Friday, May 26, 2006

Anxiety of Cyber-Influence, or, Books and Blogs

78 - Evolutionary Robotics (Part Three)
In 1973, Harold Bloom famously wrote of "The Anxiety of Influence," examining the thesis that strong poets, who are inspired by and influenced by former poets, deliberately misread the works that influence them in order to produce original, creative, and non-derivative works.

In developing a theory of how our literature changes in the cyborg environment environment of networked computing, I am struck today by an interesting cycle of influence/citation/theft/allusion/quotation/plagiarism.

Blogs are by their nature a form of literary production that relies upon what would be called plagiarism or copyright violation in the world of writing defined by the relative stability or fixity of the print medium. BoingBoing grabs something that appears on Michael Geist's Blog and either paraphrases or copies-and-pastes a segment of Geist's commentary. This is considered acceptable--and welcome--in the blogging world. You want a bit of theft, you want links, you want a bit of copy and paste: It spreads your message.

On Cyborgblog I am quite untroubled about copying textual excerpts and pasting them into my page. As in my academic writing, I'm careful to indicate where the original text was published, and I put quoted text in blockquotes. Unlike my academic or fictional prose, however, the blog has become predominantly a collection or anthology of other interesting works (essentially, this is one of the four the medieval ways of making books described by the 13th- century philosopher Bonaventure: as blogger I am a commentator one who "writes both others' work and his own, but with others' work in the principal place, adding his own for purposes of explanation"). note

In doing one of my intermittent trolls for cyborg stuff today, I found this book, Pulse: The Coming of Age of Systems and Machines by artist Robert Frenay. Chapter four, Thinking, contains an entry on the future of human beings under the title Evolutionary Robotics (Part Three). It begins:
"Asked if computers will succeed us, MIT’s turns the question on its head. “You can’t know, because it’s so hypothetical,” he says. “But I think to a certain extent we’re going to have to face issues like this a lot earlier than we think. But it’s going to be the cyborg, the melding of silicon and living things. That’s where these issues are going to occur first. It’s not going to be purely intelligent robot versus current existing life form…It’s going to be humans mixed with silicon, and the basic intelligence is still going to be human intelligence."

The words "humans mixed with silicon" link to Cyborgblog, and then the chapter goes on to link to several of the same issues I've compiled on Cyborgblog: the 25,000 living rat neurons as living computers (which I got via BoingBoing); Cyberkinetics; DARPA's Brain Machine Interface program (here, September 2005 - via Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools via Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, our Bodies--and What it Means to be Human (May 2005) - and here, October 2004, via Wired News).

What this page in the "book" called Pulse emphasizes is that networked communications take us back to an older form of literary production where copyright ceases to have as much power as compilation and commentory. (Contrast this to the bizarre court case going on right now, where the rapper Ludacris is being forced to defend his repeated use of the words "like that" in his song "stand Up". In a move that signals that the owl has flown, the group I.O.F. is claiming copyright of those chorus words and similar rhythms).

And this brings me back to the rather curious "request from the author" (I quote it in its entirety):
At some point I’d like to experiment with putting the full text of Pulse online in a form that anyone can link into and modify, possibly with parallel texts or even by changing or adding to the wording of mine. I like the idea of collaborative texts. I also feel there’s value in the structure and insight that a single, deeply committed author can bring to a subject. So what I want to do is offer my text as an anchor for something that then grows to become its own unique creature. I like to imagine Pulse not just as the book I’ve worked so hard to write, but as a dynamic text that can continue expanding and updating in all directions, to encompass every aspect of this subject (which is also growing so rapidly).

I realize that what I have in mind is properly called a wiki. But as a writer, I find myself drawn to the phrase “open source.” It’s one of those rare tech terms that has an almost poetic dimension—that serves as a metaphor for something larger. So with apologies to OSI, I’ve reserved the domain name I should add that it’s not yet active. One reason it’s not is the technical complication of putting such a large text online in wiki form. If anyone out there knows of a good method for approaching this project, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

There are numerous wiki texts, references, and guidebooks. I’m not aware of any author of a published book like Pulse who has put his or her work online for collaborative modification. I’m interested in hearing about any other instances of that.

Robert Frenay
April 8, 2006

Collaborative books are being done already--Wikipedia being the most obvious one. Drupal offers a wiki-ish software for this very process. And certainly releasing your book with a license for others to modify and change it is no longer a nifty new idea. But more puzzling is why bother offering something as "open source" when it's been assembled out of what is already well-known, even clichéd, and out of other people's blogs and posts?

The book Pulse, being offered for 30% off when you order it online, is an example of an older dead-tree-book marketing paradigm trying to jam itself into the world of networked communications. It doesn't work very well.

The cyber-auctor will be a different beast than the printed author.

Note 1: The four ways in which a person can make a book, according to Bonaventure:
  • A scribe (scriptor) copies the works of others without making changes or additions.
  • A compiler (compilator) gathers together the writings of other authors without adding new material to the text.
  • A commentator writes down others' works, which occupy the principal place in the book, and adds his own text to provide clarification and explanation.
  • An author (auctor) writes both his own work and others' works, but his own work occupies the principal place while others' works are added for confirmation.

See Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 121-22; and Martha Woodmansee, "On the Author Effect: Recovering Collectivity," Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal 10 (1992): 281.

Note 2: "Minerva's owl begins its flight only in the gather dusk..." That is, the culture has reached its highest point of creativity, and is in decline; a new medium will give rise to new empires. See "Minerva's Owl" in Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication , (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991; first published 1951).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Cyber threats to US business grow more dangerous |

Cyber threats to US business grow more dangerous | "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attacks on U.S. computer networks could escalate from mere inconveniences to disasters that ruin companies or even kill people, according to the head of a cyber-security unit working with the U.S. government." (One of the interesting things about this story is that the director of the Cyber Consequences Unit is named Scott Borg)

"In one hair-raising scenario, Borg describes how attackers might change specifications at an automobile plant and cause a car to 'burst into flames after it had been driven for certain weeks or months.'

"Another potential attack could involve infiltrating hospitals or pharmacies to change medical data such as dosages or treatment schedules."

Audiocast of Mark Walker's talk on superlongevity

Audiocast of Mark Walker's talk on superlongevity: From The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:
"On April 20, 2006 at the University of Toronto's Bahen Centre for Information Technology, Dr. Mark Walker delivered a presentation about the ethics of radical life extension, or as Walker refers to it, 'superlongevity.' The talk was organized by the Toronto Transhumanist Association.

The talk was party adapted from his recent paper, 'Universal Superlongevity: Is it Inevitable and is it Good?' "

Popular Mechanics - Redefining The Human: The Upgradable You

Popular Mechanics - Redefining The Human: The Upgradable You: "Evolution has done its best, but there's a limit to how many plug-and-play neural implants, supercharged blood cells, strong-as-steel bone replacements and mind-controlled PCs you can expect from randomly colliding natural forces. Wanna be Superman? Better call the engineers."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Celebrity Cyborgs | Photoshop Contests

Worth 1000's Celebrity Cyborgs contest is brilliant!! Most entries are rather trite, though, with the dominant theme being the cutaway face to reveal cybernetic workings underneath.

My favourite is this one, a steam-powered Abe Lincoln:

Too Human, a traditional story in a new cyborg game

I'd be hopeless at playing this game by Silicon Knights, but I think I need to go out and buy an xbox:
"Step into the world of “Too Human,” the next-generation third-person epic action game from renowned Canadian developer Silicon Knights. As the cybernetic god Baldur, you are thrust into the midst of an ongoing battle that threatens the existence of mankind. An ancient machine presence has forced the god’s hand. In the first part of a trilogy, Baldur is charged with defending humanity from an onslaught of monstrous war machines bent on the eradication of human life. ...Modern take on a classic story. Too Human chronicles the ongoing struggle between cybernetic gods, giant machines and mortal men on a massive scale never before seen. Play the role of a cybernetic god charged with protecting the human race against a relentless onslaught of machines."
The narrative is what interests me--the interesting claim that this is a "modern take on a classic story"--if only I could play this story to its conclusion! Questions: Why "too human"? What traditional narratives does the cybernetic god image borrow from? What structures borrow from, and depart from, other traditional narratives?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Marvel Comics made me who I am

Dan Brown - Web Exclusive: I was interested in this column first because it is an interesting description of reading practices in the 20th century. Dan Brown, online editor for The London Free Press writes:
"Probably the most important appreciation I developed is my lifelong love affair with the printed word. I began collecting titles such as The Uncanny X-Men because I was captivated by the dynamic images on each page. ...But, perhaps almost by accident, I soaked up the words that accompanied the pictures. As important as the drawings were, reading Marvel Comics really was an exercise in reading. The company had a distinctive lingo all its own, and each issue was packed with terms such as 'stasis' and 'matrix' and 'mutant.' If my vocabulary is larger than that of the average person, you can blame Marvel."
What I am realizing, quite belatedly, is that Marvel and DC Comics are worth investigating in terms of their images of human-machine interaction. Brown notes that "One of the coolest characters Marvel offered readers in the Me Decade was Deathlok, the cyborg assassin. As cool as he was, however, Deathlok still did not want to be a superhero. After dispatching one victim in Astonishing Tales No. 25, we learn that the dying man actually feels sorry for Deathlok: 'Your voice . . . you’re not human . . . you’re a robot . . . an android . . . a cyborg . . . with no feelings . . . no remorse . . . just an inhuman machine . . . I pity you.' "

Here's Deathlok:

There's a whole book in examining these figures. Only problem is, you'd need a good source of funding! This comic is currently available for $45 US.

There's also Cyborg from Teen Titans:

...and many more. Spiderman would be by some definitions a cyborg as well.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Korean Scientists Develop Female Android

The Korea Times : Korean Scientists Develop Female Android: Why would the first two lifelike androids ever built be constructed as attractive young women appearing to be in their early twenties? They're not hyper-sexy, but there is something a little gynoid-ish about them.
"Standing 1.6 meters tall and weighing about 50 kilograms, she can understand others, speak, blink with her eyes and makes several facial expressions.

But she is not human, rather an android developed by a team of South Korean scientists. It is only the second time in the world that an android has been developed - Japan made the first one."

This is the android, dubbed Repliee Q1, that was a exhibited by Japanese researchers in 2005:

Then again, you gotta wonder if maybe the guy standing there beside her, posing so convincingly in a thoughtful ponder, is the actual android of interest. (This video from YouTube seems to corroborate such a speculation. "The robot is getting close to the human," says Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. "How do we develop more human-like behaviours for the android, and where do we become aware that [it] is not a human? And, finally, does a human unconsciously recognize a human? So we are studying what is a human by using this android robot." Now this would be an interesting study: we expect the android on display to be a gynoid; what if the real study is to see whether we detect that the Professor is an android? A good novel can come of this--maybe I'll write it!). But back to the gynoids.

Here's a video of Repliee Q1 from YouTube.

Here is a beautiful video from YouTube of a female automaton by Jaquet-Droz. I wonder if the nail polish was on the original 18th-century construction, or if it was added later?

Here's a clip on YouTube of the famous Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904).