Review: Our Technological Identity Crisis by Colin Marchon

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.40.29 AM Our Technological Identity Crises [sic] is a three part series on transhumanist themes that h+ Magazine readers will enjoy. 

The series includes interviews with Biotechnologist Raymond McCauley founder bio-hackerspace Biocurious and the Chair of Biotechnology at Singularity University, Transhumanist and Executive Director of the IEET James Hughes, Futurist writer Federico Pistono, and more. The series focuses around the important ideas of the self and human exceptionalism. What makes us human and what exactly defines who we are?

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.39.23 AMMany of the central projects and interests of transhumanism bring into question the conventional notions of humanness, individuality, personhood, and the nature of the self. And at the same time these notions are central to the success of transhumanist projects, for example cryonic preservation is seeking to preserve the person that resides in a body and not just preserve the biological functioning of the body without whatever it is that makes the living person who they are. But what exactly is that? 

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.39.54 AMPart 1, Identity, Engineered, focuses around an interview with McCauley and the possibilities of engineering our own biology.  The film offers a variety of introductory considerations but doesn’t explore some of the most radical recent research into engineering humans and biological system at large.

In Part 2, Marchon explores the virtual world and considers the merger of virtual and physical worlds into a mixed reality. In fact this is the world that we now inhabit. In this second part, Colin not only explores the meaning of this novel environment where physical and virtual objects interact and causally influence each other, he delves into the deeper personal and social implications of hosting our digital selves on sites owned by corporations and open to spying by governments or others. Notably, Yale’s Wendell Wallach wonders about the future implications of this generation’s relinquishment of privacy en masse.  This second part also includes well known NYU posthumanist philosopher Francesca Ferrando talking about virtual reality and Second Life. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t really delve very deeply into the full implications of the mixed reality universe where not only humans but seemingly ordinary objects will exist in complex mixed reality states that straddle the real and virtual worlds; it isn’t only humans that co-exist in both worlds.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.38.34 AMIn Part 3, Identity, Digital, Marchon wonders how these ideas will change our notions about humanity. Marchon visits the NY Posthumanist Research Group and delivers what is one of the most accessible presentations of man-machine symbiosis I’ve heard to date. The idea that man plus machine can outperform machine or man alone is not covered frequently enough in the transhumanist literature. Marchon describes the emergence of Gary Kasparov’s man AND machine chess tournaments which reveal that the best chess player in the world is still a human, but it is a human enhanced with a machine. Marchon doesn’t explore the broader research literature here, but this result is borne out in a variety of other fields for example my research in the area of facial recognition demonstrated that man plus machine outperforms either man or machine alone.

This series asks a variety of challenging questions that transhumanists sometimes forget. Who are we and who will we become? What and who do we want to be?

Are men and machines different? How can we leverage differences to our mutual benefit?

What makes us special or do we just imagine our specialness? What will happen as we realize we aren’t so special after all? In the end the film asks us to consider what we imagine is the value of being human, and how this might change as we become transhuman and even posthuman beings.

Marchon delivers an erudite and accessible presentation that also has got a couple of minor glitches in spelling and audio to remind you that this is a film student project. I’m looking forward to seeing what Colin does in the future.

Watch all three parts below.