Cybernetics, Art, and Ideas (1971) — Lost Transhumanist Classics
The book was published in 1971 and is a collection of short articles from various authors related to the intersection of technology and the arts. Topics range from the use of randomness in computer graphics to social implications of computer human relationships and beyond.
Of notable interest to transhumanists are some of the articles on computers and creativity, and, included here, a short but highly interesting piece documenting a cybernetic approach to “happiness amplification” and “happiness engineering”, Happiness, amplified cybernetically by Ali Irtem,
This article is an extremely early example of the transhumanist approach to systems design. First, a quality of the human situation is identified and a problem in that situation identified and considered for improvement. The problem identified by Irtem is that people are not as happy as they desire and further they see that there are ways in which they might be happier.
Irtem suggests that happiness is a quality of the human condition subject to measurement and therefore improvement and control. He further proposes a feedback control system to amplify happiness. We can consider similar approaches to improve other aspects of the human condition, for example, we can construct systems which amplify knowledge or increase social connection.
The described mathematics is a first step to a closed loop hedonic circuit which could optimize happiness under conscious control. Exactly the sort of functionality we might expect a future transhuman or post human to possess. It seems unfortunately that little progress was made in this area for a long period following publication of Irtem’s article, however there are some recent investigations into amplifying happiness and also we have of course the transhumanist interest in achieving super-happiness.
The necessity of a firm mathematical foundation for designing working systems is often overlooked. Irtem’s happiness machine is incomplete but, with regard to happiness amplification and happiness engineering, we can now begin with this little known and inspirational piece. Readers with an interest in artificial intelligence will note the connection Irtem makes also between happiness and intelligence which I think would still remain controversial.
The book also includes some early ideas about interactive and reactive environments, plus a few oddities such as the mathematics of Mondrian paintings and nose shape. You never know when that will come in handy.
Cybernetics, Art, and Ideas is rare and hard to find, but still thought provoking 40 years later.