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Transhumanism at the Butchers Shop

Sep 10, 2009 by glennji

The theme of last night’s Butchers Shop, organised by hip indy magazine Bad Idea, was transhumanism. We drank a little gin, then settled into the body-warm Victoria operating theatre for a little slice-and-dice of two short stories of human augmentation: in one, our narrator upgrades his heart; the other creates a xenographic sommelier with the nose of a canine. A little role-play, some heckling, then a chance for Matthew de Abaitua to wax lyrical over Paris Hilton’s doggy palace, peacocks and peahens, and consciousness as a evolutionary frivolity.

The second half saw Cory Doctorow, Gwyneth Jones and the delightfully irreverent Ian Watson under the gas-lamps and answering questions about technological singularities, the nature of consciousness, humanity & identity and the impact of immortality. I wanted to put down a few thoughts here — because I was too mild to speak over the collective, or possibly just because I had time to think on the walk home.

The Singularity

Gwyneth Jones had this right, I think: there are no 1-dimensional “points”, in matter or history, and any “line in the sand” is arbitrary and necessarily drawn after we’ve passed it. Cory Doctorow went further, drawing similarities between the concept of a singularity and the eschatological “armageddon” point – they were both invented by limited-capacity minds extrapolating out from locally-observed datasets.

“Things” are speeding up, however. The rate of change of computing power is the most often cited example — processing power, whether measured in MIPS or the decimal FLOPS, is increasing exponentially — but increasing change-differential is affecting all parts of society, albeit at different rates. We are living in Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” world now; it is entirely possible to become homesick for a place we never left (just talk to some older Caucasian Londoners and you will see what I mean).

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