OCTOBER 31, 2013
SUBSTRATE AUTONOMOUS, NETWORKED AVATAR BODIES BY DESIGN

Dr. Natasha Vita-More


Professor at the University of Advancing Technology in Arizona

 

Abstract: What if we could build platform diverse bodies that could be mind-driven avatars for parlaying our personas within computational systems and telepresence? Streamlined and adaptive, the platform-diverse body design meets the needs of users who enjoy material embodiment and virtual embodiment. This design system supports linear and non-linear time and interfaces with biospheric and cybernetic environments. Our users are persons who need whole body prosthetics that perform like a docking system for uploading. With this in mind, this body design’s apps and internal and external devices perform as a historical human system, yet provide a seamless connection with cyberspace. Because of its multi-level usability, the design specifies a smooth transition from human to transhuman avatar by adjusting to diverse social behaviors of a connective society. Further, its safeguarding of the continuity of identity is captured in moment-to-moment experiences that form narrative memory and behavioral patterns.

 

 

Transcript

 

Oh my goodness, I hope I can live up to that. I promise not to keep you all here too long because it's late in the day. To begin, thank you very much GF2045. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm honored to be here with so many astounding speakers and then delightful audience. I've met many of you outside and I have to say it's a lovely, lovely, crowd and thank you for sharing your views on the future with me as well during some of the breaks. So to begin...

 

The narratives of the future that involve body enhancement; communication, transportation. The myths, the lore, the stories, throughout culture throughout times have reminded us that we have lived in simulated environments. We have had artificial selves;-aspects of ourselves duplicated in other formats rather than biological.

 

For example, think back about the cave paintings and perhaps in a cave late at night as the fire and flames flickering documented images on the wall, started telling a story to the early cave people about the capture, about the bison, about their accomplishing a vision, a passion that they waited.

 

And then we fast-forward to our ancestors who had figurines, clay figures, stone figures, wooden figures, that were idols, and often times duplications of themselves--alternative identities. Not to mention, hundreds of years later, the chemistry of film making. Photographs, stories, narratives, of some of the fears and joys of our lives preserved for decades if not hundreds of years. And of course, there's virtuality, telepresence, which is on the cusp…gaming, Second Life, the Metaverse, all of these different environments for us to duplicate ourselves, aspects of ourselves across time.

 

Well, we are certainly adaptive there's no question about that. We’re also multiple selves. And the more we think of ourselves as being multiple, the easier it is to understand the very aspects of ourselves that are captured not only in our smart phones, or in our avatars, online in very “101” type of environments like Second Life. But imagine what they'll be like when they become more telepresence, more virtual, more 3D.

 

When we can upload our brains into them, and our minds become diverse, multiplicitous, aspects of ourselves. So were not just one agent any longer, we are multiple agents. So how do we tie this all in together? What is the vehicle that we could possibly use?

 

We are flexible, yet we’re vulnerable. We’re fragile. And even if all the speakers that we've heard so far have talked about their excellence and superb findings in science and technology, dealing with the brain, robotics, prosthetics we’re still fragile the only safety net that we have today really to help extend our more lives is cryonic suspension, and that is still an “if”.

 

However, based on the knowledge of the experts in the fields of science, technology, philosophy, ethics, design, psychology, engineering, it's trans-disciplinary, you can’t even mention all of the fields that are part of this future. Thanks to that there is a possibility that we could live longer; -- unless and until genetic engineering comes along and when that does, perhaps we can reverse aging. But what else? Do we want to remain inside these bodies?

 

Probably not. We may well want to look like we do today, perhaps, but were vulnerable and fragile and that's the truth.

 

I started my work in the area of radical life extension back in the late 1970s. By the 1980s I'd heard of a term called trans-human and I'd also read about evolution. I started thinking about what would it be like if we could live longer. I had a serious injury; I almost died and that propelled me into thinking about the fragility of my body. I didn't know I was dying. Yet, I was found on the floor with a few minutes to live and luckily someone found me and called an ambulance and I survived.

 

But how many of us know what's going inside our bodies moment to moment. We don't communicate well enough with our body and one of the greatest fields that's emerging right now is in this digital, wearable, technology that's helping us understand what it's like to preserve aspects of ourselves, and to record aspects of ourselves.

 

One of the leading groups in this is, Quantified Self, thanks to Kevin Kelly and his colleagues. So we can start thinking about our numerical selves, grasping aspects of our self and recording what you really need to record our memory, our identity who we are.

 

In my work, I started looking at this early on and then I started thinking “But what can I do?” So I wrote a manifesto; I'm embarrassed to call it a manifesto, the word seems so silly. But I did, and it got on board the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft and it went out to the far reaches of Saturn to study the rings of Saturn. And my words “We are indefinite, we will steer our own evolution.” are onboard that spacecraft.

 

That inspired me to build a TV show, it was a cable TV show, wasn't very large was called “Transcentury Update”. I hosted it and produced it in Santa Monica, California, for I guess, just short of maybe eight years, I think it was but it reached 100,000 people. And my show not only talked about space exploration, talked about electric cars, life extension, artificial intelligence, the feasibility of nanotechnology, genetic engineering. All the ideas that I want to learn about. I helped myself learn by interviewing people who are experts. Then I thought, “What can I do about this?” “How can I bring this into my work as a designer?” As a visual artist theoretician - What could I do?

 

So, I built a concept and it was called ‘Primo post-human’. It was a future body prototype and I thought it would probably be very wise to bring on a high-end scientific team, so I asked Marvin Minsky of AI, Eric Drexler of nanotechnology, Hans Moravec of robotics, and a number of others -- Max More on philosophy, ethics and identity. How can I build this future body prototype that would be a prosthetic – a whole body that could possibly be an alternative body for humans not only in physical and material time but also in virtual time?

 

It would be a type of platform where you could connect. Where you could use it as a transportation device but you can also use it to connect to other realities. So that your identity could move from the physical, material world into the virtual, synthetic, artificial world of cybernetics, computerization, new fields and new substrates that we haven't even understood yet or developed yet. So that's what I was looking for; this type of platform that could be like a docking system and I still remain at that point today.

 

So, in delineating this, I thought, first off, we need a platform diverse body and I'm a designer so I thought about how to design it and I built the prototype. But then I thought about: where would this be? It must be in the biosphere in real-time, materiality, physicality, it also needs to be in virtuality and cybernetic space. But the real issue is -- Who are the users? Who are the people who would want this body?

 

As a designer, the fundamental principle is solving problems, to know who our users are; to know who our clients are. Who are the people that need a problem to be solved? And then our work is to go about solving that. That's quite different than being an artist. Where an artist creates ideas based on an impulse, an urge to experience and to share that experience with others. The designer is out to solve problems; to look for a need, a gap, and then to resolve it.

 

So, I looked at it twofold, there were two objectives here. The first objective to build a whole body prosthetic, theoretically, as a prototype, thinking about what would be the science and technology of it. Then to consider it the issues of self-awareness, thinking, actions, doing. How could that all be involved in it without uploading the mind?

 

Certainly, we have experts here speaking about that, but from my field, I think about the issues of the individual. What we want to experience. We hear a lot about the science and the technology. We are told a lot, but there's no way we can really validate the possibility; the feasibility of it all.

All we can do if we are not experts in that area, is to imagine what we want for ourselves, not to be told what we should have, or what we ought to have, but to think about what our own directives are. What would make us feel like we've accomplished something and what would be our roles within this?

 

So, then we get to the issue of marketability; to building the concept, looking at our user, testing it, readapting; - it’s called the iterative process of design. And considering how we bring this about to our user in the most fluid and easy way. So we think about the strengths, we think about the weaknesses, we think about the objectivity of it, we think about what could go wrong, then we rework it, and rework it, and rework it, until we get a prototype that's good enough to share. And then we take it to the user and we say “Here it is, what do you think”? then we go back to the drawing board.

 

So, we need an action plan, and the first aspect of it is to understand what is needed. How long do we want to live? Well, many of us in this room want to live at least 100 years, 200 years. We also want to have alternative bodies, possibly. Many people do need alternative bodies, we look at how prosthetics has advanced so immeasurably over the past 10 to 15 years, with interesting robotics and AI driven. The designs are phenomenal. You can now design your own prosthetic, and your prosthetic can look like your Harley-Davidson motorcycle or can look like a tattoo on your arms. It's becoming very immersive and varied design-wise and it's a whole new field for designers.

 

In building a design brief, the iterative process is to sketch it out, rethink it, take it back to the drawing board, rework it again, and to interview experts, find out what they're doing, and then take it back to the studio, the design table, etcetera.

 

Now, one thing I've noticed. And this is a very clear observation on my part, is that the design field is often not included in this staunch arguments and debates and discussions about what the future is going to be like. It's this big gap. We hear a lot about accelerating change and exponential growth as far as technology is concerned, but technology even though it's the tool that we've been using since our first days, with the stone, or the bow and arrow it's been a tool that we've always used to enhance ourselves so human enhancement is historical. However, we need to get away from this idea that were driven by technology, without the idea that we are in the driver seat.

 

Therefore, I have to pay tribute to some of my favorite influencers over the past 30 years. Norbert Wiener, and cybernetics, especially going into second order cybernetics where we are part of the observation, we are leading the way, we’re included within the system. Buckminster Fuller, the designer, who thought about the Earth, as a spaceship going through space and solving problems on a global scale. Lynn Margulies, a scientist, who actually is the evolutionary biologist who thought about where we do come from, and what we are, and asked the question: “What is life?”

 

If we are here at 2045, thinking about the future, thinking about mind uploading, thinking about prosthetic bodies, and full body avatars, we need to think about “What is life?” What is this aspect of ourselves that we want to preserve? What are we holding onto? Who are we? The question still has yet to be answered. We still don't understand consciousness. And they can go back to Aristotle, or the great thinkers over time. We can move forward to Max More and Anders Sandberg, and Martine Rothblatt, the former speakers who I absolutely adore their thinking. They are so crystalline in identifying the issue of ethics, identity, multiplicity, diversity, and finding out about yourself what it is you need, where you're going, and what you hope to achieve. So, we are not only the brain, we are the mind, we’re the body; we are these components together.

 

We can't just have an upload without a body. This whole idea; this postmodernist idea, that we are this disembodied brain if we want to be an upload is absolutely absurd. There's no way that we could possibly just be a mind rotating in space. Whether it's a set of algorithms neatly packaged, that package is still a body, so that means we have to redefine the body. The body that we have today is a biological transportation unit. That contains our central nervous system, that communicates with our brain, that is our sensorial mix that is our love machine, our rhythm to dancing to music, our athletic usability.

 

This body that we have can be something other, that will sustain us over time and which case we’d need nano-medicine, we’d need genetic engineering, we need Aubrey de Grey’s SENS project. We’d need Max More's cryonics, we would need Martine Rothblatt's MindFile. We would need all the work that makes us a component that keeps us as an identity, continuous overtime, otherwise were just a brain in a vat. That's not what we want.

 

So, this is my original design, just as a flashback. This is in 1996, I think, I designed this again with the team I mentioned earlier. Experts who knew a heck of a lot more than I did. I was a designer, filmmaker, videographer, just hoping that I could get into this world that I could somehow express myself having gone through some physical issues and always having this “joie de vie”, this love of life, and understanding why life is so short. It simply didn't make sense to me from the get-go. Never has still doesn't so I design this body and I took it and early 2000 to the next stage where I got into quantified self before quantified self actually it was a group called Kronos, in Scottsdale's Arizona.

 

It was in the late 1990s that I had my body checked, my bone scan, bone density, and muscle mass, my heart rate, my physicality. I didn't have it enough, as it didn't catch my cancer, but what I did was I looked up my spine and degeneration, and I thought about what kind of body could appeal to these areas that were being talked about. Certainly, the Minsky’s, the Drexlers, the Moravecs, they were thinking in the far future. That's great, but what about the here and now? What can we do today to prolong our bodies, and our minds, our cognition? Who we are as people; mind, brain, body, perception, cognition, emotion, love, empathy, these are the words that we need to remember when we're talking about backing up the brain and living in cyberspace.

 

So, I created a brain system that includes a social ecology, a body system, systematic care, engineered style, and behavior, and part of this is you can turn it in like you can do with a used car, but the warranty requires that you take care of it. And if you don't take care of it, you don't get a new one.

 

So, if we start looking at beautiful designs of how robotics and prosthetics can become seamless and sexy and sensual with the body, we start looking at new ways of thinking about design. Robotics, of course, has very sexy concepts. We took a look today at a prostatic hand that was so beautiful to touch, and if you haven't had that handshake yet by all means get it, because it feels really good. He can't feel it, unfortunately yet, but that haptic system is right around the corner. Robotics will have touch and how does that affect the whole body prosthetic; the avatar body in a number of ways?

 

We have this adaptive body design that needs to exist in linear time, which is the biosphere, and a non-linear time, which is cyberspace, virtuality, gaming, the Metaverse, computational systems, and then we need to think more carefully about what it is we want to become. Why would we want to live longer? What can we contribute to society? How can we use this time right now to be part of this movement? To be part of the connective society of people who want to advance themselves? How does our body, our mind, work with our brain, through the computer, through all the technologies that we have today? That are showing us deep inside our body, and hopefully further inside our brain to understand the neural networks. That all comes back to human enhancement. It leans towards radical life extension, and us discerning for ourselves how to be part of it.

 

My next project is to build the framework for an academic course, hopefully on the graduate level, in human enhancement that seeks radical life extension. It would certainly employ the work already done with human computer interfaces, wearable technology, BCI, any type of human body interaction, immersivity, and it also includes installation art.

 

The gaming aspect of looking towards going into environment where you can experience it so that brings together all the experiential design. Rather than talking about living longer, what would it be like to go into an installation that’s beautifully designed, that gives us a taste, and experience of going into this world, that were talking about? That's what we need, and that's what I hope to build at university level.

 

I welcome you all to join me in this, and contact me please. You can get my information in the program or certainly call GF 2045 and ask them. But I think we need this course, not just theoretically, but practice based. Currently in design, it's very involved in human computer interaction but at a very basic wearable technology level building apps for smart phones. We need to take it to the next level. I can't do this alone, I need your help, I think there's an opportunity, I think there's a gap, and I think we can do it thank you very much.


Acknowledgements

 

Our thanks go to our volunteers Giulio Prisco, Kim Solez, Chris Smedley, Philip Wilson, Xing Chen, including anonymous volunteers for their help with the transcription of Congress presentations.

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