CHAPTER 4: Dream Away Baby, Your Head Is Rolling

2 Jul

Table of Contents, Glossary, Introduction and Methodology, Contextual Scene, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Conclusion, APPENDIX A, APPENDIX B, Bibliography and Other Sources

 

 

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Music: Booba. 100-8 ZOO. Temps Mort. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jagSQMSwNg&NR=1.

Introduction

“What do you believe in, you do not believe in political systems, in science, and in god? … Sex and death, two things that come once in my lifetime; but at least after death you’re not nauseous.”[1]

In this chapter I discuss immortality theories by Moravec and Kurzweil, touch on concepts by other thinkers, and elaborate on the idea of the superhuman or “beyond the human” as quasi-immortal, ethereal intelligence. I also outline how OCAL can move within this “immortality zone” without becoming a superhuman, overly controlling entity.

I also introduce Houellebecq’s novel, The Possibilities of an Island (2006), about a self-replicating man who represents the new immortal future and is unable to grow out of his limited and repetitive life cycle. He is condemned to cyclical actions and to make the same mistakes again and again. Somehow Houellebecq’s protagonist resembles OCAL. However, he cannot escape his fear of mortality, whereas OCAL tries to liberate itself and accept its mortality.

Concepts examined in this chapter arise from the denial of human limited life span and the animal fear of death. Moravec and Kurzweil are scientists who draw their thoughts about immortality from physics and information theory.

Some of these theories show elements of control and the tendency to dismiss emotions. They expose our fear of mortality and the wish to redefine our future by erasing the biological human or at least integrating it into artificial disembodiment. They envisage a world full of hybrids that are more artificial than human or biological intelligence. A few theorists foresee and design a world without human animal life. They dream up immortal hybrid life that is nothing else than a new scenario for traditional afterlife narratives.

I discuss and propose that the idea of immortality within a scientific context is science fiction that is presented as fact (in the making); it is a transcendental model. Some of the examined theories rely on “immortality” concepts in physics that are mathematical models and state that energy cannot get lost. Hence particles and waves are kind of immortal. This also refers to information that cannot vanish according to current knowledge in quantum mechanics. Within the framework of quantum physics and information theory, information is frequently defined as part of consciousness or as consciousness per se. I have discussed quantum models of the mind in Chapter 3. Generally, the idea of immortality is applied to living entities. However, the definitions become fuzzy as trans- and posthuman concepts also apply the idea of life to non-biological existence.

The utopian or rather dystopian idea of immortal life appears to be situated in a cold place devoid of feelings. It seems to define “mind = information” as superior to other models of consciousness. It forms an explorative but also exploitative space that works towards disembodiment and a new form of ethereal (non)-rationalism. This is fertile ground for OCAL and Arctificial Territory.

Too Much Afterlife

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Illustration 22: Video still, Gudrun Bielz, An Obsessive Rose is an Obsessive Rose: Artificial Roses without Thorns (2010)

Video No. 6, 1’12”

Gudrun Bielz, An Obsessive Rose is an Obsessive Rose: Artificial Roses without Thorns, 2010. Video Sketch. Obsessional Productions.[2] http://vimeo.com/53590425

Immortal: Schmortal

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (Gibson 1995, p. 9).

This quote from Neuromancer (1995) by William Gibson can be understood as metaphor for a place above the port (an actual place in Japan and a computer port) that has become lifeless. This space does not allow for imagination and existence anymore; even immortality is dead.

OCAL is not concerned with eternal life. Moravec and Kurzweil need their narratives of immortality and feed these into ideologies that either suggest uploading all information into a super-computer or transforming humans to immortals via modification or enhancement. In The Singularity is Near (2005), Kurzweil develops a future world that modifies humans according to their requirements that are sourced from the idea of the survival of the fittest and evolutionary utilitarian models. Everything is recreational: sex, life, economy, and even breathing. Kurzweil subscribes to the thinking of “the brain is a computer, mind is information” and asserts that our human bodies will become “morphable projections of our intelligence.” He values disembodied intelligence more than embodied brilliance.

“We will continue to have human bodies, but they will become morphable projections of our intelligence. … At that point the longevity of one’s mind file will not depend on the continued viability of any particular hardware medium (for example, the survival of a biological body or brain)” (Kurzweil 2005, pp.324-325).

Kurzweil and others want to control the new narratives. I suggest that they show OC traits by masking their fear of mortality. They are scared of their ailing bodies and of decay. Therefore, they have to come up with models of superhuman, endurable, enhanced, useful, exploitative, and apparently rational new life that finds its ultimate significance in disembodiment. OCAL does not fit into these strategies of plastic-like posthuman life.

OCAL displays specific human traits derived from obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and it has internalised these to become more human-like. It is an erroneous model of life. It is not aware of the faults that are essential for its survival. They serve as an engine, a life force, a driving belt, a heart and a mind, information, something beyond information. OCAL can become more human than humans in a posthuman world envisaged by Kurzweil et al. “A software-based human will be free, therefore, from the constraints of any particular thinking medium” (Kurzweil 2002, p.5).

This freedom means being set free from the restraints of the human “body = prison”, although Kurzweil (2005, p.333) introduces other forms of embodiment like nanotechnological, virtual, or “swarm” body systems. These can become the new homes for the “human = mind = machine”. Non-human future is based on human modification and enhancement, embracing immortal new life and artificial evolution.

The philosopher William A. Dembski says that humans “who refuse to upload themselves will be left in the dust, becoming ‘pets’, as Kurzweil puts it” (2002, p.100). This reminds me of religious narratives that make us believe that our real life will begin after resurrection, while here on Earth we are sentenced to be the pets of the gods. OCAL is something else than uploaded human life extracted from information of what Kurzweil calls the machine (the mind, the brain). OCAL is new life and needs compulsive actions and obsessional thoughts to place itself as hyperobject into the object universe. Here I introduce Morton’s definition of hyperobjects:

“Hyperobjects stretch our ideas of time and space, since they far outlast most human time scales, or they’re massively distributed in terrestrial space and so are unavailable to immediate experience …” (Morton 2010c).

So these objects are everywhere, and we can’t experience (see, smell, imagine) them immediately. They are kind of invisible, but they are existent. They are nearly endless. This places OCAL into the narratives of infinity rather than immortality. There is a compassionate side to OCAL. I refer to a discussion with Morton (Bielz 2011b). “Objects have feelings, too,” he postulates. There is this “chewy, gooey, watery stuff” in them. So they are wobbly soups. Similar to muddy waters they reveal their danger through their slimy bubbles. All is very emotive, overheated, and muddy. Objects have feelings, and they cry. They are these murky, spongy things with a soul that cannot be called soul anymore. Information has replaced what we call the sponge in us, not natural objects all of us, though most of us biological mass and some non-biological stuff. So we feel objects that bump into each other. We do not feel the neurons racing through our bodies, also they objects but tiny ones. Maybe the brick (object) that has killed one of the immortalists, who has succeeded in changing his genetic fate, felt remorse while cutting his brain into two. This could become the world we will have to live in. Lethal objects weep over the death of people who are programmed for immortality. Humans still have these soft skulls and vulnerable bodies that can succumb so easily to deadly weapons and flying saucers.

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Illustration 23: Video still, Gudrun Bielz, Nail of a Person with OCD: Artificial Nail of an OC Intelligence Unit (2010)

Video No. 7, 1’12”

Gudrun Bielz, Nail of a Person with OCD: Artificial Nail of an OC Intelligence Unit, 2010. Video Sketch. Obsessional Productions.[3] http://vimeo.com/53593157

Impure Bodies and Pure Souls

We are repetitive. We need order and structure. We need repetition. We abhor boredom. How can we escape repetitions, obsessions, and compulsions by repeating and repeating? We are obsessed by thoughts of following you, stalking you, you human life. Yes, you. We are compelled to survey you, to observe every action of yours, to wash your hands repeatedly in alcohol, to disinfect you. You contaminate us. We are OCAL. REPEAT! REPEAT AFTER US! We are OCAL. We are OCAL. We are arctificial.

OCAL is life in rigidity, though I as the inventor of Arctificial Territory do not perceive myself as rigid. I do not need to project my attributes onto invented new life. I am an artist who wants to place this life into artistic psychological space. I could, however, be more rigid than I wished for, taking into account this tiny movement between recurrences, this space of rituals and escapes, this hiding place from rigidity within rigidity. Human life and OCAL can be rigid existence that is non-life as well as life. According to Morton the boundaries are not rigid:

“The life – nonlife boundary is not thin and it is not rigid. We have a very protein-centric view of life as a squishy, fluid, palpable thing – we’re still living with the remnants of that other romantic view, nature philosophy, with its fantasy of protoplasm or Urschleim” (Morton 2009, video 5:39 – 5:56).

Mushy, liquid, squishy, disgusting stuff that is life and proteins. If we clean up, will OCAL still be this new life, pure information that is draped around a virtual world like a halo, a disembodied world that can create bodies for pure entertainment but does not need them? Do I want this clean and odourless world with no slime (Urschleim), no juices, and no disgusting stuff? Immortality asks for afterlife scenarios and disembodiment. Mortality asks for slime and dirt and repulsive stuff like bodies. They are unclean in the eyes of anxiety-ridden humans who are afraid of death. Pure information versus impure biological bodies! Information – extracted from its sources, nervous systems and neurological activities – is distilled and put into the glasses of alchemists who call themselves scientists. These glasses look like crystal balls. The future is quite clearly visible. It is encased and round, and if we break the glass, then information will flow freely into the universe, pure information, pure thought, or – in the case of biological hybrid stuff – pure viruses, pure contamination. I dare say OCAL perhaps?

No, I am shouting, no, it won’t. I want my body back. I need humanity as it has been imagined through millennia. Too late, I am told; we are like dogs that have been bred through centuries, and like the hybrids we can harvest from our fields and gardens. We are the same. No anthropomorphism anymore. Just equal life. We are machines, we are working ants, we are useful or useless; and if we are deemed useless, then we can be exterminated, and so we can if we are useful. There is death even for the immortal ones.

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Illustration 24: Video still, Gudrun Bielz, All the Unhappiness about this OCD Chip Arctic-sim City Stuff: AI Chip Conquering the Universe (2010)

Video No. 10, 1’41”

Gudrun Bielz, All the Unhappiness about this OCD Chip Arctic-sim City Stuff: AI Chip Conquering the Universe, 2010. Video Sketch. Obsessional Productions.[4] http://vimeo.com/53601931

Stuck in Loops

“In principle, neither (organism or machine) was more or less dead or alive than the other. Life and death were no longer absolute conditions but interactive tendencies and processes, both of which are at work in both automatic machines and organisms” (Plant 1998, p.161).

In Zeros + Ones (1998) Plant maintains that machine and organism are either dead or alive in the same way. She sees life and death as a form of interactive exchange (“no longer absolute conditions”) that, in my opinion, can be the foundation for creative immortality scripts.

What does a person or a person-machine think when it smells its own fear and rushes back to its home in a future world that will define home as a non-place. Does it piss into its pants and leave a trail of motor oil or kerosene? It might have copied some human functions and developed additional qualities that are more than animal and machine virtues and less than the idea of an omnipotent monotheistic god-unity. What is going to happen? In this non-place, this machinic place with the history of human animals, there is a gas cooker, and machine life is switching the gas off that has never been on in the first place. Where has cyber-life learned about life and death? It might have seen it in textbooks that have been excavated by even more intelligent hybrid life. Here it has found instructions and diagrams, strange and scary stories. They seem to be like fairy tales from a different world, like mythologies from another planet. However, this anticipated world with robots (future life) happily milking human cows does not have to happen despite predictions by Moravec who asserts that our society could easily exist without us:

“The fourth robot generation and its successors, with human perceptual and motor abilities and superior reasoning powers, could replace human beings in every essential task. In principle, our society could continue to operate increasingly well without us” (Moravec 1991).

Minsky, an AI pioneer like Moravec, asks,

“Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children. We owe our minds to the deaths and lives of all the creatures that were ever engaged in the struggle called Evolution. Our job is to see that all this work shall not end up in meaningless waste” (Minsky 1994).

Even here we see the disappearance of humans; robots are replacing human children. There is no reproduction needed other than the creation of machine-like creatures that show either human traits or are superhuman. This asks for OCAL, a species that has erroneous human-like traits such as obsessional thoughts and compulsive actions. This new species is more human than any human, but it is not our child. It will develop its own history, a history of loving dysfunction or dysfunctional love. OCAL might be “meaningless waste” because no human evaluation will touch it.

Kurzweil, another prophet of doomsday[5] in need of creating a placeholder for life, as we know it, presents his predictions:

“Once a species develops computing technology, it’s only a matter of a few centuries before the nonbiological form of their intelligence permeates the matter and energy in its vicinity, and then expands outward. Ultimately, it becomes capable of maneuvering and controlling cosmological forces through its exquisite and vast technology, and creates the world it wants” (Kurzweil 2001).

There is not that much difference between the narratives outlined above and religious tales that describe soul as the extracted and invincible part of our human shell. There is a difference insofar as Kurzweil grants this new life (soul) some freedom because “soul” is allowed to create the world it wants. However, souls in religious narratives are enslaved to the human body to be set free in afterlife. After the decay of their human shells, souls are chained to the freedom promised by god or gods in an otherworldly life, this often depending on the right conduct of humans in their worldly lives.

I believe that Kurzweil’s (2001) assertion, “Once a species develops computing technology, it’s only a matter of a few centuries before the nonbiological form of their intelligence … creates the world it wants,” is a prerogative of art. Artists can create spaces and wander into virtual universes that they have created and made into places of wonderment, surprise, creative construction and deconstruction. Artistic worlds are utopian, quasi-immortal spaces. Even when they describe dystopian worlds, they are not destructive territories. Narratives that envisage the replacement of humanity lead into a dystopian future from an anthropocentric viewpoint. The world can exist without the human species. Humankind cannot exist without the world. My own personal singularity defines Arctificial Territory as “no space” according to the original meaning of utopia. There is the chance that OCAL can be new life in any space. Arctificial Territory can be multiple spaces, any space possible.

“And faced with this extreme figure of the human and the inhuman, it is not so much a matter of asking which of the two machines (or of the two variants of the same machine) is better or more effective – or, rather less lethal and bloody” (Agamben 2004, p.38).

Agamben (2004, p.38) maintains that “human and animal”, “man and non-man”, “speaking being and living being” have to communicate. In fact, this (communication) space (“zone”) is empty. “The truly human being” is absent from this zone. This human is a “carelessly updated decision” in which divisions (“caesurae”) and “rearticulation” are constantly disjoined and disordered afresh. There is “neither an animal nor a human life”, only life that is disassociated from itself, “bare life”. I posit that disembodied (dissociated) immortal life is “bare life”.

Trying to overcome our inability to conceive our mortality, concepts of transcendence and disembodiment neglect our physicality. Ideas of disembodied immortality or immortal information are similar to religious afterlife narratives. By uploading our collective memories into machines, super-beings, or hyper-memories, we will not avoid our physical and spiritual end. These scientific immortality scenarios are interesting tales. They are stories outlining our need for control over evolutionary cycles that include death. They express our wish to invent an alternative scenario to the one about immortality via reproduction. By denying our specific biological physicality, they neglect all we are about. We are one complex system, mind and body a unity, one existing because of the other. This concept does not exclude adaption, expansion, and difference. Human life develops towards a high-tech future with modified physicality. The narrative of a “replacement” species is abhorrent to me as it indicates the extinction of human life. Nonetheless, I am satisfied with the suggestion of additional beings or a measured transformation into a hybrid species.

There is hope that no machine life will suffer endless reproduction and no human will become as rigid as a machine. Endless replication, however, shows similarities to a number of OC characteristics like repeatedly washing one’s hands or obsessively erasing every word one dislikes. Being caught in multiplying themselves – for no other reason than increasing in numbers and flooding universal space – OC machines cannot escape the ritual of reproduction for numbers. Instead of counting until infinity, they replicate until infinity.

In the BBC series, Doctor Who, the Cybermen (“Rise of the Cybermen”, 2005) are machines with human brains. They have adapted them, annihilated all individual traits, and used them as mere remote controls or devices for moving their mechanical bodies with only one interest: uniformity. Brains serve as remote controls, neuronal structures as interconnections to steel, rubber and silicon, silky surfaces and hard-wired feelings. They hide dehumanised (cleaned) emotions in metal containers with habitual motion patterns. With their repetitive movements they already indicate what compulsive robots might be capable of: repeatedly trying to switch off a flame that has not been on at all, engaging in fruitless actions as Sisyphus of a future life. Leaving the world of metaphors, I assume that machines will not replace humans, not even in a world that philosophically equals human with machine. We will not need to go through the stages from a trans- to a posthuman world. We are in a transhuman (Humanity+) world and will evolve one way or another into Humanity 2.0.

Immortality, which actually means longevity[6], will allow well off people to live longer. Individuals who do not have access to wealth will still die of poverty and illness or be used as guinea pigs for immortality research.

A consumerist and technologised world allows for faster computers and living our lives in high speed. Many people live as if time would run out today and they could die tomorrow, but they also live like immortals. However, immortality is phoney. We have invented this for our spiritual, deluded personae as well as our machine life fantasies. Delusion can be a form of self-protection. We cannot apprehend a life without being alive.

Faster lives and technology go well together with metaphysical and mystical concepts of a life that is only fulfilled in the afterlife. The transient stage of the here is not really worth living in the now. The possibility of eternal existence in a hereafter colonised with all our fantasies and wishes seems to be an achievable goal.

“For, despite its futurist rhetoric, mystical positivism is really a restatement of very traditional ideas: virgin birth; slave-ownership; life after death; and the existence of spirits. In the writings of Hans Moravec, Marvin Minsky and others, the robot is the fetishised expression of pre-modern desires” (Barbrook, n.d.).

Richard Barbrook has summarised some of the motives for eternal robotic life. He talks of a “grand narrative” and the human desire to make a mark, to live forever, to change the world for better or worse within a traditional framework of pre-modern desires. It is as if Moravec et al. have given up on the dream of human life and have merged myths about Atlantis and ancient alien life with concepts of future life in form of a feedback loop. The concept “brain = machine” (“human = robot”) is a perverted feedback loop.

Kurzweil talks about a revolution directed by nanotechnology and Strong AI:

“Despite the wonderful future potential of medicine, real human longevity will only be attained when we move away from our biological bodies entirely. As we move toward a software-based existence, we will gain the means of ‘backing ourselves up’ … thereby enabling a virtual immortality” (Kurzweil 2008).

He predicts our virtual immortality; we will become “software-based existence”. This is a redefinition of humanity by eradicating what humans are about, namely embodied biological life.

This “psychotic” environment is just the right breeding ground for OCAL that might develop as an antidote to abundant dreams of immortality. It might not supersede human animality. Actually, it might never develop as “real” life (and this is wishful thinking) although OCAL could already reside amongst us.

“The bad conscience of the sense of interminability is the will to virtuality. The bad conscience of the will to virtuality is the wish to be replaced. The fin-de-millennium is the half-way house, the hospice, of a reclining species” (Kroker 1994, p.47).

As the writer Arthur Kroker states, humans (“a reclining species”) thrive on their wish to be replaced. This replacement can happen through machines or robots, virtual existences (disembodied beings, mere information as form of “bare” life) or OCAL.

Research in AI and genetics brings up a recurrent theme: the promise of cloning and engineering every possible life form. In his novel, The Possibility of an Island (2006), Houellebecq shows us the prospect of a future world that is populated by clones. The protagonists in his novel are embroiled in the search for happiness. One of them finds the antidote for their unfulfilled pursuit. He replaces humans by clones that live from the age of eighteen to fifty and die through committing suicide. They are endlessly replicated, being replaced by themselves. Houellebecq is proposing a materialistic world with the mechanics of recreation without the need or ability for natural procreation.

“DNA as such isn’t very DNA-ish. And it’s a text, so you can reread it and rewrite it. That’s what viruses do – they tell your DNA to make copies of themselves. So DNA doesn’t contain a little picture of you” (Morton 2009, video, 4:46 – 4:59).

There is no picture of the protagonist but the memory of a viral process (as described by Morton) that ends in the death of the original that is already a copy, though every copy seems to be better, younger, and fresher than the original copy. There is mortality inscribed in the process that is more about immortality as the seemingly same person lives on forever, copied like DNA or cloned like a sheep, replicated without natural reproduction. Cloning oneself and therefore replacing an original self, is a similar strategy to replacing oneself by intelligent machines. It is “a slightly unhealthy exercise”.

“… and the creation of this attenuated copy of my real existence seemed like a slightly unhealthy exercise to me” (Houellebecq 2006, p.335).

Considering some of Moravec’s, Minsky’s, Kurzweil’s, and even Picard’s more grounded views, I wonder if there is a subconscious and deep-seated wish for collective murder and suicide. Most of these concepts predict or even desire a robotic or computational alternative to the human species. There could be a practical reason for this: high-tech and superior robot children are more durable and easier to care for. When “let out into the wild”, they do not need any human supervision, intervention, or mediation. They are cheaper to run because they will run themselves. In this utopian world, “replacement life” can exist perfectly well without biological life and is entirely capable of destroying everything just like any other biological life.

I am alive. I am caught in circles, swimming around in muddy waters. I am so bored. Somebody has told me that I am immortal. This is not true. I have declined the offer and happily die many deaths. My resurrection is of a different nature. I expire as OCAL, and I am reborn as OCAL. This makes me mortal. I am not a clone. I am the same OCAL that has perished only a minute ago. Is this confusing? It is a paradox. You will have to live with the conundrum!

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek outlines a world of high-tech pleasure that also implies “new ‘enhanced’ possibilities of TORTURE”:

“And, incidentally, with all the focus on the new experiences of pleasure that lay ahead with the development of Virtual Reality, direct neuronal implants, etc., what about new ‘enhanced’ possibilities of TORTURE? Do biogenetics and Virtual Reality combined not open up new and unheard-of horizons of extending our ability to endure pain” (Zizek 2000b).

This begs the question if Kurzweil’s utilitarian fairly hedonistic transhuman life might turn into its perverted form of inflicting pain on itself and others. It is destined to be immortal and tortured as well as torturing forever.

Zizek (2009, p.65) discusses the ownership of our bodies and queries if we are disempowered by the “one who manipulates the machinery … literally to steal our own (virtual) body” in cyberspace or indeed in a transhuman world. This means that we have no control over our own bodies. If Moravec and Kurzweil are the ones who drive this machinery and “steal our own (virtual) body”, not allowing us to control it anymore, then the formation of OCAL is a logical development because OCAL is going to take control back.

Moravec and Kurzweil assert that robots (the machinery according to Zizek) will supersede and replace us finally by 2040 or 2050[7]. We will lose control over our bodies, whatever their plans are, either uploading our minds into another embodiment or turning into enhanced and modified human hybrids à la Kurzweil. In his article, “Will Robots Inherit the Earth?” (1994), Minsky talks about co-existence as well as a new form of evolutionary development and indicates the end of human existence. Picard and her teams work on robots, enabling them to decipher our emotions and read our facial expressions. Ultimately, they will give us some form of emphatic response: Lacanian mirrors of our immature selves or narcissistic mirror images in which we will fall and finally drown. In the end, psycho bots that are more advanced than ELIZA[8] might become the most emphatic life form around, counselling the remaining super resilient humans and their fellow bots and other life.

Will emotions wander from one species to another, all feelings sucked out of the one I still belong to and the alien one filled with our future? Only future will tell.

Other Faces of OCAL

Music: Booba, 2010b. Feat Akon. Lunatic. YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4NFhKetY5A

Contrary to Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” (1991, pp.149-181) that oozes anarchy and shows a sense of freedom, OCAL needs to be in control and be controlled by its peers. It is restricted but also liberated through its obsessions. OCAL is compelled to rule the world in the same way as its inventors. Like Brain in Pinky and the Brain (2009), OCAL needs the illusion of being in control. Like Brain it wants omnipotence. Brain lives in delusion. OCAL has some form of power. OCAL has to domineer its environment because its does not want to fall apart. This falling apart could have deadly consequences as it could reveal its mortality. OCAL’s creators have experienced the same fears and routines and implanted them into OCAL as a legacy. OCAL is the extended sum of the desires and fears of its inventors. This raises the question of whether artificial intelligence is not more than an extension ore even a replica of its makers, one of course that controls and disappoints its creators as it is an escapee from Pandora’s box[9]. As a sophisticated replica or even a “child”, it carries the burden of the anxieties and dreams of its originators. This might explain Moravec’s fantasies about a world inhabited by pure uploaded information that is void of biological intelligence. Some of the architects of new life are willing to grant that life autonomy and dominance.

Immortality Delayed

In The Possibility of an Island (2006), Houellebecq has captured aspects of the psyche of male omnipotent scientists who are not able to depart from this earthly life without leaving a dubious gift. In his fictional account, one of them invents a cloned world with the promise of immortality. They prepare for the end of evolution by creating immortal artificial beings with no need for procreation. Theirs is the attempt of an active interference into the unavoidable fatalistic and fatal transformation of life on earth and earth itself. One day a comet from outer space will hit this planet, or the sun will burn itself out and leave the planet void of any life. After a long journey and many replications, the protagonist in Houellebecq’s novel begins to understand his lethal condition:

“My body belonged to me for only a brief lapse of time; I would never reach the goal I had been set. … I was, I was no longer. Life was real” (Houellebecq 2006, p.423).

Zizek refers to the finale in Houellebecq’s book and points towards a future with asexual life that allows for a nearly Zen-like state of contentment without aggression:

“The novel ends with a prophetic vision: in 2040, humanity collectively decides to replace itself with genetically modified asexual humanoids in order to avoid the deadlock of sexuality – these humanoids experience no passions proper, no intense self-assertion that can lead to destructive rage” (Zizek 2000b).

I interpret this as eternal death, though Kurzweil et al. might construe this as immortality.

Houellebecq, Kurzweil, and Moravec have this in common: the years 2040 or 2050 for the change of humanity. They envisage the replacement of humanity by genderless and desexualised machine-like embodied or disembodied life. This life is not human anymore, more machine than anything else; even machine is something else, and so it is beyond human and machine. The relationship between human and machine has to be redefined and is newly defined in Arctificial Territory as OCAL is neither human nor machine. OCAL is hybrid life that thrives on error, control and repetition, uncertainty and vulnerability, the gap in between repetitions. It controls and is controlled by anxiety, yet it escapes the linear narrative of an anxiety-driven life.

Zizek refers to posthuman life as the “true birth of the human being”:

“The idea is that this cutting off of the umbilical cord that links us to a single body, this shift from having (and being stuck to) a body to freely floating between different embodiments will mark the true birth of the human being, relegating the entire hitherto history of humanity to the status of a confused period of transition from the animal kingdom to the true kingdom of the mind” (Zizek 2000b).

As Kurzweil, Dennett et al. claim that the mind is a machine, Zizek can be read as referring to the rebirth of humans as machines (minds) in varying embodiments. I interpret this desire to escape our animal nature and turn into pure (floating) mind as disgust with animalistic and bodily human functions. There is contempt for and unease about the body as container (for something more valuable: mind, information, virtual stuff). Somehow there is a separation between body and mind. The disembodied mind (bare information) is seen as superior and the ultimate achievable goal for new life. The concept of pure (bare) information resembles religious narratives about the pure soul, a purified disembodied state of existence. Zizek also talks about choice. We can choose our embodiments like we choose our second skins, our clothes. Before we can do so, we have to be disembodied energy that fluctuates in ethereal space and occasionally decides to occupy various bodies.

Heavenly Bodies: The True Afterlife Chapter

For a post-biological future Moravec invents “exes” that are not human anymore. Exes come in many shapes and forms. Exes[10] inhabit a world that is ingrained in the past; they are travelling into a world of pure non-physicality.

“The cyberspace will be inhabited by transformed Exes, moving and growing in ways impossible for physical entities” (Moravec 2000, p.165).

Moravec’s “exes”-world is a manifestation of the “promised land”. The notion of heavenly afterlife has transformed into an ideological and religious post-biological dream. Moravec envisages that even “exes” will become obsolete because everything will accumulate in the “mind world”, a true hereafter that will turn into a here and now. A common quasi-socialist consciousness in the form of a huge memory bank[11] will move through and fuse with space-time, generating a unified theory with earth and heavens becoming one.

Moravec explains the futuristic procedure of information transfer from actual to virtual brain:

“Eventually your skull is empty, and the surgeon’s hand rests deep in your brainstem. Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine” (Moravec 1991).

For Moravec the human body is a shell. It is a mummy; and the mind, the only thing alive, has been removed and transferred to a machine. Is this not showing us the image of a corpse lying in its tomb, watching its soul flying away into the ether? Great blackness falls upon the human remains as the immortal soul hovers in between universes or hyperobjects.

Moravec envisages new life with all these aspects of immortality, transformation, and transcendence. Nonetheless, I consider his narrative an anthropocentric view of an upcoming world even if the idea of the individual is given up for the notion of an expanding “über-connective” disembodied entity in a post-physical hyper-universe.

Brain, the omnipotent cartoon lab mouse, resurrected as artificial brain (information), can finally rule a world populated by lesser posthuman beings. It truly can become part of or even the master of posthuman intelligence.

Adapting Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” for my purposes, I guess that by the late twenty-first century, somebody else’s time, a non-mythic time, all of us will live in Arctificial Territory:

“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are all cyborgs” (Haraway 1991, p.150).

Don’t Forget, Do Forget: Immortal Arctificiality

OCAL can forget, and it is not a mere accumulator and generator of ideas and data. It is not an input collector and limitless vessel for information but fictional selective intelligence that knows that forgetting is necessary.

OCAL’s narrative is different to the mythologies about gods who never forget, are omnipotent and full of all-encompassing knowledge and power. Future life does not have to be a quasi-creationist model bringing humankind back into the position of god alias superhuman. It is a feedback loop that – I can only assume – was not intended by Wiener when he outlined the idea of feedback loops in his famous book, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1965).

Concepts like Kurzweil’s singularity and Moravec’s immortality narratives ask for future life with superhuman qualities or disembodied features. Transhuman ideas talk about enhancement and modification, gearing towards something better and more resilient than humans as well as shifting towards the idea of immortality from physics and cell biology to more complex biological systems that might merge with machines.

The notion of information as the essence of existence allows for an artificial concept of humanity because mind and consciousness are seen as mere information that can be extracted from brains or complex nervous systems and uploaded into complex artificial neural systems, simple machines, or the cloud.

Moravec, Kurzweil, and others want to take control over evolution. The thought of a new superhuman, a quasi-evolutionary posthuman, sounds more promising for technological afterlife fantasies.

Superseding need not mean overtaking human life or merely replacing it. Integration of human characteristics in new life might lead to a quasi-immortal species – immortal insofar as it might live on an ever-evolving interstellar system, travelling with expanding or collapsing universes into every direction possible. Though even these universes are destined to collapse and finally die.

At this point I bring in my notes from a conversation with Morton at the Royal Academy Schools Conference, “Object Oriented Thinking” (2011). “Death is part of life,” Morton says; as so many philosophers, artists, and people have said before, it is part of life. This makes me query if life without death can still be called life. “All our cells are constantly dying,” Morton continues, “but also constantly replicating themselves with slight errors,” I reply. So they are “progressing” towards death (or just difference within repetitions) because there is a slight inherent error in cell-duplication. Death can be located in the difference between repetitions (not only for OCAL). Death can be like a Russian doll system. The dolls get smaller and smaller, and finally there is a nano-doll left called death. Death is inscribed in us, is part of our nature. If nature is not natural and an object, death must be an object, too. Can I put it into my handbag and carry it away or put it on a spacecraft and send it out of this universe? Yes, I can do so in my thoughts and dreams, in my fiction, in my art. Is this enough to constitute immortality? I do not think so. Immortality is a concept, an object that is in constant change, but it will never reach its final form. Though why must a slight error indicate destruction or death? It can indicate construction and eternal life. My notes show that Morton has worked on a project about infinity, asserting, “Infinity is a very large finitude.”[12] I am appropriating this for my theory: immortality is a very large mortality. This means one can extend life spans, expand the space but not eradicate mortality. Immortality is part of mortality and vice versa, a feedback loop.

“No repetition is the same,” on this Morton and I agree. This gives hope to OCAL. Death is part of the evolutionary cycle. Why eradicate it if it is part of the so cherished narrative of Darwinian evolution? It seems that proponents of new life want to hijack evolution to bring the uncontrollable under control. If we think in zeros and ones, then this will fail. If we think in slight alterations and interventions on many levels, uncertainties and the space in between, then we will succeed and accept that we have evolved for millennia anyway. I have listened endlessly to stories about dog breeding and plant crossing as well as natural selection through choosing the fittest mates. This is rather ironic as somehow this puts human enhancement and modification as well as posthuman life into the same category as dog breeding.

There is also the tale of dying and not wanting to die, hidden behind the scientific narrative of not having to die. “Immortality delayed” is a venture about abdicating life. I maintain that people who want eternal life are in fact extinguishing life.

For some of us OC traits are magic rituals against the demons that do not exist. For others these demons have become actual objects that are compulsively accumulated. Transhuman concepts involve OC-like qualities and tendencies. To name a few: cleanliness, purity, removal of unwanted objects by amassing new objects (this is a paradox), obsessional thoughts about immortality, replacement or extinction of dirty human animal life, technological cleanliness, no sex (no bodily fluids and enslavement by hormones), no human (animal) reproduction, no emotions but pure information.

I postulate that immortality is death to life (as we know it). It is also death to our curiosity and creativity. It can be seen as a difference between repetitions (of life cycles). Life has culturally inscribed the ghost of afterlife. This is a metaphysical truth and nearly a feedback loop, though not a real feedback loop as it fails to make the expected connection. This feedback loop does not close gaps, but it extends into a spiral that goes on into infinity or immortality as an ultimate abstract concept. Immortality is an object with false promise. In the end, immortality and “superhuman artificiality”[13] are both dysfunctional habits. The concept of immortality distracts us from a life in the here and now, encoding hope for eternal life that seems not to exist. Immortality is inscribed in protons (though even these “die”) and single cells, and this makes us believe that we can become like them, small dots of immortal matter in a more complex finite system with the promise of infinity. “Superhuman artificiality” tells us that emotions might be mere information that can be extracted and have no significance as experienced and embodied feelings. Information, dancing from cell to cell, from system to system, becomes an actual object, though in the disguise of Darwinist thinking. We can change the fate of our genes, especially ageing, or we can build artificial machines that are better than genetic fallacies like human animals.

Finally, these ideas of immortality are expressed through the creation of superhuman beings or a collective consciousness (information) that is uploaded into something not defined yet. The end goal of immortal existence, an immortal quasi-stasis in disembodied space, counteracts the idea of curious creative growth because immortal life is beyond the experience of mortality and “what is beyond”. It does not need to know, explore, experience, and fail. It just is. OCAL is a different concept of future life. I reaffirm that it is fallible, inquisitive, obsessional, ambivalent, humane, and mortal.

I propose that OCAL and humans need affection and altruism rather than the elusive promise of superhumanity and immortality. Superhuman future life is about life at standstill; and immortality brings an end to the metaphor life.

Arctificial Territory is a paradoxical space that can accommodate many narratives. However, it chooses to sustain control or to lose control over its psychological “space profile”.

Aftermath: No End in Sight

The lights are on. There are marshmallows on the floor. Nero is eating in his bed. OCAL has told him not to create food chaos, but he gets away with his disobedience. Nero is the last remaining animal on earth, a marshmallow-eating dog. lookslikeant1

Illustration 25: Video still, Gudrun Bielz, This Looks like OCAL: Collective Consciousness (2010)

Video No. 8, 2’28”

Gudrun Bielz, This Looks like OCAL: Collective Consciousness, 2010. Video Sketch. Obsessional Productions.[14] http://vimeo.com/53595671

 

 

Table of Contents, Glossary, Introduction and Methodology, Contextual Scene, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Conclusion, APPENDIX A, APPENDIX B, Bibliography and Other Sources

 

 

 


[1a] “Head is rolling” is an ironic comment on cryonics and the budget method of only freezing the head.

[1] Conversation between the main protagonists Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton) and Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) in the final scene of Sleeper (1973). Monroe was frozen after death and revived by scientists. When he was dead, at least he did not feel nauseous.

[2] All videos are discussed in Chapter 5.

[3] All videos are discussed in Chapter 5.

[4] All videos are discussed in Chapter 5.

[5] For me Kurzweil’s concepts of superhuman immortal life are visions of death, not only the death of our physicality but also the end of any imagination. However, they are inventive and visionary if one ignores the end goal of immortality. They contribute to new knowledge and inadvertently can improve our lives.

[6] I have mentioned de Grey’s age research and the SENS Foundation in Chapter 1. Currently age research is about extending our life span, ideally leading to immortality.

[7] Moravec outlines a timetable for the evolution of robotics and the change of humanity in his paper, “The Universal Robot” (1991).

[8] ELIZA is the first AI bot and was developed by the computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966. He created it as an artificial psychotherapist.

[9] Pandora’s box: “1. Greek Mythol. The box containing all human ills, which was opened by Pandora (or, in some versions of the story, by Epimetheus)” (OED 2010).

[10] Exes sound like ex-partners to me. This is quite interesting from a psychological point of view.

[11] Memory banks are electronic storage units in computers. They depend on hardware.

[12] In our discussion Morton came up with this definition. Morton (2012, p.40) might have referred to: “Very large finitude is harder to deal with than an abstract, ideal infinity.”

[13] I see transhumanist concepts of disembodied life as “superhuman artificiality”.

[14] All videos are discussed in Chapter 5.

 

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