Episode 139 - Transhuman Tomorrows
Published January 22, 2015
SPECIAL GUEST: Kate Aquino (Miss Metaverse). Our future selves could be radically different than current humanity. Welcome to the wonderful world of transhumanism, one of the more interesting flavors of futurist philosophy. New breakthroughs like nanotechnology, virtual reality, and longevity treatments hold the promise of a new humanity... posthuman or neohuman. This is TRANSHUMANISM. We're joined by futurist and video producer Miss Metaverse herself, Kate Aquino, to take a look at these amazing possibilities. Recorded 1/18/2014.
You can download the episode here.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Kate's Miss Metaverse/FuturistMM site
Kate Aquino (on Twitter)
Kate Aquino (on Facebook)
Transhumanism (on Wikipedia)
Humanity+ (on Wikipedia)
Institute For Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) site
Institute For Ethics and Emerging Technologies (on Wikipedia)
International Space Station site (NASA)
International Space Station (on Wikipedia)
Techno-Progressivism (on Wikipedia)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #139. On the show, we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in under 30 minutes, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us tonight is Kate Aquino, a.k.a Miss Metaverse. Kate, thanks for joining us.
Kate Aquino: Yes, thank you for having me.
MJ: To start out, our standard question for guests is can you tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you got into futurism?
KA: Sure. So, growing up I always had a fascination with technology, and robots, and all those kind of geeky things, and it was interesting because I never really knew what a futurist was until I ended up meeting a futurist and all of a sudden, when I discovered futurism, it was like I met “The Others.” It’s kind of a neat feeling to have, is to be into something and not know that there’s a whole professional world devoted to the future and future studies, so I was very excited about it, and this futurist ends up mentoring me for quite some time and that’s how I ended up becoming a futurist.
MJ: You go by Miss Metaverse online. How did you come up with that?
KA: When it comes to Miss Metaverse, I actually used to say that everything was my “metaverse,” and I used to think of multiple universes being a metaverse, and I actually read that in an Ervin László book a couple of years ago and ever since then, the word metaverse kind of just stuck with me. When I’d say “I love you,” I’d say “You’re my metaverse.” So, that’s how I ended up using Miss Metaverse as my name.
MJ: Your website is fairly new it looks like, just from looking at it. It talks a little bit about you launching a futuristic agency this month, January 2015, is that right?
KA: I just decided to make my own website and just do everything myself because there is so much progress happening and business has been booming, and I’m just thrilled, I’m very happy.
MJ: What is your AwesomeFuture.TV project?
KA: AwesomeFuture.TV was an idea of mine, and basically I wanted to make a digital television channel all devoted to futurism and technology. When it comes to futurism right now, we see a lot of keynotes and we find a lot of information online, but there really isn’t one platform where you can go that has all of the content and original futurism programming in one space. So, AwesomeFuture.TV began just essentially as me interviewing different thought leaders and creatives from everything from wearable technology to futurists. My goal is to launch a crowdfunding campaign sometime in early 2015 to take AwesomeFuture.TV to the next level and offer original programming and direct programming straight from futurists themselves, as well as, of course, keynotes and other things. It’s very interesting to see where things are going with this and I’m actually in talks with a few futurists right now in developing some original programming.
MB: Very cool.
MJ: What are some of the trends in technology and also in general society that are coming that have you excited?
KA: Well, there’s a lot of trends that I’m pretty excited about. What we’re seeing right now is a huge boom in women being involved in technology, which I think is really great. I’ve been actually meeting a lot of women who are interested in futurism and that’s basically why I ended up launching the Futurista brand, is that I feel that women in futurism are kind of hand in hand--we’re becoming one with wearable technology and a lot of things are interesting women now and I think it’s great. You see a lot of once pop culture/pop media-type of magazines now becoming tech-based, so I think that’s really exciting. But besides anything female related and just technology alone, I think that robotics are really exciting to me, and seeing that a lot of the things that we saw essentially in science fiction films actually becoming part of our reality now--it’s true, the future is now, it’s actually happening, we’re seeing everything from 3D printed hearts, to organs, to robotics, to home and health care, and transhumanism is becoming more popular than ever and I think that all of this is converging into what I would say an awesome future.
MB: Have you found any obstacles or anything? You’re in a mainly male-dominated industry. Have you found any roadblocks or anything, being a female in a mainly male-driven type of environment?
KA: Of course. The whole thing with Shirtgate, and I actually blogged about this on my website, FuturistMM.com, is that when the comet landing happened, and basically Matt Taylor, the ESA scientist who ended up getting a lot of backlash for his sexist t-shirt; he had a button-down shirt that had a bunch of pvc-clad women on it. It looked like a bunch of James Bond girls, and I think the pattern itself was called “Bond Girls.” Listen, a lot of these female journalists had a lot of backlash towards this guy because he wore this shirt, and it’s supposed to be the comet landing and you have to be respectable, and blah, blah, blah--but, on the other hand, a lot of people freaked out because they’re like “Hey, why are these feminists ruining everything?” It’s just a weird situation because, on one end, the sexism and objectification of women is alive and well, and it really is a problem as much as we want to say it isn’t, and on the other hand, it does suck because a lot of us want to be original and hip and cool, and we want to see scientists rocking a cool shirt. I mean, who am I to talk about pvc-clad women on a t-shirt because in half of my photos in the photo gallery on my website, I’m wearing latex catsuits, you know? I love it, I love sci-fi fashion, I love space, I think it’s sexy, it’s cool, it’s where we’re headed. I think in the future, people are going to walk around in public wearing pvc catsuits, I think it will happen. I just think that when it comes to where we’re at now, we have to find that balance between celebrating femininity and also defeating the “brogrammer” culture that’s happening right now, and that’s a huge problem. When it comes to my branding and me putting myself out there and meeting with people, I couldn’t even tell you how many people have seen my website, or they meet me and they see my brand and immediately they just wnat to exploit me as this blonde fan of technology or whatever. Listen, I get it, but I’m a real person and I have a brain, and I am very excited about the future and technology, and I want to contribute to it, you know?
MB: What do you think is the best way to get more women involved? I know--I think it was last week or the week before--Intel was talking about spending a lot of money bringing in and recruiting women into technology and things; and you see it just in the video game industry, which is, I don’t know what it is, but probably like 90% male, there’s a lot of this stuff where they’re male-dominated industries and I think having a lot more women would open these up. Obviously women think a lot differently than men and I think that would help technology along. How do you get more women involved in this kind of stuff?
KA: I just think it’s going to happen naturally. I think that our generation, right now, the millennials, are just kind of at this tipping point where--”Sure, okay, we’re digital natives and a lot of the digital immigrants are still running the world,” but I think the problem is that right now we’re kind of dealing with this weird phase where women are still… I don’t know, technology is for everybody and it’s becoming more available. We can all pick up a tablet and do incredible things with it now. We’re all getting involved with this futuristic technology that isn’t going to seem so futuristic soon, and it’s just a difference of generations. I think that by the time my daughter, who’s turning three in June, is my age, it’s going to be a totally different world. We already have STEAM and STEM programs teaching all kids to be involved with engineering and things like that. It’s all a matter of time when these problems will not even be on the table anymore. But right now, I think it’s very important for women to be a part of engineering and science and technology. I think as far as getting them involved in it, I think that’s a little difficult to answer. I think that the passion just has to be in there. You just have to have that passion for it in order to be involved in anything, really.
MJ: Kate, what are some of the communities online that you’ve maybe found more welcoming or more interesting in terms of how they approach technology?
KA: What kind of communities exactly?
MJ: Well, I know we’ve interacted a little bit on Twitter with you and also a little bit on Facebook. Of those kind of social media forums or maybe other websites or other groups--I don’t know if you’ve done anything with the H+ group, or I think there’s a couple websites devoted to transhumanism and Humanity+ that are out there. Have you found any of those communities particularly either welcoming or not welcoming?
KA: It’s really funny because when I discovered futurism, I got really excited about it. But then the more I started meeting futurist and more people who are directly involved in it and, as you say, some of the lead organizations of it, it’s kind of underwhelming I would say because they’re very tight knit. It’s very elitist in certain areas, I would say. It’s a generational difference again, really. One of the most underwhelming organizations that I’ve come in contact with would be the LinkedIn futurist groups. I had so many run-ins with the LinkedIn futurist groups that I just stopped posting because every single thing turned into a debate or argument. I think it’s really unfortunate really, but that’s a generational difference. I think those who are futurists and also digital immigrants versus the millennials and the digital natives of today, I think it’s two totally different types of futurism. I think the older futurists are, as you said, primarily older white men and a lot of them come from highly academic backgrounds. I think that’s very conflicting with millennial futurism today, where millennial futurists just want to change the world, get in there, make it happen, make this transhumanism technology a reality. It’s just very different. It’s just a completely different pace, I would say.
MB: Do you think that has a lot to do with the fact that the younger people literally grew up with all of this technology, whereas--I don’t want to say how old Mike and I are, but we’re older, we didn’t really grow up with it. I can remember we only had one room in our high school for computers. Computer class was an actual class, you’d wander down there. So, we’ve literally watched this thing go from using Apple IIe’s to now having literally the world on your phone.
MB: Do you think that has a lot to do with the way millennials are approaching futurism?
KA: I think that we’re kind of disappointed in you guys, to be honest. We’re putting it bluntly. I mean, originally futurists themselves were very shocking and the things that they said were profound for those times, and then somewhere along the line futurism became something else, it became the keynote presentations that are outlined and very conservative. Even when I’ve talked to some larger companies and they’ve seen some videos that I’ve created on the web, it’s pretty fascinating how conservative they want women to look or be. It’s definitely a difference. I think a lot of companies have watered down futurism to a certain degree where it’s almost boring and unoriginal now, and that’s why I see a lot of older futurists being worried, saying “Oh, well people have the web. They don’t need futurists now.” Well, maybe they don’t need futurists like you who are just reciting the same keynote over and over again, but millennial futurists that I’m meeting with and discussing things with, they’re incredibly fast paced, fast thinking, future forward individuals. I really have a lot of faith in them in actually making a difference in this world.
KA: It is cool. I mean, it’s such a hard thing to say--I don’t want to bash anybody. It’s just what I’ve noticed.
MB: I think we just got made fun of there, Mike, for our generation…
MJ: I would have to say I think it’s deserved, honestly. I mean, I think people have gotten cynical about the future. You look at futurism as it was in the last ‘60s and the early ‘70s--I don’t know about you Matt, but I remember the end of the space race, and it’s like once that peaked, all of a sudden the future became not cool. For me personally as a sci-fi fan, I was really into futurism, a lot of people went different ways and they were more focused on “I’m going to get a business degree.” For a long time, it has seemed like the future has been painted in a lot more darker dystopian terms.
MB: I’m just throwing this out there and I could be completely wrong, but in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, there was the space race and everything and I think people had this built up image of what the future was going to look like, where we’d be living on the moon and Mars and traveling to a different galaxy wasn’t going to be that big of a deal, and space was just going to be another area where we could go to, and those things haven’t really worked out. We don’t have flying cars, we don’t live in space, other than the International Space Station--
MJ: --Yeah, but that’s pretty amazing right there.
MB: Oh no, it is.
MJ: Really, what is it, if you’re eighteen then you’ve not been alive in a time when humans haven’t existed in space constantly? I think that’s approximately the age range, isn’t it?
MB: It is.
A: The International Space Station, a major endeavor in space architecture, began assembly in November 1998. The first resident crew, Expedition 1, arrived on November 2nd, 2000. The station has been occupied for over 14 years now.
MJ: I think that’s pretty amazing, and Kate and I were talking on The Tech Ranch last week, I think I quoted the Reddit quote, which is one of my all-time favorite quotes, about how if someone from the 1950s was zapped forward, what would they find surprising? It’s that I carry a piece of glass basically that connects me to the sum of human knowledge and I use it to look at pictures of cats and argue with strangers.
MB: And take pictures of my lunch.
MJ: The thing that gets me is that the future is amazing around us and there’s a certain amount of cynicism about it. I think part of that is because an awful lot of that future has happened, just maybe not all of it. Somehow maybe our generation feels jipped and we’re bitter, but I think that just means a lot of those problems were more complicated than they thought at the time. That doesn’t mean they can’t happen eventually.
KA: Right. I think the thing is that there’s no hyping the problems anymore. I mean, before we had the web where we have as much information as we have now, I remember even being in high school and my early college days even, there wasn’t as much information as we have now. Now there’s so much information. We know everything from the crazy conspiracy theories to everything on Wikipedia. There’s so much information, we’re full of it, and now there’s no stopping it. We know what the problems are, we don’t need to talk about the problems as much anymore. We just want the solutions. We need to take action and make a change--a serious change--to create a better future for our own kids and the future. We can’t keep on living with the status quo and that’s the thing that we’ve all come to an agreement with and that’s, I think moving forward, what we should be focusing on, is how we’re going to seriously change the world and create a better future.
MJ: So Kate, we’ve referenced transhumanism a couple of times. What does transhumanism mean to you?
MB: Before you start that, can you actually give a brief overview of what transhumanism is?
A: Transhumanism: the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology. In 1990, philosopher and futurist Max More described transhumanism as a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology. Guided by life-promoting principles and values, transhumanism takes a multidisciplinary approach in analyzing the dynamic interplay between humanity and the acceleration of technology. In this sphere, much of the focus and attention is on the present technologies, such as biotech and computers and anticipated future technologies, such as molecular nanotech and artificial general intelligence. Transhumanism seeks the ethical use of these and other speculative technologies. Theoretical interests focus on posthuman topics of the singularity, extinction risk, and mind uploading (whole brain emulation and substrate-independent minds).
KA: Alright cool, well let’s transhumanism it up.
MJ: Okay, so what does transhumanism mean to you as kind of a collection of technologies? What does it mean to you to see a transhumanist future?
KA: Well, transhumanism is really a movement of people who are working together to create technologies so that humans can become immortal or extend their life using a variety of different technologies. The goal is to essentially evolve humanity into what are known as posthumans or neohumans.
MJ: I’ve always been really curious about the intelligence enhancement angle, because it seems like with some of the problems that the human race is facing, that that would be something that would help us to address some of those problems, is if we got smarter about how we handled them. Matt and I talked quite a bit about the movie Limitless, which is one of my favorites as a portrayal of obviously a chemical technology that would affect that, but what are some of the technologies that you maybe use in your daily life now that you think are kind of proto-transhumanist?
KA: That’s a little bit difficult to say. I would say that maybe the Oculus Rift is kind of a stepping stone. I think that virtual reality and the Oculus Rift-type of headsets are going to be allowing us to explore what it would be like to be posthuman in a way. I have the Oculus Rift DK2 headset, and when I wear it and I’m exploring a demo or a game, you literally feel like you’ve transported into another world and you can actually live out what feels like a first-person perspective of this other life. So, I think that technologies like virtual reality will also contribute to us evolving into what will be posthumans. I think that wearable technology and the internet of things also are going to be stepping stones to us becoming these transhumans basically because we’re getting so used to having everything from glasses that show us where we’re going to as we’re walking down the street with a bunch of advertisements popping up--that’s what Google Glass would be if we were wearing them as we’re walking down the street. I think that augmented reality and wearable technology are going to converge as technologies that will teach us how to live as part cyborgs in a way. A lot of these technologies are turning us into cyborgs without the technologies actually being embedded in us yet. But I think that first we’re staring at our cell phones, next we’re going to be wearing wearable technology and interacting with devices like the internet of things, and the stepping stone of that, where we’re headed, will be probably having technology embedded in us somehow, whether it be some kind of chips or strips that go on our skin, or who knows. But we’re going to get there eventually.
MJ: It’s definitely cool to hear from someone that’s used it, Kate. A friend of mine from college actually invited me to come and visit him and try it but I haven’t made it up there yet. I’ve been eyeing the DK2 and the only thing keeping me from buying it is that it’s not the consumer model.
KA: Right, a lot of people are saying that same thing too. And you’re right. I actually want to use it for the games Outlast and also Alien Isolation, but in order to do that I need to have the drivers for it, so if any listeners out there have the drivers so that I could play Outlast or Alien Isolation with my DK2, please let me know. FuturistMM.com, contact me there. Alright, so we basically got what transhumanism is, right? In the last year, transhumanism has just been blowing up like crazy. I mean, the IEET, which is the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies actually said that media coverage of transhumanism has tripled in the last year alone, which is pretty awesome actually.
MJ: One of the criticisms I’ve certainly seen of transhumanism is that it’s a bit elitist and that’s really it’s about making people who are better than human to kind of rule of ordinary humans. Have you see that criticism made of the philosophy?
KA: Yeah, I’ve been seeing a lot of that, and when I think about today’s criticism of transhumanism and it being for the “new world order” or the “ruling elite,” I think about Alex Jones back in 2007. Before I actually knew what transhumanism was, I used to listen to Alex Jones back in the day and it was really interesting because he used to talk about those RFID chips, and he was convinced that everyone would have these chips in their hands and that it would be the “mark of the beast,” and everyone would have to be forced to have these RFID chips in their arms or hands. When you hear that stuff, and especially me being younger when I heard that, I mean, jeez, I was freaked out. I really thought there was some kind of conspiracy or what not for all of this stuff, and that never happened. A lot of this stuff you have to take with a grain of salt. When it comes to transhumanism being elitist, well, there’s a lot of different people who say it is elitist and I can see why. The reason people say that is pretty much because look at our health care system today--everything is so expensive just to even go to a hospital for a day. You can only imagine how much money it would probably cost in today’s economy to be able to afford life extension for, say, another hundred years or to even become immortal--I could only imagine how much money that would cost. So, I think that that’s kind of a problem that we see when it comes to the negative side of transhumanism, is who’s going to be able to benefit from life extension or to evolve and afford all of these human upgrades, right? So, I think that what we’re going to have to see is a way to make this technology cheaper and more available to everybody, and I think that philosophy is what basically drove the techno-progressivism movement. Techno-progressivism started about five or six years ago. That’s when transhumanists like James Hughes began accusing transhumanists as being sort of right wing. Even though transhumanism isn’t really affiliated as either left or right wing, there’s been a lot of accusations that it is right wing or elitist, or that the way that our technology is today, that there’s no way that the whole world would be able to afford to upgrade neohumans or to neo-humanity.
MJ: I think one of the things that I’ve seen that maybe sets up that whole problem of elites is the fact that there will be some people that don’t want these technologies for whatever reason, whether it’s religious, whether they just think you should stay natural. I’m sure you could find groups on both the right and the left, the same way they are with vaccines--which, with vaccine folks, I don’t understand them. For these technologies that are more of a voluntary choice to evolve, for the people that don’t evolve, it seems like they would start to be, at some point, at a significant disadvantage for things like jobs. Especially if someone with these technologies is the equivalent of an Einstein and you’re trying to compete with that as an ordinary human, it seems like that would give somewhat an unfair advantage. Do you think there’s the danger that the people that don’t want these technologies will legislate that so that they just stop the development of it?
KA: I’m not sure that the development itself will ever be stopped. I think that it’s going to continue growing exponentially, actually. On the other hand, I do believe that there will be resistance in wanting to become a cyborg or a transhuman, posthuman, or neohuman. I just don’t think that it’s realistic for the whole world to suddenly get up and say “Hey, let’s evolve!” It’s possible, but I would say I’m rather doubtful of that. I think a good movie that captured the what-ifs of that scenario would be Transcendence with Johnny Depp that came out last year. Basically in that movie, without spoiling it, there’s a sort of terrorist group that’s against this development of artificial intelligence on this level, basically creating an AI that’s like a god. This terrorist group aims to stop it, and because of that, they take down the whole internet. So, I thought that was kind of an interesting look at what might happen in the future, as opposed to who might oppose this kind of development of artificial intelligence.
MJ: It was an interesting movie. I found it kind of frustrating actually because I felt like the movie was kind of limited in how it portrayed certain things.
MJ: You just had the one terrorist group and the one site in the remote space of the US where Johnny Depp’s character creates his data center. I just thought a real AI would have been smarter than that, it would have spread out in some distributed fashion. Obviously I’ve been working with IT systems too much, but.
KA: Why didn’t he just go to space?
MJ: Yeah, that too. It seems like he would have come up with a lot more safeguards than that movie portrayed. A lot of Hollywood movies I think are very frustrating with how they portray technology.
KA: Definitely. I think that there’s a lot left to be desired for sure and it’s pretty interesting that we’re getting so excited just over a movie like Transcendence. It’s like “Why hasn’t there been more movies like this already?”
MJ: I think there’s some good ones Matt and I have kind of been tracking for 2015 and beyond. I’m really excited to see Ex Machina.
KA: Oh yeah, definitely. We talked about that too on The Tech Ranch and that looks really cool. What’s the premise again?
MJ: That’s the programmer that wins a retreat with the owner of a search engine, and the guys been working on a secret AI project where he wants him to be part of a Turing Test to see if it’s a true aware intelligence.
KA: My favorite part of that trailer is when you see the actual robot girl walking down the hallway and looking at her extra faces. I think that there’s an innate wonder that we all have right now about humanoid robots and having robots become one with our reality. I think that’s why we’re seeing so many of these movies coming out, right? It’s like all of us can’t get enough of this whole humanoid robot futuristic technology in our everyday life.
MJ: Once again Kate, thanks so much for joining us.
KA: Thanks so much for having me. You can check out my website at FuturistMM.com. Also, you can hit me up on Twitter @MissMetaverse. Thank you for listening.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. You can find our show notes, including links from this episode, on our website at RobotOverlordz.FM. That’s it for this radio broadcasting. We would love to hear your thoughts on this episode in our forum, or you can review us on iTunes. We’re Robot Overlordz with a Z.
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.