaments, and ocular implants, he explains, “we developed the first patch clamp chip, where we could record not only ionic currents, but also record synaptic currents that could never be done before”(Dr. Syed, Interview). Dr. Syed’s successful reconstruction of a pattern generator in vitro “was accompanied by an editorial review entitled “High Culture of Neuroscience” in Science [magazine] (1990;250: 282-285). Similarity, “The Medical Post (Toronto), CBC, CFCN, Global Television, and Calgary Herald ran cover stories on the significance of this research”(Syed, p. 8i). Dr. Syed publishing medical evidence regarding the fusion of digital technologies with the human body provides attention to the Intelligence Explosion theory. Dr. Syed as an expert in the medical field advancing successful electro-synaptic silicon chip interfaces initiates an idea of nano-technological transformations and bionic fusions with digital technologies.
Dr. Syed and his team of scientists work towards advancing the medical field of nanotechnology and are establishing a future for further research with the findings. Dr. Syed expresses, “through those who will advance the field from our findings, and to be part of this step in the findings that we were the first to implant the first true bionic hybrid – It does not matter who brings it to the finish line, but we have been part of that journey” (Dr. Syed, Interview). Dr. Syed attests to his team’s scientific advancement supposes a timeframe when digital technology will corporeally fuse with humanity. Logical steps in the field of nanotechnology, according to Dr. Syed:
…have come to a stage where [scientists] are beginning to unravel the secrets of brain-machine interfacing biologically compatible tissues, biologically compatible machines, and allowing the ability to listen into the conversation between brain cells at a resolution that has never been observed. Once that has been achieved, people are recording from hundreds of thousands of cells. Now you come very close to brain control prosthetic devices, for example to control artificial limbs – you will see this in ten years. (Dr. Syed, Interview).
“Conversation” of the bionic brain by Dr. Syed infers a language of communication between human minds with electronic registration of neuro-activity by digital nanotechnology. Dr.Syed’s research is presently focused for medical purposes, however, the inclusion of communications technologies is a subsequent area for the examination for the bionic mind. Dr. Syed elaborates the possibility of incorporating communication technologies and bionic implants:
If we could design a cochlear implant, which is planted in a cochlea, and if this tissue could detect epileptic seizures on the brain, and if we could detect seizure activity from that tissue, what this device could then do is dial into your cell phone, and notify you that you’re about to have a seizure. For example, if you were driving you would then pull over, or if you were standing, you would sit down. Then through an application on the phone, emergency services could automatically be contacted, your information would be provided instantly to the medical personnel receiving your emergency, and provide your GPS location to an ambulance driver who would arrive at your location. [Bionic technologies] allow you to bring in different technologies from healthcare, to communication technologies. (Dr. Syed, Interview).
The incorporation of communication technologies with the bionic apparatus encourages advanced communication formations. At present, information devices adorned unto the body serve purposes such as wrist-strap “jogging” carriers, or earpiece cellular devices. These devices anticipate future affixations of digital technologies unto the human body. Dr. Syed explaining the positive benefits for the existence of bionic communication tools interfacing inside the body is not as bio-ethically inconceivable as once before – previously inciting paranoia and fear mongering against technological hypnotization. Contrarily, this outlook rather broadens the creative possibilities for bionic advancements. This serves as optimistic support of advancements and transformations of humans in digital societies.
Human ethics transforming amidst bionics and nanotechnology is apart from the Internet and it’s affects on humanity inasmuch that bionic augmentations lie – according to Dr. Syed “at least one generation ahead to be widespread and societally indoctrinated.” (Syed, Interview). However, the general public currently has expanded access to the Internet, presently consuming the growing set of functions offered therein. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun examines the dystopic consequences of the Internet as a medium that constricts, while under disguise of offering functionality; Chun asks:
[to] consider, for instance, what happens when you browse a webpage. Your computer sends information, such as your Internet protocol (IP) address, browser type, language preference, and user domain (your user domain often contains information such as your physical location or username). More important, the moment you “jack in” (for networked Mac and Windows machines, the moment you turn on your computer), your Ethernet card participates in an incessant “dialogue” with other networked machines. (Chun, 2006. p. 3).
This exchange of information interfaces Internet machines to bridge contact and create dialogue, while the “user” as acting agent initiating dialogue becomes a component of the process in carrying forward information without the human user understanding any immediate language of the dialogue. This inverts the perspective that digital processing tools have permanently limited understanding of the dialogue or activity taking place in the human mind. Chun raises that humans have a limited understandings of coded digital dialogue, thus creating a balanced precedent whereby the human agent and computer system are in a current degree of harmony where the degree of understanding is not fully bridged, but is bridging ever closer. This presents the optimistic opportunity and pleasurable possibility, but must also be carefully considered.
A human interacting with a computer is typically referred to as the “user”, and as Chun states, “users are used as they use” (Chun, 2006. p. 28). The user as empowered consumer is differentiated from the passive consumer of the television generation only as much that a “user” is given more freedom to specify a choice of attention and activity on a subject over the Internet in 2012. Now offering an array of choices for the same type of action, gesture, product, interest, or media. The vast availability of choice outmodes physical space when everything is “here and available” across the diodes. Chun explains that “cyberspace others space and place. Cyberspace loosens place… places disappear and/or move rapidly” (Chun, 2006. p. 46). Cyberspace loosening and estranging physical space attests to humans transforming and that digital locations confound physical space. Chun continues, “creators/managers of webpages often move or erase webpages with little regard for those who have bookmarked or linked to them” (Chun, 2006. P. 46). The exterior world is naturalizing digital locations where a non-existent location is now fabricated to exist. A “site” as a digital “space” is made physical when the location, or “domain” is objectified, rather than remains as a subject. The differences between physical and digital spaces being that:
Electronic spaces… displace old assumptions about space and place. This naming system also reveals the fundamental arbitrariness of geographic names (for example, there is no inherent reason why Arizona should be called Arizona – only historical ones)… place has been tied to notions of civilization, and space to freedom, emptiness, and frontiers. (Chun, 2006. p. 43-5).
The displacement of “place” and revealing of arbitrariness surrounding geographic names offers evidence for physical locations being disrupted through emerging digital societies. Operating through “spaces” and “domains” as Chun explains, “Cyberspace is fundamentally unmappable and unlocatable” (Chun, 2006. p. 43). Unlocatable spaces hold freedom against locations bound through political and geographical dimensions, also serving to foster zones of growth in rebellion and anti-establishment.
A series of violent riots occurring in the United Kingdom in late 2011 initiated through the “Blackberry Messenger service”, or “BBM”. The feature provides instantaneous notification of all contacts logged in a user’s cellular device to be group-messaged simultaneously. This sprawled and collectivized a riot campaign to ignite within a digital context, outside of the physical environment. This contemporary example of lawless digital activities in invisible space is answered by Chun, she states, “[untappable] fiber-optic [and by extension private cellular] networks challenge disciplinary and regulatory power. Telecommunications monopolies, rules, and regulations have been and continue to be revised, many regulatory techniques have been rendered ineffectual” (Chun, 2006. p. 15). The Internet thus serves as a frontier for a sense of freedom in code. As Chun continues:
Cyberspace, as a virtual non-place, made the Internet so much more than a network of networks, it became a place in which things happened, in which users actions separated from their bodies, and in which local standards became impossible to determine. It thus freed users from their bodies and their locations. (Chun, 2006. p. 38).
Aside from cellular devices, personal computers have also served as zones in support of Chun’s observations where users are “freed from bodies and their locations”. Benjamin Wallace for Wired Magazine published an expose in 2011 – detailing the rise and fall of a digital economic system – Bitcoin. Benjamin recounts:
In November 2008, a man named Satoshi Nakamoto posted a research paper to an obscure cryptography listserv describing his design for a new digital currency called Bitcoin… The idea of digital money – convenient and untraceable, liberated from the oversight of government and banks – had been a hot topic since the birth of the Internet. Bitcoin did away with third party [banks] by publicly distributing the ledger, what Nakamoto called the “block chain”. Users willing to devote CPU power to running a special piece of software would be called “Miners” and would form a network to maintain the block chain collectively. In the process they would also generate new currency… [However] Even the purest technology has to live in an impure world. (Wallace, 2008, Rise and Fall of Bitcoin).
The Internet has become a realm of exchange for broad ranges of conceivable goods or services in a new marketplace. An example of this is the case of the “Bitcoin” online currency system of 2011. Originating from an anonymous Japanese programmer / hacker, Satoshi Nakamoto; the Bitcoin network stands as transparently opposing privatized banking companies. Bitcoin acts as a user-governed peer-to-peer digital currency/goods exchange economy.
Nakamoto creating a new economy as an agent outside the regulated system of conventional banking reflects humanity’s shifting position within the Internet as a non-physical realm where change and influences towards the physical world can be exacted. The Bitcoin system operates by publicly listing the transactions of users who trade and accept the finite and invisible digital currency across the Internet for goods and services such as electronics, appliances, food, and socks. Throughout 2011, Bitcoin gained popularity as users sought to harness the new means of transacting a form of currency comparable to a precious and finite currency such as gold. Bitcoin “miners” assembling powerful computer arrays from common public wholesalers with expanded processing power in order to “mine” the Bitcoin from their homes is an example of the internet transcending previous notions of its limitations, evolving to a gateway into livelihood and societal sustenance from a purely digital economy.
The number of Bitcoin was limited to only twenty-one million, thus producing demand through scarcity. For a period of time in 2011, users of Bitcoin would have experienced Chun’s observations as the reliance on a systematized form of economy was in sight of transforming to become a sustainable alternative currency. Bitcoin as a currency of exchange generated through binary calculations with the Internet marks a point in history when an alternative economy emerged from open-source programming. The fundamental genesis of the currency in reaction to the physical world’s pre-established “capital-driven” system of private banking exemplifies the potential of the Internet as a system outside of physical space, transacting with physical space.
Wallace recalls, “as in any gold rush, people recount tales of uncertain veracity”(Wallace, 2011. The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin). The Bitcoin system has crashed since the peak of $30 USD per Bitcoin in July 2011. Wallace recounts the fall of Bitcoin:
Users protected their bitcoins by creating backups… encrypting on thumb drives, on forensically scrubbed virgin computers without Internet connections, in the cloud, and on printouts stored in safe-deposit boxes… Bitcoin itself might have been decentralized, but users were blindly entrusting increasing amounts of currency to third parties that even the most radical libertarian would be hard-pressed to claim were more secure that federally insured institutions. (Wallace, 2011. The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin).
However, the Bitcoin code still remains presently functional to this day. The cause of the downfall was greed and dishonesty that nullified the balance of a system designed to operate in equilibrium based on needs and community ethics of a global society – a form not conducive in the way third-party banking systems thrive from private investment and personal interest. This draws to attention Chun’s previous observations about the Internet displacing the correspondent notion of physical “place” reflecting notions of civilization, to which banks have systematized economies for centuries. The Bitcoin system as a potentially successful alternative micro-financial system resembles, as Chun explains, “an in-between space of contradiction and contestation: one that mimics or simulates live spaces but that calls those inhabited spaces into question” (Chun, 2006. p. 52).
The Bitcoin network rendering obsolete the physical location of any person involved in the network is significant as an alternative digital currency creating a new zone of exchange, displacing previously regulated national borders, a multi-national system where location and institution are obsolete. This system draws to attention the inherent characteristics and agendas of privatized banking systems, and thereby showing the Internet potentially neutralizing a system settled to a physical location. Chun’s observations of the Internet link with rapidly accelerating digital systems surrounding the critique of a merger between physical and cyber spaces. This offers support to Accelerating Change theory.
Chun contesting the Internet as a non-place, liberating the “user” from a body and location is a response to the perspectives of Dr. Mark B. Hansen, author of Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. Dr. Hansen is a Professor of Literature, Information Science, Information Studies, and Visual Studies at Duke University. He examines the digital in relation to the human body as a site for “technogenesis”, whereby primordial tactility introjects technics into human life. According to Dr. Hansen, “Technics” is present “with each technical “liberation” of some formerly invisible area of the sensory world, the operation and meaning of sensation changes in some crucial way”(Hansen, 2012. p. 1). Krueger fortifies artificial realities are stronger through the shared experience of consciousness that mankind holds. Krueger’s explains virtual realities, he states:
If when I pondered what the ultimate experience would feel like, I decided that it should be indistinguishable from real experience. It would not be separated from reality by a process of suiting up, wearing gear, and being tethered to a computer by unseen wires… rather than limiting your participation to a single handheld 3-D pointing device, your image would appear in the world and every action of your body could be responded to instantaneously. Whereas the age and folks who thought that 3-D sensory was the essence of reality, I felt that the degree of physical involvement was the measure of immersion. (Krueger, 2002. Unpaginated).
Physical involvement with virtual realities are observed with popular video entertainment systems including motion capture-turned-interactive gaming experiences to insist the importance and further enhancement of full bodily presence into artificial reality of video game experiences – thus indoctrinating younger generations to continue accepting these horizons. These systems confound and distort the nature of experiencing reality, as Hansen observes:
This schism yields the fundamental, desire-generating alienation of the specular “I” into the social “I”… allowing the child [or person] to enter into a space of inter-corporeality: What is true of his own body, for the child, is also true of the other’s body. The child himself feels that he is in the other’s body, just as he feels himself to be in his visual image. (Hansen, p. 134)
The body of a user as an agent for a virtual avatar serves to remove the consequences of effect unto the user, leaving only the cause by which the user enacts to receive a simulated response or effect. This produces a relationship of humanity and technology that has previously never existed. A human provides action, statements, movement, history, and more recently, “metadata” unto a void of non-space receiving information. How will new relationships with digital systems affect future generations of humanity? This rhetoric lies at the core of arguments concerning humanity’s transformation into digital societies that embrace, afford, and are concerned with fostering the Event Horizon consideration of Singularity.
The evidence concerning this examination exists in real occurrences and documented research. The evidence serves to establish trends toward aspects of singularity – while not immanently bringing singularity upon humanity – but rather fulfilling a degree of progress forecasted through theories as a type of technological destiny. Such events as provided above preclude, to certain degrees, movement toward such new considerations of technological interactions – rather than evidence through academic association. As Yudkowsky states:
“It is far more difficult to write about global risks of Artificial Intelligence than about cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are settled science; one need simply quote the literature. Artificial Intelligence is not settled science; it belongs to the frontier, not to the textbook”.(Yudkowsky, 2006, p. i)
The frontier is demonstrated through real-world occurrences – cellular networks, data visualization technologies, bionic bodily augmentions, digital economies, digital riots, and adopting digital tools. This leads humans to a risky stage in which acceptance or denial of technologies with positive and negative attributions for humanity will create benefits and disadvantages for adopting technology closer to become entwined with the human experience. With this knowledge, a point when technology begins disadvantaging humanity is when it seems inescapable that, restating Chun, “users are used as they use”.
Criticism surrounding theories of singularity certainly exist. Chun’s previous observations of the human being as “user” offer bleak and unsavory dystopian perspectives of human-technology interactions that encourage criticism against technological integration. Other criticisms as offered David Brin suggest in Singularities and Nightmares, “but then, won’t there also be the biomedical equivalent of “hackers”…what happens when this kind of ”creativity” moves to the very stuff of life itself?… [Such as] the intentional abuse by larger entities – terror cannibals, scheming dictatorships, and large corporations”(Brin, 2006, Singularity and Nightmares). Brin counters this form of fear mongering, suggesting further with proposal of Reciprocal Accountability, stating, “I see every reason to believe we have a chance to disprove that dour worry. As members of an open and questioning civilization – one that uses reciprocal accountability to find and probe every possible failure-mode – we may be uniquely equipped to handle the challenges [of technological singularity]” ”(Brin, 2006, Singularity and Nightmares). Harry Henderson surfaces a rebuttal to oppositions against singularity in Artificial Intelligence: Mirrors for the Mind, offering that:
whether one takes the conservative approach of renouncing or at least sharply limiting further technological advances, or the liberal one of subjecting them to active scrutiny and public debate, it may be that Singularity itself might contain its own restraint in the form of the only kind of system capable of detecting and rapidly responding to outbreaks of designer viruses or “nano-plagues”. Will the post-singularity world be under the care and custody of an artificial intelligence? [that] human survival might require that such an intelligence be endowed with human values. (Henderson, 2007. P. 157).
Dr. Syed similarly contests dystopian considerations of singularity, suggesting, “a certain degree of fear-mongering exists with regard to the government inciting unnecessary control towards brain infused technologies”(Dr. Syed, Interview). Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in The Coming Age of Calm Technology introduce a perspective differentiating contesting areas of debate for the societal embedding of technology:
Designs that encalm and inform meet two human needs not usually met together. Information technology is more often the enemy of calm. Pagers, cell phones, news-services, the World-Wide-Web, email, TV, and radio bombard us frenetically. Can we really look to technology itself for a solution? But some technology does lead to true calm and comfort. There is no less technology involved in a comfortable pair of shoes, in a fine writing pen, or in delivering the New York Times on a Sunday morning, than in a home PC. Why is one often enraging, the others frequently encalming? We believe the difference is in how they engage our attention. Calm technology engages both the center and the periphery of our attention, and in fact moves back and forth between the two.
(Weiser & Brown, 1996. p. i.)
These responses to criticisms of Singularity introduce that present-day human interaction with technology is somehow entwined with the degree of proximity between digital interfaces and human bodies. Whether it is so that individuals presently accepting and further integrating with digital technologies stand as stronger [in]visible online aliases and anonymous users in these digital spaces, Chun identifies those “Hackers” embracing closer proximity with technology, she states:
The hacker mystique posits power through an automated tape. One does not [need to] log onto the system through authorized passive entry; one sneaks in, dropping two trapdoors in this security program, hiding one’s tracks, immune to the audit trails that were put there to make the perceiver part of the data perceived. It is a dream of recovering power and wholeness by seeking wonders and by not being seen. Thoughts, cyberspace allows the hacker to assume the privilege of the imperial subject”- to see without being seen. (Chun, 2006. p. 185-6).
This introduces the classical notion by Charles Baudelaire of the Flaneur, Chun explains, the web server is Charles-Pierre Baudelaire’s flaneur: a perfect spectator – who feels at home on the wall, moving among crowds”(Chun, 2006. p. 60). Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media describes the Flaneur / data dandy as “find[ing] peace in the knowledge that he/she/[they] can slide over endless fields of data locating any morsel of information with the click of a button, zooming through file systems and networks, comfort to divide manipulation operations at their control”(Manovich, 2001. p. 274).
Obscured by chosen concealment, the digital Flaneur with advanced knowledge and abilities to seek and acquire from the invisible void navigates as an entity distorted and mystified by pixel artifacting, aliases, bands – an entity who’s dimensions are beyond comprehension in the void that watches you as you watch. Chun describes as “one [who] must see, but not be seen, “read” others and uncover their traces, but believe none of one’s own”(Chun, 2006, p. 60). Similar to how the Internet is invisible – coming into further forms of clarity as the years progress in digital societies.
As Chun expresses, “to enter a world where anything is possible is to enter cyber-space – a place also created by the methodology of the oppressed”(Chun, 2006. P. 75). Chela Dandoval continues further in Methodology of the Oppressed, “for to enter a world where any activity is possible in order to ensure survival is to enter a cyberspace of being… Yet this very activity also provides cyberspace its colonizing powers, making it a zone of limitless possibility”(Sandoval, 2000. P. 177).
The desire to maintain cyberspace as a zone of limitless possibility is effectively proven with the SOPA / Bill C-11 controversy moving to heavily constrict the abilities for users to share content unless holding official copyright of the content was globally addressed and protested against in early 2012 as Sean Thomas by RT magazine explains:
A controversial American anti-piracy act was recalled on Friday, which came as no small victory for hacktivists who launched history’s largest attack on several websites – including that of the FBI – in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act… Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US-based international digital rights advocacy non-profit, confirmed to RT that the online protests over SOPA and PIPA were the biggest in Internet history, with over 115 thousand sites somehow altering their webpages. (Sean Thomas, January 2012, Bill Killed).
Chun previously addresses this historical event six years prior to the SOPA event, stating:
“open source and free software, by belonging to no one, makes demographic struggle possible, makes the code functionally analogous to a public place. Democracy and political theory argues that because public space belongs by rights to no one, because this space cannot be conflated with the majority opinion that may emerge from it, it guarantees democracy.” (Chun, 2006. p. 71)
Global protests to retain the internet as a democratic zone of free exchange indicates that human users are mindful when engaging their technologies and strive to maintain reciprocal accountability against wrongful, dystopian, fear-inducing practices enforced, thus maintaining a system of checks and balances for ethical accountability. Worldwide sentiments of this mindfulness indicate a communal understanding of the principles of cyberspace.
Artists such as Glitchr (http://www.facebook.com/glitchr) gaining acclaim through unnerving the coded structure of a social media platform serves as evidence that attempts of liberation continually exist in the efforts of humans drawing awareness to companies homogenizing the new future form of communication – social networking. Communities supporting this style of visual de(con)struction of the internet exist the wiki thread “gli.tc/h” (http://gli.tc/h/wiki/index.php?title=Main_page). Offering definitions, critical writings, histories, resources, events, and advice to create community in the endeavors of drawing attention to the visual apparatus of – and to certain extents recontextualize – the Internet.
The above cases concerning ethics, protests, (in)visible navigability, and glitch artists exemplifies the following passage by Chun concerning the future of cyberspace in a manner of fulfilling a destiny previously described in forms of science fiction, Chun states:
According to Darko Sullivin’s influential contention that science fiction enables a subversive “interaction of [Brechtian] estrangement and cognition,” has argued that science fiction uniquely de-familiarizes and restructures our experience of the present by converting it into “some future’s remote past.” thus enabling us to finally experience it. (Chun, 2006. p. 172).
The science fiction Chun describes is apparent in the visual spectacle made by individuals in digital societies voluntarily forwarding Yudkowsky’s description of the schools of singularity concerning the Event Horizon. Humanity reaching forward into new areas of self-discovery in social media cyberspace is contextualized when Hansen explains,
this agnostic face-off with photography yields a fundamental reorientation of virtual reality technology that exposes virtual reality-at least as it exists in the world today-as mixed reality, as a dimension or property of the “real” world. Normally understood to be a form of passive inversion, a distancing fascination that insulates “first world” spectator-citizens from the real, as Zizek famously contended in his denunciation of the Western reactions to 9/11, virtual reality here becomes a technical interface to the world that succeeds because it taps into the transduction of coupling of embodiment and technicity constituent of the human. (Hansen, 2006, p. 91)
Technicity previously described as a formerly invisible area of the sensory world is changed in some way is evident through the examples provided above. Hansen answers the mission of reaching a further point of Event Horizon with technology when stating,
not surprisingly, the answer is: through affectivity – and not simply through the “use” of affectivity to keep ourselves open as subjects beyond the lure of identity-positions and figure of individuality, but, more fundamentally, through an exposure of affectivity insofar as it is the essential impropriety, the utter singularity, common to us all. (Hansen, 2006. p. 172)
Hansen understanding the essential paradigm of 21st century identity-positioning in virtual environments, with such evidence as described above, indicates that change is currently ongoing with respect to theories of singularity concerning all three schools of Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion are similarly addressed in some way affected by events unfolding in recent years suggesting that the rate of change in Moore’s Law now concerns the essential individuality of a human – thus indicating that the rate of change has shifted to include humanity within the exponential curve of Moore’s Law.
Chun finally argues that cyberspace has opened a zone of possibility beyond post-modernity, she states, “cyberspace is the narrative of the end; it ends narratives of postmodern-postindustrial societies ennui and exhaustion”(Chun, 2006. p. 59).
The usefulness of the examination in Singularity: Transformations of Humans in Digital Societies has attempted to simply illustrate the actual existence of singularity immanent to the changing paradigm of humanity presently engaged in “some future’s distant past”.
This examination has outlined examples in a variety of subjects concerning human social ethics, contemporary politics, new art forms, macroeconomics, consumer technologies, data visualizing technologies, social media movements, and theories by critics of New Media and Internet culture in order to illustrate the incumbent future ahead for humanity approaching the Technological Singularity, providing a contemporary log of events to prove.
I think it is fair to call [these] event[s] a singularity. It is a point where our models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer and closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown.
Anonymous. “Usage Statistics and Market Share of Traffic analysis Tools for Websites”. by W3Techs: Web Technology Surveys. March 2012. http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/traffic_analysis/all
Benjamin Wallace. “The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin”. Wired Magazine, Nov 2011. www.wired.com/magazine/2011/11/mf_bitcoin/all/1
Carolyn Abraham. “Calgary scientists to create human “neurochip””, Globe and Mail, Aug 9th, 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/calgary-scientists-to-create-human-neurochip/article1667323/
Chela Sandoval. Methodology of the Oppressed. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, 2000, P. 177.
David Brin “Singularities and Nightmares”. Nanotechnology Perceptions: A Review of Ultraprecision Engineering and Nanotechnology. Vol. 2 (1a), 2006. Republished with permission on KurzweilAI.net. http://www.kurzweilai.net/singularities-and-nightmares
Eliezer Yudkowsky. “The Three Schools of Singularity”. The Singularity Institute SIAI Blog. September 30th, 2007. http://singinst.org/blog/2007/09/30/three-major-singularity-schools/
——-. ed: Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic, “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk”. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Palo Alto, CA. 2006. P. i.
gli.tc/h – A web community wiki for Glitch art. http://gli.tc/h/wiki/index.php?title=Main_page
Gordon Moore. “High Definition: A-Z Guide to Personal Technology”, s.v. “Moore’s Law”. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. http://www.credoreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/entry/hmhighdef/moore_s _law
Harry Henderson. “When Everything Changes”. Artificial Intelligence: Mirrors for the Mind. Chelsea House Publishers. NY, 2007. P. 157.
Jameson Berkow. “New Apple iPad sales top three million over launch weekend”The Financial Post, March 19th, 2012. http://business.financialpost.com/2012/03/19/new-ipad-sales-top-three-million-over-launch-weekend/
Lev Manovich. The Language of New Media. MIT Press. Cambridge. 2001. p. 274.
Mark B. Hansen. Ed: U. Ekman. “Ubiquitous Sensation or the Autonomy of the Peripheral: Towards an Atmospheric, Impersonal and Microtemporal Media”. Throughout: Art and Culture Emerging With Ubiquitous Computing. MIT Press. 2012. P. 1.
——-. “Bodies in Code, or How Primordial Tactility Introjects Technics into Human Life” & “Wearable Space”. Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. Routledge. NYC, USA. 2006. P. 91-172
Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, “The Coming Age of Calm Technology” XEROX Parc. 1996. http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/acmfuture2endnote.htm
Myron Krueger, “Myron Krueguer Live”. C-Theory, 25.1-2, Article 104. 2002
——-. “An Easy Entry Artificial Reality”, Virtual Reality: Applications and Explorations. Boston, MA. Academic Press Professional, 1993. P. 161
Naweed Syed, et al. “Transplantation and Functional Integration of an Identified Respiratory Interneuron in Lymnaea Stagnalis”. Neuron: Cell Press. (8), 1992, P. 767-87. URL:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/089662739290097W
Naweed Syed. In-person Interview. Hotchkiss Brain Institute. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. February 2012. .wav format audio recording. 38 minutes.
Naweed Syed. “Most Important Research Publications and Contributions”, p. 8i. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~neuro/syed/researchaccomplishments2.pdf
Nick Bilton. “Google Glasses Will Be Powered By Android”. The New York Times, February 22, 2012.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/technology/google-glasses-will-powered- by-android.html
Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. The Penguin Group. NYC, USA, 2005. P. 8-25
——-. The Age of Spiritual Machines. The Penguin Group. NYC, USA. 1999. P. 37.
Sean Thomas. “Bill Killed. SOPA Death Celebrated as Congress recalls anti-piracy acts”. RT Online Magazine. January 2012. http://rt.com/news/sopa-postponed-anonymous-piracy-337/
Vernor Vinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post- Human Era,” NASA Lewis Research Center and NASA Technical Reports CP- 10129. 1993. http://www.rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html
Wendy Hui Hyong Chun. “Why Cyberspace?”. Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fibre Optics. The MIT Press. Cambridge, USA. 2006. P. 3-186.