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Posts Tagged ‘Ray Kurzweil’

The End of the Internet: An Interview with Matthew Thurber

January 2, 2014 | by


I met cartoonist and musician Matthew Thurber six-odd years ago somewhere in Prospect Park (a séance? a picnic?), and then saw him play alto saxophone in his Muzak-jazz-punk trio Soiled Mattress and the Springs at the New York Art Book Fair. We kept running into one another in odd places; or, since New York City is now lacking in odd places, at places where subculture obsessives go to convince themselves there’s still oddness in the world. Soiled Mattress broke up in 2008, but Thurber’s “Anti-Matter Cabaret” act Ambergris has continued, and sometimes he plays with artist Brian Belott as Court Stenographer and Young Sherlock Holmes. In 2011, after years of publishing minicomics, zines, and books on tape, Thurber collected his serial 1-800-Mice in graphic-novel form. It’s about a messenger mouse named Groomfiend, a peace punk named Peace Punk, and a cast of thousands. More recently, Thurber wrote a culture diary for this blog, and started Tomato House gallery with his girlfriend, Rebecca Bird, in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn.

Thurber’s new graphic novel, Infomaniacs, is about the singularity and the end of the Internet; it’s also the final book from the great comics publisher PictureBox, which serialized parts of Infomaniacs online starting in 2010. The book’s heroine is Amy Shit, a punk rapper who sometimes lives off the grid—in a subway tunnel, even. Her brother’s a neo–Ned Ludd who goes around smashing iPhones. Meanwhile, Ralph is an Internet addict who escapes from reality rehab, then embeds in an immortality cult run by a libertarian oligarch who wants to eat the brain of the last man who’s never seen the Internet. A horse and a bat, both intelligence agents for the ATF (Anthropomorphic Task Force), wonder what the singularity will look like—a 1950s computer, a crystal, a cell phone, a tree branch?

Thurber’s video trailer offers a sense of the comic’s raucous hugger-mugger and subterranean surrealism, but doesn’t touch on its Underground Man againstness. For that, perhaps this quote, from an early, uncollected strip: “All bundled up and no place to go … The man who hates the Internet is a man who hates the world.”

Thurber and I met in the office I share with a puppet theater, near the Barclays Center. Giant heads hung from the walls. I don’t have Wi-Fi and don’t know anyone’s password. Read More »


The Immortality Chronicles, Part 7

September 30, 2013 | by


What have we not done to live forever? Adam Leith Gollner’s research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Over the past seven weeks, this chronological crash course has examined the ways humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history. This is the final installment.

You have to get old. Don’t cry, don’t clasp your hands in prayer, don’t rebel; you have to get old. Repeat the words to yourself, not as a howl of despair but as the boarding call to a necessary departure. —Colette, Les Vrilles de la Vigne

In 1927, before Charles Lindbergh set off across the Atlantic Ocean, newspapers described the flight as a guaranteed “rendez-vous with death.” While the Spirit of St. Louis hummed toward France, human-formed phantoms and vapor-like spirits materialized before Lindbergh’s eyes. These “inhabitants of a universe closed to mortal men” spoke to him, reassuring him and helping him find his way. This inner experience, he wrote, seemed to penetrate beyond the finite. It was an epiphany that guided the rest of his life.

After his pioneering flight, he received millions of letters, thousands of poems, countless gleaming accolades. Whole cities attended parades in his honor. Wing-walking skywriters spelled HAIL LINDY high in the air. Former secretary of state and later U.S. Supreme Court chief justice Charles Evans Hughes gave a speech in New York heralding “science victorious.”

In the euphoria’s wake, having managed one impossibility, Lindbergh wondered if he mightn’t help solve another. Working alongside Nobel Prize–winning cell biologist Alexis Carrel (who claimed, erroneously, that cells divide endlessly and are therefore naturally immortal), Lindbergh came to question whether death is “an inevitable portion of life’s cycle,” musing that perhaps scientific methods could hasten the arrival of bodily immortality.

Lindbergh had been raised to believe that “the key to all mystery is science.” The idea that science will allow men to become gods was instilled in him by his grandfather, a well-known surgical dentist. For postflight Lindbergh, solving the basic mystery of death seemed only as challenging as flying across the sea. It just meant doing what people said couldn’t be done. Yet as he aged, and as his experiments didn’t yield the hoped-for results, he began questioning his desire for immortality. He became an environmentalist, spending time in the wilderness and observing cycles of life and death in nature. Read More »


A Theory of Love

April 19, 2013 | by

KayproIIopenedI remember sitting in red tights and buckled shoes in my childhood room as my word processor booted up. My father had taught himself DOS programming, and boxy yellow letters blinked on the gray green screen. “THIS IS KATIE RYDER’S WORD PROCESSOR. HELLO KATE.” A system-check flashed through my existing files—“/a_bad_day” (child minimalist), “/last_unicorn” (child plagiarist)—before bringing me to the composition page. My dad’s words changed slightly from week to week by mysterious means; this time, they declared: “YOU’RE READY TO WRITE KATE.”

In Scott Hutchins’s debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, Neill Bassett Jr. communicates with his dead father through a computer. Dr. Neill Bassett Sr. committed suicide while his son was in college and left behind a tome of meticulous journals. These—painstaking and only superficially personal—are used to form the base “personality” of a computer run by a small team of scientists aiming to develop the world’s first “sentient” machine, by the standards of the Turing test. Neill’s task is to “chat” with DrBas, as the program is called, and work out the kinks, training the computer in the rules of language and interaction. Soon it begins to demonstrate inclinations and preferences—something a bit like a will—and DrBas comes to closely resemble Neill’s dead father. The two talk of Neill Sr.’s best friend; his wife, Libby; Neill Jr.’s childhood and current life—a recent divorce and a new, stunted romance with a much younger woman—all the while skirting the black hole of the computer’s knowledge: that the real Dr. Bassett killed himself in 1995, that the person Dr. Bassett is dead. 

Meanwhile, in the real world, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has stored a warehouse room full of information about his own dead father for the purpose of bringing him back to life as an electronic consciousness. The chief inventor of the flatbed scanner and the Kurzweil keyboard synthesizer, and a millionaire many times over, Kurzweil described the Internet before its existence and accurately projected the year a computer would defeat a human chess champion. He now predicts computers will reach sentience by 2029—a point at which they will “match human intelligence and go beyond it.” This moment is sometimes referred to as the singularity—a mythic, multipurpose term, borrowed from physics and mathematics. At its most basic, the singularity is the moment when “the model breaks down”: when we can no longer know what we knew before. In a 2009 documentary about Kurzweil called Transcendent Man, Ray explains that he will live forever (through transhumanistic nanotechnology: microscopic machines that will aid in “reprogramming” our “Version 1” bodies to more perfect health), and, he says, eyes into the camera, “I do plan to bring back my father.” Fred Kurzweil’s letters, sheet music, financial ledgers, and electric bills all sit in wait. Read More »