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Transhumanist Avatars Storm Second Life

More than 80 transhumanist avatars stormed the virtual world of Second Life for a community event organized by Humanity+ on September 15. This has been by far the largest virtual transhumanist event that I have seen, and I believe I have seen them all.

Two or three years ago the Second Life system would have been slowed down to a halt by 80 participants, but now everything worked without a glitch: virtual reality technology has evolved, and transhumanists want to bring the same fast evolution to RL (Second Life slang for “Real Life.”)

Martine Rothblatt, owner of the virtual meeting venue at Terasem island, said after the event “It is a really positive sign to have a standing room only crowd turn out for a workshop on leading transhumanism to social ascendance.”

The invitation said “Join us in Second Life to brainstorm how to move forward together! Our upcoming event is for our members and friends, and will focus on the intersection of leadership and the future.”

Opening presentation by Humanity+ Chair Natasha Vita-More

Picture - Opening presentation by Humanity+ Chair Natasha Vita-More

After the opening presentation, Humanity+ Chair Natasha Vita-More gave the second speaker, Ben Goertzel, the Humanity+ 2011 Visionary Award. Ben described how recent findings in neurology and cognitive science can be applied to leadership in an organization and, following Nietzsche, compared both minds and leaders to “army commanders who take responsibility, after the fact, for what the soldiers did.”

Most speakers said that leadership is not about micro-management, but rather about vision and inspiration. Howard Bloom summarized leadership as “passion, persistence, persuasion, vision, and truth,” and emphasized the importance of getting the right picture in the media. Martine exhorted to focus on action and many different practical goals “No paper project ever fails — or succeeds,” and, following Margaret Mead, reminded that “it only takes a few passionate and committed people to get something done, that’s the only way to get things done.”

Bioethicist Linda MacDonald Glenn lamented the image of transhumanism as “otherness” and proposed inclusiveness and kindness to become better humans together. “I want to be more than human,” she said, “and I want all of us to be more than human.”

The talk of Martine Rothblatt

Picture - The talk of Martine Rothblatt

In answering the first question from the audience, Natasha said: “I think what we expect to do to to get more mainstream coverage is to try to turn some of our strategies back to the 1990s, where there was a tremendous amount of press coverage for those of us looking at the future.”

“Give a vision and people will self-organize, and yes, back to the 60s and the 90s and to OPTIMISM,” said The Lucifer Principle‘s author Howard Bloom, “The spirit of the 60s and of the 90s is the spirit of taking over and using will to take the future in the direction that we want, rather than laying down and letting destiny do it for us, which is the spirit of 9/11.”

As I noted in my talk, we should forget the pessimism of the last decade, whose tone was set by 9/11, and go back to the solar and positive optimism of transhumanism in the 90s, occasionally naive, often politically incorrect, but always vibrant, full with energy and inspiring visions. Also, back to space, and why not back to the sixties (a truly magic decade.)

Khannea Suntzu, the outspoken “virtual Noam Chomsky of transhumanism”, has replied to the general optimism with a gloomy post on social and political issues which, I believe, cannot be easily dismissed. As Bloom noted, “no one knows what a singularity is,” but we are approaching it together.

Natasha Vita-More's avatar Natasha Cordeaux

Picture - Natasha Vita-More's avatar Natasha Cordeaux

Natasha sent this summary statement:

“The Second Life event was a success. Why? Because we were packed with avatars and the presentations were focused and inspiring. Giulio’s talk revved-up the audience by expanding on how we need to return to the enthusiasm of the 1990s and reinstate that visionary, can-do attitude that we once had. Martine’s talk introduced the specifics of organizational management and that to succeed we need to promote diversity. Howard’s talk reminded us that passion is the key to not only getting our own work accomplished, but invigorating others to work with us. Linda’s talk emphasized the ideas of generosity, respect and appreciation within organizations. Ben’s talk produced an analogy between the phenomenal self and social organizations. My own talk asked what we can do to improve what we are already doing and how we can face change head-on and thrive.

After the talks, we had time for questions and the “open mic” conversation built upon the topics and content of the talks. There was a deeply motivated discussion on the idea of a project called “Future Day”. Ben presented the idea and Howard put this idea forward as a way to not only market Humanity+ but revive a spirit of the future and transhumanism which has been overridden by an over emphasis on technological risks and ethics. Where is our much needed spirit of can-do and emphasis on our innate human potential to innovate and problem-solve? Future Day would be a collaborative project that invites and includes all organizations within the transhumanist and future-oriented environment. We discussed a series of projects that would be in keeping with the Future Day concept. We also discussed why change is necessary for an organization and honestly assessed how we might improve what we are doing.

The Humanity+ @ Second Life “Leadership: MINDS” event was a success for many reasons. While Second Life is not the most convenient environment to hold a meeting. It is often slow and cumbersome. Many of our members had difficulty interfacing with the SL software and/or downloading that latest drivers for compatibility with the newest version of SL. Will we do it again? Yes, most definitely. We will also hold events in other virtual environments, such as OpenQwaq. And maybe in the fall our next meeting with be at teleXLR8!”

This video beginning with Ben’s talk (sorry Natasha, your opening talk is missing) was recorded from a fixed point of view behind the lectern. There is also a lower resolution but longer version of the same video, including the last part of the Q/A session. Thanks to Kim and Jack for recording the videos. This audio-only stream was recorded by Terasem’s Lori Rhodes. This video from a front PoV zoomed on the presentation screens, which includes Natasha’s opening talk, was produced by merging a video-only recording with Lori’s audio in post-processing.

The videos have their fun moments, showing the limited familiarity of some of the speakers with Second Life. Howard sent this comment:

“Natasha Vita-More arranged an event in which she got popcorn sized nuggets of genuine wisdom by formatting ten-minute micro-presentations on leadership. Second life has drawbacks for conferencing: you can’t look into the faces of your listeners as you talk, and you see the sexual aspirations of many of your colleagues’ avatars, with tiny waists for women, bulging shoulders for men, and more, much of which becomes very apparent when second life is not able to summon the computer resources to clothe those you are speaking with. But for hit and run conferences gathering folks from all over the continent or the globe, it is an adventure, and it works.”

21 Comments

  1. Who wants to have another event such as this?

    Giulio is taking score, email Him with insistent requests.

  2. @giulio: Whether or not Second Life avatars reflect users’ sexual aspirations, they raise (and perhaps answer) the interesting question: What will people look like when they can easily look like anything they please? A random walk through Second Life provides a glimpse of the overall look of a post-biological humanity as created by the current user base. Like any other aspect of humanity, this is likely to evolve over time.

    I’ve found it’s easy to avoid toon-sex overtures. I just ignore them. Personally, I don’t understand why so many SL residents go nuts over pose-ball sex. I like your choices of main avatars, by the way.

  3. @Paul re “in a post-biological reality, we can change our appearance according to our desires and the occasion just as biological humans change clothes when going from the gym to the opera. These changes may reflect sexual aspirations, but they do not necessarily do so. Rather, they reflect desired self-image at any given time. As I have long said about Second Life: “This is only a reality of special consensus.”

    I agree, but my guess is that in today’s Second Life most choices in avatar appearance do reflect sexual aspirations. Not always though and, as you say, not necessarily.

    My first avatar, purchased prefab on my first day in SL at the end of 2005, was the plainest and most unattractive avatar that I could find (even uglier than the meatspace me, which is much to say), because I wanted to discourage toon-sex ouvertures.

    Now I have 3 main avatars. Two are pleasant enough but non-human (a night elf and an old blue-skinned alien), and one is a little bird.

  4. Excellent stuff. I wish I could have attended.

  5. It was indeed a good event. I have to take issue with Howard’s comment that Second Life avatars necessarily reflect the sexual aspirations of their creators. In SL, we are free to look as we wish to look, and to change that look at will. Personally, I have a primary avatar that is perhaps an idealized version of how I would see myself in an infinite reality, but it’s not the only one in my closet. In addition to the basic avatar my friends recognize as Monmanteau deCuir (a small pun for the francophones), I have others, human and non-human, that reflect certain moods or, occasionally, activities. Flying through the sky is more fun with a rainbow dragon avatar, or a dragonfly. The human avatar looks too much like Superman. I have a humanoid orca avatar that’s great for swimming but doesn’t work well on land. I experimented once with an avatar representing a truly ugly woman in garter belts and a green bustier, but nobody wanted to speak to her so I don’t use it much.

    The point is that in a post-biological reality, we can change our appearance according to our desires and the occasion just as biological humans change clothes when going from the gym to the opera. These changes may reflect sexual aspirations, but they do not necessarily do so. Rather, they reflect desired self-image at any given time. As I have long said about Second Life: “This is only a reality of special consensus.”

  6. We have a complete video including Natasha’s talk!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TW6FnvUFcE

    This video from a front PoV zoomed on the presentation screens, which includes Natasha’s opening talk, was produced by merging a video-only recording with Lori’s audio in post-processing.

    Edited the text to incllude all media streams.

  7. Dear Senhor Anissimov, could you remove my comments please, except the last one ? Thanks

  8. Thanks for relating a bit about this event ! Awesome presentations and spirit(s) there ! The next one I’ll really try to attend ! Is it true Singularity Utopia was outed of facebook ?

  9. Thanks for relting

  10. In the Nagazaki hypothesis, the brain needs no more soldiers, we have a name for this it’s called “clin d’oeil”.

  11. Thanks Stefano. I think this meeting has been very important because it has firmly sanctioned the end of the boring moderate PC era and a return to the visionary and optimist roots of transhumanism.

    Natasha says it best: we must “revive a spirit of the future and transhumanism which has been overridden by an over emphasis on technological risks and ethics. Where is our much needed spirit of can-do and emphasis on our innate human potential to innovate and problem-solve?”

    As I say in my talk, I resigned from the Board of the organization (then WTA) in 2008 in protest against a trend toward “de-transhumanization”. Here is an excerpt from a letter that I sent to the Board in 2008:

    “too much maturity, too much sobriety, too much ethics, too much responsibility, not enough vision, not enough experimentation, and last but not least not enough fun. Let’s not sound like advocates of the precautionary
    principle or, like Albert Einstein said, young whores who become old bigots. This interpretation of transhumanism is about as exciting as a 1000 page book of tax regulations. I have no doubts that it will permit attracting many more fat assed bureaucrats, nanny state advocates and persons afraid of their own shadow, but are those really the people we want to attract?”

    I wish to thank the current leadership of Humanity+, and especially Natasha, Max, Ben and Howard, for reversing this trend. Onward, to the stars and beyond!

  12. To be moderated : what does it mean “I take responsability for and explain afterwards how I secretly ploted to make my soldiers do that and that” in some context ? .. God .. So leadership is driving and/by using the wind .. when the wind goes another direction .. true that too many (like Mickael Jackson) like to go in front of the wind, not knowing that the speed of the boat make an illusion of the wind, and reciprocally that effortless illusion soon ends very bad .. I guess I don’t have all elements to go further .. (to be honest I avoided any kind of leadership as I used to understand it for some mounths, le jeu est trop inégal)

  13. I just uploaded the full audio of the conference, recorded by Terasem’s Lori Rhodes (thanks Lori!)

    The audio has also the initial talk of Natasha, which is missing from the video.

    Play or download the audio here:
    http://minus.com/mNohPDRiI

    • Thanks. I missed the first two hours due to work. Now I get to hear the whole thing.

  14. I love you, I love Natasha, I love Goertzel, and I love the turn things are slowly taking with the H+ movement.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

  15. Hi, Guilio — great to see you in Second Life at the conference. I just wanted to clarify, to those who care about these things, that I don’t identify as a ‘transhumanist.’ I don’t like the word or its implications, but I do like the idea of H+ — building upon the best aspects of our humanity — such things as our compassion, kindness, and our ability to rise above
    our ego(s), and see that we are all connected. There is no ‘us’ vs ‘them’ — it’s all us! Thanks for allowing to clarify and I look forward to seeing you again soon! all the best, Linda

  16. *giggle* That’s me on the far left of the video *waves*

  17. No, Khannoamy it is.

  18. Naome clearly

    • Who wants to have another event such as this?

      Giulio is taking score, email Him with insistent requests.

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