Saturday, February 18, 2006

"The clitoris is a direct line to the Matrix!"

is one of many provocative slogans on the Cyberfeminism website produced by Constant, a non-profit association, based and active in Brussels since 1997 in the fields of feminism, copyright alternatives and working through networks. Constant develops radio, electronic music and database projects, by means of migrating from cultural work to work places and back again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cyber warfare and the "blogger threat"

The US Homeland Security Department recently ran a mock Internet attack to test its preparedness in cyberspace.

Called "Cyberstorm," it was the largest cyber wargames exercise ever conducted. It was designed to gauge how the US and the international community would respond to devastating attacks over the Internet from not just terrorists and enemy states, but also from anti-globalization activists, underground hackers, and bloggers.

That's right, bloggers.

The Cyberstorm simulation was a challenge to government officials and industry executives to "respond to deliberate misinformation campaigns and activist calls by bloggers." Officials from the US, Canada, Australia, and Britain, along with executives from Microsoft, Cisco, and Verisign simulated attacks using isolated computers and working from basement offices at the Secret Services headquarters in downtown Washington.

According to accounts, the Internet "survived" the attacks, but the Homeland Security Department will not be disclosing its final report until later this summer.

It's generally felt that, with the meteoric rise of the Internet and with the information and communication revolutions still in full swing, the threat of networked groups and individuals to spread disinfo and to engage in widescale social engineering campaigns has never been greater. One could imagine a fleet of blogs calling for people to rise up over an issue like runaway global warming.

Consequently, that the Homeland Security Department considers bloggers a potential threat really shouldn't come as a complete surprise; the military would likely shut down threatening and subversive blogs during times of war or civil unrest.

It's during such episodes that control of information flow becomes tactically paramount -- so much so that nations often regress to de facto authoritarianism and even totalitarianism. As a result, the state has the power to claim a monopoly on the memesphere, including extreme censorship and propaganda campaigns.

Freedom of speech is a peacetime luxury.

At the same time, however, I have to think that the real impact bloggers could conceivably have is over-stated. I don't think memes work in such a pervasive way, particularly not today in the age of diversified media. If blogs could actually cause people to riot, for example, it's not because the blogs are telling them to do so, but because there's a genuine reason for doing so.

But as the Cyberstorm exercise shows, the revolution will not be televised, nor will it posted on a blog.

Cross-posted from Sentient Developments.

Hacking the enemy

Not one to miss out on the biotech revolution, the US military is considering some radical ideas as it prepares for combat preparedness for the period 2020-2050. In particular, the military is hoping to expand on its idea of 'nonlethal' force and integrate it with the cognitive and behavioural sciences.

Chief scientists William L. Baker, Eugene J. Bednarz and Robert L. Sierakowski of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate and Munitions Directorate are working on a concept known as "Controlled Personnel Effects." With CPE capability it will be possible to target individuals with nonlethal force and to make selected adversaires think or act according to the military's needs. It is thought that CPE will give rise to the potential to physically influence or incapacitate personnel.

An example of this technology is "Active Denial" in which a nonlethal counterpersonnel millimeter wave system can create the sensation of burning skin to repel an individual or group of people without harm. Also, by studying and modeling the human brain and nervous system, the military hopes to acquire the ability to mentally influence or confuse personnel. Through sensory deception, it may be possible to create synthetic images, or holograms, to confuse an individual's visual sense or confuse his senses of sound, taste, touch, or smell. Essentially, advanced technologies will enable the future soldier to remotely create physical sensations for the enemy, such as pressure or temperature changes.

More invasively, through cognitive engineering, scientists will eventually develop a better understanding of how an individual's cognitive processes affect his decision making processes, namely pattern recognition, visual conditioning, and difference detection. Once understood, military scientists could use these cognitive models to predict a person's behaviour under a variety of conditions with the potential to affect the enemy and his goals using a wide range of personnel effects.

Cross-posted from Sentient Developments.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Empowerment that individuates

As a person seeking to create public awareness of community perspectives on the right to human enhancement, I found the following quote by Michael Ignatieff, whose fans tout him as the next Prime Minister of Canada IF the Liberal Party of Canada ever succeeds in getting back into power.

Ingatieff's interest in failing states in which minorities find themselves threatened informs his view of Canada's minorities. He is sympathetic to group rights, but argues that individual rights must trump them. In 1998's The Warrior's Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience, after listing "aboriginal groups" in Canada and Australia among minority communities that rightly insist on speaking for themselves, he goes on to caution:

"The problem, however, is just who is being empowered - the individuals in these groups or merely their spokesmen or leaders. Empowerment that individuates, that allows individual members of minority groups to articulate their own experience and secure respect from the majority, is one thing; empowerement that simply consolidates the hold of the group on the individual and that locks individuals in victimhood is another."

I would rather be a hybrid...

In her AlterNet article, Interbreeders, Annelee Lewitz, wrote:

In Templeton's vision, we are hybrid hominids, not some pure species whose coolness and ingenuity allowed it to sweep over Asia and Europe "replacing" everything we found. We didn't "replace" other hominids; often, we merged with them. Interestingly, Templeton sees his discoveries as a refutation of more than the replacement hypothesis. He sees it as scientific proof that racism has no rational basis. "You can be 99 percent confident that there was recurrent genetic interchange between African and Eurasian populations," he says. "So the idea of pure, distinct races in humans does not exist. We humans don't have a tree relationship, but rather a trellis. We're intertwined."
I'm always pleased when my intuition is confirmed by independent scientific research.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Honestly, Who Isn't a Cyborg?

[via Amor Mundi] I've heard word that a stirring or scary posthumanity is aborning.

No question, medical and media devices are beginning to enter into some stunningly and disturbingly intimate relations with their makers these days. And in this intercourse of subjects and objects some deeply held expectations, norms, customs are twittering in ways that are edifying and upsetting by turns.

But are we right to think that the prostheticization of humanity is really so unprecedented as all that? Just who are the cyborgs? Who are these troubling chimeras, cyberneticized post-people, roboticized newcomers exactly?

Is it only Kevin Warwick or Steve Mann with their glamorous implants who count and conjure up the specter of scary cyborgological futures, or is it every boring paunchy uncle at the cookout with his cellphone and pacemaker who claws at Pandora's box-lid? Why don't vaccinations or shoe stores or sign language render Average Joe just as post-biological as Locutus of Borg?

When Aristotle defined "man" as a "political animal," that was the first cyborg manifesto as far as I can tell. It was a claim that human beings become different in their "essential natures" when they live together in cities. Already our embodied selves did not decisively end in our skins, but spread out into and were definitively impinged upon by culture and artifice.

Prostheticization does not make humans into posthumans, but defines the inaugural moment when humanity stepped onto the scene of history.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Augmented reality and a point-and-click world

At the risk of gross understatement, virtual reality offers enormous transformative potential for individuals and society. That being said, VR's little brother, augmented reality (AR), will be no slouch either.

AR will allow people to perceive the real world with a wide array of add-ons, such as helpful signs, maps, and even filters to screen out unwated parts of the real world (like flashing neon signs and other eye-sores). It will also enable people to interact with their environment in unprecedented ways, particularly in terms of information gathering. Esstentially, AR will apply digital technology to enhance the analog world.

Toronto fyborg, Steve Mann, has done considerable work in this regard. He's envioned an eye-tap device (i.e. a personal imaging system) that will empower future humans (or cyborgs, I suppose) by giving them control over their visual field -- a realm that has been all but monopolized by corporate interests and underfunded municipalities. Mann, who has also referred to AR as 'computer-mediated reality,' has hoped that this technology will develop outside of corporate circles, but it now appears that this opportunity may have been lost.

GeoVector Corporation and CyberMap Japan (AKA Mapion) recently announced the availability of Mapion Local Search (MLS) for mobile phones in Japan.

With MLS, users can walk down the street anywhere in Japan and point at over 700,000 objects such as buildings, shops, restaurants, banks, historical sites and instantly retrieve information on what they are looking at or find what they are looking for just by pointing their phone. Just like one uses a mouse to click on an object on a computer screen and retrieve information, users will be able to "Click on the Real World" using their mobile phone.

Eventually, it is hoped that users will be able to point their mobile phones at restaurants to get reviews, point at billboards and go directly to the advertiser’s mobile site for shopping, point at a movie poster and buy a ticket, and play a game by pointing at your friends.

While the potential for this is huge and virtually unlimited, it looks as though this service will act as yet another delivery mechanism for advertisments and for quicker access to online stores. Unlike Mann's version of AR, GeoVector's AR is not independent, accessible, or subversive.

But given the nature of technological development, the rise of open source, and burgeoning accessibility, I would have to think that Mann's vision for the common man's AR will eventually come to pass.

Cross-posted from Sentient Developments.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

New Wikipedia article: Postgenderism

Last week I created a new entry in Wikipedia: postgenderism. I added it mostly because I was surprised to find it absent. The idea of the postgendered posthuman is nothing new, with Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto propelling the concept straight into popular consciousness and the culture wars.

That being said, I don't believe Haraway directly articulated 'postgenderism' specifically; she was speaking more of the 'female cyborg' liberated from biological reproduction. The postgenderism that I'm thinking about is more gender neutral with a stronger emphasis on the elimination of not just biological reproduction, but of all gender-specific aspects that differenciate the sexes.

The intro to the Wikipedia piece reads like this:
Postgenderism is a diverse social, political and cultural movement whose adherents affirm the elimination of gender in the human species through the application of advanced biotechnology and assistive reproductive technologies. Advocates of postgenderism argue that the presence of gender roles, social stratification, and cogno-physical disparities and differences are generally to the detriment of individuals and society. Given the radical potential for advanced assistive reproductive options, postgenderists believe that sexual reproduction will eventually become a thing of the past, placing the entire need for gender and gender differences into question.
I hope that others contribute to this entry, particularly in adding referrences to those who have worked on this subject and movement.

Cross-posted from Sentient Developments.

Greens and Evangelicals Unite!?

"Breaking with some of their colleagues in the Christian Right, a group of more than 85 U.S. evangelical Christian leaders called on Congress Wednesday to enact legislation that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists believe contribute to global warming.

Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis," the group, which included the heads of a number of prominent evangelical universities and so-called "megachurches," said in a statement that will appear in a full-page advertisement set to run in Thursday's New York Times.

The "Evangelical Climate Initiative" was motivated primarily by biblical injunctions to protect creation and help the poor, who stand to suffer most from climate change, said Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, one of the most influential U.S. evangelical institutions for more than a century. "This isn't someone else's issue; this is our issue," he said.

The group also released the findings of a recent poll that found that 70 percent of self-described evangelical Christians in the United States said they believed global warming will pose a serious threat to future generations, and nearly two-thirds said the problem required an immediate response.

"There is a grassroots constituency that is already on board," said Rev. Leith Anderson, senior pastor of a megachurch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Read more on the IPS.

On a related note, the Earth Ministry was established in 1992 "to inspire and mobilize the Christian Community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future."

'KILL THE ROBOT!', cries the cyberpunk feminista

"Like the '80s TV series Max Headroom, set "20 minutes in the future," Maggie MacDonald's debut novel presents a paranoid, technology- dominated reality (and rebellion) that, she says, may lie right around the corner. In some ways, the world has already caught up to Kill the Robot ... Like MacDonald in her teenage years, the novel’s heroine, Moore White, immerses herself in the punk/zine subculture, though White's experience is substantially more sinister. She lives under the rule (and surveillance) of a totalitarian regime and multinational tech corporation, where her anarchist associates are disappearing and isolation and illness abound. Within its cyber sci-fi framework, Kill the Robot also presents an alternate history, wherein John Hinckley succeeds in assassinating Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George Bush I takes the throne eight years early, thus accelerating the Western world's downward spiral."

Read more in the Montreal Mirror.

The AuH2O Impact

Historian Rick Perlstein, in his book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, explained Goldwater's impact on the American political scene by way of analogy:

"Think of a senator winning the Democratic nomination in the year 2000 whose positions included halving the military budget, socializing the medical system, reregulating the communications and electrical industries, establishing a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans, and equalizing funding for all schools regardless of property valuations - and who promised to fire Alan Greenspan, counseled withdrawal from the World Trade Organization, and, for good measure, spoke warmly of adolescent sexual experimentation. He would lose in a landslide. He would be relegated to the ash heap of history. But if the precedent of 1964 were repeated, two years later the country would begin electing dozens of men and women just like him. And not many decades later, Republicans would have to proclaim softer versions of those positions to get taken seriously for their party's nomination."