January 6, 2005

The transhumanist Dilbert future

by Michael Mateas · , 6:46 pm

Intellectual property in the context of games and new media is one of our regular themes here at GTxA (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9). So I was particularly struck by the IP concerns raised in More than Human, an article appearing in CIO Magazine (“The Resource for Information Executives”). The article matter-of-factly explores the corporate implications of transhumanism, particularly for Chief Information Officers. As corporate employees enhance their bodies and minds, there will be the need to adjust digital rights management policies.

When brains can interact with hard disks, remembering will become the equivalent of copying. Presumably, intellectual property producers will react with the usual mix of policies, some generous, some not. Some producers will want you to pay every time you remember something; others will allow you to keep content in consciousness for as long as you like but levy an extra charge for moving it into long-term memory; still others will want to erase their content entirely as rights expire, essentially inducing a contractually limited form of amnesia.

Neurosecuriuty will also be a hot issue.

A brain running on a network will obviously be an extremely attractive target for everyone from outright criminals to bored hackers to spammers. Why worry about actually earning a promotion when you can just write a worm that will configure your superior’s brain so that the very thought of you triggers his or her pleasure centers? Why bother with phishing when you can direct your victims to transfer their assets straight to your bank account? Why tolerate the presence of infidels when they can be converted to the one true faith with the push of a button?

Despite these difficult issues, corporations can’t avoid opening the Pandora’s box of transhumanist modification:

When the people around you—competitors, colleagues, partners—can run Google searches in their brains during conversations; or read documents upside down on a desk 30 feet away; or remember exactly who said what, when and where; or coordinate meeting tactics telepathically; or work forever without sleep; or control every device on a production line with thought alone, your only probable alternative is to join them or retire. No corporation could ignore the competitive potential of a neurotech-enhanced workforce for long.

Fortunately for you CIO’s out there, all these difficulties mean “…the transhumanist era is going to be a Golden Age for CIOs and their skill sets.”

While I’m not unsympathetic to transhumanism, I find this article disturbingly hilarious. Dig the blithe acceptance of a cyberpunk dystopic future in which the worst features of the present day intellectual property and security landscape are literally hardwired into our consciousness. Note how fundamental changes in our technological relationship to the world leave unchanged the network of social and economic structures. Revel in the run-away metaphoric use of contemporary computational terminology (and you thought AI was bad…). Is there a media theorist in the house?

5 Responses to “The transhumanist Dilbert future”

  1. nick Says:

    I also loved the part about how this brings the brain into the “upgrade cycle that characterizes contemporary consumption patterns.” Not to mention this reconceptualization of the human brain in terms of some sort of 1990s file server on a LAN: “… the brain appears to consider itself a trusted environment. When brain region A gets a file request from region B, it typically hands over the data automatically…” This is lovely, too: “It might also be necessary to outsource significant portions of our neural processing to highly secure computing sites.”

    My first thought was that this article couldn’t be serious, but as soon as I read the slug for the article at CIO Magazine, I saw that it was:

    Transhumanism–the practice of enhancing people through technology–sounds like science fiction. But when it arrives (and it will), it will create unique problems for CIOs.

    Also, I recognized the author’s name as genuine. Fred Hapgood has done a lot of science and technology journalism, but I mainly remember his name from Up the Infinite Corridor, a book about innovation at MIT that he wrote.

    Journalistic reality outpaces parody once again. It’s a brutal problem for publications like The Onion, I’m sure, just as it was back when I wrote for Suck.com.

  2. Michael Says:

    Yeah, the “trusted environment” stuff was a choice paragraph as well. On first glance I too wondered if this was a parody… But, then, as I – oops, my license just expired … now what were we talking about?

  3. Ian Bogost Says:

    Or perhaps it’s not reality either, but rather an example of CIO offering knowing tongue-in-cheek parody to service their geek-bred readership. It’s a kind of decoder ring that keeps the CIO and the CIO-hopeful duly separated from their CxO brethren, forges internal community, and facilitates collective self-identity.

  4. nick Says:

    Oh no! You mean I’m not a CIO, beacuse I didn’t pick up on that?


  5. mark Says:

    On first glance I too wondered if this was a parody

    I often find myself thinking that when I read transhumanist writings. Not that I’m completely uninterested in discussing the possibilities, but a lot of it does read like a parody of either techno-utopianism or techno-dystopianism, depending on your perspective.

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