Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 15 Feb 15 07:29
Inkwell welcomes R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, authors of the _Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity._ _Transcendence_ is a mind-stretching and entertaining look at the international movement that advocates the use of science and technology to overcome the natural limitations experienced by humanity. In nearly ninety A-Z entries, "Transcendence" provides a multilayered and often witty look at the accelerating advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, genomics, information technology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, neuroscience, robotics, virtual worlds, and much more, that are making transhumanism a reality.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 15 Feb 15 07:29
R. U. Sirius (Ken Goffman) is a writer, editor and well-known digital iconoclast. He was co-publisher of the first popular digital culture magazine, MONDO 2000, from 1989-1993 and co-editor of the popular book, MONDO 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge. He has written about technology and culture for Wired, The Village Voice, Salon, BoingBoing, Time, S.F. Chronicle, Rolling Stone, and Esquire, among other publications. Sirius/Goffman also lectures widely having appeared as part of the Reality Hacking series at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, at the TedX conference in Brussels, and at San Francisco's popular Dorkbot event. Visit him at StealThisSingularity.com.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 15 Feb 15 07:29
Jay Cornell is a writer, editor, web developer, and little-known semi-iconoclast. He is the former managing editor of h+ magazine, and the former associate publisher of Gnosis magazine. He is currently senior web developer at Landkamer Partners, and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Lifeboat Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending humanity from existential risks. Email him, but note that spammers and scammers will be found and consumed by swarms of nanobots.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 15 Feb 15 07:31
I'll be leading the conversation, here's my bio: "Jon Lebkowsky has been active in digital culture and media for over 25 years, and is currently focused on strategic digital consulting and development as member and CEO of the Polycot Associates web development cooperative. He is also known as an activist, sometimes journalist, and blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and society."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 15 Feb 15 07:34
You've both been part of h+ Magazine (http://hplusmagazine.com/), which has the same focus as your new book. Can you start by telling us a bit about how the two of you came together, and about your work at h+?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sun 15 Feb 15 14:46
Thanks Jon. Great to be back here in my old "cyber" stomping grounds (from the days of "cyber") I should maybe first say what h+ magazine was and is. It's the official "magazine" of the organization Humanity Plus. I was the first editor. Jay came in a bit later. Humanity Plus was formerly called the World Transhumanist Association (WTA). How it started... I was at a before-party at Peter Thiel's mansion in S.F. for the Singularity Summit, a more or less annual event at that time, . I think it was early 2008. My partner Eve and I were just getting ready to leave when I was approached by a stranger named James (Clement). James explained to me that he was the reigning Chairperson of Humanity Plus (I'd never heard of it, but I had heard of WTA.) He said he wanted to start an online magazine for the organization. He explained that there was this software that let you make something online that functioned sort of like a designed magazine. You'd see the cover, you'd click on it and flip through the pages, increasing the size when you actually wanted to read something. He thought I would make a good editor for it. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea. Now, at that time, I was unemployed and needed some income. If he had come up to me with a plan to print baseball scores on toilet tissue and leave them in elementary school bathrooms I might have said, "Yeah, awesome!" But I DO love making a magazine. I like the whole process of fussing over what goes where, what the cover should be and all of it. And while I hadn't particularly identified myself as a transhumanist, it was an area of interest and intrigue, so I was pretty pleased with the prospect. So I was hired. It was a part time salary. An art director was hired to create the first issue. I may have had a few dollars to pay for articles... probably not. The budget was tiny. An issue was posted. Anyway, there was always the plan to also post the materials as blog posts and that always got more response then the pseudo magazine style. MORE TO COME
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sun 15 Feb 15 15:08
We did maybe 1 or 2 issues under the guise of Humanity Plus when they had one of their then-frequent organizational eruptions. From what I heard, it reminded me of being part of the organized radical left in the early '70s. There seemed to always be bizarre ideological and personal battles afoot. Anyway, the new guard didn't want to keep (under)funding the magazine. James had another venture called Better Humans which he operated with Dan Stoicescu. They got an agreement to continue the magazine. Soon thereafter, I had what John Lydon might call a reasonable economy. I had a full time salary, some money to pay professional writers something bordering on fair, a design group in L.A. taking care of that, and somewhere along the way I was able to hire Jay part time as Managing Editor, which encompassed some editing, lots of proofreading, lots of keeping track of shit, some communicating with writers, some writing. It was great for awhile. Aside from the designed magazine, which only a few people gave a fuck about, we were able to post between 5 - 9 articles every week. We had good writers and some very legit science journalism from Greg Campbell (under the guise of Surfdaddy Orca). I got to run stuff by nonbelievers and people who dealt with related ideas without being a part of the culture. At some point, Dan got tired of pouring money into the thing (there wasn't really much of a plan for it to be profitable) and the magazine was handed back to Humanity Plus, under yet new leadership. Again, I had a small budget and a part time salary. If I remember Jay stuck with me. By then the flip book magazine was long dead. Finally, I think some time in 2011, they decided they wanted to spend even closer to nothing on the "magazine" and we were cut loose.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sun 15 Feb 15 15:12
Since I've been rather long winded in telling my version of the story of h+ magazine, I'll let Jay tell of how we met and ended up working together.
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Mon 16 Feb 15 11:42
I first encountered R.U. when I was living in Cincinnati in the early 1980s. I was reading a lot about psychedelics and often subscribed to obscure small magazines, and I believe it was in the late lamented Wet magazine that I saw a mention of High Frontiers (which became Reality Hackers and then Mondo 2000). When I moved to San Francisco in 1985, I called the number in the magazine and said I was a subscriber who'd just moved into town. (Which may seem odd and it's not what I'd have done with even a medium-sized magazine, but I knew they were small enough that they might actually care.) R.U. answered the phone, sounded happy to hear from a subscriber, and invited me to their next party. I wrote an article on brain machines for Reality Hackers, and was somewhat peripherally associated with Mondo. At one point Queen Mu asked if I wanted to be editor, which was tempting but I turned it down. I knew that she wasn't always easy to work with, and my vision of the magazine was a bit different. She was more into the pop culture angle, while I was more oriented towards the tech aspects. When Wired magazine appeared in 1993, I thought: "Yes, this is more what I was thinking of!"
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Mon 16 Feb 15 11:51
Later on, I helped R.U. with one of his books. (Was it PageMaker templates...?) When h+ magazine was growing, he needed a part-time managing editor and thought of me, and that worked out well. Then in late 2013, he was running out of time to complete this book, and I was happy to jump in and write a big chunk of it in the few months before the deadline. And that worked out, well, too. I think our interests and styles fit well together, and he's easy to work with. The form of the book also made it easy to collaborate.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Feb 15 14:01
How did the two of you approach the conversations about transhumanism and singularity? Did you fall into that world via the publications already mentioned, or did your interests precede the publishing work?
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Mon 16 Feb 15 14:19
I got into this through science fiction, which I began reading as a wee lad in the early 1960s. That overlapped with an interest in cutting-edge and speculative science. It's hard to find a transhumanist topic that does not have its roots in science fiction, one way or the other. I'd wager that every transhumanist has read SF, and that anyone who likes SF should be at least somewhat interested in transhumanism, even if they aren't eager to do anything drastic like upload their minds to a computer.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 16 Feb 15 17:33
There are a few transhumanists who refuse to read fiction. There are some very odd characters with very internally strict codes about reason and rationality. Anyway, for me, it probably started when I was 15 in 1968. I got into the hippies and the yippies and the new left of that time. There was a lot of talk and writing about cybernetics in those circles. It was the time of lots of acid and utopian ideas about "total liberation." Cybernetics... just the word... was like some magical fairy dust that you could sprinkle around as a reason not to get caught up in the dreary world of jobs and careers... you know, college, job, retirement, die. "Let the machines do it." There was that famous Richard Brautigan poem about "the machines of loving grace"... a cybernetic garden of eden. I was fascinated by the adventures of Timothy Leary after he escaped from prison with the help of the Weather Underground and joined with the Black Panthers and then slipped away to Europe to become a neo-decadent (in fact, just as David Bowie was steering the pop zeitgeist in a new direction.)And I was reading stuff by Robert Anton Wilson in the Berkeley Barb (underground newspaper). And both their writings resonated with me. I make no pretensions of intellectual rigor around any of this. It was the poetry and magnetism of the vision that attracted. Leary's vision became SMI2LE ... Space Migration Intelligence Increase and Life Extension. "The Revolution" had sunk into bitterness and recrimination so this seemed like a sufficiently ridiculous exaggerated pursuit to take its place. That's kind of the tale, for me. Except for a knee-jerk sense of irony that I likely inherited from my father and a bit of accumulated wisdom of age that makes me now wince at some of the highly defined utopian projections of today's transhumanists and singularitarians, I'm still, at least, interested in developments that might lead to a transmutation of the human condition, or short of that, solve some problems... or at least keep things interesting.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 16 Feb 15 17:38
Transhumanism itself, as a movement... in some ways, I never joined. The Extropians were the self-defined transhumanists of the Mondo 2000 era. To me, they were like one far out, odd cultural strand in the weave that made up my Mondo 2000 experience. I don't think I've joined an organization or a movement, really, since I joined the Youth International Party (Yippies)... if you could call that an organization... in 1970 and kind of drifted away by 1972. I've tried to start a few of my own, though.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Feb 15 17:45
I sense a healthy skepticism in the various articles that comprise _Transcendence_, and a more playful tone than you usually find in an encyclopedia. Did you start with that structure and tone, or did it emerge as you started pulling the project together?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 16 Feb 15 19:44
The book company decided to call it an encyclopedia. I originally pitched it as a User's Guide... which, when you're dealing with a concept as opposed to a hard technology, always has a bit of a tongue in cheek flavor. But the A-Z aspect was the result of my having done the same thing with Mondo 2000 A User's Guide to the New Edge back in 1993. Irreverence was definitely part of my original pitch. Actually, I originally pitched a book titled Steal This Singularity. The book company thought people wouldn't get it so "why don't you just explain what it is." I had the pitch for the User's Guide to Transhumanism sitting around, so I pulled it out, dusted it off and there we are. It could have been much more cynical. Not that I would set myself up as oppositional to transhumanism, but I do like to tease out the strangeness and absurdity in movements and groups. But, for one thing, we were using content I produced for h+ magazine to fill out the book. I didn't want to be rude. I don't think I was rude. Jay wasn't rude either.
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Mon 16 Feb 15 20:20
Transhumanism is a major form of techno-optimism today, which means I both approve of it and yet am painfully aware of the checkered history of techno-optimistic predictions. R.U. and I share interest in and sympathy towards transhumanism, but neither of us are starry-eyed evangelists. I think we have the right amount of skepticism to put things into perspective. A lot of writing on transhumanism is either cheerleading or disdain and mockery.
Administrivia (jonl) Tue 17 Feb 15 07:04
This is a public two-week conversation - the book we're focusing is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Transcendence-Disinformation-Encyclopedia-Transhumanism- Singularity/dp/1938875095/thewellauthorspr This conversation is on The WELL, the seminal online community platform. If you're interested in signing up for this and other conversations, see http://www.well.com/join.html. However, you don't have to be a member of the WELL to ask a question or make a comment. Just send via email to inkwell at well.com, or tweet to @thewell. The public short url for this conversation is http://bit.ly/transhumanoids - please share far and wide!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 17 Feb 15 08:14
How are Transhumanism and Singularity connected, other than being forward looking, technology focused, and radically optimistic?
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Tue 17 Feb 15 09:11
"A lot of writing on transhumanism is either cheerleading or disdain and mockery." Word. I think Transhumanism is an important line of thinking for anyone who looks more than a few decades into the future. I appreciate that you are guys are taking a dispassionate look at what we currently believe about this sort of thing.
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Tue 17 Feb 15 13:20
Transhumanism and the Singularity have a lot of overlap, but are a bit different. Transhumanism is about improving and transforming humans. The Singularity has several definitions, but I'd say it's the idea that once computers become as intelligent as humans, they will rapidly become far, far more intelligent than humans, an event so transformative that we can't really imagine the results. Beyond the reasons you mentioned, I'd say that increasing computing power is aiding transhumanism in a number of ways: scientific research in all fields, augmented and virtual reality, communications, knowledge sharing.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Tue 17 Feb 15 15:04
What Jay said. In terms of the belief systems, I think that all or nearly all Singularitarians are also transhumanists. They believe in radically enhancing human beings through technology and super AI is part of the equation that will bring about longer lived, smarter, stronger (add your own superlatives) humans. It was my observation that most transhumanists did NOT believe in the singularity, but that was a few years ago, and things shift rapidly so don't hold me to it. I recall that Max More, who started contemporary transhumanism as a movement with his Extropy group, said he didn't believe in the singularity, but that may have changed.
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Tue 17 Feb 15 16:37
I'm not a fan of the singularity. I think at this time it is often used as hype for relativley ordinary technologies. I am much more interested in transhumanism with the end game being the concept of conciousness surviving the entropic death of this Universe. Since tech will not survive, it will have to come from some other path. Tech may eventually end up being a staging area, though, so I do not completely discount the singularity. I just imagine it to be at a unknown and far distance off in the future. BTW, at this point I consider these ideas to be completely absurd but ya gotta dream.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Tue 17 Feb 15 16:54
I'm not sure what you mean about a path other than tech. Any tool we use is tech.
Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Tue 17 Feb 15 17:33
Surviving the entropic death of this Universe: now there's a long-term goal! I'd be happy with much less, like surviving the death of the Sun.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 17 Feb 15 20:03
One sense of singularity is obviously happening: technological change accelerating faster than most of us can keep up. This other idea of evolving AI is problematic, I think. I think we tend to anthropomorphize machines that simulate intelligence, but do they think as humans think? Is machine intelligence the same as human intelligence, does it imply an eventual machine consciousness?
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