In the near future, will we walk around projecting Obi Wan holograms out of our smartphones? How long will it take for a smartphone or hand-held device to shoot out a lightsaber? And the ever-pressing question: will George Lucas sue you?
Further proving that not only does life imitate art but that technology imitates both, the company Wicked Lasers released their Spyder III Pro Arctic laser last year, with a design that looks curiously similar to the lightsabers in Star Wars. So similar, in fact, that George Lucas threatened to sue the company if they didn’t cease and desist.
The Spyder III laser–which can be used for a wide range of utilities, including presentations, construction work, surgical operations, bar code scanners and DVD players—pumps out an entire watt of energy and is the first consumer laser to have four modes of operation. If used incorrectly, it can also be potentially hazardous (possibly causing blindness if shined into the retina), which caused the manufacturer to release a series of product modifications.
The modifications haven’t stopped the legendary Star Wars guru from threatening to take Wicked Lasers to court if it doesn’t change the design. While the laser is being marketed to industrial, military, and research agencies, there is certainly nothing to guarantee that a zealous Jedi fanatic won’t shell out the $200 on the price tag in order to be able to walk into Starbucks looking like Count Dooku (even though Dooku is a Sith lord).
And therein lies the danger. So far, the laser has not been responsible for any major burn injuries, blindness or radiation exposure claims. But who’s to say Lucas and his people won’t manufacture one in order to kill off the lightsaber imitator?
Historically, Lucas has been spiteful, sometimes in surprising, accidentally progressive ways, and unabashed about protecting his Star Wars brand from copyright infringement. But to the point where he would sue a laser company over its “hilt” designs? Lucas may just have to accept that handheld devices and contemporary gadgets could bear striking similarities to movie weapons.
In our mashup society it’s becoming more and more popular to blend different aspects of pop culture—copyright monsters like LucasFilms, Google and Disney may just have to CHILL out and make room for a little Fair Use. At least when it comes to lasers and pirates.
At first I didn’t understand. Everyone kept talking about Tupac and something ‘gram. I thought they were saying Tupac’s using Instagram. But that didn’t make sense. How can you use social media if you’re dead?
Then I realized they were referring to the hologram of the deceased rapper Tupac Shakur displayed alongside Snoop Dog at this year’s Coachella music festival. By now virtually everyone’s heard of this and it’s spreading like a nerdcore meme wildfire across the Internet. And rightly so. It’s pretty darn neat. Some would say mind-blowing. I would say ‘just the beginning.’
Already people are calling out their lists of dead celebrities who they’d like to see resurrected by the new hologram technology. Sinatra. Elvis. Mozart. John Candy….? The Beatles sons’ may not be needed to reanimate the Fab Four anymore—we’ve got holograms!
What most people aren’t quite connecting the dots on yet is the full implication of what we’ve seen. The incredible ease with which groundbreaking technological innovations—Watson, exoplanet detection, augmented reality, nanotechnology, etc—are now streaming into our daily lives may blind us from seeing that the Tupac hologram represents more than just the ability to project the digital likeness of someone for entertainment purposes. It represents the ability of technology to essentially recreate someone.
The company that created the Tupac hologram, the Digital Domain Media Group, did so by piecing together video recordings of Tupac performing during his life. Advanced computer graphics were used to reanimate not only his mannerisms, movements, and voice but smaller details like jewelry and tattoos.
Prominent transhuman scholars and Singularitarians, such as Ray Kurzweil, maintain that a vastly more complex form of simulation will be possible in the future, in which not only our likeness but our subjective existence will be able to be resurrected. This would entail uploading our minds onto software and instantiating them onto an entirely non-biological substrate. Once our physical bodies die our minds would then be projected into a virtual universe, which by then will probably be the village square of choice. In this sense, I guess I’ve answered my initial question of how a dead person could use social media.
We may look back on this year’s Coachella as more than just the birth of a mainstream consumer love affair with holograms. This could go down as an oddly pop culture-friendly watershed moment in transhumanism.
Guerilla Marketing And The Singularity
Could we find there’s no limit to the reach of guerilla marketing? As we hurl ourselves toward a future of sentient nanobots and global AI networks, what will become of advertising and its sneaky, drug-addled step-brother, marketing? I found myself thinking about this at the 2011 Singularity Summit, when filmmaker Jason Silva (a self-described “techno-optimist transhumanist wunderkind”) presented a film in the vein of his “The Immortalist”, a work of ‘art’ that feels more like Ashton Kutcher describing quantum mechanics at a poetry slam. This film, and in fact Silva’s entire presentation, felt curiously out of place. Smacking of hackneyed Hollywood orchestration, the film wielded roughly the intellectual curiosity of Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” video.
Roland Emmerich Likes The Singularity
What makes this guerilla marketing? Well, Jason Silva’s presence there, and his presentation itself, was being filmed by a documentary film crew embedded by director Roland Emmerich, who is in development on a 2013 feature film called Singularity, which has reportedly tapped Ray Kurzweil as its top consultant. My theory is that Jason Silva will play a naïve proponent who cheerleads the positive possibilities behind the singularity before being killed off by either rampant self-replicating nanotechnology or malevolent artificial intelligence. I submit that his short films and his appearance at the Summit will be featured in the film, as a fictional cautionary tale. Speaking of fictional cautionary tales, the fact that Silva is dating Heather Graham, who was present at the Summit and appeared in some of the shots, bodes well for my theory. If it turns out Graham is in Singularity you can be sure Silva’s appearance at the Summit was a cunningly leveraged marketing ploy by Emmerich that will pay off big time in 2013.
Advertising In An Accelerating Future
I found myself shocked that even a community as savvy and future-shocked as the Singularity Institute could let themselves be infiltrated by a Hollywood guerilla marketing team. While some analysts have speculated that the actual Singularity will make human endeavors such as advertising and marketing obsolete—as this staggering schism in history will surely render new industries and modalities that will fundamentally change the nature of capitalism—I have to respectfully disagree. The global economy relies on advertising and consumerism as its bone marrow. In the coming decades I see us likely to descend even further into a technocratic nightmare fueled by a savvy corporatocracy that harvests consumers like an abbatoir to lifestock, using new technologies to vacuum away the noxious fumes.
“Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?”
The Methuselah Generation, a documentary about life extension, biotechnology, and the doctors working at the edge of science and philosophy, needs you! Anyone interested in the delicate balance between life and death and humanity’s tenuous tightwalk rope between exponential growth and self-destruction, should take a keen interest in this film, which features Terry Grossman, Aubrey du Gray, Gregory Benford, and Robin Hanson. Please vote for it as IndieWire’s Project of the Week, and also donate to the Kickstarter campaign. There are rewards for pledging, including being a Producer on the film. Who knows, it may just grant you an extra hundred years of life, though that’s not one of the official tiers!
The hacktivist collective Anonymous, a decentralized critical mass of civil disobedients, creatives and situationists, made headlines a few years ago by launching a DDoS campaign that exposed some of the Church of Scientology’s privileged documents. In order to punish the Church for its attempts to monetize truth-seeking and intimidate followers, Anon decreed nothing less than the destruction of the entire religion. After the dust settled, rumors of collective’s death were greatly exaggerated. Now with the rise of WikiLeaks as a global force and calamitous economic conditions brewing civil unrest among the populations of the world, the second decade of the 21st century is fertile ground for bold culture jamming, led by a technologically savvy cabal of revolutionaries with no central authority and a catch-all message broadly interpreted as being warm and cuddly with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Recently, the group has been active again, cracking a massive child pornography ring and infiltrating government and law enforcement agencies all across the world. There were even rumors afoot of an Anonymous plan to attack Facebook, which turned out to be false, or perhaps just premature. But murmurs still persist about an Occupy The Airwaves campaign to hack into the FEMA Emergency Alert System, essentially hijacking all radio and TV stations, with a pro-Occupy message.
Ideas don’t bleed…
Over the weekend I attended the 2011 Singularity Summit in New York to assist my friends, filmmakers Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado, who are shooting a documentary, The Methuselah Generation, about the science of life extension. Along the way, we filmed a lively conversation between life extensionist Aubrey de Grey and economist Robin Hanson about the implications and probability of extending the human lifespan through biotechnology and cryonics. And I was lucky enough meet science fiction author David Brin (creator of the Uplift series), who agreed to give my short story about an AI charter city a shake.
Ray Kurzweil started up the Summit with a presentation about how accelerating computational powers and AI technologies will lead to the Singularity sometime during the 2040′s. Perhaps to his chagrin, Kurweil has become somewhat of a guru for technophiles who wish to herald a “Rapture for the Nerds”. To his credit, Kurzweil fans this fire only with scrupulous research and a fairly remarkable track record for predicting trends in technology. Much has been said in recent years about Kurzweil shaping the timeline of the Singularity to coincide with his lifespan (the man has openly said he does not expect to die), and there is probably some truth to this—the part not in parentheses, that is. But as far as delightful ruminations and thought experiments, backed up by hard science, Kurzweil’s a powerful force in the world of futurism.
Other presenters included Peter Thiel, Sonia Arrison, Jason Silva (who I believe was doing guerilla marketing for a Roland Emmerich 2013 feature about the Singularity—more about this theory in future blog), David Brin, and Ken Jennings, former Jeapordy champion who recently lost to IBM’s Watson. Elizier Yudkowsky presented research pertaining to problems we are encountering in trying to program friendly AI. Max Tegmark attempted to explain why he thinks we’re alone in the universe and why it will be up to humans to allow for the meaningful dissemination of intelligence throughout the universe.
Mix that in with interviewing a 16 year old cryonics customer who fully expects to be amphibious someday, screening the trailer for The Methuselah Generation (parts of which will be in 3D!), and taking an inside tour of the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zucati Park—thanks to my new friend Sage—and I’d have to say my first trip to New York was one big miraculous mind-fuck.
Curiously enough, I saw the same meme presented at both the Singularity Summit and Occupy–”The Beginning is Near”. It seems as though both advocates of transhumanism and protesters against rabid economic inequality share subtle religious undertones: the faith in vaguely defined concepts bringing clarity to a chaotic and unjust world that is in dire need of planetary evolution. Part of me still fears that the Singularity may end up exponentially fueling the very Corporatocracy that Occupy and myself fear is currently strangling the life out of our mental and physical environments. Though, perhaps it’s nothing a few nanobots can’t fix.
A filmmaker of the future. Man fits video camera into prosthetic eye. Reality TV like never before?
THIS ARTICLE discusses the recent achievement by engineers at the University of Southampton who ‘printed’ an aircraft using a technology called laser sintering. Could this be the opening salvo in the coming age of quantum fabricators, claytronics, and 3D technologies that will allow us to generate our own matter, possibly even actual human organs?
READ THIS ARTICLE to learn about a recently discovered enormous reservoir of H20 found feeding a black hole 12 billion light years away…mind-boggling!
You softly crinkle and crunch of a piece of paper in your hands. A form begins to take shape. By twisting and manipulating the folds, a flat plane turns into a 3-D shape, such as a robot. This is the process of origami, the ancient art of paper folding. Creative scientists and mathematicians have recently taken an interest in the engineering applications that origami has to offer.
With origami principles in mind, engineers are studying ways of fitting large objects into small spaces. Think of airbags folded neatly into steering wheels. Origami can simulate the condensing down of an object while providing information about its eventual re-expansion. Origami also has applications that only science fiction authors could have predicted. (Saslow 2010)
The blueprints for a revolutionary new dimension of science are quickly taking shape- on the nano-scale. DNA origami is a process that molds DNA into pre-determined shapes. The process is relatively quick, inexpensive, and the resource- genetic code- is endless.
The technique, now known as DNA origami, was invented by Paul Rothemund. He was looking for a way to compete for the world record of longest sequence of DNA sculpted into something recognizable, set by Ned Seemen. Seemen’s process was complicated; it involved many short sequences of DNA meticulously glued together. Rothemund wanted something simpler. (Shasha & Lazere 2010)
Imagine that DNA is a ladder, and each rung is made of a base pairing. Adenine only attaches to Thymine, Cytosine to Guanine. The ladder will twist in different ways depending on the sequence of the rungs. DNA can easily be unzipped down the middle, separating the two bases.
So Rothemund decided to use the origami principle of folding to create his work of art. He imagined taking viral DNA- single strands that are notorious for their long length- and re-zipping then with smaller segments of other single strands. Only the small pieces would have to be synthesized. He created a computer program that would simulate the actual process.
Rothemund programmed the software to know how the single strand, one he already had in his lab, would need to be bonded in order to fold the way he wanted. The molecules would twist and turn as the short single strands “stapled” together parts of the long DNA strand. The program output exactly what sequences were needed.
Rothemund sent the necessary sequences to a lab and they delivered the synthetic molecules to his lab. After procuring the “staples” by mail he mixed the two in a buffer that stabilized the DNA. He heated the solution, cooled it, and then voila- happy faces appeared, his first design. (Sanderson 2010) The strands, mapped out by the computer program, were automatically folded together in an origami like method.
There is a wonderful visualization about 6 minutes into this video of Rothemund’s 2008 presentation at the annual TED conference.
Life Imitates Art
Paul Rothemund and Ned Seemen are friendly foes. Seemen, also known as the father of DNA nanotechnology, has worked with Rothemund on the applications on DNA manipulation on many occasions since the early 90’s.
In 1980 Seemen was inspired to synthetically create DNA, and shaping it according to base-pairings. While running DNA crystallography test on specific strands, he realized that a certain shape was formed every time there was a pattern of base pairings. He was looking at M.C. Escher’s “Depth” when it dawned on him- he could arrange certain DNA molecules just like an artist could arrange a drawing. (Shasha & Lazere 2010)
Shaping DNA is not just aesthetically creative; it is potentially useful to society in many ways. Many researchers are now testing the waters for the very real applications of this new art form. In the coming years their findings will achieve utility outside of the lab and in everyday procedures.
The New Frontier
Computer chip circuitry may one day be designed with tiny DNA scaffolds holding parts in place. These parts would replace costly metals, and allow chips to be smaller and faster. Rothemund, being particularly interested in the computing power of molecules, is studying the possibilities with IBM’s Almadem Research Center. (Shasha & Lazere 2010)
Since DNA is a fraction of the size of existing structures, circuitry components could be placed closer than ever before. This equals faster speeds, smaller surface area on circuit boards, and also fewer metals used in the manufacturing process. Imagine the rare metal components on chips being replaced with DNA structures. (DNA ‘Organises’ itself on Silicon)
Though folding is becoming both increasingly less expensive and less time consuming, many scientists are still skeptical of the practicality of current theories. (Drexler 2010) The applications of it span many disciplines and are far reaching. As Rothemund explains, “DNA origami was a leap of faith… it was something that I thought was such a high value target, that if it worked out it would be great.” (Shasha & Lazere 2010) DNA has uses in transport systems- both in computer chips- and in the human body.
Researchers are looking towards the medical uses of this new find. Scientists in Denmark have created a hollow box which has a lockable hinged lid, made entirely of DNA. (Rice 2009) These so called “lockboxes” could eventually transport drugs or proteins into the bloodstream and across cell membranes.
Critics include skeptics of genetic engineering and gene therapy. As with any forms of biotechnology, some see the developments as a dangerous meddling with nature’s affairs, especially when applied to the human body.
Viruses are often used to transport the necessary chemicals to manipulate genes. Contemporary medical procedure dictates that viruses be used to transport these materials. This causes unnecessary stress to the body. (Dunlap, Maggi, Soria & Monaco 1997) DNA boxes could be used in a significantly improve this type of delivery.
Though actual folded DNA delivery systems could be five to ten years away, advances are being made every day. For example, in 2010 a “robot” made of DNA was engineered to follow along a DNA track.
Engineers are developing these molecular robots in the hopes that they will be able to assist in diagnosing and treating diseases in the human body. The robots will be deployed to detect diseases, make decisions based on that information, and then deliver a treatment.
Think an autonomous factory robot crossed with a brilliant doctor, working to cure people of life threatening ailments such as cancer. (Rice 2009)
DNA origami is at the crossroads of medicine, biology, engineering, and art.
Previously relegated to the realm of science fiction, these awe-inspiring discoveries in biotechnology and nanotechnology are now unfolding right in front of our eyes. It has become clear that art has a place in science, and science a place in art.
- Nano Origami (overthemoonscifi.wordpress.com)
- Army Enlists ‘DNA Origami’ to Spot Outbreaks (wired.com)
- Top down lithography and bottom up DNA origami combining for a path to next generation electronics (nextbigfuture.com)
- DNA engine observed in real-time traveling along base pair track (sciencedaily.com)
- Programmed DNA Robot Goes Where Scientists Tell It (livescience.com)