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Roland
Milan/Tokyo, IT
Immortal since Jan 11, 2008
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Untangling
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    The great enhancement debate
    What will happen when for the first time in ages different human species will inhabit the earth at the same time? The day may be upon us when people...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    I point at the small cardboard structure on the train's table. The guard stands blankly and wonders: have I heard him?

    Guard: Your ticket, sir.

    Robokku: Mmm. Yes.

    G: May I see it?

    R: That's it.

    G: It seems it has been bent, sir. I'm not sure the machine will read it.

    He is understating the situation, which disappoints me: I have not merely 'bent' my ticket.

    The train has been immobile for one hour, in grey meadows somewhere between grey cities. Total journey time so far: three hours. Sanities in the carriage are now fully dependent on portable entertainment. The passengers have brought books, iPods, laptops, DSes, and many styles of picnic. I brought a penknife. And my ticket.

    From my ticket, using my penknife, I have created a very detailed miniature replica of myself, seated at the train's table. It is something of a fantasy scenario, in which I have a laptop and a table to myself, rather than a penknife and a fat man too close. Whilst I have, admittedly, bent the ticket in the course of this intricate production, to say only that is to do down my efforts. Mere unobsessive bending of the ticket would not have elicited all those stares. Mothers would not have held their curious children away; the fat man would not have rubbed his mass along the seat towards the window, as far as his reserves would allow. I have not simply mishandled my ticket; I have achieved something. I am a doer - a creator.




    R: It is bent, yes. But there's more to it than that really.

    G: Yes, sir. It looks as if it has been cut up as well.

    R: Well, the ticket itself is actually still in one piece. You see I planned the cuts quite carefully before I made them. I think some of the shapes I've found are quite clever.

    G: Nonetheless, sir, I think the machine may now not read the ticket.

    R: Could we try it? Look: if I take the man off - this is me, by the way, sitting here at the table - the table is quite close to the real one, don't you think? Look at the leg; it's just the same! You see he comes away - the seats, table and window stand alone, and look... If I unfold it... It's actually just one piece - a complete ticket. Where does it go in the machine?

    G: I don't think it'll be read by the machine, sir.

    R: Yes; let's see. I'm sure you're right - you know the machine better than I do. But we should try it.

    G: I'm afraid that could damage the reader, sir. The pieces will get stuck in the slot.

    R: Well it's just one piece-

    G: -Yes but the cuts, sir. Parts of it might protrude from the intended flat form of the ticket and so not leave the slot with the rest, even if it goes in. Then there would be pieces, sir - it would damage your model.

    R: I see. Yes. I'll fold it back up then, in that case. You can see how the shapes come together now, when I fold it. It took me about an hour to make it.



    G: I'm afraid that if you don't have a ticket, sir, then you will have to buy a new one.

    R: Oh! Didn't I show you? Look: I can unfold it again. Sorry, I was distracted by the model itself: I probably didn't make it clear. Look - there - that's the ticket! That's what I used to make the model! It's neat isn't it, how it-

    G: -Sir - I'm afraid that that ticket is no good because you've damaged it. You will have to buy a replacement. The train is for passengers only.

    R: Well, of course. Anyone on the train is a passenger! By definition, right? So it is for-

    Fat man: -But we're not moving. We're not passengers if we don't go anywhere.

    Robokku: Oh. Hello. OK, yes, but, assuming we're moving, which, in a broad sense, we are-

    Guard: -I'm not a passenger.

    R: Well... Maybe not... But the rest of us, in virtue of being on the train, are passengers.

    G: I really mean paying passengers, sir.

    R: I've paid.

    G: And that's what you need the ticket to prove...

    R: Aha! Look then! If I just... well... actually, I needn't even unfold it for you: you can see the price there, on the outside of the window frame. Did you look at it from that side? It really works from all angles.



    G: Sir, that is not a valid ticket. It is unreadable.

    R: No, look - I'll flatten it for you again.

    G: Please, sir, there's no need. You showed me. The ticket's damaged.

    R: But it is readable. £31.40. Can you read that?

    Fat man: Yes.

    Robokku: He can read it.

    Guard: The machine can't read it, though, sir.

    R: But you don't need the machine. You can use your eyes. I'm sure the machine is rather helpful for reading tickets - and it's a shame that in this instance it can't read my ticket - but fortunately you can manage without it on this occasion because the ticket is easily legible. Because I planned the cuts quite carefully before I made them.

    G: It's not up to me to read the tickets, sir. The machine's not here to assist me in that. In fact, if anything, I’m here to assist the machine, by carrying it from one passenger to the next and feeding it tickets, so that it can read them. But despite my help, it still cannot read yours. So you will have to buy a ticket, sir, because you don't have one and so you are not a passenger. The trains are for passengers only, sir. If you are not a passenger, then you are not permitted to use the train.

    R: But I must be a passenger because I'm on the train. And what's more, I do have a ticket. And my ticket shows that I'm a passenger: look - that's me at the table. I don't think it could show it more clearly! So even in your terms...

    G: That's not the way the machine has it, I'm afraid.

    R: Why don't you sit down for a minute and we'll discuss it.

    G: Sir, I must insist that you buy a ticket.

    R: Just sit there for a moment on that seat.

    G: ... That seat is occupied, sir. By a passenger - she has a ticket.

    R: No, that seat's empty. You can sit there. Sit down.

    G: ... ... ?



    I continue to gesture to the seat opposite me, and the woman in it. She is now quite anxious. Every iPod is secretly paused, every book is stared straight through, pages unturned. Everyone on the carriage is waiting, curious: it is likely that I really am mad, as the mothers suspected.

    R: It's empty. Sit down.

    G: You must buy a ticket, sir.

    R: Look: this is me - the man - as I said, at the table, here. That's the window, the seats, and... Ha! This seat, here - that one, across from me - is empty. My model is quite plain about it. Take a seat. That one. It's empty.

    G: You seem to have a computer in your model, sir. Or a pizza box.

    R: It's a computer.

    G: You don't have a computer, sir.

    R: But I have a ticket.

    G: No you don’t.

    R: Not in my model, no. But then I do have a computer. Will you excuse me? I’m working.

    G: I must-

    R: Now, look! I have found a peaceful seat with a table of my own and lots of space, and no distractions. I am at work on my computer and I have a lot to do - and I'm not getting it done while you distract me.



    G: But you haven’t modelled me, sir, have you? So I’m not distracting you - in so far as you have a computer on which to do work, from which I might distract you.

    R: You’re right! You're really getting the hang of this now! Either I have a computer and no ticket but you're not there, or I have a ticket but no computer and you are there. Either way, you needn't bother me any more.

    G: Actually, sir, it's like this: the machine is here, and you have no ticket. You must buy a ticket.

    R: How does the machine know I'm here if I don't have a ticket?

    A bird tweets outside.

    The guard opens his mouth, then stops to think, then closes his mouth, and stops thinking.


    G: Sir, you will have to buy a ticket, but I'll come back to you. Please be ready to buy a ticket when I come back. You've got ten minutes. Tickets please!



    The guard moves on. My laptop screen snaps into focus. The spreadsheet sits there, static. No changes to save. I hit command-S. I feel the blankness of an inner digression ended, or starting, as the trees shoot by.

    Commutestats.xls. Numbers tied together: I planned them quite carefully. They make a fine model. They reach up to some reality, which was my starting point when I plotted them. Now, though, as I start to manipulate what's noted down, I build pictures of them. The numbers came from the world, but I must conjure what I want them to show. Am I seeing or imagining? How long have I been on this train?

    Just ten more minutes...


    Tue, Jan 13, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: information, egocentrism, existence, model
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three(ish) parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm (Parts 1, 2, and 3)




    Summary:

    Part 1
    There are aspects of ourselves that reach beyond the concrete realm.
    These are our presence in an informational realm we have made.
    The contents of the informational realm are selected for their rapid manipulability.
    Relatively simple aspects of ourselves are routinely displaced to the informational realm.

    Part 2
    More significant growth into the informational realm has been made possible with the advancement of technology.
    It is possible roughly to delineate the level of technological sophistication required to support a person's existence in an informational realm.
    However, a crucial variable is the utility of any particular aspect of informational existence, as judged by the user of the technology.
    As a result, the step beyond the concrete realm is made by the imagination, intellectually.

    Part 3
    Informational aspects of being are conceptually distinct from humanity, and can be superhuman.
    It is possible to distinguish informationally enhanced and unenhenced humans.
    There are already coexisting humans of these different kinds.
    Extra-human beings will become convincingly super-, rather than sub-, human only when technological advances and popular attitudes are appropriately aligned.
    The next big step in human capability will be a socio-psychological as well as a technological singularity.


    Explanation:

    PART 3

    Guest lists at parties are one way to create informational entities that can be substituted psychologically for their real sources. The informational entities (records) are more easily managed and communicated than the (facts about the) actual things recorded (e.g., the event of the host coming to my house and inviting me). Some major implementations of the same principles are very familiar and adopted without hesitation, so let us start with some examples.

    1
    Driver licensing systems came up in Part 1. By treating the contents of a driver database as basic facts about people (i.e. not merely as a probably-true representation of facts about people), we are able to ascertain quickly and with certainty the permissions of any individual. In this case, the reality being modeled in the database is the event of an examiner deeming a person suitable to drive. Discrepancies between the database system and the reality are very improbable, and the conveniences provided by the system are vast, so rationally we can treat its contents directly as data about the real world.

    2
    Another example is a university's registration system. The reality of you attending a course or not is replaced for practical purposes by a record of attendance in a database. Your presence in lectures and the library do not make you a student in the sense that can earn you a degree - only the record does, accurate or not.

    3
    What's more, your university degree will then serve as a record of your abilities in another system, when you seek employment. Your suitability for a job will be judged on your record of having passed a course - not directly on the real abilities that course teaches and assesses. This arrangement makes sorting through job applications vastly more practical. Your "qualifications" for something are regularly treated as being only the material records about you, not your real adeptness were you to perform the job.



    We can see a progression in these three systems - drivers database, university register, and job candidate assessment. In the first example, if we were to try and manage driving permissions of a large population without the use of such a system, we would only be able to do so less accurately (and much more slowly), if at all. The superior accuracy of the system alone means that we can rationally treat its output as more real than "real-world" stimuli, even if it were to present no additional benefit (such as speed). In the second example, anyone who has worked in a university will know that even students with the wit to get to lectures may still fall at the hurdle of actually getting round to registering. Similarly, the registration process seems to exhaust some so greatly that they will not be able to lift a book. Thus the idea of an attendance record as even a partial means of assessing aptitude in a subject leaves plenty of room for error. However, the correspondence is significant enough that it is worth requiring students to behave in a way that allows them to be counted and managed in large numbers. In this case, the system provides a pretty sloppy model of the reality of relevant course attendance, but the practical benefits are great enough to make it a sensible choice. (Indeed, a university ill-equipped for heavy student throughput may not survive in the current funding situation, so perhaps systems that treat swiped cards or online logins as real students are selected by environment rather than design.)

    In the final example, the pool of eligible job applicants is shrunk by the requirement of the university record, but the quality of the pool is increased overall. What the employer wants is the person who will perform the job best. It is very probably true in this case that there will be people excluded from the pool who would perform better than some who are included. It is quite possible that the very best candidates will be excluded or the very worst included. However, the manageability benefit of the entities the system defines as eligible - the speed of checking a document compared to performing a real practical assessment of abilities - are great enough that the system is adopted. All and only recorded graduates are believed to be people who can really perform the job.

    The progression over those three examples begins at a system that objectively surpasses the accuracy of humans without it, and so can rationally be treated as presenting reality. At the other end of the spectrum is a system with significant potential inaccuracy compared to humans not using it, but with benefits large enough that its reality can be (and is) rationally allowed to supersede the "real" world.



    Despite this variability, all these examples are well-established cases of informational constructions in which aspects of people can be manifested. It is in the newest cases, though, that things get really interesting. Recently, many people place greater and greater significance on their own self-representations in virtual space. As people use social networking websites for a growing proportion of their social networking, so those identities become increasingly important*. It is easy to see how someone can identify with the profile they create and maintain. What's more, the more a social site is used, the higher the fidelity of the representation of the person that is using it. In extreme cases, the use of a site such as Facebook (or Space Collective) could become so significantly more rewarding than "real" social interaction, and the user's presence there so detailed an interpretation of themselves, that users could identify themselves primarily with their online presence. (There must be a study of this sort of thing out there - please tell me if you know of one. See comment 2 below.) In such a case, the user might well choose to adopt the belief that they are in fact present in the informational space. They commit themselves to the social networking system like a university commits its students to its database. Either they consider the system to deliver a more accurate presentation of their real selves, or they prefer the advantages that are afforded by so committing themselves.

    And this is the key to persons being present in the informational. You and I may well look at a Facebook page and not see anything resembling a person - after all, it is just a webpage, and people are not really anything like webpages. However, believing that we have indeed found another person somewhere - walking down the street for instance - requires a leap of faith over the problem of other minds (w). We typically make the leap by analogy to ourselves: I see something's outward behaviour, and it is so similar to mine that I suppose the thing is like me even in ways unobservable. So if someone believes that the online version of their self is them, and sees another such entity that is outwardly as they are, then they might similarly suppose that that entity is another self, another bearer of mind, another person. Providing the criteria for informational identity described above are met, there would then really - as really as the words are there in front of you - be whole people in the informational realm.

    Many of us might not see this kind of personal becoming in the informational realm as desirable progress. Over-commitment to Facebook may well appear to be a sad, self-inflicted crippling of a person's humanity. We may feel that if someone thinks that their self is better represented by Facebook than by more traditional means then they are incompetent in those traditional means, or that the benefits seen in Facebook-bound existence are at the expense of much greater benefits gained from staying out of it. We think the informational leap is irrational. Nonetheless, the people who have taken the psychological step have become something we are not. If they are to examine their own nature, inside the new realm, they will see that, for example, they are things that can be interlinked in useful ways with other such entities (presumably on "friends lists" or in games of Scrabble: I don't know). They are things that are free from significant geographical location on the Earth. They are certainly not the stair-climbing things of The concrete realm. In fact, there need not even be a one-to-one correspondence between those concrete, fleshy humans (meat) and computer-housed ones (chips). Two people could collaborate on - and commit to - one online entity. Or two people you see online, may really be one - like Spaceweaver and Wildcat. Considered in such terms, they are radically different kinds of things from us.

    However, the commitment to such versions of reality is, unlike commitment to my thermometer readout, far from guaranteed-rational. The fact is that, in many popular respects, the technology presents a lower fidelity version of people than our standard people detectors do. Most of us don't think that people are really there in that informational realm. In order for us to change that thinking, then, either the technology needs to improve in terms of the details it presents about us and/or the benefits it offers, or those popular means of assessing the presence of a person need to be adjusted, so that the presentation is judged sufficiently detailed. These are exactly the variables that fall into alignment in the familiar examples given earlier. Of course, we can expect that both changes will happen together, and more open popular psychological attitudes will meet more lucid technology somewhere in the middle.

    As these factors align, more people will come to believe that it is sensible to include an informational entity as the main part of their self-image. However, this tipping point in attitudes will be reached by different people at different times. Indeed, some people have surely already tipped their psychological balances. It might be believable enough for Facebook, Second Life, and World of Warcraft, but those are just the ones that reach my newspaper. They are the clean, white tip of a vast and grubby iceberg. Who knows what goes on down there? And once we look a long way beyond existing phenomena, perhaps to brain-interfacing technology, and more detailed and rewarding possible actions within a networked community, we can expect to see those committing mainly to an informational self becoming the majority. There will be a genuine divide between two kinds of human - those vested with the opportunities for interaction that informationally enhanced beings gain (whatever they turn out to be), and those opting to stay without. And it is here, in the informational realm that the divide between the enhanced and the unenhanced will be seen. It is not because the difference will be more discrete than between different levels of concrete extension, but because the split is ultimately ideological and chosen, not enforced by the scarcity of concrete enhancements.

    A simple intellectual act will be the factor that pushes a person beyond human. The final step from mere creature-stick hybrid to superhuman lies not in some 'ultimate tool' like a bionic enhancement, nor even in an intellectual capacity afforded by enhancement or evolution, but in the mere having of a single, particular thought. So those already there - myface addicts, outcasts now - are living in the future. We can say, safely in our majority, that they are sub- not super- human. But they are already partly extrahuman, living substantially in the young habitat of later generations. That future lived now is a restrictive place to be, but although it is a much smaller step than the last rung of a moon lander, it is a much bigger leap than just another rock.

    Notes

    * Like you need some evidence of that, here's a rubbish report on the phenomenon. Loved this soundbite they bit: "There were nights where I, like, spent the entire night just, like, customizing my page."
    Tue, Jan 6, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three(ish) parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm (Parts 1, 2, and 3)




    Summary:

    Part 1
    There are aspects of ourselves that reach beyond the concrete realm.
    These are our presence in an informational realm we have made.
    The contents of the informational realm are selected for their rapid manipulability.
    Relatively simple aspects of ourselves are routinely displaced to the informational realm.

    Part 2
    More significant growth into the informational realm has been made possible with the advancement of technology.
    It is possible roughly to delineate the level of technological sophistication required to support a person's existence in an informational realm.
    However, a crucial variable is the utility of any particular aspect of informational existence, as judged by the user of the technology.
    As a result, the step beyond the concrete realm is made by the imagination, intellectually.


    Part 3
    Informational aspects of being are conceptually distinct from humanity, and can be superhuman.
    It is possible to distinguish informationally enhanced and unenhenced humans.
    There are already coexisting humans of these different kinds.
    Extra-human beings will become convincingly super-, rather than sub-, human only when technological advances and popular attitudes are appropriately aligned.
    The next big step in human capability will be a socio-psychological as well as a technological singularity.

    Explanation:

    PART 2

    It is as technologies have reached a certain point of development that it has become a (faintly) realistic proposition to commit ourselves intellectually to becoming our records of ourselves. That point of technological development can be delimited, with the qualification of a few variables that will make - and are making - the transition into the informational realm a little bumpy. Starting with simple cases, the crucial question is this: When are we prepared to cite an identity between some real aspect of a person and a record of it?

    A model useful here can be taken from a different case of identity. In his essay, Seeing the Present, Jeremy Butterfield isolates the criteria that must be met for us to consider an event to be present - i.e. happening now*. For the sake of illustration, consider the case of seeing an event happen - e.g. seeing a cat duck. For you to perceive that event as being present is for you to identify the time of the occurrence of the cat ducking with the time of the occurrence of your perceiving it - i.e. now. Of course, you do not need to be a great physicist to know that these events are not simultaneous, and that we are therefore strictly wrong to identify the times they occur. However, we constantly and unconsciously do as much. Butterfield spells out why. (To describe it in a way that benefits my point here,) it is because the rate of action of the process of our perception is generally much quicker than the rate of action of the events we perceive and the actions we are able to perform in response to them. The difference between these rates is large enough that the inaccuracy of our identifying distinct times presents very few practical difficulties, and is well outweighed by the benefits of building a coherent temporal map of our situation, based around the temporal copresence of ourselves and and what we perceive.



    So where is the parallel with the case in which we see an informational entity as part of ourselves? I should first concede that Butterfield's discussion concerns deep-set neurological processes, whereas mine is about a conscious intellectual commitment. Nonetheless, the parallel is there**. We identify two times because the strict inaccuracy of doing so is outweighed by the benefit. The balance is tipped when the temporal difference is too small for us to respond to because it takes us a longer time to perform any action (including communication) - that is, because the mechanisms by which we operate in practice use temporal terms too coarse-grained to describe the smaller interval. If you like, we have apparatus for assessing the relevance of temporal difference, which is calibrated by the minimum time intervals in which we ourselves act. Small enough differences are deemed irrelevant and so ignored. (In fact, they are probably never detected, but I'm keeping my analogy open...†

    We can carry this framework over from the case of temporal difference to the case of difference between facts. The fact about the record on the guest list can be identified with a fact about me when the strict inaccuracy of doing so is outweighed by the benefit. That balance is tipped when the factual difference is too small for us to respond to - because the mechanisms by which we operate in practice use factual terms too course-grained to describe the smaller difference. What is different in this case of course is that our mechanisms are not those which are biologically equipped, but those which we have chosen to use to extend ourselves in the concrete realm. Specifically, in Part 1, it was the list and our method of using it (as opposed to our bodies' perceptual devices). The host of the party elects to depend on a mechanism that detects only inclusion in or exclusion from a list. Doing so means that he can spend his time entertaining at the cocktail bar or piano instead of watching the door. If he were not to do so then he would fail as a host, so it is the nature of hosts that they benefit from ignoring, as a matter of methodology, the difference between people having been invited and people noted on the guest list. They identify a fact about the list with a fact about a person, the list taking precedence when in reality there is a discrepancy. Of course, all this means that I am left out in the cold, but such inaccuracies will be rare (and in this case quite inconsequential).

    So on the one hand we have a neuro-psychological condition (our notion of the present moment) and a biological mechanism (sense organs), naturally selected in tandem in the process of evolution for providing us with a relevant enough version of the full reality of things. On the other hand we have a deliberate mental act (the dependence on the list for information about guests) that has been chosen to accompany a human-made mechanism (the list / doorman setup [or guest-sensing organ]), selected intelligently by us as being deemed reliable and beneficial (enough).



    So when it comes to delineating the point of technological progress at which we make a leap into the informational, we can see that it is at the point when the results of a detection mechanism are near enough to reality that the downside of any inaccuracy shrinks enough relative to the benefits it provides. We can then treat the output of the mechanism as our reality, including, if we are choosing to detect them, real people. So when is the benefit enough to outweigh the inaccuracy?

    This cost / benefit balance would definitely be achieved if the detection mechanism were to equal or surpass in accuracy our pre-existing mechanisms (biological or otherwise). For instance, I will treat the read-out of my thermometer as fact, rather than my instinct about whether or not I have a fever. Although the thermometer (or, more completely, the process of using it) could be prone to error, it surpasses so comfortably my ability without it that its version of the real world can be treated as fact at least as readily as my thermometerless judgements on the matter. However, not every system we commit to exceeds our accuracy without it. The guest list system, for example, unable as it is to be jogged by my desperate face, falls short of the host's memory in terms of the closeness of its output to reality. However, the aforementioned benefits of such an arrangement tip the balance. And that is where the boundary of sufficient technological advancement gets blurred...

    It will vary from host to host whether in a particular case a guest list is the right move for his or her party, so adoption of the system is not guaranteed always to be rational. (This is unlike the use of the thermometer, barring the possibility of people with freakish temperature-measuring aptitudes). This means that some people choose to create an informational proxy for (part of) the world, which suits them better than reality un-so-modified. Anything - including people or aspects thereof - not modeled in the proxy does not exist in that part of the modeler's world.

    But, obviously, the adoption of guest lists does not represent the crux of mankind's next evolutionary move, so we should consider how all this plays out with more advanced technologies. And the big question, too: When can a whole person exist in the informational realm?

    Continued in Part 3.


    Notes

    * I may fail properly to reference Butterfield's ideas here, or I may attribute to him ideas that were not in his essay. I'm remembering the essay only as well as suits my analogy here. If you want to know anything about the philosophy of time, read Seeing the Present (it's really great), and not this post! (Incidentally, if you do follow the link to read that, then I also recommend Robin LePoidevin's introduction at the start of the book.)

    ** Although I talk of Butterfield's case as if it is conscious activity, I do not undermine the methodology that I'm using by doing so, and I think I help the transparency of my comparison. However, for Butterfield's purposes, the way I talk about his ideas weakens them, so don't take what I say here to be an exposition of any more than a framework he employs in a different way.

    † In actual fact, in Butterfield's essay, we're looking at something with at least a rudimentary connection to the basic idea in Wildcat's Queerer Than We Suppose....
    Mon, Jan 5, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The great enhancement debate
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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three(ish) parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm (Parts 1, 2, and 3)




    Summary:

    Part 1
    There are aspects of ourselves that reach beyond the concrete realm.
    These are our presence in an informational realm we have made.
    The contents of the informational realm are selected for their rapid manipulability.
    Relatively simple aspects of ourselves are routinely displaced to the informational realm.


    Part 2
    More significant growth into the informational realm has been made possible with the advancement of technology.
    It is possible roughly to delineate the level of technological sophistication required to support a person's existence in an informational realm.
    However, a crucial variable is the utility of any particular aspect of informational existence, as judged by the user of the technology.
    As a result, the step beyond the concrete realm is made by the imagination, intellectually.

    Part 3
    Informational aspects of being are conceptually distinct from humanity, and can be superhuman.
    It is possible to distinguish informationally enhanced and unenhenced humans.
    There are already coexisting humans of these different kinds.
    Extra-human beings will become convincingly super-, rather than sub-, human only when technological advances and popular attitudes are appropriately aligned.
    The next big step in human capability will be a socio-psychological as well as a technological singularity.

    Explanation:

    PART 1

    Whilst many tools - sticks - grow our concrete selves, many aspects of our selves - particularly those which give us influence within societal structures - are now situated beyond the reach of our bodies (brains - and sticks - included). A simple example: I arrive at a party and the doorman checks his list. "You're not an invited guest, sir. Your name's not down." My ability or inability to enter the party - the ability defined socially by the accepted notion of a party (and not dependent on my size relative to the doorman) - is bestowed by data about myself in the informational realm. Specifically, I must be represented on the doorman's list.

    Since it has been decided that only invited guests may enter, and that the guest-list will be the means to identify invited guests, I must be recorded as being an invited guest. The fact that the host walked to my house and invited me in person is not directly relevant now. It is the corresponding residue of my invitation on the record that grants me entry. At a small party, the record might be in the host's memory, which will be jogged when he answers the door to me. However, to save himself that duty at a busy do, his memory has been replaced (in this role) by the list. The list takes its worth from its faithfulness to his memory, but it in fact supersedes his memory in practical terms. So now that a tool has been used to deposit the data in a manageable form, the data is one more step away from the reality it represents.

    In the list, we have created an informational entity vested with power over the more obviously real world of exclusive parties to which I cannot gain entry. My presence or absence in an informational space determines the scope of my capabilities. (Unfortunately, this doesn't convince the doorman.)



    This should all sound familiar, but why should we think that we are present in the list, rather than that we are simply using a list? Well, the list is a simple case, but larger, more powerful administrative systems are more usually treated as if facts about the data they contain are identical to - and not just representations of - facts about the people described. For example, your being permitted to drive a motor-vehicle is a result of you having been deemed permissible by an examiner. However, the fact that you have been examined and passed is itself worth nothing once the matter has been recorded. From that point on, the record is a manifestation of your ability to drive unfettered, and that manifestation, being manifest, presents many advantages for administration over the more unwieldy abstract fact that you have been judged able to drive. Records can be manipulated, managed, and communicated more than people can - and far more than such fiddly aspects of people as their abilities and permissions. So they hold a part of us: facts about the records are treated whole-heartedly as facts about us even though they are not strictly the same.

    However, these cases show the passage only of parts of people into the informational realm. (Or, perhaps more accurately, the passage only of things about people.) How - and in what circumstances - could a person exist in the informational realm?

    Continued in Part 2.

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    An exercise in seeing what's not there?





    Worth fullscreening with sound (follow the link).
    Fri, May 16, 2008  Permanent link

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    Thoughts on hypertext and time extension (continuing a discussion between obvious and meika):

    Instances of hypertext are time-extended, of course. Wikipedia is always changing, different now to how it was and will be. However, that is not temporal extension represented to us by the medium; rather, the medium is time-extended along with us, so we see subjective moments of it. That is, Wikipedia, now, is not a representation its temporal progress any more than I am a representation of my own temporal progress.

    All material things are temporally extended, but some representations have temporality built in. Film, for instance, is temporally extended itself, and uses that property to represent temporally extended things. So as I see and hear a seal barking at the cinema, I understand that temporal progression using just the same faculties that I use to understand real seals actually barking. (This line of thinking I associate with Noel Carroll, although I actually read it years ago in this book by Gregory Currie. [In keeping with the mind-mapping theme, I have left in my Google Books search string for your enjoyment!])

    However, in film, as in comic strips, our interpretation of the time represented is dependent on some conventions. For example, the next scene might be only a second away, but represent events three weeks later than those represented in this scene. (You may even be lucky to have such realistic temporal ordering - consider Pulp Fiction, or, preferably, another more arty film that used temporally disjointed narrative before Pulp Fiction and makes me seem cooler to you for having referenced it.)

    So there's temporal extension like film's, which is part of the medium and of the representation, and there's temporal extension like painting's (or comic strips'), which is part of the medium but not the representation. That is, a painting is all there now, but you can read time's passing off it. A film is only partly there now - just like the periods of time which it might represent.

    I think hypertext's temporal extension is more like that of painting than of film. However, one thing that is built into hypertext - that is part of its representation and its medium - is sequence. I can dictate that you must see this page before the main site, unless you click another link, which I may or may not give you. Navigation around the overall map is not totally free. We have to follow the links; we can't just warp around the place. So ordering is built in, which is a key part of temporality.

    (So what does this link mean?)

    For meika and obvious: back to the discussion

    Edit (October 2008): This discussion actually ended up continuing through the comments on this post. (There's basically two whole other posts in there.)
    Thu, May 1, 2008  Permanent link

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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm


    We can't be concretely unenhanced. We may only vary our degree of enhancement within the concrete realm. For this reason, the option for less concrete enhancement is not especially radical.

    Donna Haraway said we are all cyborgs.
    We are creature-stick hybrids.
    Societal institutions imply a conception of their societies' members which reflects this.


    Explanation:

    Haraway's cyborg theory includes the assertion that technological artifacts are extensions of the body. It's easy to see in the case of a prosthetic leg, but consider also a walking stick, a shoe, skin cream applied to the foot, and toe-nail clippers. These are plug-ins, adding functionality, classed with sticks picked up by chimps. If these are extensions of our bodies, and if our bodies make up our selves (at least partly), then humans are creature-stick hybrids.

    Two notes here:

    1. It is tempting to say that modern humans are creature-stick hybrids, but it is probably all humans. Tools came before humans, and probably all humans have used tools. So, in fact, the stick has a longer heritage than this creature. (The creature may even be seen as a parasite.)

    2. Since a stick is an extension of the body, it is part of the body, so it can be extended by another stick. Consider the rubber cap added to the bottom of the walking stick, the shoelace on the shoe, the plastic seal on the end of the shoelace. So, following this through, the no-drip stand and travel pouch of your essential wine aerator are material extensions of your being. Remember that when you click to buy.


    The Professor's invention for peeling potatoes by W. Heath Robinson


    Lastly in this explanation, societies are human things, so they have embedded in them the notion of a creature-stick hybrid. That needs some spelling out.

    Generally, societies' structures betray presuppositions about their populations. For a simplistic example, when public amenities are provided in a community, it is supposed that they should be accessible to all people, as far as possible. Old-fashioned thinking had it that people were stair-climbing things, so there was little hesitation in placing steps at the access-points to, e.g., a public library. These days, the common conception of people is broader. Some people are not stair-climbing things, and so if we are to cater to them all - within reason - then we should not use only stairs, when there are other options. The conception of the community-member embedded in a stairs-only building presupposes stair-climbing ability.

    A building is a very literal example of a societal structure, but the presupposition that humans are creature-stick hybrids is perhaps clearest in more abstract structures. Another simple example: laws in developed societies are built on human interaction, but discourage public nudity. So members of those societies are assumed to be persons with clothes, and clothes are, in my sense, sticks. Furthermore,

    • many public spaces are not safely accessible without footwear;
    • you are expected to know what to do with received mail;
    • there are canned goods;
    • you must trade with money;
    • you will be required to open a door today.

    So we are all unavoidably 'enhanced' in the concrete realm, in the sense that we are creatures enhanced by sticks. Really, though, enhancement doesn't come into it; we are creature-stick hybrids. Humans are all enhanced creatures, we are not all enhanced humans. Where you draw the line of normality, marking the beginning of megahumanity (I don't want to say superhumanity), will always be open to discussion. In years to come, some humans may choose the high-dexterity, robotic, add-on limbs, although some of them will have just one. Others will just stick to the fleshy basics. Many will not be able to afford to choose. It will be as it is with cars these days. Condemned to the bus, am I 'a natural'?

    Since we cannot be without our sticks, the 'naturals' can't be picked out in the concrete realm. But, since our acceleration into the informational realm has jumped so recently, we can see some people beginning a way of being that is still almost untouched by others.

    continue to The informational realm (Coming soon!)

    Note:
    I chose the Heath Robinson illustration because I am fan, and because his machines push the idea of 'sticks' as corporal extensions to the absurd edges. However, that's a good test and I think the idea still holds together. I must also take this opportunity to share, in the same spirit, the best thing I have seen on YouTube, since this may be the only time it will be even barely relevant. See these 'Pitagora suitchi' - 'Pythagorus switches'. The ultimate sticks?





    Related links:

    Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto
    A Wired interview with Haraway from way back
    The social model of disability
    Mon, Apr 28, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The great enhancement debate
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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm


    The three human 'species' imagined in the project description are as follows:

    • Genetically modified people
    • Bionically enhanced people
    • Un-enhanced people

    And we might want to add the combination of those first two:

    • Genetically and bionically enhanced people

    This little series is about the bionically enhanced.

    There is a sense, much discussed already, in which we are all bionically enhanced to some extent. Al wrote as much in January, mentioning our phone-projected voices, iPod-jingled eardrums, and car-extended mobility. This kind of bionic enhancement is indeed prevalent already. It is the magnification, extension and expansion of ourselves, sometimes by displacement, as in the case of the telephoner's voice or the rescue worker's roving robot. It is our corporeal growth into other parts of the world, or our functional enhancement in dealing with the physical world. It is the enhancement of our bodies: it is growth in the concrete realm.

    However, the spreading and displacement in the concrete realm should be distinguished from our bionically enabled growth into the informational realm - the unplacement of aspects of ourselves. Examples of growth into the informational realm are some types of computer-enhanced memory (which al mentioned), internet-presented personality (like here, e.g.), and electoral roll-recorded existence. These elaborations are easier to detach from our 'basic' selves, since they are augmentations of our non-corporeal selves. However, the informational dimensions of our beings are becoming more and more important to our identities.


    For example, you might think you are a student at a university because you go to that university and you study there: those two things are quite essential. However, the university will tell you that you are a student there if and only if their database records such a fact. So, in their terms, you may be a student and never even go to campus or open a book. You may produce excellent work using their facilities and under the guidance of their professors, but still not be a student, excellent or otherwise. This kind of record of someone's status is part of their presence in the informational realm. Importantly, it is this presence that affords certain statuses and privileges in the 'real' world, away from the records and databases. Your CV is boosted by having been recorded as a student more than by actually having been one, so you are more employable with that record than with the wit but no paper to show it.

    The increase in the importance of our informational selves might be because those informational facets of persons are (not entirely, but largely) dependent on large-scale and intricate social interactions of our modern era, and the persistent, shared informational spaces that enable those interactions. (That is, rapidly manipulable, parallel accessible, recorded information.)

    The Great Enhancement Debate's project description predicts that unenhanced "naturals" may be taking a radical stance. It has already been suggested elsewhere that the "natural" stance can't really be taken because we can't form a meaningful notion of the natural. I think that view is right when we look at enhancement in the concrete realm, but less so when we consider it in the informational realm. It is impossible to frame a clear and absolute notion of the corporeally unnatural or supernatural. However, whilst it may be that there are no informationally natural humans in today's society (or at least in a near future's society), we can see what one would be (and what they have been).

    Continue to The concrete realm
    Mon, Apr 28, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The great enhancement debate
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    I added a comment to this post today, about photographs of libraries. I reproduce it here.



    I love pictures of libraries stacked with books. Especially big libraries.

    I love
    • the regularity of the arrangement of volumes
    • the desperate and constant reigning into order of their slightly less regular shapes (by shelves)
    • the knowledge that inside each one is yet another, rougher, feigned neatness that has been squeezed first from the head of a person who has made to himself or herself sense of the world
    • and behind it all, at the beginning, all the raw, jumbled ways things are.

    And after all these layers of interpretation and categorising and cataloguing, we have an enormous, incomprehensibly comprehensive list of perceived or imagined states of affairs, almost as bizarre as our starting point, overwhelming, but navigable by its artifice. Then we take a snapshot.

    When future generations ask about the old libraries, people will have to say:

    "like information, built."


    I love library pictures so much that I took some myself, then I photographed the pictures.

    33 pictures of the Edward Boyle Library by Robokku
    Tue, Apr 22, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    Are you there? Can you help me?

    I like hearing music from Space Collective, especially whilst composing posts. Is there any way to find music posted by members?

    If not, it might work in a project space, in which all the posts would include music - ideally members' own.

    To accommodate people's inclination to write about the music - but in musicless posts - there could be one sticky post where members could add links to their own cargo's silent posts in the comments.

    The aim would be to have [my own private] an open (and hopefully exhaustive) library of the original music on Space Collective.

    Is there a way?

    (Or - quick fix! - if you are a musician and you have posted music, can you tell me where it is?)
    Tue, Apr 15, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: music
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