Interview with Natasha Vita-More
Below is the video and transcription of an interview with Natasha Vita-More while in I was in Hong Kong helping with the Humanity+ @Hong Kong conference.
Further videoed interviews can be found at this YouTube channel. Hope you enjoy – Adam Ford
Currently, I am working on a theory of life expansion. Its transdisciplinary scope includes research in the sciences and technologies of life extension and how we might exist within non-biological platforms, such as synthetic (virtual) and artificial (computational) environments. This would be a primer for the research in the field and study. Relatedly, my PhD focus is on life expansion as a theory of artistic, design-based processes in the transhuman / posthuman. I look at these types of existences as being in a continuous state of adaptation and development, in assessing our creations of our life and the continuation of life, which brings in the question: “What is life”. That has been one of the most difficult areas for me to research. I have to revert in large part to Aristotle’s de Anima in looking at the psyche as a type of quintessence of who we are in relation to personhood (our personal identity), the experiences we have, and what makes each of us a unique self and why there is a desire to continue being (living).
I designed the first future human prototype—a type of human 2.0—as a basic conceptual design that brings together the sciences and technologies that we know about now, particularly the emerging technologies of nanotechnology, biotech, cognitive science, neuroscience and information technology (NBIC+) in looking at what type of form could we create that would be a whole body prosthetics, which would be used twofold: (1) to be used as an main body for an individual who has been suspended in cryonics, for example: if he or she would come back and need a new body that would be an alternative body; and (2) as an alternative, semi- and non-biological body. This is not to disrespect the human body in all its beauty and its mechanism, but it is to suggest that the human body is one particular form—a biological form in which we have existed since we have existed as a species. However, it was to suggest that if we have a body, it is responsible to keep it finely-tuned and to work toward superlongevity, with being healthy in mind. So this alternative body is, in part, not only a wearable technology; it is also experiential design. The article that I wrote about this neobody design takes a more theoretical approach in looking at the era of the cyborg, which has been represented in a difficult way that it was originally intended, as located in cybernetics. Clynes and Kline developed the cyborg as an alternative body for space exploration, basically. But the cyborg transmuted in its definition, especially in academics in the humanities and literary studies, where the rhetoric of the cyborg became a Donna Haraway manifesto looking at it in a postmodernist’s view which has an interpretation of the cyborg that is different from the original idea of a body that could function based on control and feedback, which stems from cybernetics.
Alternatively, “Primo Posthuman” design is a whole body prosthetics. It is a wearable. It is the aligned with the early cyborg interpretation that having a form that we evolve with, in different types of environments. But it not necessarily machine-made. I think that the cyborg-machine is the human-machine interaction, where the cybernetics is mechanized and metal, and has this image of being hard and steel-like, even shinny and pretty to be sure, but not human. And I think the transhuman concept that I integrated into this look is more theoretical about the sensorial experience, the well-being, and the self-responsibility about taking care of our body in looking for a vehicle for radically extending life.
When considering the arts and media design, we think usually about painting going into moving images—the chemistry of film into animation, and into the electronics and digitality of videography and into 3D renderings and virtuality, into all types of new media forms where the viewer (the audience) and the creator (the artist or designer) have a talking heads situation; where the approach of immersive design and experience design is to take not only the creator of the work but the viewer of the work too into the design itself. This is important on many fronts, especially in the transhumanist perspective, and looking at it as a futurist as well – that when we tell a narrative of our future, especially the transhumanist narrative, we need to consider what the narrative is stated and how it is interpreted. You could apply the Rashamon principle to this. Usually, when someone has an experience, he or she will walk away with a different understanding of that experience than someone else based on our relationship to the environment, our memories – what turns us on or what turns us off—what we are contemplating in our mind at the time of an experience, etc. There are so many different variables involved that the idea of experience design is when you leave your hat at the door, so to speak, you leave your ego or preconceived notions and you go within an environment that is more … actually more Zen-like, if you will, where you have the experience kind of “raw” and “rich”. The experience becomes the design, within the art, like when watching a film and the narrative is so all consuming, that you either cry or laugh with joy or you frightened by it … or just walk away with a refreshed sense of being. Well, that is what experience of design is. In the film world it is two dimensional. In the field of experience design it is where you go “into” it. It is explored in simulations and virtuality and I see it as a really good vehicle for us experiencing, for example, transhumanism or a posthuman existing, or the [technological] Singularity or any of these ideas that we can only talk about and form suppositions about—postulate on—but we cannot know what they are because we are not there yet.
I love the idea of nanotechnology especially in two ways. First, nanotechnology, because of nanomedicine is imperative for us to develop and to really use in repairing cell damage within the body. That’s so essential for us at this point. The other area of nanotechnology that I relay love is molecular manufacturing and assemblers where we can construct and deconstruct matter into becoming new types of forms and substances. It is lovely when we think of Buckminster Fuller’s scenario of the World Game Plan and distribution and use and dealing with the issue of waste and gluttony in our society where nothing is really wasted because if everything is based on molecules in relationship of atoms to atoms, then we can form chairs, tables and housing, and we can create water, we can create food – we can create all the necessary sustainable elements that people need throughout the world in order to have well being extended life. So I think that the notion of reconstructing matter suggests that elements are not tossed, like plastic in the trash, that can recycled into something but it is reused within the changing of molecules. I admire that concept and Eric Drexler’s brilliant Engines of Creation, which was consequential to the idea of molecular manufacturing. I think that Robert Freitas with nanomedicine is equally consequential to the prolongation of biology in repairing the damage within our bodies in acquiring longevity.
The other technology that I am torn about, on the other side, is artificial general intelligence. I think AI is a field is yet to be realized. It did have a long cold winter, to be sure after the work at MIT and John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky, and all the other pioneers, going back to Von Neumann, Turning, Von Foerster and the Brain Computer Laboratory; but looking forward toward where it is now there is a new found thrust and thirst for developing intelligence not just as a task oriented intelligence but one that has more of an affinity with human understanding and the way we learn – the way we develop our cognizance—contemplate issues and have experience. So I think that it is lovely idea. And the reason why I think that it is very important, and almost equal level paralleling my interest in nanotechnology, is that artificial general intelligence, if it is applied to the human as an appendage, for example in a metabrain concept, which is the “Primo Posthuman” future human prototype, which is written in the essay we were discussing; that we don’t have to fear superintelligence necessarily, like the technological singularity concept as created by Vernor Vinge in that we will hit a wall and superintelligences far beyond what we can imagine today and the world would be forever changed. My caveat here to that scenario (the singularity) and one I am committed to is that we will become the AGI. That humans by and large, our innate drive to self-improve and to problem solve and to be competitive, is almost a saving grace and it is a two-fold concept (again going into the twos of dialectics or plurality), that one hand we want coopetition – we want to agree and get a long and be transdisciplinary and share ideas and develop a better future for ourselves. On the other hand we kind of need this edge of competition and striving to find another solution that is better than the last one. So if we can do this in a way that is more cooperative, it would certainly be better for our consciousness and our game plan on the larger scale. But I think that the human brain can only go so far. Even our human highest IQ levels cannot solve the problems at the level they need to be solved. So, we do need help. We need vehicle to travel further and faster. We need a better brain to travel higher and more intelligently in problem solving. I think that artificial intelligence can be added as an augment to our brain – a prosthetic metabrain concept that we will become the superintelligences and I don’t think that we will have wars with robots because they are smarter than the human- the fight of ownership of intelligence in dystopic scenarios that science fiction and filmmaking are so enthralled by and in some flirtatious relationship with. I think we need to address it as far as our own augmentation. But I am a human enhancement person, and that is my particular vision of it.
On the upside, from design and theory, looking at the situation as a soft scientist and hard design artist, I think that we will have greater experiences that can be called design experiences. They will most likely be vivid learning tools for of to experience what the future could be like on various levels. We could have scenarios to test out. They may become commonplace. Gaming, as it is now, including narratives of film, will become narratives of the past as we become immersed into the stories and live through the difficult characters that are probably more like mind expansion experiences that will help shape a level of awareness and this is what we need now. A more crystallized awareness sin order to deal with the other sides of the issues which deeply engage the problems of clean water, adequate healthy food, housing, education and better ways of people getting their basic needs met. I think it is simple. And it is abhorrent that we live in a world where so many people have so much and so many have people so little. I don’t think it is because humans are selfish or that the elitist exist or the haves exist. It is a mater of distribution, as Fuller suggested, and which is spot on. It is not a matter of scarcity. It is a matter of things to people who need them which harbors on the political, socio-political and socio-economic; but it is most based on hegemonic principles within government structures and a lack of willingness to cooperate. Who cares about the people who suffer? We care! One of my favorite aspects of transhumanism is elevation of the human condition, which includes all humanity and not a certain type of human.
An interesting area of the next ten years, having nothing to do with technology as an end product as a physical, material appendage of humans, but it has to do with technology as a need for a new type of view of how we arrange our thinking and how we arrange our education and knowledge. We need to get out of a postmodernist headset and into a transmodernist headset. I have given this considerable thought that as a socio-political issue but more of an ideological issue as we talk about the philosophical and the epoch of concerns that are present today about technology. It cannot be approached from a postmodernist view because postmodernism, regardless of all the beneficial observations it has provide din breaking away from the staunch rigidity of absolutist thinking, scientism, and western world’s dominance in proclaiming universals; it still has not offered any solutions. Certainly it has granted a sense of diversity and plurality in men, women, society, transgender, issues of feminism, and certain rhetoric within that vein; but, once again, what is lacking and what is needed is to return to science as a discovery and investigation of looking for what does work. Identifying these nuggets and implementing through smart design and drawing from the different movements throughout civilization that have been a call to arms, we nee da call to arms now. Very strongly. Transhumanism takes on an approach that is seeks to problems solves issues and a hopeful level of how they can be solved, it must begin to solve problems at the levels they might be solved today. Can we do this in ten years? I don’t think so, but we can certainly make headway in developing the protocol – a lot of the criteria that is needed to asses this vision.
Usually when we think about transhumanism, the sciences and technologies come to mind including the ethics, risks, and the need to elevate the human condition. But often there is a gap in the writings, the books, the conferences and the array of work done – a gap is one that of the aesthetics of human nature. By aesthetics I don’t mean it as it tightly tied to philosophy but more an aesthetics of the understanding of what “works”. Not what is beauty, a subjective concept or a mathematical proposition, but, rather, as a way to look at the future in developing a narrative of where we are now and how we want to get to where we are going. What is that future that we want? What doe sit look like? What does it feel like? What is it telling us? Why do we want it? Who we want to become. What is aspect of life that we want to prolong in continuous living? That is based in large part on aesthetics. It can be subjective or objective—what works for you or a standard mathematical formula, like the Golden Rectangle. Transhumanism that aesthetics cannot be other than developing humanity with an elegant sense of what is needed to solve the problems and to create a world in which we can continue learning and growing. One of the most interesting aspects of aesthetics is that is not trying to be a solution or a final result; but a way of being as a process. So if we look at life as a process, aesthetics is a process of life. And perhaps that is a call to arms. One could say “Enough of science and technology! Enough of AGI and nanotechnology, singularity, robots, and the hard edge of the cyborg world and ask “Where is the sense of finesse, the sense of elegance in simplicity – the sensorial qualities that make us want to live longer that make us want to engage each other and enjoy the world around us. That is an area that is rarely tapped. I have been writing about it since 1983 when I wrote the Transhuman Manifesto, which was onboard the Cassini Huygens spacecraft taking the term transhuman far out into our Solar System. It is something I am very pleased with and I thank those how helped me achieve this accomplishment that has never really written about or publicized. It is something I did and enjoyed doing it and it is yet to be realized on the scale that it ought to be because, you know, when you think about it — we talk about space and there is the X Prize and you know the design world is all about developing ways to accomplish our dreams, so is all about space pretty much and thinking about the future and getting out there – but the word “transhuman” has already been out there. On the Cassini Huygens mission, so that is quite lovely to think about.