There is a significant difference between wanting the future and working towards it. We are at a point where we are an increasingly design driven society. We’re in a feedback loop of building a narrative about what we want and then trying to flesh out that fiction with some reality. Design fiction is getting a really great rap right now. You’re Google, you say you are going to build some blimps, and then you just… go out and build blimps.
For some reason, it never really occurred to the rest of us that sitting around and telling each other stories about the future might not pan out the way we planned. That the build up and the pitch might just fall flat and we’d be left with, literally, a pocketful of processing power and absolutely nothing else. This isn’t the “where is my jetpack” rant. I was born after the 50’s, nobody every promised me a jetpack. Strapping an explosive to my body and shooting myself into the sky really doesn’t resonate. This is a little more fundamental than that.
Vernor Vinge said that if the Singularity came and went and we weren’t ready, we get a “glut of technological riches, never properly absorbed.”
We’ve all talked some great game about the Singularity. About how awesome it will be, how we won’t be eaten by rampant machine intelligence, there won’t be the crushing oppression that comes with radical class shifts and stratification because people are learning how to program.
It’s a little late. A “glut of technological riches, never properly absorbed”, that’s us in a nut shell. We cherry picked these ideas about the future and built ourselves a great narrative about how things will just work out, with no real plans for how things would just fall apart. You literally can not code yourself out of this issue. There is no elegant way to express the inequalities and the failures of our current technologically riddled societal body. Basically, we needed to be super human. Instead, we perfected the super size. Keeping track of the top tier companies in the world making the next micro-adjustment in their portfolio, waiting for the scraps that come from trickle down economics in a time of war is just not a viable plan for the future.
Software will not save you.
Luckily, we have a rising rear guard, coming in where the narrative just never really got filled in. Small groups of excited and dedicated people willing to wade through the mess that has been made and flat out ignore the mistakes of the previous generations. People that still want to be superhuman, and are willing to carve it out on the testbeds of their own bodies.
What we need is action, not design porn. What we need for action is functionality. How we get functionality is through open access, with information and knowledge distributed through the community. We need to remember, design fiction does not equal a cultural shift.
So, what I’m talking about here isn’t the hard sell, it’s the no sell.
I had a postdoc explain to me how to break a tremendously cool huge idea into tiny tiny parts, so that they could be worked on. This was a very important skill. A thing I had never been taught before in the fashion of what I was trying to achieve. Sure, I had learned to think critically and to divide tasks in to parts that I can handle. I had a life and I was hacking it. This was something else. It went right past critical thinking and straight into the banality where true functionality exists. It was amazing. The conversation was all about breaking up some really novel idea like mammalian ametabolism in to tiny pieces, unrecognizable from the whole. This was so you could properly focus on developing a protocol. Not just a hip narrative that made someone give you money, but a functioning set of systems that did something.
These tiny parts were filled with minutiae. For example, mapping the movements of molecules. This is the slow and awkward progress of tagging proteins and chemical structures. Waiting while nature takes its course and then decanting the results. This sounds cool conceptually, but in reality it’s bench work and waiting and failure and repeatability. All the things that are crucial to science. Very little of it looks great on film. It’s dry and it’s dull and this is it’s power. This is what makes it a real thing.
I’m part of the Grinder community. Depending on who you talk to it’s either practical transhumanism or some exceptionally flagrant acts of body modification. A lot of crazy ideas get tossed out there, but beneath that is a core of functionality and action that is still lacking in the broader scope of the transhumanist community. We aren’t science cheerleaders. We are experimenters, working with the tools that we have, and what we can salvage from the scrap available. We could do more if you just opened up and gave us more…
For instance, there are some Grinders working on new transdermal implant coatings. Not just a piercing that breaks the surface of the skin, but one with a coating that will bond to the skin, integrate with it. While this has been done before, it has been done in the ways that don’t actually help us as a community. Developments behind paywalls and patents, locked off in the hopes of future financial fecundity.
What these Grinders hope to do is open up this technology to everyone. Put a twist on it and release into the wild. No patents will be violated. The technique will new and open source, because everyone needs to have access to the tools and methods for moving forward. The future needs all of us.
The steps we take forwards are made by scores of papers breaking down the various pathways and mechanisms of senescence and by people developing new techniques for implantables in their garages.
Even with all the steps being made, transhumanism continues to be a crew of advertisers in a field where we desperately need more products. We need to stop selling the future. Advertisements always disappoint.
Grinding is essential. It’s not the iPhone future. It’s not all shiny. It’s like the sewer system. It’s un-sexy, and dirty, and it makes sure we aren’t all wading around in shit. It’s how the world actually functions.
This is the new grind. The way that we should be doing things. Collaboration and stepping outside the cycle of proprietary knowledge. Finally moving beyond that learned sense of personal helplessness.
What excuses do we have about the intense failures and issues that pervade ourselves and our environment?
It’s time to get a grip on our situation here. Nothing of value comes without sweat equity.
What will you bring to the table?
* hero image used: http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/off-topic-31/can-someone-tell-me-what-cyberpunk-and-steampunk-a-485443/