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Roland
Milan/Tokyo, IT
Immortal since Jan 11, 2008
Uplinks: 0, Generation 3

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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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    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.
    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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    I got the Guardian today, but my eyes didn't even reach the fold. They didn't even reach the date. The top corner advertises page 4 of G2, the comment and features section:
    Nicholson Baker
    Wikipedia took over my life

    Thrill. This paper was supposed just to be something to prop my gaze against while the sandwich went in. Now I was actually set up for an enjoyable lunchtime. A good surprise. I called my dad.

    To me, Nicholson Baker was a man who wrote a short novel, quirkily interesting, in the 1980s, then disappeared into obscurity. I thought that of him because a little while ago I read The Mezzanine. It was a novel. It was short. I found it quirkily interesting. The cover was classically 1980s-styled. When I finished it, I heard nothing more of Nicholson Baker. I had not heard of him before I read it either. So I pictured him as having disappeared into obscurity by, say, 1986, leaving behind a wacky story of shoelaces, milk cartons, and the great paper vs. plastic drinking straw debate.

    I read The Mezzanine on my dad's recommendation. He is in product design. An academic. I could see why he'd been pushing it on his students, probably since the 80s. I loved the book. It is a recent thing-in-common between us, so I called him now, sandwich still sticker-sealed. He shared my thrill. Nicholson Baker? Wikipedia? Well... He would set out to buy the Guardian right away, he said. However, I was a little disappointed to discover, in conversation with Dad, that our thing-in-common was not as in-common as I had thought. For instance, he had never read a favourite section of mine. It was the two-page footnote imagining microscopic explorers investigating up-close the histories of erosion of the grooves in records, and then comparing them to the findings from a different miniaturised expedition into the grooves left behind in ice by skates. He had not read it, he said, because his attention had been too strongly bound by the relaying, in another two-page footnote, of stapler designers' decades-long, slavish following of locomotive form factors, which they reproduced in functional officeware precisely and consistently twenty years behind the fashions of the trainyard. (That is to say that 1960s staplers are shaped like 1940s trains, and 1970s staplers are shaped like 1950s trains, and so on.) In short, he hadn't actually read the whole book. But he could see its appeal, and so could I. Strangely, I think the following review sums up my affection for it.

    Faintly amusing for about ten pages then increasingly, numbingly dull: the moment-by-moment thoughts of a 25-ish office worker during his lunch hour—with an unabashed, verbose focus on the most trivial, everyday activities.

    (From the first review showing on Google Books)


    So I hope you can understand my anticipation as I thumbed for the G2, phone now on hook, sandwich bag open: The Mezzanine addressed only the whole world, Wikipedia is a much bigger subject. I was ready for the minutiae of the massive, the intricacies of the infinite.

    The article was charming. Dressed up like a Wikipedia entry, with blue hyperlinked footnotes, which made for a passable gag in pulpy newsprint. I took that first impression back to the office, eating on the move. Having chatted with dad, I didn't have time to read the article until later.



    Naturally, I sneaked in some research whilst at the desk, alt-tabbing discreetly between Excel and Wikipedia's Baker entry for some indulgent scene-setting. I read his publications list. Sure enough, The Mezzanine appeared in the 80s, but, contrary to my egocentric version of events, it was the beginning of a string of notable novels and non-fictions, occasionally cheering critics and perturbing best-seller lists. Included were:

    Vox (1992)
    A phone-sex taboo-toucher (strangely described in the wiki as "disappointingly unpornographic").

    Check-in (2004)
    A story concerning a psychotic-sounding fellow who plots the assassination of George W by unworkably stupid means, but principally concerning his conversation with a friend about his arrival at such plans.

    U and I: Tall Tales (1998)
    Non-fiction. This one inspired me because it apparently involves an investigation and analysis of John Updike's works, written without reading those works at all at any point after the commencement of the project. This caught my imagination so much that I have written this post in exactly that way. As a result, this list and my earlier references to The Mezzanine are certainly inaccurate. (In particular, these book titles escape me now, so I have fabricated them.)

    Decimo: Book destruction in US libraries 1972-1986 (2001)
    Non-fiction. This one brought to mind some thoughts of Rene's, in a post I read yesterday. He was wondering about the impact of the openness and accessibility of information on printed books and our attitudes towards them. (Sorry, Rene, if you read this: I've not reread your post either, so I may misrepresent you.) In Decimo, Baker actually traced the histories of print publications abandoned by librarians and tagged for destruction in the microfiching frenzy of the 70s and 80s. (Apparently there was a microfiching frenzy in the 70s and 80s.)


    I was sure then, in light of those last two books on the list, that Nicholson Baker was a man with a high regard for subjective impressions of things (Tall Tales) and a love for the history and future of information collation (Decimo). He was a man whose reaction to Wikipedia I wanted to witness. By five, I knew this G2 article was going to be a treat. I stacked the day's spread of paperwork at one side of the desk, took the supplement from my bag and laid it in the space. Then I changed my mind. I would read it at home, savour it. I bagged it again and put on my coat, clipped my trousers for the cycle.

    Actually, no. My mind was perfectly primed, I thought. This was the moment to read it. I sat at my desk again, still coated and clipped, fished out the paper and flicked to page 4. I had been right at lunchtime: the Wikipedian stylings really were charming. I read the title and lead-in again - I had got that far before. Then it occurred to me that my readiness to enjoy this article had only increased since lunchtime. The anticipation was sort of stewing, the flavours of expectation spreading and intensifying, I thought, which image made me realise I was hungry. I would read it at home. Then I could eat first: might as well add the satisfaction of a full stomach. Besides, my research had so effectively confirmed the high probability that the article would be utterly gripping, that I could actually plot a related post for Space Collective on the cycle home. Decided. I repacked and left.

    Bike locked; house clothes on; work clothes pressed; feeding accomplished; feet up. The thrill of knowing I was going to read a good article; the bliss of a happily distracted digestive system. That is what it's all about. That would be the high point of the day. The truth was, I decided, I didn't even need to read the article.

    So I didn't.

    If you want to, it's here.
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