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Tag Archives: Eugene Thacker

Weekly Summary: Genomes, Singularity, and Biomedia

Everything has a master code, which contains many smaller codes that exhibit various functions.  In past weeks, we have seen how coding plays a very important part with new media technologies from the computers to mobile devices.  The debate surrounding open source code and its implications for what Yochai Benkler has coined “commons-based peer production” was a useful stepping stone for what was ahead of us.

This week, we explore the potential and exciting possibilities from uncovering the genome sequence.  Several individuals outline how this shift in unlocking the code/map of life has been a remarkable impetus for the quest for immortality.  One such speaker, Juan Enriquez, believes that in order for human beings to thrive, we must master this specific code of life.

Decoding the Future with Genomics by Juan Enriquez (2003)

His video is broken up into four sections called: 1) The Implications of Scientific Discovery 2) Shifting Codes: What’s Next? 3) Genomics in Computing War, Power 4) Mind the Gap

-The Implications of Scientific Discovery

  • This is the single greatest mapping project ever. It’s importance is imperative and most exciting and intellectual adventure ever.  It tells us a lot about evolution > a history of where we have been and how things have changed.  We can start changing medicine and archeology with our knowledge of this code.
  • Example: White Europeans suffered plague which begot CCR5 mutation.
  • James Watson and Craig Venter found structure of DNA in 1953
  • There are different life forms living in different places e.g. bacteria

-Shifting Codes: what’s next?

  • Experimentation: cow gives birth to a different animal.  Another example, we can re-program species, we can close the gene gaps, and in turn put a full string of DNA together to possibly give birth to extinct animals.
  • Prediction: In near future, around 2011, we will all have our genome coded on compact discs.
  • Execute code which produces a function.  We have ability to change and reprogram source code e.g. vaccine, Dupont polyester, chickens with more wings.  >> The possibilities of regeneration.  Possibilities include expressing different body functions and/or stopping undifferentiated cells (cancer) with continued development of stem cell research.
  • Minuscule differences in genes > Example: “A woman without her man is nothing/ A woman, without her man, is nothing/ A woman: without her, man is nothing”.  Small changes in genes can have very big outcomes.

-Genomics in computing, war, and power

  • Depository knowledge from Library of Congress has printed less volume of data compared to what a genome company produces in a month.  >> Moore’s law (exponential growth).
  • Genomically literate world >  US has the power.  You can watch the rise and fall of empires of intelligence.

-Minding the Gap

  • It really matters that one is literate.  Especially, with regards to who speaks life (genomics).
  • Production
  • Argentina is crashing not because of inflation.  1/3 of India’s population produces.
  • Countries are splitting and seceeding and becoming more fragmented.  People are taking control of their own states for better or worse.
  • We are being empowered to build empires.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity by Gary Wolf (2008)

In this article, Wolf explores the life of Ray Kurzweil and his obsessive notion of singularity.  Wolf sums up the definition of this word by exclaiming that,He [Kurzweil] is attempting to travel across a frontier in time, to pass through the border between our era and a future so different as to be unrecognizable… He calls the border singularity.“  It’s easy to dilute the intricate details surrounding Kurzweil’s idea of singularity into the catchphrase of “cheating death” or looking for ways to live much longer.  However, Wolf explains at great length the incredible drive that Kurzweil has for trying to live much longer than the short lifespans of his father and grandfather.  Additionally, Another famous mathemetician and computer scientist, Vernor Vinge, took it one step further and applied Kurzweil’s notion of singularity to the technological evolution of improvements in computer hardware.

  • Kurzweil transformed idea of singularity into a social movement based off of his ideas from his best-selling books The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near.
  • “He argues that while artificial intelligence will render biological humans obsolete, it will not make human consciousness irrelevant.”Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used as extensions of our selves to extend the boundaries of human capacity i.e. hearing, seeing, touching, thinking, etc.  AI will also help us to fight disease and build better memories.  Singularity will not end up destroying humans but immortalizing them affirms Kurzweil.
  • Singularity is catching on.  There are conferences, journals, research, and possibly even a university on the topic.
  • Kurzweil takes his vitamins – is an understatement.  This man takes A LOT (180 to 210) of vitamins each day.  He also spends A LOT of money on health advice and intravenous treatments to prolong his health.  In 1988, he cured his diabetes and high cholesterol by strict dieting.
  • One of his biggest achievements was inventing a device called The Kurzweil Reading Machine that, “…teaches computers to decipher words on a page and then read them back aloud”.
  • Moore’s law is the inspiration behind much of what Kurzweil and other ‘futurists’ believe about exponential growth of technological computing power.
  • Wolf writes, “Computers will soon be smarter than humans. Nobody has to die.”  Immediately, I thought of the AI based science-fiction movies like Terminator, iRobot, and The Matrix.
  • Taken directly from Wolf’s artical>> According to Terry Grossman, Kurzweil’s longevity physician, and other singularitarians, immortality will arrive in 3 stages:

1) lifestyle and aggressive antiaging therapies will allow more people to approach the 125-year limit of the natural human lifespan. This is bridge one. Meanwhile, 2) advanced medical technology will begin to fix some of the underlying biological causes of aging, allowing this natural limit to be surpassed. This is bridge two. Finally, 3) computers become so powerful that they can model human consciousness. This will permit us to download our personalities into nonbiological substrates. When we cross this third bridge, we become information. And then, as long as we maintain multiple copies of ourselves to protect against a system crash, we won’t die.

  • Kurzweil predicts that by the early 2030s, most of our internal organs will have been replaced by robotic organs and that knowledge doubles every year.  Will it be like having an Artificial heart and everything else inside of us like that?
  • He has an alter ego called Ramona.  He would like her to have rights much like our version of human rights.  One day he hopes that he could experience what it would be like to be her.  Happiness isn’t what concerns him.  His purpose of life is to, “Extend our knowledge and cast a wider net of consciousness.”  According to Kurzweil, we may see computing rocks in about 200 years.

Biomedia (2004) by Eugene Thacker

  • We have uncovered the code of life (DNA and it’s analogs, etc.) and can now begin to manipulate that code.  Humanity was a literary endeavor, but has now shifted into a technical endeavor.
  • “We” are the true ‘new media’.  We are the new screen (screen of cave > printed text > electronic screen > and now us as new screen).  We are climbing the mountain of re-contextualizing human beings in a biological sense by the manipulation of genetic code i.e. “anthropomorphosis”.
  • There is a synthesis between code of life and code of technology mediated by code of capital.  The ones with the most capital will benefit from it in a advantageous/exploitative way by splicing, dicing, and patenting codes.
  • “In our hands, biomedia is the encoding process of information contained in our genomes over time.
  • Encoded text of genomes > recoded text according to specific agenda of editor > decoded into biomedia in order to remediate our bodies and answer the question, “What can a body do?”.
  • The soul seems a little lost in this process of becoming bodies.  In other words, the soul becomes subjugated to the flesh.  Yet, we cannot find the soul, so biomedia suggests that we have lost nothing.
  • ‘Bioinformatics’ signals collapsing of two newest codes: genetic and digital code > The Code.  It gives an impetus for a ‘hybridization’ by diminishing the boundaries between silicon and DNA bodies.  I loved this quote, “Everything is media awaiting mediation, and is hence malleable ad infinitum.”
  • We are effacing and playing God with biomedia
  • Paradoxically, the code was/is closed, however, since we have uncovered it, the code is now open sourced for anyone to take it and play with it according to their agenda.  Biomedia becomes a question of WHAT will we do with our bodies???  This question ultimately begets the proceeding question of bioethics.  

Questions:

  1. Enriquez tries to tie in his argument about how crucial this coding will be for the rise and fall of countries.  Do you think Juan Enriquez’s points at the end of his presentation about countries’ levels of  production and their economic problems are valid?
  2. What are your thoughts on Kurzweil’s notion of singularity and the exponential synthesis of technology and biology?  Do you think that we will continue to see more medical and technical developments that push the limits of biomedical technology?  Do you feel that we will eventually be able to manipulate the code so that we will be able to live forever?
  3. Do you think we are hindered in our exploratory process of biomedical and biomedia development by ethical laws and boundaries that make the experimentation much longer?
  4. How do you feel about biomedia and trying to live forever?  Do you think we can AI will be able to experience human emotions or just be extremely rationale and productive?