The view beyond this forest garden is of a hillside cleared of its native vegetation for the purposes of plantation timber. This land is no longer biodiverse, and just one repercussion of this, is that the topography here, as in many other parts of Japan, is in perpetual danger of sliding away after heavy rain. While some surface erosion is common on steeply pitched slopes, landslides, which are much more destructive, are
A task which happily coincided with my stay, was to harvest the first, second and third leaves of the Camelia Sinesis, and process - employing heat and one's hands - these mildly fragrant leaves into an aromatic Kamairicha (tea). As we worked and talked, hands stained lightly green, the conversation took an apocalyptic turn. Enter futurist and robotocist, Hans Moravec.
Moravec, born 1948, Austria, desires -amongst other things- to abandon the human body. The very body that at that precise moment, was coordinating itself to roll excess moisture from clumped leaves, while simultaneously revelling in, and calibrating to the fine sensations of the day. A clenching seized my gut as I struggled to digest what was being relayed – mind downloading / uploading (into a remote and artificial body) – the mind a digital 'architecture' supplanting the need of an 'analogue' flesh. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nation (1991) Jerry Mander provides an overview of Moravec's whacked, dangerous and nihilistic aspirations2. As I listened to the reading of a few
Forays into virtual reality and telepresence – as mediated through 'remote' robotic bodies, are merely a fledgling phase in the enhancement of our 'capabilities';
The remote bodies we will inhabit can be stronger, faster and have better senses than our "home" body. In fact, as our home body ages and weakens, we might compensate by turning up some kind of "volume control". Eventually, we might wish to bypass our atrophied muscles and dimmed senses altogether, if neurobiology learns enough to connect our sensory and motor nerves directly to electronic interfaces. Then all the harness hardware could be discarded as obsolete, along with our sense organs and muscles, and indeed most of our body. There would be no "home" experiences to return to, but our remote and virtual existences would be better than ever3.
The human - following on from an untidy, unwieldy and resistant 'nature', is a thing (obviously also a 'natural thing' and subject to the same laws of decay?) to be manipulated, moulded, controlled and transcended.
..the brain is a biological machine not designed to function forever, even in an optimal physical environment. As it begins to malfunction, might we not choose to use the same advanced neurological electronics that make possible our links to the external world, to replace the gray matter as it begins to fail? Bit by bit our brain is replaced by electronic equivalents, which work at least as well, leaving our personality and thoughts clearer than ever. Eventually everything has been replaced by manufactured parts.4
Aging and death are increasingly seen as pathologies, and not as natural processes. Subsequently, these degenerative processes are being treated ever more liberally, with intricate, and experimental technologies. Death - for the anti-aging movement, for futurists, and within medical science itself (with its predilection for quantity (lifespan) over quality) – is being conceived of – if not as surmountable, then at the
The U.S. military plans to implant soldiers with medical devices [utilising nanotechnology], making them harder to kill with diseases.................Stanford University researchers are developing tiny robotic monitors that can diagnose illnesses, monitor vital stats and even deliver medicine into the bloodstream, similar
At the risk of affording Moravec any more space on the page, the cult of immortality to which he subscribes (alongside notable futurist peers: Kurzweil, Minsky, Warwick et al) has numerous, extant and future implications, not in the least because the very technology that is most salient for futurists: nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, simulated reality, robotics......is current research fodder of many prestigious, mainstream, research laboratories across the world6, or else it has already obtained either nascent or broad application within the public realm. That this technology comes with myriad, little understood risks, and with unpredictable consequences, ranging from the relatively benign to the catastrophic7, should be a prompt for concern, as should the fact that every other interest on this planet is excluded, barring one - the human.
Tired of discussing M______, and his apocalyptic future (which he gives about even probability of coming about)8, we left the house, and walked a short distance, on a dirt path, into the bamboo grove. As we dug out a few of the freshest shoots - the smell of wild pig in the air, the bamboo colliding in a light percussive music - the day's lightness insinuated itself back into my flesh. This living was no less intense for