Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Wake Me Up When The Robots Take Over


I’ve had all things cyber on the brain since finishing Erik Davis’ Techgnosis:  myth, magic + mysticism in the age of information.  Davis’ work sprawls with examples of the interpenetration of technology and spirituality, from antiquity up to the bleeding edge (you can check out his web site here).  It’s worth a read for nothing else than to learn about groups like the extropians, some of whom hope to download their minds onto computers and live forever.

Although Techgnosis provides a thorough look at the spiritualities that have emerged in and around the computer, I found myself a bit bored.  No, I had not heard of half of the groups listed in Davis’ tome, but I already had the general idea:  neo-gostic/pagan-cyber mysticism (or something like that).  As I did some blog searching I found out that I wasn’t the only jaded kid with a Mac.  The anarchistnews has a nice survey of techies saying that people just don’t get hot and bothered anymore with visions of cyber utopia or apocalypse.  Robots will take over the world . . . we will all become cybergods . . . yeah we get it.  Can I get a little help with my mortgage?

This is not to say that the melding of wo/man and machine has stopped its steady advance.  No, but  it has lost its hold over many people’s imaginations.  Maybe that “new myth” smell has worn off.  I think we see a symptom of this in the rise of auto-tuned vocals in popular music, from Kanye to Bon Iver (on Woods).  While I personally don’t heart it, auto-tuning is a sign of our increased comfort with a cyborg aesthetic (PS you HAVE to see Bjork’s music vid, All Is Full of Love, for its cyborg aesthetic).  Think of it as a spellcheck for your pipes.  Now all we need is a robotic paparazzi (CCTV?).

What about you?  Still excited/terrified by computer technologies increasing hegemony?  Or is it all old news?


  1. Personally I was never excited/terrified by it. Maybe that’s because for as long as I’ve been alive there’s always been a computer in the house. computer technology has never seemed like some kind of entity unto itself. it has always been just another tool like a phone or a typewriter or a television. ‘cyberspace’ has never seemed like some kind of alternate universe. Now, more than ever, it is intricately tied to the ‘physical’ world. Maybe that’s why people–especially younger people–are becoming less and less interested in the melding-of-man-and-machine myth. It’s actually happening right now in a way–and it’s not that big of a deal.

  2. I resonate with you popup. Perhaps I don’t freak out because I have gotten used to the technology and have survived a few techno-apocalypses unscathed (e.g. Y2K).

    One of the interesting things about cyberspace is that, though it is tied to the physical world, it creates a dualistic impression. This is evident in the term “cyberspace” itself. There is no physical cyberspace. It is a “no-place.” Yet the windows we open in our browsers seem like windows into an entirely different sphere.

  3. I’ve been equally parts amused and intrigued by the Kurzweil Singularity hypothesis.

    To this point, advances in information technology haven’t seemed to slow down much during recessions, though I understand why a dizzyingly brighter future seems less relevant when the present is dusty and dingy.

    Personally I would be open to the opportunity to upload myself, or to plug in to a digital consciousness. But I don’t quite subscribe to the theory that building better computers, and better networks will get us there. I think we’re still dealing with a quality versus quantity issue. I’m not ready to commit my consciousness to packets riding on Verizon fiber and Cisco switches.

  4. Intriguing–thanks for the link. I hadn’t thought of the quality v quantity aspect. It seems so obvious now that you pointed it out. Do you have any ideas of what it would take for you to be willing to entrust your consciousness to the web?

  5. Several things come to mind. First, our current web was conceived primarily to point from one static address to another. Does that lend itself to streaming consciousness? What about our packet based routing? What latencies are required to support what we think of as thought? Is consciousness able to be written in php and backed up to thumb drives? Is downtime death or merely a catnap? Is packet loss insanity or merely ADD?

    Then there are philosophical issues. Is my online self property? Offspring? A replacement or augmentation of the original? Will my thought processes be open source or deeply encrypted?

    Barring illness or accident I think that I will wait to reconsider this upon the other side of middle age, as health fades and cyber circuits improve.

  6. I personally am not a big fan of the human/technology meld. And I’m not so sure that cyber doesn’t take up a physical or mental space. Scientists just haven’t figured out a way to calculate or measure it yet. In fact, I often wonder what is being pushed out of my life by the cyber.

    And the auto-tune thing seems cheap. I don’t appreciate artists who use it. What happened to the beauty of imperfection? Often times I am tempted to ignore spell check’s suggestions. Just because.

    It’s interesting to me that people are often scared by a technology taking them over, until the reality that they could take it over becomes greater. What is the fascination with living forever? I tend to think that if people could put aside the desire/belief that we could live forever, the now that we are living would be much fuller and satisfying.

  7. “What is the fascination with living forever?” That is a million dollar question! I would like to hear an answer from stonyhill, as he is the only one so far who has mentioned flirting with the idea of extending life through cyberspace (though he did not say infinitely).

    I don’t like auto-tune either, but that is definitely not the only way that artists and producers use technology to enhance the “natural beauty” of the voice. What about microphones, filters, compression, reverb, pitch correction, layered tracks, etc?

    I totally agree that melding human minds to info-technologies changes human perceptions and mental activities. As I said in a previous post, I think this happens to a person who lives in a society that relies heavily on cyberspace, whether or not this person uses the internet him/herself.

    It is interesting to think about the issue spatially. I usually tend to think of info-technologies as amplifications-prosthetics of human faculties, though these technologies do give us capabilities we never had before. Your comments about “taking up space” make sense to me insofar as we outsource all sorts of data and mental activity to technology. One could say that this atrophies some of our “natural” faculties–the ability to remember phone numbers, the ability to sing on pitch . . .

    However, you could point to evolution and note that species develop new faculties (and lose old ones) as they adapt to new situations. It’s just part of the process. Maybe auto-tune is the only way that we could avoid killing ourselves as a species because we had to listen to Kaney West “sing.”

  8. I’m not definitely gunning for eternity, but the option of eternity is more palatable to me than just waiting to see which vital organ will fail me first.

    As for auto-tune, nearly every artist uses it now, even if they don’t know it. It’s done in the control room by producers and engineers. Overuse can filter out some of what makes music human. On the other hand, sometimes you can save the best performance by tweaking the pitch on a couple of notes.

    Unfortunately, auto-tune is used way too frequently in live music as well, and there it can be counterproductive, because it’s easy to use it too aggressively, just like dynamic compression.

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