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.
My forthcoming e-book, which I am currently fundraising for with an IndieGoGo campaign, will feature four sci-fi stories, each with a strange little twist. Below are new summaries for two of the stories.
In “AutoPhil” the main character, Phil, is a financially desperate human looking for work a few days into the Singularity. He accepts an ominous job archiving human minds for a superior artilect named Rasputin.
Beyond just introducing the idea of a biologically organic search engine (the human mind, which, in this fictional universe, is still evolving) used by machines in order to optimize their marketing tactics, this story poses the question of how post-Singularity entities will compete with each other economically. The way I depict it, things are more cutthroat than ever, with the entire human noosphere open to horrifying data mining tactics.
In my novella “Someday This Will All Be Yours” I trace the life and times of Dr. Jim Jacoba, a biotechnology scientist turned post-human magnate, who, in his quest to achieve an indefinite lifespan, unwittingly assists in the machine takeover, all the while losing his family to death and betrayal.
In this story, I depict the Singularity as the new Manifest Destiny, a spaceward expansion based on privatizing and patenting regions of the solar system in order to mine for computronium. As AI artilects merge, acquire one another, and step on each other to suckle off the all-powerful Dyson Spheres being constructed around the Earth, humans struggle to maintain relevance.
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.
Most people don’t openly profess an interest in serial killers or the subject of murder, as these topics are considered morbid and untoward. But the 24 hour news cycle has it’s own sardonic obsession with brutality, and you can see evidence of this every night on the local news and CNN. For months at a time, people crowd around their television sets, listening with bated breath for the salient details of a buried baby or a raped teenager. But we are not obsessed with violence and terror. I repeat, we are NOT obsessed with violence and terror!
But for those of us who do secretly wonder about the final thoughts of a tortured soul, or the sounds a serial killer makes when no one else is around, have I got a film for you! My film, HELLHOUSE, which I am co-writing/directing with my friend and fellow horror movie fanatic, Jared Salas. We have launched a KICKSTARTER campaign for our movie and are expecting to begin shooting principal photography in spring.
HELLHOUSE is about a financially desperate couple, Collin and Aria, who decide to start robbing houses in order to pay their bills….they pick the wrong house. What they find inside will keep law enforcement officers and scientists baffled for years to come, and hopefully moviegoers too!
Right now we need help funding this movie. We’re not asking for much and the money we do get will be used for camera equipment, lenses, and for the creation of a haunting prosthetic mask for the film’s antagonist. Anyone out there who wants to support an independent avante garde horror film in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil, and Quarantine is encouraged to visit our KICKSTARTER page, watch the teaser trailer and get on board the HELLHOUSE production!
The public sphere, our little clown’s autopsy. With marketers so ravenous to calibrate our consumption patterns they actually embed themselves among us– donning tattoos and piercings, or whatever styles their subjects embody– and document our lifestyles. They compile their findings into power-point presentations and sell them to companies that want to tap into consumer spending habits. This relatively new form of guerilla marketing, called “cool hunting”, often targets the youth demographic (whose annual spending is well over $100 billion). It is either an innovative method by which to conduct market research or an impediment to the organic evolution of culture—it depends on who you talk to.
After first reading about cool hunting in ’s No Logo years ago during my intensely liberal Santa Cruz education (full disclosure), I began sending my resume to some of these firms in the hope that they would unwittingly afford a Gonzo-style cynic an inside look at their methods. Only two of them took the bait. A Los Angeles based cool hunting company called Look-Look paid me $150 to photograph examples of green-washing and experiential retail. Another company, The Intelligence Group, supplied me with a real gem: sample pages of The Cassandra Report, their tri-monthly analysis of Gen X/Gen Y lifestyle trends which companies like Verizon, Microsoft, MTV and dozens more subscribe to at the annual cost of $35,000-$50,000.
One of the trends featured in that issue is something called HyperSpace. According to the Cassandra Report: “Everyday objects will become computer interfaces – new opportunities for marketers and brands to embed advertisements and fully understand consumer preferences.” This concept deposits social networking into the real world. People with Internet-ready cell phones will be able to access on-line information about objects and locations in their physical environments by entering codes found there, or by simply scanning them with their phones. Users of this network will be able to tag these objects and locations—clicking on them as if hyperlinks, essentially—and share their latest finds (such as a great new diner!) with friends and people prowling for recommendations.
Pioneering entities, such as Yellow Card, Socialight, and Semapedia.org, are promoting what they consider to be functionalities of Web 3.0. Semapedia.org is a non-profit that wants to “connect the virtual and physical world” by providing cell-phone readable 2D barcodes that people can use to link to wikipedia.org. These barcodes, and “triggers” like them, are already common in Japan and parts of Europe. According to Socialight Co-founder Dan Melinger, HyperSpace represents a “new paradigm for communication, [utilizing] asynchroyonous place-based messaging.” Melinger stresses that the application is opt-in only, and that although the technology will allow mobile carriers to track users’ physical locations down to within a few blocks (using GPS-like systems), guidelines are in place to ensure that their information is kept private.
Will linking objects and locations in our physical environment to on-line networks help to someday purge the public sphere of its marketing mayhem? A profusion of small “triggers” and symbols replacing traditional advertisements could certainly make our Main Streets less audio-visually grotesque. But if the triggers themselves are gateways to brand marketing platforms, anything and everything we see could be imbued with commercial transmissions (similar to how we oblige to watching short ads at the beginning of CNN videos).
Make no mistake, companies will be closely monitoring whether or not we elect to receive these transmissions: Hyperspace will allow marketers to track our clicks in the real world the same way they currently track our links on the Internet. This will forever transform the public sphere. Instead of the old days of navigating through public spaces that contain discrete advertisements, denizens of the Web 3.0 era will live in Web-encoded corporate environments.
The clown’s autopsy will move inside of our heads.
After watching a movie a couple years ago (can’t remember which one, probably Air Bud 2) I was jiving down the sidewalk in rhythm to the Commodores’ Machine Gun (the hip-grinder from Boogie Nights) when I looked up and saw a monolithic face rushing toward me out of the sky. It was a holographic billboard advertisement for the new A&E series Paranormal State. When I got home I looked it up and read about their even more audacious advertising scheme in New York.
A&E was also promoting their new series by utilizing a technology called “audio spotlighting”. In NYC, on Prince Street, as people walked by a billboard for the show, a voice in their heads whispered, “It’s not your imagination. Who is that? Who’s there?”
Traditionally used by libraries and museums, audio spotlighting transmits beams of sound onto specific targets the same way a light bulb projects rays of light. While it seems like the voice is speaking directly in your mind, it is actually just reverberating outside your skull. Holosonics President and founder Joe Pompei says the technology will help cut down on excessive noise in crowded city areas like Time Square. The technology has attracted criticism from groups like the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (cognitiveliberty.org), who charge the technology violates the individual’s right “to have decision-making authority over matters affecting his or her mind.”
I spoke with Pompei about whether his audio spotlighting technology, when used in marketing campaigns, qualifies as subliminal advertising. He dismissed this as propaganda disseminated by his detractors, or the “tin-foil hat paranoids”. Anyone who actually understands the technology, he says, knows there is nothing malicious going on. The debate is likely just the opening salvo for a new civil rights battle over mental privacy. The CCLE also points out “neuro-marketing” organizations like the BrightHouse Institute in Atlanta as violating mental privacy. BrightHouse uses MRI scanning to decode patterns in people’s thought processes and devise custom-tailored advertising schemes.
If traditional advertisements compete through noise and glare to get our attention, will replacing them with quieter, more surreptitious advertisements (such as ones beamed into our heads) make the public sphere less of a madhouse? Or are we simply making it easier for marketers to reach us?
What’s to stop a company or government agency from shining anon your front lawn, or your bedroom window, or the driver’s side door of your car?
Instead of having to trash those annoying flyers on your windshield in the morning you may find yourself humming loudly to drown out the voices in your head.
Last weekend the members of my absurdist friendship quorum (a motley crew of jaded but brilliant blue-collar art-house left-wingers hailing from San Francisco and Los Angeles) met again for our ceremonial Risk 2210 AD clash. It’s quite possible your only exposure to Risk is an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer declares that “the Ukraine is weak.” FYI, that was old, classic Risk they were playing. Still fun, but a far cry from the vastly more complex and exciting Risk 2210 AD, which won the Origins Award for Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game of 2001.
For fear of inciting self-destructive thoughts in the minds of the reader, I will not attempt to explain the rules of the game except to simply state that the newer game involves colonizing water territories and the moon, as well as wielding nuclear weapons and diplomats. Additionally, over the years my friend Travis has made several addendums to the game: most notably, a MAD (mutually assured destruction) card and a separate continental shelf for Antarctica, as well as a corresponding Global Warming Card that, if played, overturns all MOD’s (machine soldiers), space stations, and commanders positioned there.
It would be impossible to overstate the significance of RISK 2210 AD to my friends and I. If you can imagine combining a fun game, a ruthless battle of wits, and a hallowed religious rite into a drunken six hour mind-fuck, you’re close to grasping how dear it is to our hearts. It almost always results in one or more players verbally abusing each other. Again, precious.
Our legacy of Risk is riddled with instances of broken alliances and compromised childhood friendships. My friend Matt claims my friend Jason’s soul is rotten to the core because once Jason violated a non-aggression pact at a crucial territorial border. Jason disavows this, claiming that, on the contrary, it is he who has been the victim of multiple instances of corrupt gameplay. He frequently rails against AFQ (Absurdist Friendship Quorum) member Pat for an alleged history of “illogical attacks that make no sense” in a wider strategic sense except to screw Jason over (“ream”) and remove him from the game.
Speaking of illogical attacks, Jason once tried to strangle someone during a game of Risk. The end result was Jason getting beat up. The guy he tried to strangle went on to serve as a sharp-shooter in the second Iraq war. Huge planet, small world.
This round took place at a ski resort in Salt Lake City. After we had lassoed in several cases of beer, vis-a vi grappling hooks, unemployment insurance and student loans, we took our seats at the table—it was time to establish our initial positions on the board. This is one of the most exciting parts of the game, because you get your first overview of where some of the great battles may occur, as well as fairly reliable hints about who might be planning to station themselves on the moon. You also get a chance to look deeply into the grinning faces of your fellow Mancationers and try to sniff out what their strategy may be. You witness, first hand, the transformation from sanity to insanity, from man to animal.
My friend Chris is soft-spoken and remarkably laid back, but get the boy in front of a Risk board and he turns into blood-thirsty monster. Travis, who has internalized the rules of the game like clergymen embrace the Bible, gleams with tactical ingenuity while he plays. You always get the feeling he’s working toward the unfolding of some epic master plan that inherently entails your destruction. Matt is much the same; he often starts off the game controlling a small continent, then uses water colonies to quietly posture himself for larger power plays. Jason is the eternal victim. Even when he’s not being triple-teamed and screwed over—which is most of the time—he argues and whines about the decade-long conspiracy against him. If you hear a high-pitched voice using five-syllable words to bitch about a lunar attack from two years earlier, it’s undoubtedly Jason’s.
This time around, we played with some of Travis’ new cards: including Lunar Shift, High Tide, Mayan Calendar and Leap Year, which allow you to add or subtract years to the game; and Rigged Election, Under Tow, and others which allow you to change turn order. Pat had played a Scatter Bomb Moon card, and effectively wiped out half of Jason’s MODs. Jason, predictably, flipped out, throwing his iPhone across the room and accusing Pat of yet another “capricious and perennial injustice”.
To add insult to injury, Pat played the card while declaring, “Just tryin’ to see what that’d be like.” A kind of ‘one love’ smirk on his face.
During our 4th game, I was terrified that a Global Warming card would be played, which would flip my arctic shelf like a tiddly-wink, and send my Earth-bound forces sliding into the icy sea—to freeze, drown, or be eaten by polar bears themselves starving from depleted seal populations—so I absconded to the moon.
Jason, who had attacked Matt and angered him so badly that he declared that his next five games would be devoted to making sure Jason finished last, realized he would soon be wiped from the surface of Luna-lita. He took on the pallor of a freshly snipped eunuch. “Oh my God…” he uttered. “Oh my God!”
“Beyyaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!” I shrieked, summoning the life force of Howard Dean with a whip of my forefinger. Realizing I would win my first game in several years I stood up and drove it home. “We’re going to CAL-I-FORNIA, and TEX-AS, and NEW YORK, SOUTH DA-KOTA, and OREGON, and MICHIGAN, and then we’re going to WASHINGTON DC and take back the White House—BEYYAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”
And so I continue the ardous task of forging my independence on the harsh mistress that is the Moon: population 1.