[ExI] more belated singularity mainstream

natasha at natasha.cc natasha at natasha.cc
Fri Oct 10 23:24:01 UTC 2008

Thanks Damien for posting this.  Good to see your name mentioned in the piece.

Rather than looking at the amazing designs being produced by
industrial designers/artists who are looking toward the future  
technologies in designing stylish works which will be used to provide  
mind expanding experiences and habitats; journalists often write about  
Piccinini's ghastly artistic interpretations of animal/man beings as  
some sort of morbid dangerous

I like the quality of work to be sure -- it is well executed. But it
is yet another trying example of artists freaking out about
biotechnology, and claiming only those with money will control the
future and the rest will have to deal with the ugly remains of lost



Quoting Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com>:

> But hey--if everyone'd been onto it 10 years ago, it wouldn't be a very
> interesting singularity:
> <http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/arts/towards-tomorrow/2008/10/09/1223145538763.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1>
> Towards tomorrow
> October 11, 2008
> Brave and desolate new worlds emerge in creative contemplations of what
> lies ahead. Andrew Stephens wonders if we now face a future that cannot
> be foretold.
> IN THE 1960 CINEMA version of H.G. Wells' classic novel The Time
> Machine (1895), Australian actor Rod Taylor sits manfully astride his
> astonishing brass-and-wood contraption, watching the future flow past
> him like a sped-up film. War, peace, life and death mesmerise him but
> it is the wondrous lure of the unknown - so promising, so luminous -
> that draws him onwards.
> It is an enchanting place, the future. How many hours, days can be idly
> spent there, missing out on the present? It is so easy and inexpensive
> to visit, the place where fantasies and anxieties dwell - little wonder
> we invest so much emotion and, ironically, so much time in this
> seductive what-if zone. It beckons us on all levels - from reading
> nonsense astrology or considering tonight's dinner to planning for
> Melbourne's population boom or speculating about seismic shifts in
> climate or biotechnology.
> Yes, we are tethered to the future, even though it is always a mystery.
> But is it rapidly becoming an unimaginable place?
> Where once we confidently envisaged the world 100 years hence, even
> projecting five years ahead is now a difficult challenge. Those 1950s
> sci-fi visions of a grand future filled with domed cities,
> interplanetary colonies, flying cars and a utopian architecture that
> resembled, more than anything, the shopping mall are replaced by ...
> what?
> Now, such is the pace of exponentially accelerating technological
> change that the potential wonders and horrors in store are becoming
> incredibly difficult to foresee with any accuracy or clarity, let alone
> to imagine creatively - although artists, writers and scientists across
> various disciplines, I would suggest, have remained noticeably
> steadfast in this pursuit.
> The question is, will such creativity survive the future? Humanity as a
> going concern seems to be at higher risk the further we move into the
> 21st century. Only a few weeks ago, Harvard Medical School molecular
> biologist Jack Szostak was reported in Wired magazine as having built
> proto-cells that can "almost be called life" - the closest anyone has
> come to turning a sequence of chemicals into biological life, with
> replicating information inside them. What might be the implications -
> scientifically, culturally, theologically - of such God-like advances,
> especially if adapted to artificial intelligence?
> More troubling is the approaching "singularity", itself a subject of
> predictions. Also known among futurists as the "spike", the singularity
> is not some whimsical term that has wended its way out of Star Trek or
> Doctor Who into the real world. It is, rather, a term coined by
> scientists to describe the point at which unprecedented technological
> progress becomes so accelerated and so fused with highly intelligent
> computers that it will be virtually indistinguishable from magic.
> Imagine, for example, that one day mobile-phone technology will become
> so advanced that it is implanted in your cerebral cortex, making your
> SMS communications with other people a form of telepathy. Magic. Or
> imagine that artificial intelligences (thanks to perfected mapping of
> the human brain) will become so sophisticated that their ability to
> independently upgrade themselves will far outstrip the capacity of
> humans to compete. Will we be forced to upload our consciousnesses on
> to software, to merge cybernetically with the artificial lifeforms we
> have created? Or will we simply become obsolete?
> Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote The Singularity is Near in
> 2005, claiming that we are fast approaching the moment when
> technological change will spin beyond our comprehension and control.
> Melbourne science-fiction writer and academic Damien Broderick explored
> similar ideas in The Spike (1997), in which he posited that
> post-humanity will arrive in our lifetimes, not in the inconceivably
> distant future.
> Of course, there is the chance that nuclear war, climate change,
> pandemics or some other catastrophe will plunge us into a new dark age
> of ignorance: the oil, food and water crises already besieging the
> planet may prevent us from reaching the "spike". We may regress.
> Perhaps we may even encounter an unpredictable scenario such as that in
> Alfonso Cuaron's electrifying film Children of Men (2006), which
> imagines the world in 2027, a couple of decades after humanity
> mysteriously and suddenly becomes infertile: utter chaos.
> While much has been written about the implications of technological
> advances, it is the impact on human culture, individuality and
> creativity that alarms and/or excites many artists, writers and
> scientists. Their role in imagining the future is crucial to our
> decisions about where we want to go as a species, in understanding what
> it is that constitutes our humanity - the age-old quest of the
> humanities, sciences; of the human race itself.
> One of those on the quest is speculative writer Sean Williams, who
> adores a good tale about the future - goodness knows he has written
> enough of them since becoming a full-time and internationally acclaimed
> sci-fi novelist more than a decade ago.
> "People do feel like we've overstepped some kind of boundary," says
> Williams, "and that we are teetering on the brink of falling over into
> the future, out of control. I don't know whether that feeling's been
> there before. It could be exciting: falling forward can de diving, it
> can be flying. But it can also be landing smack on your face."
> Williams has spent much time trying to imagine what the human centuries
> ahead will look like. Among his first books, Metal Fatigue (1996) and
> The Resurrected Man (1998) were set about 2060, while his latest, the
> Astropolis series (2007-08), leap forward 150,000 years. Of the two, he
> says, trying to plausibly imagine 2060 was by far the more difficult
> task because he had to relate it to current culture; 150,000 years
> hence, the world would be well beyond our imagining - so anything goes.
> "Science fiction is not so much about describing what the future will
> be like but describing plausible futures," says Williams. "Futures that
> feel as though they may evolve out of the present." A big believer in
> "passive research" (avidly reading New Scientist and various tech-head
> news feeds), Williams says the most important thing for him about
> imagining plausible futures is considering how real people might
> interact with technological advances. "If it was just a matter of
> charting technology, it would be easy. But (unpredictable) people come
> into the mix. There can be strange and wonderful and terrible results."
> Imagining such territory hasn't been restricted to sci-fi and fantasy
> writers, either: it has been telling to see how many writers of
> literary fiction have in recent years turned out remarkable works that
> are "speculative". Cormac McCarthy's desolately beautiful The Road
> (2006) and Jim Crace's slightly more leavened The Pesthouse (2007)
> envisage a devastated, burnt-out US whose decimated population either
> scavenges violently to survive or exists in medieval ignorance. Kazuo
> Ishiguro took a contrasting route with Never Let me Go (2005), in which
> the novel's young protagonists are human clones reared for organ
> harvesting, while Michel Houellebecq (The Possibility of an Island,
> 2006) and David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, 2004) have offered more
> dystopian but equally plausible futures.
> Yet for all of these authors, the binding and common element to their
> work remains questioning the nature of humanity, the core of creativity
> and what it is to love and to be loved.
> Indeed - and this may be at the heart of that concern - one of the
> questions that continually surfaces when speculating about the future
> is what happens to human creativity and individuality when the expected
> fusion of flesh-and-blood with artificial intelligence finally takes
> place - or when we upload into new, organic, replaceable bodies that
> have been grown in labs.
> This scenario is dealt with magnificently in the Emmy award-winning
> television series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2008). The series (only
> superficially in the sci-fi genre) was described by New Yorker writer
> Nancy Franklin as timely and resonant in "bringing into play religion
> and religious fanaticism, global politics, terrorism, and questions
> about what it means to be human".
> In Galactica, the Cylons are artificial intelligences (but flesh and
> blood) who have evolved by themselves to be indistinguishable from the
> humans who initially created them as robot servants. The biological
> Cylons think, they bleed, they feel and love, they are individuals,
> they even have spiritual aspirations and moral dilemmas. They are
> creative thinkers. The only difference is that, on death, they can
> upload to new bodies. So what, then, is humanity? What is "soul" or
> individuality?
> Internationally acclaimed visual artist Patricia Piccinini has been
> working concertedly on these issues for at least a decade. Melburnians
> will well-remember her high-profile art work at Republic Tower in
> Lonsdale Street in 1999 - a woman holding a genetically modified rat
> with a human ear grafted to its back (called Protein Lattice). Her
> other big hit is now in the main space at the Bendigo Art Gallery - The
> Young Family (2002-03), a hyper-real life-sized sculpture of a
> pig-human mother reclining with suckling infants. Humans or animals?
> Piccinini, working at the frontier of science and technology,
> especially in the arenas of cloning and stem-cells, has also created
> car and truck "nuggets" (small sculptures that look like the
> panel-beaten offspring of automobiles), animal-motorcycles and silicon
> stem-cell pets that resemble sentient lumps of human flesh. Her latest
> work at Tolarno Galleries, such as The Stags (2008), continues the
> themes.
> Piccinini, in an interview last year published in (Tender) creatures,
> says tellingly that rather than science or bioethics, empathy is at the
> heart of her work.
> "I think if people are disturbed by my work it is because it asks
> questions about fundamental aspects of our existence - about our
> artificiality, about our animalness, about our responsibilities towards
> our creations, our children and our environment - and these questions
> should be easy to answer, but they are not . . . I love it when people
> realise that all this stuff is actually about our lives today."
> Piccinini's lab-created cutesy monsters might well have a place in the
> optimistic world of Freeman Dyson (author of The Sun, the Genome, and
> the Internet, 1999), who wrote in The New York Review of Books last
> year that "the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives
> during the next 50 years at least as much as the domestication of
> computers has dominated our lives during the previous 50 years".
> Dyson sings the praises of what wonders could come out of genetically
> modified creatures and plants, imagining new species of termite that
> could be engineered to chew up derelict automobiles instead of houses,
> "and new species of tree (that) could be engineered to convert carbon
> dioxide and sunlight into liquid fuels instead of cellulose".
> He even predicts that once domesticated biotechnology gets into the
> hands of "housewives and children", there will be an explosion of
> creativity, in which "designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new
> art form as creative as painting or sculpture". He also
> enthusiastically imagines a resurgence of green technology that will
> benefit not only the rich countries but poor villages, halting the
> migrations from regional areas to megacities.
> "I am not saying that the political acceptance of green technology will
> be quick or easy," he cautions. "I say only that green technology has
> enormous promise for preserving the balance of nature on this planet as
> well as for relieving human misery. Future generations of people raised
> from childhood with biotech toys and games will probably accept it more
> easily than we do. Nobody can predict how long it may take to try out
> the new technology in a thousand different ways and measure its costs
> and benefits."
> Geraldine Barlow and Kyla McFarlane, the curators of a new exhibition
> called The Ecologies Project at the Monash University Museum of Art,
> have also found a strong thread of optimism in the work they have
> brought together for their show, which examines the responses of
> artists to the urgent global search for ecological balance. One of the
> questions the Project artists ask, says Barlow, is whether we are going
> to be active in creating the future, or merely passively subject to it?
> Rather than hitting visitors over the head about sustainability and the
> future, these two women have tended more towards being "philosophically
> hopeful" in their curating choices.
> "Even at the end of things, whether at the black epicentre of the
> vortex, or where forests of burnt ash stand in place of living trees,
> we seek a new beginning - a path towards another place, other
> possibilities, new forms," they write in their catalogue, which
> references McCarthy's The Road.
> It is interesting, given these refreshingly optimistic takes, to look
> back at American futurist Alvin Toffler's seminal non-fiction book
> Future Shock (1970, written with his wife Heidi), and discover that
> their concerns were similar to ours 40 years later. They wrote then
> that we needed to focus on "the human side of tomorrow" rather than
> embracing a "harsh metallic note". They wanted, radically, to "tame"
> technology but didn't foresee the enthusiasms with which we would - and
> still do - embrace it all.
> Just take a look at a recent telecommunications company ad, where a
> young man getting ready to leave his apartment folds up (to the size of
> a cell phone) his flatscreen TV, DVD player, his laptop, books, CD
> collection and so on, putting them all into his pocket. Finally, he
> folds up his sleeping girlfriend and pockets her as well.
> The Tofflers may not have anticipated such potential consumer joys but
> they did worry about the environmental impact - and global warming.
> "Our technological powers increase but the side-effects and potential
> hazards escalate," they wrote. "We risk thermopollution of the oceans
> themselves, overheating them, destroying immeasurable quantities of
> marine life, perhaps even melting the polar icecaps." How prescient.
> For Kurzweil of the Singularity fame, the coming storm of change is
> something to embrace. He really wants to be a neo-human and is trying
> to make sure he lives to see the arrival of the singularity, taking
> about 200 vitamin and mineral supplements a day to extend his life (he
> is now 60). While describing the singularity as "a transforming event
> looming in the first half of the 21st century" that will revolutionise
> every institution and aspect of human life, from sexuality to
> spirituality, he says it will usher in an era where "there will be no
> distinction, post-singularity, between human and machine" or between
> physical and virtual reality.
> "If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human in such a world, it
> is simply this quality: ours is the species that inherently seeks to
> extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations."
> While he acknowledges critics' concerns that we will forfeit some vital
> aspect of our humanity, some subtlety of our biological qualities, in
> this new era, he is also frank that is is difficult to look beyond the
> event horizon. He, too - the futurist's futurist - finds it difficult
> to look ahead with clarity.
> And yet he is optimistic: "Although the singularity has many faces, its
> most important implication is this: our technology will match and then
> vastly exceed the refinement and suppleness of what we regard as the
> best of human traits." Creativity, he assures us, will be enhanced by
> our synthesis with our own creations.
> Therein, perhaps, lies the heart of it.
> For it is deeply human to create, to imagine and to construct, whether
> it's a would-be utopian city, a work of visionary art or an incredibly
> sophisticated computer program. But whether or not a mobile phone or a
> bio-engineered brain-enhancer is implanted in your post-human head
> along the way is a possibility that remains to be seen.
> Patricia Piccinini is at Tolarno Galleries until November 1.
> <http://www.tolarnogalleries.com/>www.tolarnogalleries.com
> The Ecologies Project is at Monash University Museum of Art until   
> November 22.
> <http://www.monash.edu.au/muma>www.monash.edu.au/muma
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