Cyberfunk - with Rizwan Virk

[Can’t say they didn’t warn us]

In 1994, elementary school students of Ariel School in South Africa had hosted an alien visitation that would eventually become classified as one of the most well-documented instances of extraterrestrial contact in history.

Leaving documentary film-makers and paranormal researches salivating to report on the event, little attention had been paid to the apparent message as opposed to the medium — reasonably so given the many lightyears that must have been travelled and the curious-looking nature of the prototypical messengers.

The aliens, drenched in perceptions of good intention, had a warning message for the future generations of planet Earth:

“I think they want people to know that we’re actually making harm on this world and we mustn’t get too technologed [sic].”- “Eleven year-old Emma”

This seemed to be a consistent warning linked to other, similar events, and one that tends to become elucidated more clearly upon published and produced forms of retrospect.

In fact, it appears to be an innate fear that has been routinely espoused throughout human history, one that we can only label a fear as we’re given the privilege of hindsight and one that only fools us again as we look to the future of technological innovation.

From automobiles to microwaves to cell phone towers, we’ve always proven ourselves to be especially apprehensive when it comes to technology, even if it means projecting our fears onto visiting intergalactic or interdimensional beings.

But, for once, maybe the fears are becoming a bit more well-founded and, maybe, just maybe, the aliens are onto something.

[There’s no stopping now]

We’re hurdling through space and time on a planet that we don’t really care to understand, in an ocean of space we can’t yet describe, and we don’t care all that much about where it is we’re going or how it is that we’re getting there.

We just want to dive deeper into the comfortably-cool thralls of technological innovation.

Because, in all truth — as much as we may like to deny it — our horizons have become digitized with the alluring promises that accompany the immeasurable peaks of our technological evolution.

Digital immortality. Artificial intelligence. Singularities that we seem to lack the imagination to anticipate. Augmented and virtual and simulated realities. We’re in for a technocopia of immersivity and fascination like none other we’ve preciously imagined, seeing little reason to pause for a moment and reconsider the grand purpose of it all.

And, despite the intergalactic warnings bestowed upon school children about the dangers of technological innovation, we seem as motivated as ever to plug-in and space-out.

Despite apocalyptic narratives about Matrixes and Skynets, despite pop up ads and spyware, despite the assassination of our privacy and the degradation of our spines, eyeballs, and mental health, we’re still crazy about media, dependent on the internet and hooked on all things technological.

We seem to have decided, sometime in the late 20th century, that we’re going all in with respect to the mechanization of our reality, into telecommunications and computational sciences. Every facet of our existence has pivoted to welcome the technological revolution with open arms.

Why hesitate now?

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On an existential level, technology offers something to us that we’ve never even dared dream about — complete subjective autonomy in regards to the way we interact with our surrounding reality.

The ‘liberation’ of consciousness (depending on how you’d like to define it) can be achieved through innumerable mechanisms of escape. Online poker, Reddit, Facebook, Medium, Candy Crush, Wikipedia, AskJeeves, (he’s still around, you know). Limitless distractions, boundless modes of entertainment, endless opportunities for escaping reality.

It’s more than safe to say that technology, in infiltrating the very core of our human existence, has bumped our evolutionary trajectory in a different direction, one that many would, without hesitation, argue to be far more beneficial than not.

It may not seem like it now, but this bump is going to be a major chapter in the tale of the human epoch, especially over the coming generations. For us, here and now, it’s all relative. But for those born into an immediate immersivity of digitalized existence, life itself is going to mean something totally different.

I had the chance of asking Rizwan Virk, a popular name in discussions surrounding simulation theory, what he makes of our head-first dive into a pretty deep relationship with technology, on an existential level. His words to me: “simulation theory may become the first real new religion of the twenty first century”, leaning on the assertion that the nature of technological immersivity is going to elevate our fascination with a digitalized existence. He continued: 

"Note that VR and AR wasn't really a thing then either (except in a some labs) and the rise of this tech in the last decade has made it easier. That said, it's not just about fidelity; I usually quote my experience playing Ping Pong in VR when I forgot that "there was no table" - that Ping Pong game wasn't even a very high fidelity game, but the responsiveness of the ball to my "virtual paddle" and to the "virtual table" made it "feel real" - so immersion is part of the key.   Also, BCI's [brain-computer interfaces] are becoming a thing now which wasn't really on most people's radar back then... 

... Finally, because religions are so outdated, I think more and more people have become either "agnostic", "atheist", or "spiritual but not religious".  This idea appeals much more to this group, which is probably the fastest growing religious group out there."

It’s certainly understandable. We want to digitize our existence because it allows for more control than we’ve ever assumed we can have. It's a form of liberation that we didn’t necessarily see coming, one that's only going to continue to become as captivating as it will extricating.

From God smiting us, to science belittling us, we now hold the capability for self-empowerment in our very own hands — thanks to technological breakthroughs which create entirely new and accommodating dimensions to our reality.

While we can drone on about the damage being done to our sense of self-reliance and self-actualization, our psycho-spiritual development, our imaginations and our self-awareness, such heeds usually fall on deaf ears, as it could very well be that technology will actually empower such faculties in ways that we can’t currently consider possible.

Rather, the point to be made about our rampant technological evolution is that, like any previous revolution that we’ve experienced, we can’t necessarily anticipate what will happen as we stare into the face of a wavefront rather than the side of a line graph, except that we know that we’re heading in certain guaranteed directions which time takes us, directions that we can use as guideposts in deciphering what to expect.

Such directions must abide by certain laws of how our reality is structured — notably through the rules of thermodynamics, and it is from these understandings that we can frame a picture, if not a glimpse of a picture, of where it is we’re really going.

[Triangulation through time]

When we’re heading face first into the tides of change, our perspective is drastically limited, but nonetheless pivotal in reference to triangulating our best known position. 

Our experience, with similar revolutions in the past, is the best marker for measurement that we can use to our advantage. 

While the technological revolution has already done and will continue to do us a lot of good, it will naturally stir up a considerable amount of resistance and criticism, no different from the way that the industrial revolution had. Though this will likely come about in retrospect. 

Life not only finds a way but, always, finds a way to become more complicated. Our own evolution is a testament to this. Even looking back a decade or three can serve to illustrate the incredible pace at which we’re complicating our existence.

Religion, which previously wrapped everything into a suitable (albeit suffocating) bow, will spitefully shout ‘I told you so’ from its dusty pews as we become lost in the mazes of technological wonder, labyrinths that offer little fulfillment but unprecedented modes of entertainment or indubitable utility. 

Science will continue to compartmentalize itself into a corner as its driving force remains uniquely defined by commercial interests, perpetually stunting its true potential to contextualize our existence in a nourishing way — withholding from us a balanced diet of inquisitiveness and fulfillment.

While we're too awe-struck by the potential of technology to effectively envision the odd (if not deleterious) consequences that will emanate from our digital obsessions, it's nonetheless worth asking some fundamental questions with respect to where we're going. 

To what extent do we really need technology? Do we value productivity over simplicity? Are we luring ourselves into a trap?

A scenario by which we spend half our time in VR and the other half being more productive cogs in corporate machines seems unappealing to most. 

A scenario by which medical miracles are no longer miracles but everyday happenstance or sentient technology can exponentiate the betterment of our lives seems to be worth the messy cornucopia of side-effects. 

Regardless, innovation is the dynamo of our existence. Technological sophistication is either the ultimate goal or the ultimate stepping stone in the progression of humankind. 

And until we’ve innovated ourselves into an phase whereby we’re able to travel far enough through space (or time) to visit and warn the schoolchildren of distant worlds, we should maybe keep the currents of technological innovation flowing.


Image by muadek