Q&A with Futurist Jason Silva

Q&A with Futurist Jason Silva

Published Mar 16, 2012 at 07:20PM EDT by Don.

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ason Silva wants you to experience awe for what humanity has accomplished and what may be in store for the future. One of the founding producers of Current TV, Silva co-hosted Max and Jason: Still Up, a late-night show featuring short documentaries from around the world. Silva also hosted the first annual Pangea Day in 2008, which aimed to unite people around the world through the power of film. In 2010, Jason released a short documentary film The Immortalists which discussed various topics related to the hypothetical technological singularity and transhumanism, including interviews with notable figures such as Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil. Since leaving Current in 2011, Silva has been working on a feature length documentary Turning into Gods, a film celebrating the relationship between humans and technology, planned to be released sometime in 2012. In the meantime, he has been making awe-inspiring techno-optimistic videos about the beauty of the universe and the future of humanity.


Q: It’s fascinating that your work has been labeled as “techno-optimistic” in the media. What are your thoughts on this label and criticisms against the concept of the Singularity being too fatalistic?

A: I believe the metaphor of the singularity is beautiful: it can be the greatest dream we have ever dreamed, anchored in real data explorations. Exponential growth curves are not a joke; complexity is bootstrapping on itself. Biology is becoming an information technology. We’re going to begin upgrading ourselves the way we do our computers. Then our computers will become microscopic and go inside us. We are like the caterpillar, in the larval stage, about to become a butterfly and there’s nothing unnatural about this: in fact it is simply evolution evolving its own evolvability. We are of nature, and all that we create is of nature too.

Q: What role do you think the Internet will play in bringing about the singularity?

A: I think the Internet is pooling together the stream of consciousness of humanity and that data -- the memes that come out of that -- have the ability to change the world, just as good ideas always have! What makes the internet so extraordinary is that it allows us to become post geographical. Now our minds can coalesce around shared passions and inspire ideas into action, free of the constraints of space, time and distance! We are electrified thoughts traveling at the speed of light!

Q: Your videos seem to be very fast paced with attention-grabbing imagery. How did this style come about?

A: Timothy Leary and Buckminster Fuller were “stand up philosophers.” They performed philosophy. They were intellectual rockstars. My videos are an attempt at re-inventing how inspiration is packaged and distributed. I am using the tools of the age to communicate awe. I suppose the style came about from my interest in capturing the ecstatic state in real time. The performance needed to be spontaneous. Even though the music and images came later, the actual words, the inspiration took place in real time. The images were there to put you in my head, so that people could see things from my point of view.

Q: During your talk at Lucid NYC, you spoke about using your videos to generate awe -- do you think Internet memes can play a role in this, and if they do, how?

A: Yes I believe internet memes when done right are the electronic equivalent of mood-altering chemicals. It doesn’t matter how you get high: whether its from chemical technology or electronic technology, or poetry. Timothy Leary used to say “spray your eyeballs with computers” as if to say, information can illuminate just like psychedelics can illuminate certain people. I think the marriage of image and sound, when done right, can lead to transcendent effects, i.e., greater than the sum of its parts. The right conceptual collision can break through the screen and affect the nervous system of the viewer and this is the goal. I hope my videos can be micro-psychedelic experiences in that they remove you from context dramatically in order to draw your attention to new ideas that might leave you epiphanized.

Q: A video has been making the rounds recently where you compare the Internet to substances like LSD. Could you briefly sum up this argument for us? Could Internet memes be a type of digital drug?

A: Timothy Leary said “the computer is the LSD of the 90’s.” Think about it: we call these drugs psychedelic, which means “mind-manifesting”, and what do computers do? They manifest the mind. John Markoff’s book What The Doormouse Said chronicles the brilliant collision between the early computer industry in silicon valley and the counter-culture psychedelic movement. There was something fascinating that took place: computers were re conceived as ‘tools to free our minds’ to extend our intelligence -- ideas straight out of the psychedelic atlas! A great article in reality sandwich calls Google the first psychedelically informed superpower. Add to that the fact that so many early computer pioneers were interested in psychedelics as creative catalysts for out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving. A great read is Erik Davies Techgnosis.

Q: How far along are we on blurring the line between “actual” reality and “virtual” reality?

A: In a way we already have: When you lose yourself in a movie, you really lose yourself. When you disappear in a video game, it feels equally significant. The mind loves to lose itself in alternate realities and we make a mistake by labeling something virtual and something else real. It’s all a reconstruction, an interpretation, happening in our heads anyway. Even what we call reality is a set of electrical inputs interpreted by our brains. The Matrix and Inception were brilliant movies because they accurately called into question just how little we can know about “reality”.

Q: What do you think about Cleverbot’s performance in India where it managed to fool a majority of people into thinking it was a human?

A: I think as artificial intelligence begins to engage with us in increasingly smooth feedback loops we’ll stop asking whether its actually conscious or not. As Ray Kurzweil says, at some point we simply accept the interaction. I mean, to an extent we can’t really be sure that anyone is conscious, but we assume they are because they respond to the subtleties of communications. Once an AI does that, we’ll simply accept that it is conscious. Cleverbot is only the beginning!

Q: If an iPhone is an extended phenotype of a person, do you think the Internet itself can be as well?

A: The internet is an absolute manifestation of the human nervous system -- it is our externalized thoughts, our minds coalescing in a space that isn’t space. It is the first step towards becoming post-geographical beings, freed from the constraints of space, time and distance. The internet is the substrate of thought.

Q: How far will the hivemind concept as we know it continue to develop as we become more interconnected? What does this mean for the future of Internet memes and cultural exchange in general?

A: There was a recent article in Scientific American that said that our Neurons are like bees in a BeeHive.. millions of simple, local interactions happening simultaneously lead to the emergent intelligence and behavior that we see in humans and in hives. The internet is simply the next scale up. Now, each mind is like a neuron, and the billions of interactions between minds will lead to an emergence meta-intelligent on the next scale up.

Q: What viral video has inspired you the most?

A: I am a huge fan of Sagan Series. I think the editing, images, music is spot on. They have brought out some of the very best of Sagan, whom I adore!

Jason Silva is a documentary filmmaker and a former host on the television network Current TV. Jason currently resides in both Los Angeles, California and New York City where he creates a series of non-commercial micro-documentaries about human-technology co-evolution. You can follow him on Twitter and view his latest videos on Vimeo. This interview was conducted via e-mail on March 14th, 2012. Photo courtesy of ThisIsJasonSilva.com

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