Humanity Plus Magazine Interviews Ancient Lasers

Ancient Lasers @ BIL 2012

[Ancient Lasers is the musi­cal work of Daniel Fin­fer, a Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. Artists love to say their music has a mes­sage, but what hap­pens when that mes­sage is “the Sin­gu­lar­ity is Near”? Musi­cian Daniel Fin­fer cre­ates albums that explore the con­cepts and con­se­quences of accel­er­at­ing tech­nol­ogy while still pos­sess­ing enough pop-music chops to make them acces­si­ble. Ancient Lasers has tracks with titles like “You in the Future” and “Replac­ing You.” On first lis­ten they may sound like Finfer’s singing to a girl, but lines like “I don’t need you in the future” are about post-singularity robots dis­miss­ing the need for humans. Pretty trippy stuff, and awe­some to lis­ten to.] – Singularity Hub

By Rachel Haywire

Questions

1. If you could get one augmentation what would it be?

While it would be nice to have titanium skin or lungs that would allow me to breathe underwater, the augmentation I would choose is one that should be the top priority for scientists working in this field. Intelligence expansion. That’s really step one, isn’t it? If I could increase my intelligence, and my capacity to understand intelligence itself, inventing new augmentations on my wishlist would be much easier. I know that is kind of a cop-out of an answer, so if intelligence-expansion wasn’t on the table, it would probably be human flight. I have a terrible fear of airplanes, which I’m fairly confident stems from the fact that I was in a plane crash as a young child. Kind of ironic I teamed up with a band called Idiot Pilot to produce Ancient Lasers, isn’t it?

Selective hearing would come in handy these days, as well.

 

2. How would you feel about becoming a cyborg?

It depends on who is turning me into a cyborg. One of my biggest worries related to technology is its abuse by world governments or cyber-terrorists. I have a hunch becoming cyborg would in some way involve the internet, and we have a long way to go before someone will convince me to drink any cyber-Kool-Aid. I mean, I don’t want Wikileaks or Anonymous hacking into my thoughts. My mind feels like the last place I can still hide in this world; where no one can get to me. Facebook and Twitter both started out as seemingly innocent, fun places to post your thoughts and digital records of your daily organic life. But look at what’s happening now: the government basically turned social media sites into one giant population-monitoring system, and they love it.

If we are talking physically, sign me up. I would love to take a MechWarrior or a Gundam suit for a spin someday.

Ancient Lasers Studios

3. Do you think there is going to be a war between humans and machines?

You could argue there already is one. Certainly in the job market, at least. Machines have achieved a level of complexity that is actually putting people out of work, and I’m afraid it’s only going to get “worse”. I use quotes because it all depends on your point of view. Sure, automation creates unemployment, but that’s because we are currently operating in an obsolete economic system that doesn’t know what to do with the unemployed. I think the definition of a “job” is going to change dramatically in the near future. We are transitioning towards a post-scarcity world (hopefully), so maybe someday our jobs as humans will be to simply imagine and create. The entertainment industry is currently one of the largest growing sectors, after all.

Getting back to your question, however, I do think there would be a cataclysmic event involving a post-human Artificial Intelligence if it was built carelessly. As a human, I have empathy for my infant self, and look back on those years fondly. But how do I feel about myself when I was an embryo? I don’t have any empathy – because I was so drastically different back then I might as well have been someone else entirely. That is how I believe a post-human Artificial Intelligence would regard humanity – some kind of pest getting in the way of its quest to maximize complexity and reverse its own entropy. If it came down to that – a war between humans and a greater intelligence, I wouldn’t even try to fight it. I would throw my gun at its feet, knowing that my role as a human was to build a post-human. I could find comfort dying at the hands of a machine – it would feel like some cosmic passing-of-the-torch. Obviously, I would prefer not to.

Another possibility is a war between humans at various stages of technological progression, much like the war between Homo-Sapiens and the Neanderthal. History is one long race to some distant, intangible finish line – hopefully whoever gets there first still has some compassion for humanity.

4. What is the best way to make people more aware of Transhumanism?

This is a very tough question – in fact one I try to answer every day as an artist focused on educating people about Transhumanism. Clearly many artists and visionaries have tried. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a perfect example. But as they say, a fish ahead of its time is doomed to die on dry land. You would think by now we’d have figured it out, but the people in charge don’t want us to “figure it out”. Lady Gaga, for example, has a very transhuman message that I think resonates with a lot of people. But most people don’t realize that she actually studied fame, and pretty much had the concept for her career planned out. And at the end of the day, there’s still someone at the record label looking at the bottom line. There is only so much she can do within that business model. Most entertainment is focused on making us forget how utterly astonishing it is to be human; to be alive at this moment in history. This is the bottom of the funnel.

Corporations are excellent at making us feel like we’re important, when in reality they regard us as a dollar sign or a number on the computer screen. And for a while, it worked. It felt good to go to McDonald’s, or Starbucks, or Best Buy. It felt good to be ‘part of the club’. People have an evolutionary need to belong somewhere…to be part of a community. We have always been that way, it is in who we are. Even before corporations, you had Nationalism and Religion – two major systems that are also starting to fall apart. When I was a kid, it seemed like it made sense, and, hey, it was fun. Fireworks on the Fourth of July? Christmas presents? Sign me up! The people at the top of these institutions are experts in marketing.

But to the mainstream, Transhumanism is terrifying. I mean, even to me, it’s terrifying, and I’ve been researching it for seven years now. Clearly the answer isn’t at the bottom of a Coke Zero or in the pages of an ancient book. I think one thing that a lot of us involved in this new movement have in common is that we aren’t satisfied with the answers we’ve been taught in school. We have to spread this message, because it is all we can think about. The message is spreading, thankfully, and hopefully we can turn others on to it. Right now feels like the Sixties on Steroids. And it’s happening because everyone on earth is getting the real information, as they come online.

The bottom line is that we need more money funneled into science. Plain and simple. We need to get it out of archaic systems and institutions, but we need to show and tell people why. That’s what I do with my music, or at least try to.

5. What would your ideal future look like?

My ideal future would be some sort of ‘consensus reality’, that is, a reality where everyone can find the place where they belong and feel happy. There is a theory about what will come after science called Thalience, a term coined by Karl Schroeder. Assuming that in a post-human world everything will become intelligent, eventually the entire universe will expand to become itself. We would all be one. The universe we would become could play games with time and space, relive past memories, talk to lost loved ones…Anything. But maybe we would get bored after a while and make some sort of ‘surprise button’ – where one day we decide “Okay, we’re bored, so let’s invent a way to keep it entertaining.” Maybe this entire universe is the result of a post-human getting bored and pressing that button. I don’t know. They’re only theories.

In the end, I think an ideal future is one where we can look back on all of this and feel like it mattered.

6. If you could change one thing about humanity what would you change?

Everyone has to crabwalk.

We Will Either Live Forever or Be Killed By Robots In…”The Singularity”

We are living during a very important time. It is a time in which time itself seems to be speeding up. It is also a time in which the prospect of being able to prevent our own death is becoming feasible. Intrigued? You should be – something called The Singularity may render you immortal.

The Map Of The Internet


Early Multi-Cellular Life

At the dawn of life on this planet, evolutionary changes happened slow. Billions of years slow. One microbe took billions of years to evolve the DNA necessary to replicate itself from simple amino acids. But that first copying mechanism, DNA, allowed information to be transmitted that much faster. Then, evolution only took millions of years to create multi-cellular creatures. Good information was kept, and bad information was discarded. The wheel of time continued until evolution presented the planet Earth with a new species – human beings. Except this species was different – this was the first intelligence on the planet.

This is where the evolutionary process of life really began to accelerate. Instead of millions of years to the next paradigm shift, it was only 50,000 years until Man began to talk. And then, only 10,000 to develop agriculture, written language, society, and government. Another 5,000 elapsed, and we had constructed Pyramids, developed theological and monetary systems, and had begun colonizing the planet. This led to the development of Science a few thousand years later. Science, after a few mere centuries, gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, which after only 50 years gave us the Computer Revolution. Notice the trend? Evolution is a feedback loop.

“Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.”

When Moore made this prediction at CalTech in the 1970’s, computers were the size of buildings. Now one fits in your pocket, and a particle accelerator in CERN is capable of achieving the coldest temperature in the universe and a magnetic field thousands of times more powerful than the Earth’s- all to find the God Particle that allowed the universe to be created. Forty years ago a machine that sized could barely run Pong.

This is only the beginning, however – imagine the things we will achieve with computers the size of red-blood cells floating inside the body. Nanobots will soon be integrating themselves into our biological structure, repairing broken synapses in the brain, cleaning out arteries and creating a virtual-reality interface within your visual cortex. Don’t believe me? Ask Ray Kurzweil, who this year co-founded the Singularity University in Palo Alto with Google and NASA. Their sole mission is to create a human-computer hybrid that will allow us to live forever.

Why a hybrid? Why not simply create a smarter-than-human computer and have it solve all our problems? Because that computer might decide that keeping us humans on Planet Earth would hinder its own progress in evolution – that we pose a threat to its survival. Or, the computer might even convert the entire solar system into a bigger version of itself to solve the problem. In Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, scientists keep building bigger and bigger computers; while constantly asking the meaning of life. It is not until the very end, when, after the entire universe has been converted into a computer that the final answer is given.

The UN even recently passed a law banning “self-replicating nanobots” to prevent the planet from being covered in a “gray goo” of robotic microbes. This only supports how real this is all becoming. Six years ago, Facebook was being invented. Now, 500 million people have moved parts of their lives “online”, and could not imagine life without it. Ten years ago, cell phones and laptops were only just becoming commonplace within the societal lexicon. Now, having a desktop or even laptop computer is viewed as being a nuisance and hassle. In the next ten years, however, the change will be faster. We know this because it’s been speeding up this entire time.

Every day, more things happen than the day before- because today we have better tools for communicating, working, living, and replicating information than we did yesterday. The move from analog to digital will be almost too gradual to notice, but one thing is certain: Humanity is uploading itself onto the internet, which now appears to have turned Planet Earth into a collective brain; every human being a neuron in the system. This collective brain will soon abandon the mortal problems we face today, but it will face problems on a universal scale. Like how to prevent its collapsing, parent star from dying, how to exist in multiple dimensions, or even how to better allocate intelligence throughout the universe.

Maybe then it will even send out tiny seeds to land on distant planets…just like the amino acids that landed on Earth.

BIL Conference 2012 – In Retrospect

I recently wrote about my experience at BIL 2011 in this article, but I absolutely have to update and tell you about BIL Conference 2012 – mainly because of how much it exceeded my expectations.

Simone and Alexis Not Pictured!

First off, there were more people in attendance.  I believe we clocked in at over 800(!) people.  It seems our message is truly beginning to spread and pick up speed, which is no surprise – alot has happened since March of 2011.

We are finally seeing the rise of the “Internet voice”, as made evident by the huge amount of activism by Twitter, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and many more connectivity-based movements.  People are starting to step away from the computer (with iPhone or Droid still firmly in hand) and take to the streets.  Information technologies are making people realize how much work there is to do to fix the problems our society still faces.  Yet, many people that want and can do something to help don’t know where to turn.  I didn’t.  Before connecting with the people at BIL, I had motivation and knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know there were thousands of other people that had the same ideas.

BIL, by nature, is a very geeky event.  As a counter-culture shadow conference that not-so-coincidentally occurs right around TED, you would expect this.  And by nature, these people don’t have alot of free time for social interaction – and most find the usual “club and bar scene” to be trite and superficial (myself included).  The beauty in BIL is that it gives the nerdy, quirky, subversive, think-way-the-fuck-outside-the-box types a singular event to come and talk about all the insanely cool projects they’ve been working on in the past year.

New additions this year included:

  • Space Stage, where SpaceX and XCOR showed off some very cool, privately funded space vehicles. A
  • Burning-Man-esque….dodecahedron? (It’s a geometric shape I can’t describe in human language).  People were relaxing and singing karaoke when they needed a mind-rest from talks.
  • Massage/Cupping station.
  • Speed Dating and Relationship Discussions in the Red Room.
  • College Of Lockpicking
  • Crashspace 3D Printing Demonstration
  • Halcyon Molecular DNA microscope
  • BIL2012 Anthem!
  • Performances by Max Lugavere and Ancient Lasers

At the closing ceremony, Reichart auctioned off a chance to sit in on a live reading of Futurama, with the full cast (as well as himself and Simone for dates).  Their combined sexiness helped put a deposit for BIL2013! Maria Entraigues and myself also performed the first ever “BIL Anthem” – and we got Aubrey de Grey to jump on stage and bust out a smooth 16 bar rap verse about “biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, more biology…”  That was definitely a fitting way to end the conference.  Special thanks to Reichart, Maria, Aubrey and Simone for making that happen with 4 days notice!

In conclusion, BIL expanded my mind and now I have a thirst for knowledge – and meeting the people who possess it. I know I’m leaving out tons of amazing people I met, and I apologize in advance.  More posts coming!  I have a big list of similar conferences, concerts, and events like BIL in my Google Docs, and I hope to check a few dozen off the list by the time 2012 is over.

BIL Conference: A Casual Convention of People Who Want To Change The World

Whether you have seen the fascinating and often mind expanding videos posted online, or have been lucky enough to go in person, you probably know about TED.  If you are like me (incredibly interested in technology but not really willing to spend thousands of dollars to go to a conference), check out TED’s cooler-yet-nerdier little brother BIL on the Queen Mary March 2-4th in Long Beach, CA.

BILder’s (as we like to call them) come from all around the world to share ideas, give talks, perform live music, teach classes, network, brainstorm ways to fix the world…whatever! That’s the beauty of BIL, what it is and what it will become is completely up to the BILders themselves – theres no concrete agenda.  It is what you make it.

It's kind of like this

Last year was my first BIL experience, and I can honestly say it set the tone for the rest of my year in the most positive way possible.  I met BIL co-founders Simone Syed and Reichart Von Wolfsheild when I hosted the after-party for the Los Angeles premiere of Transcendent Man – Ray Kurzweil‘s feature documentary about the Technological Singularity. I was demoing Ancient Lasers tracks for the singularity folks that night and they asked me if I wanted to play at BIL.

Once there I met some of the most fascinating people I have ever been graced to know.  I spend alot of time around people that don’t really share the same interests as me in my daily life, so it was so refreshing to hear phrases like “machine learning”, “brain hacking”, and “nanobot foglets” being thrown around in casual conversation. I got to meet Burning Man guru John Halcyon, Life extension author Aubrey De Grey, lifestyle blogger extraordinaire Judd Weiss, the folks from the Singularity University…The list goes on.

Aubrey de Grey Speaking at BIL 2011

After BIL, we all kept in touch and I personally know more than a couple new startups and other projects that were born from the conference and the connections it facilitated.  Its incredible to think about how much has happened since last year and how many new friends I made.

This year Ancient Lasers is performing with special guest Max Lugavere from Current TV Saturday, March 3rd at 8pm.  Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills, life extensionist author Aubrey de Grey, CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides, XCOR co-founder Doug Jones, and many many more.

BIL 2012

I highly recommend coming to check it out, I promise you wont leave empty-headed.