Sunday, July 16, 2006

Shifting Extensions

Shifting Extensions


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By Anonymous Udi h Buaman, at 2:52 PM  

I really wonder what would Mcluhan have said on the Web/Internet. It's a messaging medium that really transforms society & it's social mechanisms completely. I wonder what would he have said about Blogjects, the integration of humansphere & machinesphere. It's becoming one unified bits world: the technological changes & paradigms *are* the social changes & paradigms.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Real Androids and Virtual Avatars

Second Life goes far beyond MMORPGs, by laying the foundations for a shifting reality, meaning that in the future (we might still be hanging around…) it will replace what today is consensually perceived as the "real" world. There are already people whose primary home exists, cognitively and emotionally, inside Second Life, whereas their physical home serves as nothing but a vat hosting their body which, in its turn, is nothing but a vat hosting their brain – the living engine behind their avatar.

Citizens of Second Life live full social, cultural, economical and political lives. They have whatever we got here, on earth, and much more. Currently, the citizens of Second Life are in favor of creating all sorts of bi-directional links to and from Earth, hence the emergence of markets where currencies (Lindens to US$) and Second Life's artifacts are constantly being traded. From a socio-cultural viewpoint, Earth feeds Second Life with real-time video, images and audio; many formal conferences are being held simultaneously on Earth and inside Second Life. Similarly, mixed parties in clubs, cafes and bars take place simultaneously in both worlds, the walls on the earthly club projecting a live video feed from the rooms of the Second Life bar and vice versa.

Recently, The New Media Consortium, whose members are dozens of research institutes from academic, business and cultural sectors, has built an entire campus inside Second Life. The following stunning video clip gives a great exposition of this new world (the first 30 seconds are "traditional". Don't lose your patience).




When I first saw the NMC video clip I had an acute Déjà Vu. Surely, I have already seen a similar experimental campus built inside some other unusal place. Shortly afterwards I had this flashback of the Dharma Initiative's Orientation clip [flashback runs from 0:40 to 1:30]. As you might know, many theories claim that LOST is a virtual world, or an ARG.



***

How far can this go?

Avatars: these "things" create an interesting perspective on the Brains In a Vat paradigm. Here's a question about Avatars:
What are they? They exist in the virtual world, so over there they are "real". But they also represent something else that exists in another world, i.e. the human being that operates the avatar from within our world. This is identical to the vat paradigm, where the "real world" is those endless transparent coffins of the Matrix, while the "real body" is nothing but an avatar in what the brains in the vat perceive as the real world, but is actually a "virtual world".

Another inevitable doubt is on the nature of the avatar-->human association. How can we tell who's behind the avatar? Is it a human, a machine, a machine disguised as a human, or a human disguised as a machine? In other words avatars can be either representations of "extra-terrestrial" entities; or false representations (disguise); or no representation at all, i.e. the "real thing".

I don't think we should try and solve this puzzle. Rather we should accept that an avatar is... an avatar, and that in these new ralities, man and machine are made equal.

PKD has wonderfully and chillingly described this weird future that awaits us in his plot proposals and outlines for Blade Runner, titled "Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)":

The more Rick (Deckard, played by Harrison Ford) strives to force her (Rachel Rosen, a beautiful android played by Sean Young) to become a woman – or, more accurately, to play the role of a woman – the more he encounters the core of unlife within her. In subtle ways (certainly not in gross ways) it should be shown that his attempt to make love to her as woman for him is defeated by the tireless core of her electronic being. I don't mean that he opens a door in her chest, thus swinging her right breast away and exposing a maze of sensationally advanced solenoids and servo-assists. This is not the discovery he – and the audience – is making; this is already known. What is shown is just how far both the android woman and the human male can manage to force back the artificial and mechanical and smother it in their mutual yearnings. They are both pretending… The question here is: How far can this go?


The Electric Sheep Company is a "Construction" company working inside Second Life. They have built the NMC Campus.


***

A Scanner Darkly (PKD: "which I honestly believe to be the best work I've ever done", The Short, Happy Life of a Science Fiction Writer (1976)) is the latest adaptation of a PKD's novel into a movie. Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder are the actors, and I assume that this bunch of mega-stars costs some money. And yet the film makers have done what looks, at first glance, like some sort of an amateur sabotage, by taking the live action photography and overlaying it with an animation layer "to create a haunting, highly stylized vision of the future".

Nevertheless, at second glance things look familiar and rational. A Scanner Darkly, like most of Dick's novels, tells a story of shifting realities; as you can understand, real and virtual, just like man and machine, are no longer competing, classifying categories; as a matter of fact, they no longer exist as categories.

I would, therefore, assume that this overlaying of human bodies with an animation layer is part of the creation process of their avatars. In fact, Keanu Reeves does not play at all in this film; rather it's Reeves' Avatar.



***

Have you seen this Android?

Couple of weeks ago, the NYT has published an article describing how Philip K. Dick's head went missing. No, it was not the "real" head of PKD that got lost; it was the "virtual" head of his android (an old-style earthly avatar form). "[They] found the head in Las Vegas, packed it in a box and sent it on the next flight to San Francisco. Mysteriously, it never arrived".

I wonder: did they look for it in Second Life?

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