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Rene Daalder
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Jan 18, 2007
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    The universe will fly like a bird
    Project: Polytopia
    In Spacewaver’s recent post about the Singularity University he mentions a discussion concerning the institution’s recent mission statement which, according to Jamais Cascio claims to be "preparing humanity for accelerating technological change," but is “spending a lot more time talking about nifty gadgets than about the connection between technology and society.”

    Spaceweaver considers Cascio’s opinion a possible “invitation to a discussion and exchange which is much in need,” and he believes that “the SpaceCollective can and perhaps should become a stage for such discussion.”



    Here are my thoughts on the matter: I admire Ray Kurzweil’s advocacy of radical ideas. However, like so many scientists and tech mavens he has never been able to frame the essential humanistic components of his master plan in a compelling way. When you promote powerful notions of human transformation it obviously becomes important not to portray humanity as something that must be overcome. Therefore it would seem to be essential to include a Future Humanities department as part of the Singularity University's curriculum.

    I agree with Spaceweaver that the futurist thinkers on this site can contribute something of value to the Singularity University, and even to the curricula of the regular universities, like the ones SC worked with on several projects, since they conversely tend to ignore the subject of the future altogether.

    Spaceweaver himself is a perfect example of how the thinkers who contribute such valuable content to this site could play a role in filling this vacuum. In post after post he demonstrates a phenomenal grasp of the ethical and philosophical implications of the impending changes in the equilibrium of our culture. Likewise, the Polytopia project has become an impressive forum for the evolution of Future Mind, while SC’s mix of art, science and design represents precisely what is so painfully absent from most blogs dealing with topics like Nanotechnology, Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence, etc.

    Check out KurzweilAI, for example, and note the banner ad for Ray & Terry’s Longevity Products, which rather looks like an advertisement for a Bed and Breakfast. The artless quality of the site makes one long for Folkert’s designs, Xaos’ Singularity-inspired poetics, Andy Gilmore’s art and the multi-media that makes the future represented by SpaceCollective so enticing. Unfortunately, we have to assume that Kurzweil’s X-Prize-, Google- and NASA-sponsored university, heady and scientific as it will undoubtedly become, will be lacking some of the emotional and aesthetic experiences we aspire to. In all likelihood, little attention will be paid to the fact that the future could actually be a sexy and stimulating place and there will be a deficit of the magic many of us here associate with technology. Nor will there be many young faces gracing the institute’s vaunted halls, due to its prohibitive tuition. I can’t help but imagine the place as an ivied, corporate institute, rather than a desirable haven for techno-optimism.



    Many of us have been influenced by Eric Drexler’s brilliant introduction to nano technology, Engines of Creation, and I read The Singularity is Near from cover to cover. I was inspired by Vernor Vinge’s novel True Names and Timothy Leary’s plans to cryonically preserve his molecular framework for future resurrection as well as Hans Moravec’s dream of taking science to the edge where Humanity becomes Trans-Human.

    Being foremost a storyteller I would dream up future scenarios informed by the ideas of these Wizened Elders of Futurism that were populated by human characters people could identify with. These science-fact based stories became exciting exercises in creating entirely new worlds based on new potentials and rules, even though most of them stood little chance to become movies because the film industry has a longstanding policy to only fund dystopian narratives (check out this post on the subject).

    In response to that dismal state of affairs I’m now finishing up a SciFi documentary about the late Timothy Leary, my favorite ‘mad scientist,’ promoting the evolution of intelligence by whatever means possible. Leary’s main challenge in life was not to let dystopia’s henchmen – who chased him across the globe and kept him in jail for years – succeed at turning his life into a cautionary tale. As a result, his story is one of the most spectacular object lessons in optimism, defiant at every turn and as prescient as only the best futurists manage to be.

    It just so happens that Leary makes a number of posthumous appearances in Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, one of which is a fictional conversation with a character called Molly2004, who tries to figure out what will separate future humans from “bacteria who would talk and think” once we will be “saturating the universe with our intelligence.” Someone by the name of George2048 responds, “Indeed, Molly, that is fundamentally what the Singularity is all about. The Singularity is the sweetest music, the deepest art, the most beautiful mathematics…” “I’m still trying to envision what the universe will be doing,” Molly insists, whereupon Timothy Leary elucidates that “the universe will be flying like a bird…”

    No matter my critical remarks in this post, Ray Kurzweil deserves our highest admiration for encouraging so many people to take a giant leap into a future that not so long ago would have been considered unthinkable. Only someone willing to play the part of ‘straight man’ could have possibly succeeded at rallying the support which should make the Singularity a reality, by which time he may finally be able to transcend his cheerleader role.

    After all, by then everything will have changed.

    As Xaos put it in his first SpaceCollective post:

    The amazing thing about the singularity, the Story of the singularity that is, is the way it affects us. When projecting it on the line of our event horizon, the singularity is a story that brings us into deconstruction and moves us into composing ourselves anew.

    The human today lives in a radical time, actually an extremely radical time; the future is rushing at us, proposing for the first time the idea and reality of a better platform, distinctively different from the imperfect outcome of natural selection. It is the beginning of an accelerating change that is starting to gain a confident and attractive position, projecting the human over an open horizon. Changing the very meaning of what, who and how a human is.


    So Mr. Kurzweil, just to let you know, we are waiting for your call. In the meantime we’d appreciate a courtesy discount on your school’s tuition or perhaps even a few scholarships as a token for our relentless promotion of your cause.


    P.S. In an excellent comment by EINitro, he includes a great quote by RISD President John Maeda:

    Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.



    Images: Lebbeus_Woods

    Sun, Feb 22, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Comments:


    aeonbeat     Tue, Feb 24, 2009  Permanent link
    speechless... here are a lot of things i have been thinking about and still not sure about the outcome, concerning my position. great posting.
    Hasan     Tue, Mar 3, 2009  Permanent link
    Great art work!
    Concerning the BLA BLA {insert yawn here}
    Just more TECHNO.BABBLE To SELLPHONES!

    PS: Are we missing the WHOLE point of ENTROPY?
    THE UNIVERSE WILL FOLD. (Surely You Must Agree)

    :By Design
     
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