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Tag Archives: futurism

A is for android and ArcheAge

Wouldn’t you know it: just after I posted about ArcheAge last week, praising the female plate armor for not being revealing, I got the next set as a quest reward and presto! Metal bustier (with leather and chain mail hot pants and metal garters). I suppose I should be happy that the metal armor doesn’t have extreme breast physics, like it does in TERA, and that it has a decorative element shielding her from chest wounds:

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Notice anything else surprising in that screenshot from a Korean MMORPG? My avatar Tsofia is standing in front of the entrance to a public farm, which is capped by rural images including… hey, wait!  Is that the Bremen Town Musicians, from the Grimm Brothers story? Yup. In my early years of college I was interested in international fairy tales and folklore, and this is a nice example of how a story can travel and be put to use in another form.

Over the weekend, my patient husband watched Futureworld with me. Its a terrible movie from 1976, starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner as reporters investigating a rebuilt amusement park where androids staff, and are, the attractions. It was a sequel to Westworld, a much more successful film. Westworld stayed close to Michael Crichton’s meme of powerful technology having a disastrous vulnerability, whereas Futureworld strayed into mad scientists and world domination. The trailer gives away the big twist, but shows Delos (the overall park, of which Futureworld and Westworld are sections) in some of its cheesy glory.

We watched the film before I knew that HBO is turning Westworld into a series. Guess I’ll have to let my DVR pick that up in September and hope that it’s good. I’d like to see a series take a more optimistic view of robot/human interactions, though. Maybe not as Utopian as The Jetsons, but more like Almost Human; man and machine in a sometimes flawed partnership.

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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Gaming, Our Robot Overlords, Video

 

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Wednesday Film: The Singularity is Near (full)

This is Ray Kurzweil’s expansion of ideas from his book, veering off into a virtual reality/augmented reality science fiction plot. The movie is surprisingly cheesy and the quality of this upload isn’t ideal, but it’s still interesting. Some of the film was shot in Second Life, though of course this was a few years ago and the scenes are not representative of that world today.

Update Feb 26 — Well, it lasted for a day and a half before it was pulled for a copyright claim.  Hope you got to see it!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Research, Transhumanism, Virtual Life in Pop Culture

 

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Wednesday film: Toffler’s “Future Shock”

I think I’m going to make a habit of posting a film — short or otherwise — on Wednesdays.This week’s submission is a 42-minute long 1972 documentary based on sociologist Alvin Toffler’s vision of the future and how he thought we would push back against it (his wife Heidi also contributed, but she was not acknowledged as a co-author). The film is wonderfully bizarre and the quality is lousy, but it might get you thinking. I’ve also included links below to some pieces looking at the book Future Shock40 years after it was published; I suggest you watch the film and form your own impressions first.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in Culture

 

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US views of technology and the future

It’s relatively easy for me to accept and adapt to new technology; I’m a lifelong early adopter and if budget allowed, my house would have more gadgets than the Batcave. But what about mainstream America?  Pew Research just released the results of their survey on how we view science and technology now and in a fifty year horizon (link to pdf of full report).  The results aren’t terribly surprising, but they do show how ambivalent we are in this period of rapid change.

To start, a few points from their findings:

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  • 66% think it would be a change for the worse if prospective parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce smarter, healthier, or more athletic offspring.
  • 65% think it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.
  • 63% think it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace.
  • 53% of Americans think it would be a change for the worse if most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them. Women are especially wary of a future in which these devices are widespread.

As an anthropologist, I’m relieved to see that support for eugenics is still in the minority.  On the second point, I think we’ll see robots being more and more involved in healthcare, but not as primary caregivers. I think it was in one of Sherry Turkle’s books where it was suggested that assistive devices like I wrote about here would be a more effective way to go: you could still have a human care provider, but one with wearable robotics to make the manual tasks easier.  I agree with skepticism about drones. One of my former colleagues at [big Internet company] has a camera-equipped drone that he uses for simply amazing photographs that would otherwise be impossible, from drone-photographed selfies and groupies to shots like a panorama of cherry blossoms taken while hovering low above the Tidal Basin on DC. Gorgeous. I trust him personally, but I can’t say I want to look out my window and see commercial drones whizzing by. We have enough problems with our military drones, including an attack in Yemen today.

I’m in the minority about implants and wearable devices; I’ve been waiting for my implant for years now!  I wonder what is behind the increased wariness of women on that topic. Fear of being pulled in more directions at all time by social media and messaging? Annoyance at others who are distracted by devices now? Distaste at unfashionable wearables? Or, are they thinking of things like Google Glass and the notion of being recorded without their knowledge? (Personal note: On a trip to Disneyland in February, I noticed a couple people wearing Google Glass and a few wearing these chest-mounted camera harnesses. The harnesses struck me as far more creepy.)

An interesting divide on lab-grown flesh turned up in the data.  81% of respondents believe that within 50 years, we will have lab-grown human organs for implant.  But would they eat meat grown in a lab? Only 20% said yes. Hmm.  We expect to have lab-grown flesh put into our bodies to replace failing organs, but we won’t put it into our bodies via our mouths? That’s fascinating.  I understand the queasiness and feel a little of it myself if I try to envision it.  I suggest reading Eating Animalsby Jonathan Safran Foer to explore the ethics of current meat production methods (or the record, I’m a devoted omnivore) and Oryx and Crakeand the rest of the MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood to consider a fictional account of genetic modification and lab-grown meat, particularly the ChickieNobs.  ::shudder::

What do we want?  Improvements in transportation options, health, and time travel. Sounds good to me!  If we could channel a percentage of time spent on celebrity gossip into science, we might get some of that before I’m too old to care.

(c) Paul Sizer

(c) Paul Sizer: http://fav.me/d73qvmo

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2014 in In the News, Research

 

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Will this generation reach avatar immortality?

If you have been following transhumanist thinkers or prophets of the singularity (Ray Kurzweil et al), the ambitious 2045 Initiative may be familiar to you. Its lofty goal is to accelerate us from being consumers who do nothing more than maintain the status quo (the dismissive view of humanity today, as seen in the video above) into an enlightened, post-flesh society capable of traveling the stars. The project is making news this week because of a vision that’s right up my alley: porting human consciousness into avatars.

Dmitry Itskov is the founding father of this movement, and he envisions a time in the very near future — about 10 years from now — where a human brain can be transplanted into a robot.  The next step would be to port consciousness itself into an artificial brain, free from the constraints and decay of the flesh.

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The non-cynical side of me looks at the amazing advances we’ve made in cybernetics and the ridiculously short timeframe in which the Internet and mobile technology have transformed our lives and says, “Meh. It could happen. Faster please.”  Not that I’ll ever have the money to be an early adopter of this sort of technology, but I’m in the generation where it might just be possible to extend my life; not indefinitely, but much longer than the span I’m likely to have naturally.

However, as someone with a background in anthropology and technology, I’m skeptical. There are some Big Thoughts that I’m still chewing on, so I’ll start by sharing some of the little ones. First, I believe that the consciousness one would have by porting only a brain is less than human, so that step of the path seems like an error (though I’m not ruling out the possibility that we’ll be able to find and capture human consciousness someday). Is someone human without a body, anyway?  And if so, why does the avatar need to be so anthropomorphic?  He talks about the robots getting input from their five senses; he seems to see the avatars as reproductions of the human body for a long time to come, and it isn’t until the final phase that Itskov’s vision has avatars that can take any shape. (Personally, I believe that we are very attached to idealistic human forms and that those would make the easiest adjustment for us, but if we’re talking about transhumanism, let’s get on with it!)

If I can’t get my cell phone to go through a day without recharging and my three-year old laptop is already obsolete, I’m nervous about a vision of society that is entirely reliant on technology. The divide between visionaries and daily life seems to be exceptionally great right now. Perhaps that has always been the case. It’s exciting to see stories about cybernetic advances, yet at the same time I need to wait weeks to get insurance approval for a standard medical test; high-tech options that I read about are no more real than unicorns to me. Even if the cybernetic, biotech, and nanotech portions of the 2045 initiative were to proceed on schedule, there are a web of support systems that would lag behind.

Then there’s the inherent elitism of this vision, which disregards third world people from the descriptions of consumerist society onward. Who will be making the decisions about who gets ported into potential immortality? Just the super-rich? Just those deemed worthy by… whom?  Apparently Itskov believes it’s for everyone, eventually.  To quote this article from Digital Trends, “The era of neo-humanity is for everyone, rich and poor alike. It will simply be the rich who have access to the life-altering technology first, as a reward for helping finance the mission.”

Lewis Black touched upon the question of who should be immortal in his “Back in Black” segment on last night’s The Daily Show. “Who decided this crappy generation is the one that deserves to live forever? If this avatar technology existed 80 years ago, there’d be a bunch of giant blue racists running around…. To me, the fact that we all eventually drop dead is not a bug, it’s a feature!  It’s the only way we rid our society of old assholes!”

The 2045 video bugs me for its naivete and the attitude of disgust it has toward people today, but I respect some of the scientists, engineers, philosophers, and other thinkers who are working on related ideas. I can get very excited and hopeful about all of this, too, despite my skepticism. The Global Future 2045 International Congress takes place this weekend, and if you’re interested in some of the futurists involved, you can check out their videos on the conference website.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in In the News, Research

 

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