Back to the Future – Presentation Text

Connection is the transformation of humanity into trans- or post-humanity.
P. J. Manney


Hello everyone. I am Khannea Suntzu. My avatar name happens to coincide with my real life name as of last year. I am a transsexual artist from the Netherlands, and my chosen artform is “lifestyling” and “civil recalcitrance”. I blog, I do illustrations, I am an “adventuress” and I occasionally dabble in interface/interaction design.

My talk today is about the bigger picture potential (and long term significance) for Virtual, Augmented and Enhanced forms of reality, in terms of empowering new forms of communication and self-realization across the world.

My talk is also a call to arms, mobilizing freethinking people against pervasive societal intolerance, in specific when this hostility focuses on the free adoption of new technologies, and the freedom of people to use new technologies.

We live in an extraordinary period in human history. There are by any measure a lot of bad things happening om the planet – massive ecological and cultural change caused by the explosion of affluence, technology and general population. Downside of the expansion of the human sphere across the surface of the planet is a high cost in loss of natural biodiversity, increased human competition for ever scarcer natural resources, and the irreversible assault on the planetary climate caused by industrial side effects. It doesn’t look good at this stage.

Clearly the long term consequences of these changes are coming in to view. You can almost see government bend backwards to keep their rich taxpayers happy, at the expense of everyone else. States are bracing themselves for hard hitting aging crisis, population growth, mass migrations, depletion, disparity, civil unrest.

At the same time technology is set to do things we have never seen before on this planet, in this solar system and for a billion years or more in this general part of the galaxy.

It isn’t easy to blankly state we live in a very strange era in human existence. I go one step further by stating – “you haven’t seen anything yet“. May you live in exciting times.

As scarcity and competition escalates things heat up. At the same time all that unpredictable technological progress also heats things up from the opposite end. We’ll see totally new forms of impoverishment clash with totally new forms of radical abundance. The future will be stranger than we can currently conceive of in our wildest dreams.

Uncertainty traumatizes people. Sadly, even deep social unrest makes little difference for the eventual outcome, for good or for bad.

Our political and economic systems world wide can be argued to close to some kind of very abrupt phaseshift, collapse, revolution or transition.

This uncertainly is increasingly paralyzing the political process. Politics is in a “holding pattern” with regards to decission making. Another word for such indecisiveness is apathy.

This apathy makes the political process especially subject to lobbyists, populists, anxiety, vulgarity and cynicism. It is no surprise that politicians in turn exploit this electoral disinterest to introduce sinister legislation, or in some cases formerly charismatic politicians resorting outright to break laws on a massive scale.

I am looking at you here, Obama.

At grassroots level voters are expressing dismay and anger. Society is becoming so viciously polarized and divided against itself.

What has been especially irksome to me is the sharp increase in intolerance on all sides of every debate. We should conclude by now that our media is betraying us and lying about critical things and this reflects in often absurd or outlandish ideas with some people.

Still, there is reason for hope. Technology is creating many new opportunities for nearly everyone on the planet. Some claim the technological progress is quantifiably faster than the decrease in natural resources.

In this talk I call everyone to embrace the tools provided us by advancing technology proactively, and I claim the humans species has little other options left. There is no way to return to a semblance of a pre-industrial, low-technology global society with anywhere near the standards of living we are accustomed to. There is no “going back” and this is most true when it comes to information technologies. Whereas outdated information technologies (radio, TV, telephone) will be replaced, the ever more sophisticated technological information substrate inundating the planet can no longer be deconstructed without exposing humanity to unacceptable hardship – or worse.

I can no longer conceive of a life without Internet, and internet as it used to exist in the 1990s has several times over been replaced by ever faster evolving “new” internet. This isn’t just adding ever more sophisticated sedimental opiate of distraction or infotainment – I find that I can do things now -for very little money- that a generation ago not even the most powerful people on the planet could do. Conversely these advances have made me completely disinterested in a traditional lifestyle – career, marriage, car, 2.4 children, mortgage, white picket fence, hollydays, christmas.

If I were to describe my current abilities to an earlier version of myself just 20 years earlier I wouldn’t even have the proper vocabulary to parse the opening up of existential freedoms allowed by very simple means and devices. I have become a political activist, writer, human rights activist – invited by generous humanitarians to the United States, The Balkan, select portions of Africa and several other European countries. In 2010 I spoke clumsily in Milan, to a bewildered and somewhat bemused audience. Not long after I spoke in Minneapolis, D.C., San Francisco, Croatia, Germany, Belgrade. I have been awestruck by my ability as an arguably marginalized member of Dutch society to effectively penetrate in to people’s hearts and minds and make people get of their couches and become decisively active.

Let me introduce you a metaphor – in the year 1903 the Wright brothers succeeded in something that was previously regarded as fantasy. They made a heavy object fly under its own engine power. For years the achievement of heavier than air conveyance was ridiculed and not taken serious as having little practical relevance to the real world.

Nevertheless a decade later these technologies played a decisive role in a major world war. Not long after the first airplane companies were making massive profits. The impact of mechanization of the air has led directly to humanity leaving the atmosphere in a free-fall orbit less than a half century after the wright brothers made their maiden flight. It was just two generations before people were on the moon after the wright brothers.

Nevertheless we are all in it. The majority of people use Facebook and even though Facebook is a vile corporate blasphemy, it is empowering people in ways literally inconceivable just years ago. Likewise for smartphones, wifi, world wide web, cloud computing, web browsers, laptops, GPS. Soon to be followed by nanotechnology, DNA modifications, an explosion of internet of things and mass robotization, life the first serious attempts at human rejuvenation. But most likely the next decades will see a steady torrent of inconceivable new developments, emerging at an ever faster pace.

To process all this humans need an upgrade in how they communicate. Phones and ASCII-based textg communication is no longer sufficient. Skyping through a little boxed window is no longer adequate to foment human interaction across continents. We need something better and bigger and more encompassing and immersive, and that is clearly Virtual Reality.

In 2005 I fell in love with Second Life.

For well over five years I have been deeply immersed in this amazing consensual hallucination at least a few hours a day. Sadly Second Life is not evolving fast enough as a medium to seduce the same user-base as does Facebook.

I am utterly convinced given halfway adequate hardware and interface tools we could far exceed current user adoption rates for immersive virtual environments as currently is vogue for social networks and gaming. We are talking billions of people using immersive communication in to a single unified medium of embedding, expression, self-discovery, creativity and immersion.

Clay Shirky wrote about “The Cognitive Surplus” and he illustrated the power of liberating people from, passivity and complacency by offering people the right tools. I believe Clay Shirkey is 100% correct, and eve he doesn’t fully appreciate how much raw political and technological power for improving the world these new media can mobilize. If we wake up a small percentage of human beings in to creativity in an easy to use, free, noncentralized, robust, safe virtual medium, the condensed creative energy directed against corrupt monopolies and hostile privilege will change the planet.

I understand why a lot of people didn’t like Second Life, much in the same manner I appreciate that the first airplanes used by the wright brothers were clumsy, uncomfortable, dangerous and somewhat silly in appearance.

Today I invite everyone who truly hears the essence of my message to conspire with me to create that medium of interaction that is a worthy heir to the tower of technological affordances we already enjoy. It is time for the next stage, and it is of paramount importance that this next stage is not a contrivance for these same entrenched business interests. Facebook may be widely adopted, and Oculus rift may be amazing, but we can not allow the intelligence or corporate elites of the United States to take the lead in generating the next fully immersive stage of human society.

We urgently need these new revolutions.

Governments world wide are in a mad scramble to consolidate and surveil communication, probably for far more sinister reasons than we here can speculate at. And with good reason – telephones, faxes, radio, TV, torrent, world wide web, twitter, youtube, facebook – all these technologies are new media crowbars that blow authoritarian government and entrenched corporate privilege dead out of the water. These are truly liberating technologies.

It is no stretch of the imagination that an intuitive, affordable, light weight, stereoscopic, low-granular, reliable, safe, programmable, free, immersive virtual reality console would have exponentially more impact than anything that came before. As Giulio has already quoted at length from various science fiction sources – these are potential cultural engines of accelerated progress. If I can suspend virtual object and and mind maps and games in an immersible virtual, enhanced or augmented reality, tools of visualization or education, as social interaction, as self-realization or self-visualization, as entertainment or as sexual liberation, the compound impact is guaranteed to be far more profound than all previous means of communication combined.

In that light, maybe it isn’t so strange when people respond with public spectacles of hostility, anxiety and distress when witnessing the clumsy reality of early decade winged airflight or steam engines or second life – initial stages make the civilians feel things are about to change. And the more things change, the more they’ll never be the same again.

But maybe we collectively need to get over this infantile addiction to future shock. It’s getting old.