Transhumanist Avatars

Transhumanist Avatars Storm Second Life

More than 80 transhumanist avatars stormed the virtual world of Second Life for a community event organized by Humanity+ on September 15 , 2011. This has been by far the largest virtual transhumanist event that I have seen, and I believe I have seen them all.

Two or three years ago the Second Life system would have been slowed down to a halt by 80 participants, but now everything worked without a glitch: virtual reality technology has evolved, and transhumanists want to bring the same fast evolution to RL (Second Life slang for “Real Life.”)

Martine Rothblatt, owner of the virtual meeting venue at Terasem island, said after the event “It is a really positive sign to have a standing room only crowd turn out for a workshop on leading transhumanism to social ascendance.”

The invitation said “Join us in Second Life to brainstorm how to move forward together! Our upcoming event is for our members and friends, and will focus on the intersection of leadership and the future.”

After the opening presentation, Humanity+ Chair Natasha Vita-More gave the second speaker, Ben Goertzel, the Humanity+ 2011 Visionary Award. Ben described how recent findings in neurology and cognitive science can be applied to leadership in an organization and, following Nietzsche, compared both minds and leaders to “army commanders who take responsibility, after the fact, for what the soldiers did.”

Transhumanist Avatars

Most speakers said that leadership is not about micro-management, but rather about vision and inspiration. Howard Bloom summarized leadership as “passion, persistence, persuasion, vision, and truth,” and emphasized the importance of getting the right picture in the media. Martine exhorted to focus on action and many different practical goals “No paper project ever fails — or succeeds,” and, following Margaret Mead, reminded that “it only takes a few passionate and committed people to get something done, that’s the only way to get things done.”

Bioethicist Linda MacDonald Glenn lamented the image of transhumanism as “otherness” and proposed inclusiveness and kindness to become better humans together. “I want to be more than human,” she said, “and I want all of us to be more than human.”

In answering the first question from the audience, Natasha said: “I think what we expect to do to to get more mainstream coverage is to try to turn some of our strategies back to the 1990s, where there was a tremendous amount of press coverage for those of us looking at the future.”

“Give a vision and people will self-organize, and yes, back to the 60s and the 90s and to OPTIMISM,” said The Lucifer Principle‘s author Howard Bloom, “The spirit of the 60s and of the 90s is the spirit of taking over and using will to take the future in the direction that we want, rather than laying down and letting destiny do it for us, which is the spirit of 9/11.”

As I noted in my talk, we should forget the pessimism of the last decade, whose tone was set by 9/11, and go back to the solar and positive optimism of transhumanism in the 90s, occasionally naive, often politically incorrect, but always vibrant, full with energy and inspiring visions. Also, back to space, and why not back to the sixties (a truly magic decade.)

Khannea Suntzu, the outspoken “virtual Noam Chomsky of transhumanism”, has replied to the general optimism with a gloomy post on social and political issues which, I believe, cannot be easily dismissed. As Bloom noted, “no one knows what a singularity is,” but we are approaching it together.

Natasha sent this summary statement:

“The Second Life event was a success. Why? Because we were packed with avatars and the presentations were focused and inspiring. Giulio’s talk revved-up the audience by expanding on how we need to return to the enthusiasm of the 1990s and reinstate that visionary, can-do attitude that we once had. Martine’s talk introduced the specifics of organizational management and that to succeed we need to promote diversity. Howard’s talk reminded us that passion is the key to not only getting our own work accomplished, but invigorating others to work with us. Linda’s talk emphasized the ideas of generosity, respect and appreciation within organizations. Ben’s talk produced an analogy between the phenomenal self and social organizations. My own talk asked what we can do to improve what we are already doing and how we can face change head-on and thrive.

After the talks, we had time for questions and the “open mic” conversation built upon the topics and content of the talks. There was a deeply motivated discussion on the idea of a project called “Future Day”. Ben presented the idea and Howard put this idea forward as a way to not only market Humanity+ but revive a spirit of the future and transhumanism which has been overridden by an over emphasis on technological risks and ethics. Where is our much needed spirit of can-do and emphasis on our innate human potential to innovate and problem-solve? Future Day would be a collaborative project that invites and includes all organizations within the transhumanist and future-oriented environment. We discussed a series of projects that would be in keeping with the Future Day concept. We also discussed why change is necessary for an organization and honestly assessed how we might improve what we are doing.

The Humanity+ @ Second Life “Leadership: MINDS” event was a success for many reasons. While Second Life is not the most convenient environment to hold a meeting. It is often slow and cumbersome. Many of our members had difficulty interfacing with the SL software and/or downloading that latest drivers for compatibility with the newest version of SL. Will we do it again? Yes, most definitely. We will also hold events in other virtual environments, such as OpenQwaq. And maybe in the fall our next meeting with be at teleXLR8!”

This video beginning with Ben’s talk (sorry Natasha, your opening talk is missing) was recorded from a fixed point of view behind the lectern. There is also a lower resolution but longer version of the same video, including the last part of the Q/A session. Thanks to Kim and Jack for recording the videos. This audio-only stream was recorded by Terasem’s Lori Rhodes. This video from a front PoV zoomed on the presentation screens, which includes Natasha’s opening talk, was produced by merging a video-only recording with Lori’s audio in post-processing.

The videos have their fun moments, showing the limited familiarity of some of the speakers with Second Life. Howard sent this comment:

“Natasha Vita-More arranged an event in which she got popcorn sized nuggets of genuine wisdom by formatting ten-minute micro-presentations on leadership. Second life has drawbacks for conferencing: you can’t look into the faces of your listeners as you talk, and you see the sexual aspirations of many of your colleagues’ avatars, with tiny waists for women, bulging shoulders for men, and more, much of which becomes very apparent when second life is not able to summon the computer resources to clothe those you are speaking with. But for hit and run conferences gathering folks from all over the continent or the globe, it is an adventure, and it works.”

First published by H+ Magazine on September 19, 2011.

Republished by IEET.