inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #0 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #1 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #2 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #3 of 108: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #4 of 108: 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+?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #5 of 108: 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
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #6 of 108: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #7 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #8 of 108: 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!" 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #9 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #10 of 108: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #11 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #12 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #13 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #14 of 108: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #15 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #16 of 108: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #17 of 108: 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! 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #18 of 108: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #19 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #20 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #21 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #22 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #23 of 108: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #24 of 108: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #25 of 108: 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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