Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Futuristic Kissing

You might have seen this video in the last month or so:

In case you don’t make it through the video, the guy also talks about making recordings of celebrities’, um, kissing patterns on the devices, and the likelihood that people would pay for those recordings so they could, um, make out with their favorite celebrities.

My first inclination when I saw this was to attempt to articulate what is so wrong with it, and to post that on this blog. Then I thought, what’s the use? Not because kissing over the Internet has already won or somesuch, but because I suspect people divide pretty definitely into two instant reactions to this video — reactions that aren’t likely to be altered by argument (at least not about this particular thing).

Those two reactions are basically the same two that people have to transhumanism in general: whuuut? and sweeeet.

For example, my reaction upon seeing this video is a bit of fascination and horror at the nonstop train of weirdness chugging out of Japanese culture, following by laughter, followed by sadness and pity. (My guess is that most of the nearly-two-million viewership of the video derives from some similar morbid curiosity.)

On the other side, for those who eagerly await having sex with robots or with a million people at once in virtual space, I imagine this video must be greeted with admiration and excitement. For that crowd, the apparent crudity must seem excusable as something akin to witnessing the ape in 2001 pick up that bone that becomes the first tool and hurl it triumphantly up into the air, and (from our cinematic/future vantage) watching it transform in just a few technological generations into a satellite.

Although both of those two immediate reactions are manifestations of larger modes of reasoning that are subject to argumentation and so to change, they seem to be the usual starting points. Question: Are there transhumanists who greet developments like the ones we see in this video with anything other than praise? If so, then on what grounds can they reject stuff like this as bizarre? What resources do transhumanists have, consistent to their avowed beliefs, for criticizing it — without calling upon standards of common sense and weirdness that they are supposed to heroically scoff at?

3 comments:

  1. And here I thought kissing had something to do with lips. If it is different in Japan, you wouldn't know that from Japanese movies. So what I wonder is, wouldn't someone who is really serious about this sort of thing be too embarrassed by the crudeness of this device to bring it before the public?

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  2. I love how the guy can barely control his own laughter as he describes the possibilities of the gadget. I suspect, along with you Mr. Rubin, that what is going on here is that the device is brought forth as a demonstration of technical ability under the cover of being laughable. It seems to me not a small number of engineering grad student projects are of this kind. But then I wonder further to what extent this is itself a semi- self-conscious effort to avoid the "whoa, I'm not ready to get it on with a robot" response while at the same time preparing the way for "getting it on with a robot". If not, it almost surely has this effect. Instead of from yuck to yawn, we are led from giggle to moan. And who can doubt we are heading there anyhow?... At a travel-lodge hotel no less.

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  3. @tlcraig — Hmm, very insightful, very tricky. I can definitely see that effect going on in a lot of similar announcements like this. In this case, though, I'm inclined to conclude legitimate weirdness, owing to the precedent for that in Japan and in engineering grad students, and because the dude in this video seems to really have that sad glimmer in his eye of the near-mad scientist who's decided he doesn't need a real woman and can just build his own perfect one.

    (Also, unless I'm missing something, although the bi-directional motor technology here is itself actually kind of cool, this could have been done easily with computer technology of 40 years ago, and I'll bet similar projects for less bizarre uses already exist. Maybe that just supports your point.)

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