March 05 | The H+ Film Festival: Cyborg Fictions and Futures

 

Organized by Science & Justice Training Program Fellows Jeff Sherman (Politics) and Jen Trinh (Physics), together with the Crown Social Fiction Conference, the Science & Justice Research Center presents:

Thursday, March 5th: 8:00 pm Ghost in the Shell | UCSC Merrill Cultural Center

Friday, March 6th:
Midnight screening of Robocop (1987) | Del Mar Theatre, Santa Cruz, Reception and Introduction by Ed Neumeier

Saturday, March 7th:
10:00 am: Registration & breakfast
10:30 am: Transcendent Man | Crown/Merrill Dining Hall
12 Noon: H+ Panel Discussion
1:00 pm: Lunch & Student Poster Session

What kind of future are we moving towards with advances in robotics, prosthetics, artificial intelligence, and body augmentation? The idea of transhumanism (H+) suggests that the future is bright, with extended human lifetimes coupled with higher quality of life. However, in popular science fiction, the future is often not so bright. Will humans eventually transcend their bodies and become higher beings, or will technology reduce humans into mere machines? What is the outlook for "humanity," how does our popular culture shape our visions of that future, and what ethical questions should we consider today rather than in a transhuman tomorrow?

This film festival (part of the Crown Social Fiction Conference) seeks to create an opportunity for conversations with screenings of the science fiction classics RoboCop (1987) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), as well as the documentary Transcendent Man (2009). Following Transcendent Man, we will have a guided discussion, featuring panelists Ed Neumeier (cowriter of the original RoboCop and UCSC alumnus), Dr. Vivienne Ming (theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley), and UCSC's Dr. Chris Gray (lecturer at Crown College and author of the book Cyborg Citizen). They will explore these questions and examine the relationship between the fictions that awe us and the realities that face us.

Ed Neumeier is a screenwriter, producer, and director, who studied Journalism at UCSC before going on to complete his bachelor’s at UCLA at the School of Motion Picture & Television. Ed is best known for his work on the Robocop and Starship Troopers franchises.

Dr. Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. Her research focuses on developing models for the neurobiological processes involved in cognition, perception, learning, and motor function.

Dr. Chris Gray is a lecturer at UCSC’s Crown College, as well as the author of Cyborg Citizen and Peace, War and Computers, two books that explore the political implications of our increasing dependence on electronics. Dr. Gray’s research interests include postmodern politics, information theory, the implications (political, artistic, and ethical) of cyborgs, and more.

 

The H+ Film Festival: An Exploration of Cyborg Futures and Fictions
SJWG Rapporteur Report
5-7 March 2015
Rapporteur Report by Jeff Sherman and Jen Trinh
In conjunction with the Crown College Social Fiction Conference, this film festival hoped to
explore the near futures that face us with the growing technologies of robotics, prosthetics,
artificial intelligence, and body augmentation through the lens of popular science fiction. This
was done through the exploration of the popular motif of the Cyborg cop in science fiction. On
Thursday March 5th we screened the Japanese Anime classic Ghost in the Shell. On Friday
March 6th we screened the original RoboCop at the Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz
with a short introduction by Ed Neumeier, one of the cowriters of the film. On Saturday March
7th we screened the documentary Transcendent Man concerning the technologist and futurist Ray
Kurzweil. Our panelists, Ed Neumeier, Dr. Vivienne Ming and Dr. Chris Gray initially took up
the efficacy of Ray Kurzweil’s ideas as they were presented in the documentary that preceded
our discussion. This generated quite the number of critiques of the exceedingly optimistic view
that we will realize immortality within our lifetimes through these technologies. It also spurred
conversations about the ethics that will invariably complicate the development and
implementation of such technologies.

In responding to the ideas of Kurzweil, Dr. Ming suggested that the techno-utopianism of his
visions was somewhat misplaced, given that not all of these technologies are readily viable along
the timeline he suggests and if they were that their implementation would not necessarily be
automatically benign. All three panelists noted that Kurzweil’s quest was deeply informed by an
obsession with defeating death (his own and his father’s) to the point of possible neurosis. While
Ed and Vivienne agreed that they do not wish to die, and that their fears of death may play some
role in their hopes for the future of technology, they expressed doubt that such technologies will
be developed so quickly. Chris, on the other hand, noted later in the conversation that he
celebrates death as the “vaccine against hubris” and accepts his fate.

Following discussion of the documentary, the panelists conversed about the ethics that will
invariably complicate the development and implementation of such technologies, despite hopes
for a techno-utopia. Ed shared thoughts on how the film industry creates what the viewer wants
to see and hear about (the miracles of future technologies), rather than the issues surrounding
these technologies, such as the monopoly of the companies that control these new tools, the
possibility of misuse by individuals (rather than the machines being inherently at fault), and the
actual feasibility of these advancements. Chris expressed skepticism about how humanity could
possibly create a techno-utopia, given the dire state of affairs within our government, where
corporations are afforded the same rights as people, and intelligence (of the IQ sort) is advanced
while emotional intelligence is neglected.

We concur with our critical listeners, Linda Dayem and Jessica Neasbitt, that as the conversation
continued through the hour, the dynamic that developed among our panelist was one of a
tempered technological optimism on the part of Dr. Ming and Mr. Neumeier with the opposite
view of technological pessimism reflected by our third panelist, Dr. Gray. We could somewhat
anticipate this chemistry from our initial discussions with our guest speakers. However, this split
was more pronounced at the public panel and this may be attributed to the particular audience
addressed for the Social Fiction Conference (undergraduate audience poised as the next
generation of technological innovators) and the provocations suggested by our documentary on
Mr. Kurzweil. Where our panelists’ views generally coincided were on: 1) the limitations of AI
in the near to midterm 2) the greater probability of body and neurological augmentation in the
near future 3) the false distinction between “science fiction” and what is touted as “science fact”
given the creativity and imagination evident in today’s leading industries.

With our project, we hoped to explore the possible futures that face us given the predicted
trajectories of robotics, prosthetics, artificial intelligence, and body augmentation through the
lens of popular science fiction. We also hoped to reach as wide an audience as possible among
graduates, undergraduates and the UCSC community. In screening three different films (two
science fiction and one documentary) and convening a panel of experts to comment on this
subject, we believe we were successful in at least starting the conversation on these subjects.

Most importantly, Jen and Jeff would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to the Crown College
staff (Jennifer Day, Derek DeMarco, Camila Dixon, Cathy Murphy, Shane Sanchez and
especially Provost Manel Camps). We also say thank you to our support at the Science & Justice
Research Center (Colleen Massengale and Acting Director Andrew Mathews) and our critical
listeners (Linda Dayem and Jessica Neasbitt). Above all we wish to thank once again our panelist
Chris Gray, Vivienne Ming and Ed Neumeier for their time participation and enthusiasm.
Without the support of all of these partners, the H+ Film Festival would have simply been
impossible. Thank you all.

Attendance
Overall we had the following attendance at our three events as part of the H+ Film Festival
14 people at the screening of Ghost in the Shell
30+ people at the midnight screening of RoboCop
40+ people at the screening of Transcendent Man and panel discussion

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