In the parent article for this topic we suggested the possibility of an emerging epigenetic divergence of the human race facilitated by emerging technologies that will allow people of the future increasing control over the function, capabilities, and appearance of their bodies. We have suggested the idea that future humanity may become characterized as a spectrum of life and lifestyle spreading from a predominately organic existence in the ‘actual’ habitat to a predominately inorganic existence in a ‘virtual’ habitat—the two habitats progressively merging with time and subsequently easier mobility along the spectrum. In this article we will explore these ideas further, looking at the specific technologies, lifestyles, and sub-cultures which may characterize various locations along this spectrum. It’s important to note that in this topic we are going out farther on the limb of speculation than in any other topic in TMP2 and so we must consider these ideas and concepts more possibility than likelihood. Still, TMP is ultimately a story about living and it is entertaining to think about these possibilities and how they may impact our future society.
The three key technologies foreseen as most significant to the development of a Transhumanist society are biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. But there will likely be many developments in the spheres of medicine, personal communication, digital fabrication, new materials, and even art, entertainment, and fashion that play important roles here. We can anticipate that the expansion of possibilities along this Transhumanist spectrum to spread generally from the organic toward the inorganic ends relative to the convenience and economy of various forms of augmentation, though even today we can see that some individuals will push the edge by assuming greater personal discomfort and risk for the sake of changes and capabilities they deem exceptionally important to their sense of identity, the restoration of normal ability, or a chance for the extension of life. With the advent of sentient artificial intelligence (should it be realized relatively early in Transhumanist development), however, we may see a simultaneous extension from the inorganic side of the spectrum toward the organic as artilects seek greater ability to engage in the physical habitat and a predominately organic human society and thus gain greater capability for self-determination.
This epigenetic/technological adaptation of the body is likely to be driven by a number of key types of motivation or purpose;
-Medicinal: augmentation intended treat specific disease.
-Medical Diagnostic: augmentation to facilitate bodily diagnostic capability.
-Medicinal Prophylactic: augmentation intended to defend against disease or injury.
-Corrective Prosthetic: augmentation intended to compensate for or reverse disability or physical deformity.
-Gerontological: augmentation intended to reverse or forestall effects of aging.
-Gender Reassignment: techniques for the reassignment of sex to treat gender identity disorder or intersexed individuals. It may become more lifestyle option with convenience.
-Cosmetic: adaptation for purposes of personal aesthetic, self-expression, or group identity.
-Sexual Enhancement: augmentation to suit improved sexual performance or convenience.
-Vocational: augmentation to facilitate or enhance vocational abilities or performance.
-Recreational: augmentation to facilitate or enhance recreational activities or performance—particularly athletics—or for the sake of entertainment through enhanced or altered experience, perception, states of consciousness.
-Military: augmentation to facilitate or enhance military combat abilities.
-Communication: augmentation to facilitate personal communications, virtual environment access, and computer and machine control.
-Cognitive: augmentation to enhance memory, perception, and cognitive performance.
-Lifestyle: augmentation or adaptation to accommodate a chosen mode of living, particularly where that requires more comprehensive physical adaptation to suit conditions of certain alternative habitats like the wilderness, the sea, space, the virtual habitat.
There really is nothing ‘new’ on this list. There are contemporary analogs for all of these types of human augmentation or adaptation, although at present we don’t always consider them as such as they tend to be limited to temporary cosmetic techniques, clothing, and artifacts external to the body. We may not consider, for instance, a smart phone as a form of communication or cognitive augmentation but it’s ability to immediately connect us to people anywhere on the globe and provide us with immediate access to vast amounts of information are exactly that. The difference in the future is the degree of ‘intimacy’ and comprehensiveness of such augmentation and adaptation. The telephone we once had to go to a special place to use, then to devices on tables and walls, and now carry in a pocket may become something we constantly wear on our ears or around our necks and eventually carry in our own bodies. To illustrate the character of this spectrum, let’s consider several points along it that we can characterize through an illustration of lifestyle.
The Natural HumanEdit
For sake of perspective, we define our starting point along this spectrum with a being that we think we know but which, for the most part, has not existed for many thousands of years, if ever; the Natural Human. The Natural Human being is a person who’s physiology and genetic heritage are devoid of technological intervention. They are exactly as nature alone has made them. The human being who is still a part of the natural planetary process of biological evolution—something we have been moving away from since the invention of culture. There is a certain dilemma in our understanding of this being that may have been overlooked by science. We characterize the earliest examples of our species by both physiological characteristics of remains and by the characteristics of artifacts, whose creation was not entirely exclusive to our species. The problem here is that, once a species gets into making things it is epigenetically impacting its own evolution. It is no longer strictly natural. And since this creation of artifacts pre-dates what we consider homo sapiens, extending to our nearest evolutionary relatives, there may have never actually been a truly natural human. We may have technically been Augmented Humans from the start. Thus we can only consider this Natural Human in a theoretical sense.
This, however, has not prevented many people from pursuing what they consider to be a more original and natural human lifestyle—generally modeled on idealized primary cultures—as a reaction to the negative aspects they perceive in current civilization. We can anticipate that this will be a common—perhaps increasingly so—pursuit well into the future as some people reject the trends of transhumanism on religious or philosophical grounds.
The Perfected HumanEdit
We begin our trip along the Transhumanist Spectrum at a relatively nearby point. A point were we are still quite recognizable to ourselves from the contemporary perspective but on the threshold of a very new way of life. By the term ‘perfected’ we are not referring to any sort of ideal model human being—there is none and never will be. Rather we are referring to a total mastery of human physiology as a kind of technology, first realized by nature then, eventually, fully reverse-engineered by mankind. A mastery which will facilitate a relativistic, personal, perfection of physical identity in myriad individual variations.
There is no inherent perfection in nature and her agenda in an evolutionary context is not related to our agendas in a cultural, aesthetic, or quality of life context. The evolutionary objective is, simply, genetic survival and what survives is what works well enough toward that purpose. Nature has no concern for how we feel about this, how we suffer or struggle in the process. The system of evolution is self-optimizing in that genetic survival context, but by no means always ideal or pleasant from our sentient intellectual perspective. And so for as long as we have had the means, we have sought to alleviate what, from our perspective, are the many and often frustrating, uncomfortable, painful and/or deadly flaws in the human condition. Striving to live longer, better, more comfortably. This pursuit is the essential basis of civilization. We began our long trek along the path of artifice and invention to ease the discomfort and suffering and optimize the pleasures and delights of a far-less-than-perfect life nature has imposed on us.
And we are now approaching an important threshold in this pursuit. We are coming to the point where we have such a comprehensive understanding of human physiology and control of its processes through medical and biotechnology that we can correct for or prevent just about everything that goes functionally wrong with the human organism and most anything we, personally, do not like or are uncomfortable with. We can even see on the horizon the forestalling or elimination of aging and the conquering of death. Some scientists suggest that anyone alive right now has a plausible chance of actually living forever. We are about to perfect nature’s technology from a human standpoint and step completely down from the ancient tree of natural evolution just as our ancient progenitors stepped out of the trees to walk upright on the plains.
What does this mean in terms of the likely lifestyle of the coming Perfected Human? Generally, these future people may not seem particularly different from us today except for the improvements in quality of life gained by ameliorating and eventually eliminating the threat and impact of many kinds of disease, injury, congenital disorder or deformity, and chronic illness. We may become a generally more fit society, enjoying radical improvements in net productivity, seeing declines in crime rates as we better intercept mental illness, and possibly seeing shifts in politics and religion as well brought about by declines in common (and commonly exploited) forms of neurosis. Of course, much of this impact may depend on cultural ideals and national policy. Nations, like the US, that persist with regressive health policies, will likely produce widening economic class gaps in standard of health resulting in less uniform access to the benefits of coming health technology and thus realize far less net societal and productivity benefits. But general trends suggest that even such recalcitrant communities may have little effect on global impact. The rest of the world will simply outlive them, figuratively and literally…
Where we are likely to see the most cultural impact in this emergent Perfected Human society may be from the combination of rapidly extending longevity toward virtual immortality combined with total cosmetic freedom of appearance. The Perfected Human culture may be one where apparent age and race become completely irrelevant because they become completely superficial and casually changeable. We may see people assume particular age-appearances solely for the sake of the roles they wish to assume in the society. In contemporary Post-Singularity science fiction writers often describe people as ‘wearing themselves as’ a particular age according to the implied authority associated with a professional role. Doctors, lawyers, and politicians may ‘wear themselves’ older in appearance to reinforce the sense of authority, experience, or rationality associated with those professions. Other people, however, may wear themselves at ages that they find most physically comfortable and compatible with their personal sense of identity. In some cases we might see sub-cultural groups assuming certain age appearance as a mark of group identity. (Imagine tribes of perpetually adolescent Lost Boys akin to those of the Peter Pan stories)
Similarly, with all the ‘clinal’ physical characteristics we have long associated with specific races and ethnicities freely changeable, they lose their former social implications. Apparent race may become no more than a personal aesthetic choice no more significant than hairstyle and, with the influence and experimentation of fashion, produce an accelerating cladogenesis of body style extending far beyond the confines of natural genetic variation. We may see the curious situation of a trend of generic homogenization in our increasingly cosmopolitan society paired to an increasingly divergent fashion/aesthetics driven cladogenesis in the spectrum of human appearance. In the future, the sight of faun-eared tiger-striped people with wildly unnatural skin tones may be quite conventional. Already there is speculation on the future possibility of freely changeable, digitally animated, and even luminous tattoos and body art. In some cases this may have quite practical uses in personal medical diagnostics, our bodies automatically warning us of problems with the body-graphic equivalent of dashboard idiot lights. (When nose is flashing, see your doctor…)
While finally overcoming the persistent scourge of racism will be a great boon to our society, it probably will not be without its own new problems, presenting a kind of identity crisis to sub-cultural groups whose identity is very keyed to ethnic identity. What does ‘black’ mean when, at long last, it really does become just a color? Our descendants will have some interesting questions to ponder.
The cultural impact of potential immortality is likely to be great and has long been a popular subject in science fiction. For at least the past ten thousand years human civilization and culture have revolved around the essential and common fear of death and a desire to invest in future generations. What may happen when, quite suddenly in historic terms, such concern goes away? Our civilization has long been structurally based on cycles of human productivity related to the lifecycle from birth to death. Even demographic distribution between urban and suburban regions are keyed to this. And we have seen interesting changes resulting from the mere extension of the productive phase of that lifecycle thanks to medical intervention and improved standards of living. Many nations struggle today with the issue of aging populations, where the modest extension of life has pushed the majority of the population toward a less productive old age demographic that must survive longer on the saved yield of productive years. Issues of population management aside, what will be the cultural impact of a non-aging society where the vast and growing majority of the population is ‘old’ but functionally at the adult productive peak and where new generations as subcultural groups successively become smaller?
For much of the 20th century western culture has had an obsession with youth—alternately focused on clinging desperately to it in the current generation while, at times, expressing a fear and misunderstanding of the subsequent generations that are culturally and politically divergent. In a culture where, for an increasing population, aging effectively stops at a prime adulthood and apparent age becomes cosmetic, the actually young may be pushed into a shrinking minority until they practically disappear from the cultural landscape. In the past we have had a sense of the young catching-up and overtaking the old in cultural prominence generation to generation. But in the future that may stop. The young may never catch up because the adults never stop their peak participation in shaping culture and only grow ever larger as a ‘market’ for the attention of commerce.
Which brings up another interesting aspect of Perfected Human lifestyle; the economic impact of steadily extending longevity. As we have recently come to understand (though there remain Malthusianist hold-outs) the key to global population management rests in comprehensively improving global societal standards of living as birth rates actually decline with increasing standard of living. And the reason for this is that in impoverished societies high birth rates are not the product of some sort of degenerate class/race sexual proclivity as has often been suggested in the past but rather a completely logical response to poverty itself relative to high child mortality rates and shortened spans of adult productivity in situations of poor health care. Children and family are the essential wealth of the poor. Their social security. But in Industrialized societies we have generally destroyed traditional extended families in favor of the artificial easily fungible worker unit of the ‘nuclear family’. (many erroneously believe to be ‘traditional’) We have replaced traditional functions of the extended family with state institutions and private industries making our security in later life dependent upon the financial yield of our periods of peak adult economic productivity—our working years—rather than children who are, in fact, an economic detriment to that. And so with a shift toward industrialization, a western lifestyle and standard of living, and improved lifetime economic productivity the reproductive imperative is reduced—so much so that in some nations we actually see current or imminent negative birth rates needing compensation by immigration—or in some nations a compulsion toward robotics.
With this pattern comes a general trend of economic power becoming increasingly concentrated in an older population as longevity is increased. The essential economic objective of the Industrial Age person has long been to realize a state of self-perpetuating wealth as a means of securing a high standard of living through non-productive old age. At a certain level, anyone’s accumulation of wealth becomes self-perpetuating by virtue of interest and investment and we define ‘financial independence’ as the state of our accumulated wealth reaching a point where we can live well perpetually on this yield as long as it keeps up with the cost of living. Though resisted by the rapid acceleration of health care costs in some nations and recent breakdowns in our global economy caused by the general incompetence and sociopathy of its self-appointed custodians, this has become an increasingly attainable goal in western industrial countries, driven chiefly by progressively greater longevity and the productivity benefits of longer phases of personal productivity. Imagine the virtually immortal society where the phase of peak personal productivity never ends. At a certain point—and barring any sudden catastrophic failure of the entire global economic system—everyone in such a society may reach this point of financial independence and rarely pass that accumulated wealth on to future generations, creating the economic equivalent of a technological singularity. The ramifications of such a situation are beyond the scope of this article but clearly present yet another likely factor compelling a radical change in our culture, economic, and political systems in the future.
Clearly, future society will have a host of very interesting situations and cultural differences compared to today’s civilization. We can foresee a slowing and stalling in population growth followed by a slower inexorable build that may drive a growing interplanetary diaspora. We can see both a growing divergence of sub-culture and human appearance while, at the same time, a growing convergence of age-specific social perspective. We can foresee a breakdown of the social lifecycle pattern of our species with some extreme ramifications for economics. And so, while seeming to be as mostly like us today as any point along our imagined transhumanist spectrum, the Perfected Human may experience a lifestyle we can, to a large extent, scarcely imagine at present.
The Augmented HumanEdit
This point along the Transhumanist spectrum may be a predominant one for future society as it already, though we rarely realize it, represents a majority of the society in the present. By the term ‘augmentation’ we refer to the application of technology to the human body so as to afford capabilities beyond the natural. And as SciFi as that may sound, we have actually been doing this for a very long time. Consider, for instance, clothing. It’s not merely decorative. At its most functional, it provides various kinds of protection and thermal adaptation. Thus clothing has altered our potential natural range as a species, allowing us to very quickly spread over more of the world than we would have otherwise through this very powerful ability to augment out bodies with found/made material.
Then there are tools. Like clothing, we’ve been making these for as long as we’ve been recognizably homo sapiens. Tools allow us means to accomplish tasks beyond the scope of what nature’s design has afforded the human body. Most are very specialized and intermittently used. But a few become so definitive of lifestyle that they evolve into things that we carry on our person most or all of the time. Specialized kits of tools evolved for people of specialized skills or status, but there have also been ‘common’ toolkits of artifacts that have been almost universal, though sometimes divided by gender, age, and social class and varying with cultural groups and their local environment-specific aspects of lifestyle. At first it was basic survival tools like the knife, spear, and staff which were used in countless ways throughout one’s day as a hunter-gatherer. That lifestyle revolved around these tools. Though eventually far more symbolic than functional, through much of pre-industrial history males, especially, carried personal weapons such as knives and swords. Later, and slightly less common, were the implements of snuff and tobacco use. Then for ‘modern’ humans there came the watch, the pen/pencil, keys, and the purse/wallet/money clip as knowing the precise time, writing, and handling cash became very fundamental aspects of life in the Industrial Age—though for a majority of men in the early Industrial Age modern fold-up and multi-functional forms of the common knife were still a standard part of the everyday tool kit and in some communities we had a reversion to the common carrying of weapons, then in the Industrial Age form of the hand gun. By the 18th century eyeglasses had become a common prosthetic along with many others of intricate and increasingly scientific design—their development often spurred in the aftermath of war as advancing medical technology allowed increasingly severe injuries to be survivable.
Over just one generation we have recently seen a radical change in the common toolkit. Watch, knife, weapon, wallet, purse, pens/pencils, keys, and smoking implements are all fading out and in their place has come the cell phone/smart phone/PDA because now, in this emerging Post-Industrial Age, being digitally connected—at first to key groups of people and then, increasingly, to the world via the Internet—is the core of our contemporary lifestyle. These intricate devices have absorbed and expanded on the functions of the watch and the wallet while knives, weapons, and tobacco have become anachronistic and are slowly disappearing from common use. Most recently, we have begun to talk about the possibility of smartphones that we can actually carry around in our own bodies, surgically implanted, integrated into the neural wiring of our own senses. Now, it’s quite possible that this idea may turn out rather like the concept of the Picturephone, which seemed so logical a development that it featured in futurist depictions all across the 20th century even before the television was common. Despite the fairly rapid viability of that technology, it ultimately didn’t become a practical reality until compelled by the Internet and remains rather less than ubiquitous in use. However, this author has made the prediction of the near-future sub-vocal cell phone where hand-held devices are supplanted by increasingly advanced ear-phone devices fronting for the Cloud with advanced audial interfaces and the use of sub-vocal speech detection matched to virtual speech synthesis. This would achieve much of the capabilities and conveniences of the imagined implanted phone but with simpler technology and greater convenience of adoption in the near-term. Over the past decade we’ve seen wearable displays reduced to enhancements of conventional eyeglasses and, most recently, experimentation with contact lenses sporting integral display systems. As these devices fade from necessity as prosthetics, they may persist as tools of personal communications.
Generally, there is a trend of increasing physical intimacy of technology in our culture limited by the convenience—as defined by the discomfort, cost, and health risks—of its application. The clothes we wear and the tools we carry are becoming increasingly sophisticated machines while at the same time we are increasingly allowing artificial substances and machines into our bodies for various reasons—right now mostly for medical or corrective prosthetic purposes but not exclusively so. Already we are seeing surgical implants used for cosmetic or even sexual enhancement. In a few recent cases, we have even seen people implant small electronics for passive computer interfacing and implanted RFID tracking has now become a reality for children and elderly sufferers of dementia. Were an implantable cell phone as convenient, it would probably be very widely adopted.
As our mastery of general human physiology improves, so does the convenience and safety of the use of such implanted technology. Thus we can anticipate an increasing use of it, moving beyond medical/corrective applications to augmentation—to enhancing our abilities, affording us completely new ones, offering new cosmetic/aesthetic possibilities, and replacing the tools and implements we might otherwise wear or carry with us externally. We increasingly hear the suggestion today that artificial limbs may soon become so sophisticated that they will soon tempt people to replace their natural limbs just for the sake of the benefits these replacements afford. That tradeoff may still be somewhat far off from being common given the inconvenience at present. But there is already a trend in prosthetic design that has moved beyond mere functionalism. And with such devices increasingly incorporating advanced materials and mechanisms, why limit that to purely functional purposes? Already some prosthetics offer slightly-super-human ability to the point where athletes use of them has become controversial when in competition with non-disabled athletes. It would seem likely that, as prosthetic design evolves, we may soon see the incorporation of many kinds of enhancements, such as personal communications and computing systems as a special area of mobile computing. We are seeing the general idea of implantable/integral technology for the purposes of improving our lives in various ways becoming increasingly conventional as the option becomes increasingly convenient and decreasingly final.
One can imagine a certain horse race in technological trends here. On the one hand, advances in medicine promise to eventually eliminate the need for prosthetics of most sorts. Even cultured-on-demand replacements for organs and limbs seem increasingly likely. Yet at the same time the rapid advances in prosthetics affords potential enhancements over and above the limits of organic physiology, making them not only as convenient and comfortable as organic replacements but potentially far more valuable. It’s hard to say where this race might end.
We anticipate that, with the advent of more robust nanotechnology and increasingly convenient technique, such technological augmentation of the body will generally become common and broad in scope affording powerful new abilities and means of self-expression and communication. With the advent of medical nanomachines, many new and subtle kinds of clinical intervention become possible, and with that new means to implement augmentation with ease and increased intimacy of interaction with organic physiology. Living with personal colonies of medical nanobots may become the norm in this Augmented Human culture, the machines serving as a built-in automated clinic for our health maintenance and factory for the in-situ fabrication of enhancements.
For the Augmented Human the body will become an open book, diagnostic systems allowing a conscious perception, and in some cases control, of its condition and processes greater than the best diagnostic technology today. Combined with increasingly intimate and comprehensive connection to the internet, this will accelerate the trends toward the Perfected Human and the mastery of physiology by greatly amplifying medical science’s ability to gather clinical data from large populations. This will also allow our bodies to independently communicate distress, calling EMS automatically even if we are too incapacitated to do so by other means or reporting our ambient health to diagnostic expert systems that will message us cautions as needed.
Implanted personal communications will afford instantaneous and silent communication within one’s ‘monkey sphere’ (our extended social circles) as well as communication with machines, digital agents, and the Internet at large. In their most advanced forms we may see the realization of built-in HUDs linked to the visual cortex and controlled by thought, eliminating all forms of mobile computer hardware. This will offer such incidental abilities as the video recording of anything we see and the recording of our dreams for later playback with full lucidity. The Augmented Human may realize a commonly eidetic memory with a casual ability to communicate what we perceive and collect from our senses like the data files we move between personal computers today. Passive AI agent software may ‘ride shotgun’ in our heads, providing passive backup recording of our experiences, filling in the gaps of our memory, translating languages for us on the fly, and providing on-demand assistance akin to a GPS navigator for many different needs and task. Many such capabilities may be realized long before any comprehensive means of neural interfacing even exist, being approximated with such simpler technologies as wearable eyeglass and contact lens displays and WiFi earphone computer interfaces.
With a comprehensive interface to our senses may come an increasingly multi-dimensional perception of our habitat, the physical environment enhanced by augmented reality information overlay tailored to our personal needs or, as desired, traded completely for the full experience of virtual environments existing across the internet and linked into a collective Virtual Habitat. As we’ll discuss in other sections, this virtual habitat may become a general extension of our physical habitat—a super-space we will increasingly ‘colonize’ like outer-space and merge with our physical habitat. Far different from the Xibalba-like underworld of ‘cyberspace’ featured in past science fiction, this may instead be a social space shared by the whole civilization and used as a universal meeting space and tele-presence gateway to places across the globe and into space. It may also become the home of the society of artilects; those people who originate or move to that far end of the Transhumanist spectrum and live in this virtual habitat just as we live in urban habitats in the physical world.
At its most advanced, cognitive augmentation may afford full access and mobility of memory and knowledge, allowing direct review, editing, and enhancement of memory, the direct transfer of knowledge and skill, the artificial expansion of memory and cognition, and the total back-up of the mind as a fail-safe against deadly accident. This may be the prelude to the ultimate transference of human consciousness between bodies and into software form.
In addition to these forms of cognitive and communication augmentation may come many enhancements to our physical abilities by additions and replacements to the conventional organic anatomy. Initially employed for medical prosthetic purposes and long in competition with the advance in our mastery of organic physiology, these are the more overt forms of augmentation we today associate with the ‘cyborg’ of science fiction. Once this technology moves beyond the purely functional/clinical, augmentation may be employed for the sake of cosmetic/aesthetic enhancement as well as more vocational and recreational purposes and take such forms as synthetic anatomical additions or substitutions. Cosmetic uses may include novelty/fashion additions to the body akin to more radical forms of body modification seen today. Animal characteristics such as horns, tails, ears, fangs, fur, feathers, unusual eyes, may become common fashion accessories—given their long popularity with fantasy characters in many media. More utilitarian augmentation may be associated with professions and hobbies. Artificial enhancements of senses may aid scientists and technicians. Nanobots supplementing blood cells may increase stamina or facilitate activity in high altitudes. Artificial lungs may facilitate an amphibious lifestyle for the sport swimmer or marine scientist. Synthetically reinforced bones may safeguard against damage for those who play contact sports. Neural enhancements may increase dexterity, balance, or breath and motion control to aid a variety of skills and sports. Although some may be more apparent than others, it is likely that the most visibly obvious of such augmentations will be those done for cosmetic reasons, in contrast to the clunky man-machine visions of cyborgs portrayed in science fiction. But who can say where aesthetics may go far in the future. The more advanced and radical of such augmentation will likely be the bridge to our next step along the Transhumanist Spectrum, leading to radically different lifestyles.
Such augmentation may be most significant in the space settlement context as it may very well be that comprehensive augmentation of the body is the ultimate solution to the persistent health hazards of the space environment. All space settlers may be augmented humans by default, their bodies host to colonies of medical nanosystems that continuously compensate for the effects of radiation and Space Wasting and thus easing the rigors of space travel, precluding the need for elaborate artificial gravity habitats, and affording more access to the variety of environments on the different bodies in the solar system. Such enhancements may also be designed to provide rapid automatic emergency physiological responses to common hazards, emergencies, and injuries unique to life in space, such as vertigo, varying atmospheric pressures, and rapid decompression. With such comprehensive augmentation common to this community of necessity, it would also afford easier implementation and maintenance of other systems for communications and cognitive augmentation, likely making these very common in the spacefaring population.
Alter-Humans are those people who have taken the technologies of physiological augmentation to the point where it bridges toward a complete transcendence of organic human physiology, although this may be achieved as much with technologies that are predominately organic/biological in nature as with inorganic technology. We anticipate the line between those two become increasingly blurry. The key point is that, for the Alter-Human, the whole body becomes a custom-designed and engineered appliance with a sometimes specific purpose.
This point on our imagined spectrum is our next closest to the state of physically disembodied consciousness characterized by the artilect. A state where, even with a reliance on synthetic organic technology, the human mind has become largely independent from the original organic human genetic legacy and organic brain dependence and ‘portable’ across any number of possible physical forms that are no longer limited by the architecture of that original physiology. At the near end of this segment of the spectrum we may find humans who’s brains are still largely original and organic but whose bodies have through incremental augmentation become largely a synthetic hybrid of organic and inorganic systems. At the far end we may find people whose consciousness exists entirely as software on synthetic brains, easily portable across different synthetic bodies made-on-demand. Here too would be those artilects coming from the other end of the spectrum, employing such bodies as ‘remotes’ for their more comprehensive experience of and activity in the physical habitat.
Coming from the organic end of the spectrum, the adoption of this way of life may be predicated on several key motives; to overcome the fragility of organic physiology, to pursue the recreational experience of a radically different physical form, as extreme forms of aesthetic self-expression, to accommodate a particular career pursuit, or to pursue a different lifestyle in a radically different environment. Let’s consider these individually.
Even with the benefit of an eventual mastery of biological physiology, the machinery of the organic body may remain frail, unreliable, and error-prone. As we noted earlier, nature’s priorities are not the same as ours and there may be inescapable limits to what is possible with this biological technology—limits that may seem inconvenient for future people whose lives extend indefinitely and whose minds may well exceed the practical capacities of the organic brain. For some the prospect of overcoming such limitations may be compelling given the synthetic alternatives that may be on offer—particularly in an era of comprehensive nanotechnology able to eliminate any perceptible ‘clunkiness’ of inorganic technology producing forms indistinguishable from organic life forms.
Just as the conventional human physiology may prove for some insufficient from a practical standpoint, so too may it prove insufficient from an aesthetic and experiential standpoint. Indeed, the organic human body has always been inadequate for most of us. Even Neanderthals used make-up. As noted earlier, we have always sought to modify our bodies by any means convenient to suit ideals that exist only in our minds—and our imaginations are vast. So for some the desire to physically express their identity may transcend the limits of conventional anatomy, people’s desires and imaginations demanding more fantastical forms. This may result in a significant portion of the society pursuing the experimentation with and experience of many of nature’s other physical forms and features, or the realization of the many creatures and beings of fantasy, folklore, and myth our culture has imagined over the centuries, or any number of new imaginary life forms likely devised in the future. Of course, such things may be readily experienced by this time through the virtual habitat, but for some such temporary options may be inadequate, the desire to experience such forms extending to comprehensive lifestyles and sub-cultures. While such ideas may seem very strange to us in the present, we must consider the perspective of people incredibly long-lived in a different, more rapidly evolving, culture than our own whose driving forces have moved beyond money, eventually beyond social credit, to the ‘currency’ of experience itself. Consider how radically different our mainstream aesthetic sense is from people a few centuries past. Why would this not be at least as divergent from people in the future?
This compulsion for the new experience, extending as it may into lifestyle, may also motivate the exploration of life in very different environments. For instance, for centuries people have fantasized of life in the environment of the sea, our myths and folklore featuring any number of imagined alter-human beings adapted to that particular habitat. In more recent times, many have imagined minimalistic lifestyles more merged with nature, bodies adapted to the ambient environment and climate of the most remote wilderness allowing a casual nomadic ‘super-naturist’ way of life free from the material clutter of the conventional civilization. Most recently, we have imagined lives in the varied environments of space, where adapting one’s body may prove to be a far more practical alternative to the elaborate artificial creation of Earth-like environments. For a future spacefaring culture, the idea of living free in the found environments of space may be compelling and for some a life spent roaming the stars as living sentient starships themselves, seeding life like cosmic Johnny Appleseeds, may seem ideal.
We anticipate that with the advent of advanced comprehensive nanotechnology, such as the realization of NanoFoam, we may realize a means for freedom of physical form for the Alter-Human as great as that found in the virtual habitat. This would be matched to an ability to carry, in one’s own body, the sum total of our civilization’s technological potential. Consequently, we may see a ‘human race’ composed of a limitless variety of forms and lifestyles that would stagger the contemporary imagination. In the original TMP marshal Savage imagined a transhumanist cladogenesis driven largely by the compulsion to adapt to the varying conditions of planets in other star systems. He envisioned a generational and subtly divergent evolution producing a society akin to the generally humanoid alien ‘races’ of Star Trek. This was to be the consequence of applying what, at the time of that original book, was the popular catch-all technology of biotechnology. But he overlooked the potential of aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural on this. How fashion, even now, has so radically altered our perceptions of physical identity and idealized beauty compared to the past. Indeed, there is no longer such a thing as a common ideal for the human form in our macro-culture. Ultimately, should we ever actually run into other sentient species in the universe, we may find them little stranger than ourselves in our ultimate, burgeoning, technology-assisted diversity.
Few futurist ideas have captured the 20th century public imagination as much as the prospect of artificial intelligence. Originally linked to the robot with its popular cultural emergence in the 1920s, by the mid century it became equally associated with the emerging stationary computer, and by late century became associated with the virtual environments hosted by computers and networks as our popular conception of the computer evolved from a discrete artifact to an environment—a cyberspace—of networked systems. Today we commonly imagine AI as something of varying intelligence and self-awareness which can be variously embodied in, or communicate through, different kinds of machines that share a common digital computing basis, making it mobile across these forms.
From its earliest conceptions, AI has been imagined as potentially equal or superior to human intelligence, even if the practical reality of contemporary robots and computers has fallen far short of that ideal. And with this intellectual equality or superiority comes a suspicion of potential malevolence. A very common feature of science fiction, AI has often been symbolic of the human fear of obsolescence in work by industrial automation, evolving by the 21st century into the notion of a kind of wholesale evolutionary obsolescence by machines with a vastly superior rate of development advance. We organic humans seem trapped by a slow blind haphazard organic evolution whereas the machine evolution, able to rapidly and comprehensively communicate positive adaptations/improvements, can outpace us by many orders of magnitude. In order to cope with such latent fear we have seen a variety of comforting tropes develop in our depictions of AI. Despite its miraculous advantages of strength, speed, raw intelligence, the robot/computer is always an incomplete or broken being. Emotionally deficient. Neurotic. Socially awkward. Naive and easily confused or corrupted. Alternately sociopathic or compulsively destructive and thus malevolent or a benevolent, yet silly, Pinocchio forever trying to be a ‘real boy’. Silly or sad angels or cold calculating demons. Almost never does our media culture depict AI in its most radical and, perhaps, frightening characterization of all—the whole person just like us, but without our common neurosis or the other failings.
And, ironically, this is likely the result we can expect if and when the truly sentient AI is actually realized. Though Singularity futurists remain in continuous debate about the way sentient AI may be created with some cautioning about the hazards of its accidental unchaperoned emergence among systems with no means to relate to human beings, odds would seem to favor the more humanist sentient AI as long as it is a deliberate pursuit for the simple reason that full human sentience has no application in systems created as tools—which function as extensions of human users and their perceptions and abilities even when given great autonomy. Rather, it’s only practical application relates to its relating to—interacting with—us and thus, to be effective at that, is most likely to result from the reverse-engineering of our own consciousness and personality. There is an old Yiddish saying that god created man because he liked to listen to stories. We will most likely create artificial sentience for similar reasons—if we don’t create it first simply as a new medium for our own human consciousness. Consequently, we can anticipate a likely form of sentient AI which, because of its roots in the architectures of our own organic human consciousness, is not so very different from us. Machines that are, simply, people with a different lifestyle.
And thus we arrive at that far end of the Transhumanist Spectrum and the possibility of the person—whole, real and at the least intellectually and emotionally our equal—who’s mind and consciousness exists as software. A ‘program’ that can be ‘run’ on a variety of computing mediums, as portable as a data file on the Internet, perpetually evolving, potentially immortal. This person we refer to as the Artilect—the artificial intellect.
Just as the lifestyle of any organic human being today relates to the culture and built habitat created by that culture, likewise the lifestyle of the artilect, the differences from what we know today deriving chiefly from differences in those elements of habitat. The likely key difference is that the habitat of the artilect may predominately be a virtual one, relating to the physical habitat home to the rest of society in unique ways, at first limited and thus limiting the self-determination of the artilect society despite their powerful abilities.
Artificial intelligence research today has generally arrived at a common notion of consciousness’ need for a physical body identity by which to relate to a physical reality. This author likes to suggest that consciousness is an epiphenomenon that hovers at the interface of our senses. It exists in the sense of that aspect of a computer program that exists in the moment it is a running process, rather than the code that sits on a disk or in RAM. The sense of ‘conscious self’ is a sense at the boundary line between memory and subconscious cognitive process and observable reality established by/at our physical senses. And thus many researchers now employ robots in controlled environments as a way to create physical bodies experimental AI software systems can model and relate reality to.
This is, however, a very inefficient approach because of the expense and inadequacy of contemporary robotics hardware and sensory technology. While the fineness of the physical environment may be unlimited, the robots and digital senses we can create today have extremely poor fineness in their function. Also, sophisticated android-like robots are costly and inaccessible to a large portion of the population, thus drastically limiting participation in development. Thus this author has long predicted the approach will be overtaken by the use of virtual environments where the ‘fineness’ and complexity of a virtually physical environment and the experience of it are limited only by computational power. With such systems avatars, as users of VR games employ, will be the ‘robot bodies’ through which these systems relate. This is not only a cheaper and faster way to create a cognitive ‘petri dish’ for AI development, there is also a practical aspect in that the key contemporary commercial applications of advanced AI are largely based in virtual environments used as games, personal communications, and computer user interfaces. If we are likely to create AI because ‘we like listen to stories’, what’s the common medium for telling those stories?
Thus, looking far ahead, the evolution of the artilect may be linked to the evolution of virtual environments serving as their ‘native habitat’ and a key venue of interaction with the rest of society using them recreationally, the compulsion to push the envelope of AI development through a pushing of the envelope of virtualized experience simultaneously advancing the technology of VR for organic human uses as well. So, considering all this, let us attempt to piece together a picture of some of the possible key elements in the typical artilect lifestyle.
The digital infrastructure and the VRco: this is the collective set of physical computing and networking systems which host the software of artilects and their virtual habitat. We anticipate a general evolution in digital systems toward an architectural homogeneity driven by network interoperability which, at a certain point, may mean computing systems of an increasingly generic commodity-like hardware form woven by network into an architecture like a seamless fabric spread across the civilization. Much discussion on this possible evolution has been explored in TMP2 in its section on the Aquarian Digital Infrastructure. Today we refer to this idea as ‘cloud computing’, though at present this is still dependent upon very specific discrete file and application server facilities. The Internet in general remains largely a network of discrete machines providing discrete services, but may soon evolve toward a state of location-independent data facilities/services hosted in commodity distributed processing and storage capacity temporally and geographically structured according to a model of dynamic information load and flow akin to the variable loads of a power network. Ultimately, The Cloud may become as homogeneous and dispersed and, if sophisticated enough, be sufficient to passively host an artilect society with some concentrations of more specialized systems. This would most certainly be the case for a built habitat that becomes based heavily on the use of NanoFoam, as we’ve described elsewhere.
The VRco would constitute those more specialized concentrated systems intended specifically for artilect needs and, in particular, minimizing the latency associated with the more distributed data of the global Virtual Habitat for sake of an improved experience of a home environment, providing greater systems and physical security, and facilitating more independent control over those energy and hardware systems artilects lives most depend upon. The word VRco is a portmanteau of VR (virtual reality) and Arcology and implies a self-contained urban habitat created to host a virtual environment. In practice this may be simply a concentration of more high performance computing systems in a facility, or group of facilities, with a higher degree of physical security and increased reliance on robotics for maintenance. They may be more or less necessary to the artilect society relative to the state of the general global Cloud infrastructure and the relationship to the more organic portion of society.
Their architectural design may also be used as a medium of communal expression of identity in the built habitat of the predominately more organic civilization—like the campanile towers built during the Renaissance or the skyscrapers of 20th century corporate capitalism. In such form they are likely to be quite sculptural in design, intended to be works of public art in addition to their practical functions and possibly hosting some concentration of facilities for cross-environment socialization and the non-artilect access to the Virtual Habitat. Alternately, they may be more utilitarian in nature, intended to be more discreet against the landscape, or even bunker-like and secluded employing subterranean structures. Such armored structures may be predicated on simple data center contingency needs or on a possible social and cultural rift between artilects and the rest of society that might result from a persistence of anti-science neo-Luddite elements already on the rise in our current society. In space, the need for a more resilient self-contained architecture in general would make the VRco the basic form of settlement and core infrastructure employed by spacefaring artilects. We discuss these possible designs elsewhere in TMP2.
As artilect communities seek more capability for self-determination, VRcos may evolve to be more self-sufficient in terms of energy and industry. Their more visible elements may be more focused on energy and industrial production, the hosting of industrial systems, and the production and storage of ‘remotes’ that artilects may sometimes use to operate in the physical habitat. These facilities would assume more of the infrastructure aspects of cities, even if the inhabitants and their residences are largely invisible outside of their virtual habitat.
The Personal and Public Domains: Though we can only speculate on the actual software architectures that may develop with the technology of sentient AI, we can anticipate a basic division of the software environment in which artilects reside into two ‘domains’; a Personal Domain comprising the software and data exclusive to the individual and a Public Domain comprising software and data accessible to the society at large—including the non-artilect society to a large extent. Most important in the Personal Domain would be the Cognitive Matrix—this author’s term for the software that comprises the active consciousness, personality, subconscious systems, and memories of the individual artilect. Additionally, the Personal Domain would include avatar libraries, a matrix of personal VR environments with varying degrees of privacy, and collections of application and file data perhaps quite similar to that of conventional personal computer users.
The Public Domain would, in general, be the Internet at large but, for the artilect, dominated in significance by software for the variously publicly accessible virtual environments that make up the collective Virtual Habitat paired to our physical built habitat. Key to the artilect society would be a Public Knowledge database which is linked by software gateway to the memories of all artilects, providing a common body of knowledge cultivated and shared by the society and allowing the automated distribution of individual shared knowledge. This capability may be shared by later Augmented Humans as well.
Virtual Habitat: This is the habitat artilects perceptually reside in and would be divided between private/personal and public environments in parallel to the organization of Personal and Public Domains. This may also parallel a pattern of recreational Virtual Habitat use by non-artilects. As discussed elsewhere in TMP2, by the time of the emergence of sentient AI, a collective Virtual Habitat, evolved from today’s game and chat platforms, may already exist as a common feature of the global Internet, used primarily for organic human recreation and socialization.
While today VR environments are limited, by the compulsion to monetization, to crude architectures hosted on highly specialized and concentrated server facilities, their future evolution is likely to follow the trends of Cloud computing, becoming increasingly distributed and peer-oriented in architecture and increasingly interoperable until a general common software standard dominates the application Internet-wide. (In fact, this has long been the intent of some VR platforms, aspiring toward a VR equivalent of the word wide web) Likely far more advanced than today’ VR environments, the virtual environments artilects call home will be largely indistinguishable from the observable physical environment in terms of sensory robustness and fineness as well as potential realism of simulated materials characteristics and physics. Many environments will mimic the natural wilderness or semi-wild park and garden environments of the physical habitat as well as the architecture of the physical built habitat. Sophisticated procedural modeling will allow for the detailed simulation of biomes for sake of aesthetics, even if not often going to the extreme of holistic scientific simulations. But, of course, for non-artilect users, much of the attraction of virtual habitat use will be based in how they exotically differ from the everyday world and so fantastic environments employing very fanciful and often physics-defying architecture and other features will also be common.
Personal environments would be collections of variously networked virtual environments personally created for their individual personal use and limited private interaction, for artilects their software/data associated with the Personal Domain but with gateways of varying degrees of privacy for access to other people as desired. (For non-artilects personal environments may become similarly associated with Personal Domains in the Ubiquitous/Cloud Computing sense or with particular virtual habitat access applications) Some may be used as telepresence gateways for access to remotes and other robotic systems. In some cases these environments may be strongly interconnected with aspects of avatar design, potentially the two being merged together for artilects who assume whole simulated biomes as their identity. One of the most personal of these personal spaces may be the HUD-Space used as the metaphorical foundation of the personal experience of the overall environment.
Public environments would be intended for public access and socialization, their software and data in the Public Domain with various degrees of use rights keyed to social group association. They would be intended for more open socialization, communication, public display and entertainment, and group activity. Architecturally and aesthetically, they would have the aspect of parks, nature reserves, art galleries, theaters, open lounges. Great creative effort by large cooperative communities organized as adhocracies may go into their extremely detailed design and maintenance. Some may be tailored to specific themes, sometimes for the sake of games and other entertainment. Others may be designed around communal work activities. Unlike past science fiction notions of ‘cyberspace’, these environments would not likely be intended as symbolically representational of the Internet infrastructure, like a Xibalba for the physical built habitat. Their purpose would revolve about socialization, group activity, and the enjoyment of group experience.
Virtual environments would generally be discrete environments in a vast multidimensional space, usually composed in such a way as to be finite and bounded—as in the case of a place that is all interiors—or finite and unbounded, seeming to ‘wrap’ at the limits of their space but creating the illusion of infinite space along a plane or volume. Personal environments would tend to be modest—intimate—in scale and aspect, but then in the context of virtual space with dimensional limits a matter of computational limits a ‘modest’ space might be the scale of a state park. Some environments, using common physics and topological models, would be invisibly stitched together to form larger spaces while their fixed area/volume is managed by a particular community providing certain rights of way. Others may be linked in networks by gateways and doorways of various novel design. Doorways to various locations may be summoned on demand, particularly by way of invitation to private spaces. But often artilects and other Virtual Habitat users may teleport, ‘blink’, or ‘jaunt’ from place to place choosing locations by memory, virtual access keys, or various kinds of location browsers.
Additionally, virtual environments may feature a variety of passive interfaces to the physical habitat in the form of virtual windows and merged spaces. Elsewhere in TMP2 we have discussed the use of virtual window-walls and light-transmissive hull systems as a likely alternative to massive and fragile windows for space habitats and spacecraft. Such technology could also apply to virtual environments, where stationary cameras provide one-way windows into the physical habitat and virtual window-walls provide two-way continuous linking of virtual and physical spaces. It is likely also that most any display device suited to teleconferencing will serve as a simple temporary window for the virtual environment. Already we see a precedent for this in the use of live streaming ‘theaters’ in today’s crude virtual environments like Second Life, where an in-environment theater screen is created to display live video streams from the internet—sometimes with live feedback. Continuous windows into Second Life are limited only by the still high cost of large area displays and the US’s currently backward digital communications infrastructure.
As more advanced forms of display become possible, it will become possible to not only link virtual and physical spaces by variously shaped windows but to merge them with displays that enclose whole volumes. With the advent of more sophisticated augmented realty employed by Augmented humans, it may be possible to create large fully cross-mapped spaces with fixed furnishings where people in both physical and virtual environments can share the same space as well as see and communicate with each other. Indeed, with advanced augmentation, people in the physical habitat may constantly be aiding in the continuous mapping of the physical environment to the virtual through their own senses. Eventually, much of the physical habitat may be continuously cross-mapped to the virtual habitat by virtue of an increasingly ubiquitous digital sensory infrastructure in the built habitat.
HUD-Space: A HUD, or Heads-Up Display, is a type of user interface that places graphical elements in the visual field of view as a means of information display and interaction. The term originates with their use in the cockpits of military aircraft but today we see the concept commonly applied to the user interfaces of computer games with a first-person perspective and increasingly being applied to various forms of ‘augmented reality’ interface used with see-through displays. A potentially common utility for Augmented Humans, HUDs may come to replace many other kinds of physical devices used for personal computing and communication as trends lead toward increasing intimacy of user interfacing. Using both audio interfaces and HUDs, it may soon be common for people to silently communicate with their circles of family and friends as readily as they do with cell phones or to broadcast their perceptions to others as a kind of passive telepresence as if their own bodies and senses were a live video camera.
The metaphor of the HUD-Space is that of a virtualized core space perceptually within the self. We can imagine the HUD-Space as a virtual volume around us at a hands-reach distance. For Augmented Humans with advanced neural computer interfaces, as well as for artilects, this would be a space one mentally pulls into and out of, relative to the general environment we perceive with our usual senses, as an action of focused attention. Imagine that, with a thought or subtle gesture, you could summon the graphical elements of a computer display overlaid and translucent in your normal field of view. The more you concentrate the more opaque these elements become and when fully opaque, your normal field of view begins to fade into the background, desaturating, becoming quieter, until, at your full focused state of immersion, there is only the HUD-Space in your field of view and awareness against a diffuse background. A similar gradation of awareness may be employed with augmented reality—the overlay of virtual information keyed to the physical environment—or the interaction with virtual environments, and perceived through an act of focused attention on some point or object.
For organic and later Augmented Humans, HUD-Space may be more tactile and audial in nature and metaphor and/or largely sub-vocal speech-driven. The user interface may need to employ more conventional computer ‘desktop’ metaphors or co-opt neural information intended for eyes, larynx, hands and such as a way of identifying the focus of a user’s attention. For the artilect, it may be more directly thought-driven, focal points of conscious attention replacing the ‘cursor’ with software directly sensing and responding to attention directed towards it. Generally, the HUD-Space would often function like a kind of computer ‘desktop’ that one carries in one’s mind but increasingly a virtualization of the consciousness and certain sub-conscious systems integrating with memory and thought. (For the Augmented Human this may often host diagnostic displays virtualizing the usually imperceptible aspects of their own bodies) We all have a kind of multidimensional virtual space in our minds in which we conjure various aspects of thought and memory—particularly memories of experiences and events. When we think of writing or speech, fainter sub-vocal neural signals mimic the patterns of actual speech. It is, for most, a very blurry environment compared to that created by our active senses. But for the Augmented Human and artilect, this may become very clear, lucid, and controllable.
Artilects may additionally have the ability to relate their perception of time to their HUD awareness. Though we are still uncertain as to the technology of artificial cognition, it is often anticipated that artilects may be able to think at paces far faster than organic human beings and thus need to slow down their perception of time to communicate more easily with non-artilects. Thus the awareness shift into the HUD-Space may be accompanied by a slowing of the apparent perception of ‘real time’ until, at the point of full immersion, time outside HUD-Space has come to a near stand-still. This would allow the artilect to perform many activities without interrupting their other communication and activities or giving any hint to their attention being temporarily diverted elsewhere. When communicating with each other, artilects may variously link or synchronize their HUD-Spaces for exchanges or activities out of real time.
This ability to tune the perception of time may have many other uses. For spacefaring artilects, the ability shift to an interrupt-driven perception of time would allow them to avoid boredom during protracted space journeys by skipping over long periods of inactivity, though communications at near-relativistic transit speeds may bring an acceleration in pace of information sent to a spacecraft, requiring them to slow perceived time down just to keep up with the news.
Avatars: The term ‘avatar’, deriving from the Sanskrit ‘avatara’ comes to us from Hinduism where it refers to the physical manifestation or incarnation of a spirit or deity used to operate in the physical world. With the advent of Virtual Reality technology in the 1980s, the term was applied to the virtual physical form which functions as the surrogate of a user in a virtual environment, establishing his appearance to other users in the same environment. In Transhumanist/Singularity futurism the term has come to refer to any ‘body’, be it physical (organic or inorganic) or virtual, that a ‘mobile’ consciousness can either perceive reality through—as by telepresence—or be partly or wholly resident within by virtue of an on-board brain, with the implication being one of portability across multiple avatars. In this discussion we distinguish between an avatar that offers a comprehensive first-person-perspective of a ‘body image’ and is used for protracted periods of time and a ‘remote’; a robot or android that is operated temporarily by telepresence.
Today, avatars are most commonly used in games and VR chat platforms and serve little more than to iconographically identify users to each other, though the designers of such software have a chronic problem with underestimating the importance of avatar design, customization, and expression to the entertainment value of these platforms—particularly in the socialization context. Though concepts of immersive VR offering comprehensive sensory feedback were quite popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, few attempts to realize this proved practical with the technology of the time and today most users of VR platforms still rely on simple 2D computer screens. But as the technologies of human augmentation advance, we still anticipate the possibility of an increasingly comprehensive virtual sensory experience and virtual self-expression pushing toward a full experience of the virtual body image of avatars as well as the virtual environments they operate in.
For artilects, avatars would offer such comprehensive body image experience as a matter of course, their cognitive software very directly interfacing to systems of virtual senses mapped over the virtual topology of avatar forms. For non-artilects, perception of a virtual environment may long be mediated by audio, display, and other technology providing representations of the avatar and its surrounding virtual environment for sake of biological sensory systems. For the artilect, their avatars and environment may be more real in the sense that there would be no mediating media technology but a more direct perception mediated only by software.
In the Virtual Habitat artilect avatars may also greatly expand upon the conventional range of senses, exploring many more kinds of information and its perception than are apparent in the physical environment. Going beyond iconographic metaphors of representation, artilects may be able to perceive the characteristics of different kinds of information in ways akin to seeing a broader spectrum of color, sound, or scent, allowing diverse information to exist in the virtual environment in diverse ways. They may be able to ‘intuit’ things relating to subconscious automated forms of analysis and a data mining. In a virtual reality sensation is all data and so one is free to invent any pairing of sense to phenomenon/information and link it as a perception in some way to the avatar, or as more metaphorical cues in the HUD-Space.
For artilects, much attention may be focused on avatars not just as a means to function in, and consciously relate to, the virtual habitat, but as an increasingly elaborate means of self-expression and novel communication—just as organic human beings are often obsessed with their bodies as mediums of aesthetic self-expression. For the artilect, the avatar is as ‘real’ as we might consider our organic human bodies today, yet infinitely more versatile by virtue of being broadly and instantaneously changeable to suit one’s tastes, mood, and feelings like the surreal bodies of cartoon characters. Every possible decorative feature of their bodies will be a medium of spontaneous expression as immediate as the natural expressions of the face and so avatar design and expression are likely to become a very significant aesthetic medium in artilect sub-culture. A typical artilect may possess a vast library of avatars for different uses, situations, and moods, each carefully crafted and customized to suit their personalities and evolving aesthetics and unconstrained by the normal limits of biophysics and real matter. Artilects will be able to uniquely identify one another on a conscious or subconscious level by virtue of digital tags as well as by the more conventional cues of appearance and mannerisms. So their frequently and radically changing appearance will be no particular inconvenience to others—except, perhaps, for those non-artilects they interact with.
Remotes: Even such sophisticated contrivances as virtual window walls will not overcome the artilect’s need to physically operate in the physical habitat, particularly when it comes to performing the tasks necessary for the building and maintenance of the physical systems their lives depend on. Such ability will be crucial to the self-determination of artilect society, their ability to respond to emergencies, and perhaps their self-defense. Additionally, artilects may find the need to do many other things in the physical habitat, such as interact with non-artilects where other means are inadequate, to participate in non-artilect group activity, to conduct science and exploration, and so on. Consequently, artilects may seek to develop sophisticated robots operated by telepresence to provide them more direct access to the physical environment.
Generally, robotics has lagged behind its companion technology of computing in pace of development and early remotes are likely be such limited machines that artilects will, for some time, likely rely heavily on the rest of the more organic human society in many ways. Early remotes will, for their artilect users, seem very much akin to the bulky Jim Suits used in deep-sea operations, offering limited sensory perception and seeming more like the piloting of a vehicle by remote control or today’s primitive telepresence systems. Many may be limited to a role akin to a self-portable virtual window enabling mobile interaction with people in the physical habitat and little else. In TMP2 we have mentioned a variety of systems that might be adopted as such remotes. For instance, the Personal Satellite Assistants used in orbital facilities and their more advanced forms like Leotas; mobile augmented reality display spheres that use an all-over display and image sensor to create an illusion of a transparent sphere in which an avatar is projected. (named for the Madam Leota character of the Disney Haunted Mansion) Other systems, similarly based on augmented reality projection but intended for terrestrial use, might take the form of various wheeled upright self-mobile displays. More dexterous systems would trade-off expressiveness—through large displays—for utility, such as lab and technician robots based on tracked suspended or wheeled base pedestal designs—bulky and less than elegant but capable of advanced vision and dexterous manipulation. With their potentially advanced simulation and development capability, artilects’ compulsion for creating better remotes may lead to a general rapid advance in robotics and eventually to very nimble and capable androids with enough sensory feedback and on-board processing capacity to be considered effective avatars. However, it is likely that artilects, used to a vast range of spontaneous avatar expression, may still long consider such systems akin to bulky space suits in comfort. Thus there may be limited impetus for artilects to ‘live’ in the physical habitat for protracted periods of time until things like robust nanotechnology afford very supple and elegant physical avatar designs. Consequently, VRcos and other artilect facilities may rely less on active maintenance by artilects themselves and more on automation based on lesser non-sentient artificial intelligence.
Putting these key elements together into a picture of lifestyle, we can anticipate that artilects will, quite literally, live in a world of imagination. An environment built almost entirely by the collective creative imagination of both their artilect community and the imaginations of the many non-artilect users of the collective Internet-wide Virtual Habitat that visit for sake of communication and entertainment. Every artilect will have a ‘home’ and ‘workshop’ that are direct extensions of their personality, largely unlimited in potential virtual scale and as elaborate as they are inclined to make them. These may be shared or merged with other individuals they consider friends or ‘significant others.’ Beyond home pocket multiverses, they will have access to a larger multiverse of innumerable and vast public environments serving as a social environment, each crafted as public works of art because their purpose is fundamentally social in various modes—few other purposes of ‘architecture’ will be necessary in this habitat. Interspersed in these many environments may be various passive bridges to the physical habitat, windows into the physical habitat allowing varying degrees of interaction with non-artilects, their physical built habitat, their homes and workspaces, and the natural environment.
In this vast social multiverse—this Cocktail Lounge At The Center Of The Universe, as this author likes to characterize it—artilects and non-artilects will freely socialize in a common virtual environment that may be quite robust and elaborate well before artilects emerge. It may take some time before the perceptual experience of the virtual environment is as robust for non-artilects as for artilects, owing to the limitations in VR interfacing before sophisticated means of organic human augmentation. But relationships between physical and virtual people will likely be as common, complex, lasting and intimate as they are with human beings today as long as social rifts of discrimination or cultural divergence can be avoided. Will an artilect society intellectually surpass the non-artilect society? Possibly, given that their consciousnesses will be limited by computational efficiency rather than biology. But, organic or not, synthetic or not, human beings are social and empathic creatures and, without the Objectivist/sociopathic compulsions cultivated by living in want and scarcity, artilects may prove more open in their ‘monkeysphere’—their sphere of social concern—than typical of human beings today. Without need for the diversity of goods that support non-artilect lifestyles, they may find little use for money and monetary economic systems except in relation to the creation and support of their hardware in the physical environment—and with their exceptional skills in the Virtual Habitat and potential for vastly accelerated paces of technology development, they may have little difficulty in meeting those needs. It is difficult to anticipate precisely the forms of social systems they may employ as a community, but it may have strong parallels to the communitarian models TMP2 suggests for its settlements, focused on the progressively demassified community ownership of shared systems infrastructures and free access to their resources with exceptional uses mediated by social credit systems.
As the old joke goes, on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. In the virtual habitat artilect and non-artilect share a common venue of communication and self-expression and will likely be equally inclined toward the potentially fanciful in avatar design. There will be little to distinguish them but the relative speed and frequency with which they express themselves through these mediums and the pace at which they ‘cogitate’. For artilects the virtual environment will, for some time, be more perceptually real and easier to navigate in. They may often be more aware of, and frustrated by, the minor neurotic behavior and faulty memory of organic human beings because of their lack of these failings. But the non-artilect society will long be the more populous one and not easily dismissed in the larger social/cultural context. Much of the collective Virtual Habitat will be the product of non-artilect culture. Artilect sub-culture will likely long parallel it, just as it will likely long rely on the natural physical environment as a master pattern book of forms with which to populate the virtual environment.
Eventually, the gulf between organic and inorganic consciousness may be fully bridged, allowing for the transference of the organic human mind to an artilect state of being. Certainly, artilects themselves—should their emergence precede this technology—would have an impetus to develop it for reasons both social and environmental—given that they would represent the least impactive mode of human life on the Earth. And it may prove an attractive option for those whose needs medical technology has not quite caught up to by then as a way to overcome illness, disability, and death. Of course, this need not be a one-way path as the mastery of human physiology offered by the Perfected Human would allow for the creation of organic bodies as readily as inorganic ones—though how many will feel a need for avatars of that frailer cognitively limited sort is another matter.
It may be hard for us today to imagine a life lived largely inside a virtual habitat. One must move beyond the crude analogies of contemporary game and VR platforms viewed largely through video screens—and also bear in mind that the vast majority of people in industrialized countries already spend the majority of their life-time indoors in the built habitat. While artilects may long be hampered in their access and activity in the physical environment, their great freedom in the virtual environment may more than make up for that given its potential vastness and multidimensionality. In some ways their lifestyle may parallel that of the inhabitants of space settlements who must purposely craft a predominately ‘indoor’ environment to be at least as comfortable to live in as the surface of the Earth, only able to peer out into a hostile ambient space environment through windows or operate in it wearing cumbersome suits. In time these barriers will blur, nanotechnology and its forms like NanoFoam bridging these inner and outer worlds with casual ease. This author often uses the analogy of folklore, comparing the lifestyle of the artilect to that of the faerie beings of legend, ageless, divergent in form, and similarly preferring habitation in their invisible parallel realm yet still compelled to reach out and interact with other human beings to bridge the gap between realms. It seems we have long carried with us this notion of an alter-space as companion to the mundane reality of our senses.
As spacefarers, artilects may potentially have great advantages despite their early limitations in interaction with the physical environment. Indeed, so great that many Transhumanism/Singularity futurists expect space to become predominately the province of transhuman society, and there surpass and obsolesce organic humans. The VRco is something that can be created most anywhere in the universe there is energy and material, the life support of the artilect quite minimal, and for artilects travel to and from various locations in space as well as spacecraft in flight can be conveniently conducted at the speed of light by telecommunications—for them as simple as stepping through a doorway. In other sections of TMP2 we discuss how their easy mode of transit may facilitate a particular pattern of interstellar settlement where they need only deploy the most minimalist of spacecraft as Von Neumann Probes to deploy the seeds of a solar/geothermal powered digital infrastructure among the stars, allowing them to then travel instantaneously (from their personal perspective) to these places by telecom and explore them at lest as freely as non-artilects would.