X-Message-Number: 2354
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 93 02:22:36 BST
From:  (Russell E. Whitaker)
Subject: CRYONICS: GQ article on Extropians, June 1993


The following article is reprinted with the express permission
of the author and copyright holder David Gale, in London.
David can now be reached by email at ,
and would appreciate feedback on his work, which appeared in the
Conde Nast publication *GQ* (UK version) in June 1993.

The article is uploaded by interviewee Russell Whitaker, with
much amusement.  I can be reached most readily at

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Ad astra,
[text follows]

*GQ* (UK edition), pp 105-107, 160
June, 1993
Issue 48

"Meet the Extropians"

Death?  No fear.  David Gale logs on with the computer cult who
are downloading their souls for immortality

Russell E. Whitaker is outwardly unremarkable: a shortish
26-year-old American, with clean-shaven, symmetrical good looks.
He has big, bright eyes, clean black hair and exudes health and

The thing is, I know he wants to live forever.  And in order to
do so he's prepared to take one of the most extreme steps
imaginable: Whitaker intends to copy the entire contents of his
mind onto something like a computer's hard disk, creating his
electronic replica on a machine which, he feels, will deliver an
infinitely more stimulating life.

The Swiss Centre in Leicester Square is his chosen rendezvous
for our meeting.  Its spotless orderliness seems to echo
Whitaker's unusual ambition to live in machine-like sterility.
He is organised and tidy.  A pocket computer lies beside his
baby chicken lunch and throughout our conversation he regularly
flips the PC open to tap in memos and summon up addresses for

What is it that makes a man want to eliminate his body?  What's
so terribly wrong with the equipment that nature has given him?
Doesn't he enjoy eating baby chicken?  Clues may be found in the
fact that Whitaker is the communications editor of Extropy, the
magazine of the Los Angeles-based Extropian movement.  A group
of futurist techno-freaks scattered across the US with pockets
in Britain, the Extropians are grooming themselves for a science
fictional future that many would consider a form of suicide.
They would protest, as Whitaker does, that their goals are
precisely the opposite; they are dedicated to the extension of
life - beyond the bounds of the body and the gravitational coils
of planet Earth.  They see no reason why their fleshly vehicle
should frustrate their goals by dying on them.  The Extropians,
it soon becomes clear, are not impressed by human biology.

California, true to its stereotype, is home to a variety of
groups with an interest in life extension.  Those who merely
wish to live longer tend to be preoccupied with smart drugs,
biochemical nutrients and exercise.  But those bidding for
immortality are obliged to think carefully about the wear and
tear problem.  In this respect the cryonicists, believers in the
resurrection of the deep-frozen body, are the only group with a
radical view comparable to that of the Extropians.  The two
persuasions have membership overlap and Whitaker, who now lives
in London, has bought into a body-freeze facility managed by a
hotelier in Bournemouth.  Should he die unexpectedly in the UK,
Whitaker will be prepped, cooled and flown out to the West Coast
pronto for the big chill.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all differentials
in energy level between bodies will eventually be levelled out.
Hot things will grow colder and cold things will get hotter,
until the universe becomes a homogeneous mix of molecules with
no concentrations of energy.  This is entropy: the inexorable
tendency of everything to move towards disorder and decay, the
heat death of the universe and a source of irritation for
serious immortalists.  To register their distaste for this
impertinence of theoretical phyics, some Los Angeles scientists
and academics, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties,
coined the term "Extropy".  It signals their desire to reverse
the inevitable and is also the name of the biannual journal of
their non-profit corporation, the Extropy Institute.

/Extropy - The Journal of Transhumanist Thought/ has a cover
price of $4.50 - but a lifetime subscription at $200 could be a
bargain if things go well in the war against thermodynamics.
Whitaker estimates membership at around 100; the journal itself
has a print run of six or seven hundred and growing.  Every
issue iterates the basic Extropian Principles: 1) boundless
expansion 2) self-transformation 3) dynamic optimism and 4)
cooperative diversity.

The principles seem harmless enough, even a little dull, until
the Extropy reader grasps the full implications of
Transhumanism.  In keeping with a publication designed to
disseminate what can only be called new and challenging ideas,
the magazine is full of footnotes, glossaries and boxes defining
the Extropian aims and terminology.  We learn that transhumanism
is a philosophy of life that "seeks the continuation and
acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its
currently human form and human limitations by means of science
and technology, guided by progressive principles and values,
while rejecting dogma and religion".

The full Extropian package aspires to /post/humanism, defined as
"migration out of biology (deanimalisation) or into a completely
new biology".  There may still be a few technical details to
work out, but posthumanism presumes the possibility of total
mind transfer from man to machine.  This, at least, is the
confident view of Hans Moravec, director of the mobile robot
laboratory at Carnagie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  In
1988, Moravec published /Mind Children/, a book in which he
advanced the notion of downloading the contents of the human
brain into a computer.  (Since the destination is assumed to be
superior to the source, some devotees call it uploading.)  /Mind
Children/ became a key Extropian text.

Moravec is a 45-year old Austrian-born scientist with a
doctorate in artificial intelligence.  A highly respected
figure working at the sharp end of robotics, his most recent
project involved the design and construction of a robot that
crawls under factory workbenches and tidies up waste.  In
conversation Moravec, who has an owlish face and boyish
enthusiasm for his subject, spins exotic hypotheses that blend
science with science fiction.  For reasons of his own, he
chuckles like a gleeful chipmunk while doing so.

Given that all the activities and functions of the brain are
ultimately electrical, Moravec contends that its thoughts,
memories and abilities could be copied onto a data storage
medium: a hard disk, for the sake of argument.  Given that we
are the sum of the functions of the brain, then that disk will,
for all intents and purposes, become us.  My clone will exist in
silicon and it will think it is me.  This postbiological being
could be used to animate a robot which, in turn, could be used
in the exploration and colonisation of deep space.

Movavec has constructed graphs that relate the amount of
computational power that can be purchased for a dollar to the
passage of time.  The graph displays a steady gradient
indicating power has increased a thousand-fold every two decades
this century.  At this rate, what Moravec calls a "humanlike
computer" would be viable before 2010.  He believes that
mind-transfer technology itself will be in place in 50 years'
time.  For some, however, this is just not soon enough.

On the line from the philosophy department of the University of
Southern California, Max More, the softly spoken editor of
Extropy, initially expresses caution.  "Before I make the jump I
want to make sure that everything that makes me what I am can be
duplicated."  But in a digital storage medium, changes should be
as easy to effect as erasing a file from a floppy.  Isn't it
going to be hard to resist the temptation to edit the quality of
life in the postbiological vehicle?  "I do think we're going to
be a little selective.  For instance, we're going to get rid of
pain.  It seems a fairly crude way of warning you about
problems, something that evolved because it was easy.  You
couldn't ignore it.  It's one design problem we can improve on."

Aspects of personality can be painful too - so maybe a nip here,
a tuck there?  "It's definitely going to happen: some people
will remove some of their traumatic memories.  Certainly,
editing personality seems like a major improvement.  Right now
we're born with these bodies and brains which are not really
under our control.  For instance, if you don't produce enough
dopamine then you go around in a state of depression all the
time; others have big mood swings or suffer anxiety.  All these
things have biochemical causes and if you upload you can
understand the processes and affect them.  There's the potential
of freeing ourselves from conditions we don't like and being
able to be in a state of energy all the time."

More is equally enthusiastic about one of the fundamental
Extropian convictions: that it is the destiny of man to colonise
outer space.  When Earth Man eventually takes up
extraterrestrial habitation, he will be leading a demanding,
action-packed life and he'll need something a little smarter
than the meaty old bipedal brain carrier to get around in.
He'll need a whole new body, with a central processor capable of
infinite extension.

But More has the answer to Space Man's problems.  He points out
that the downloaded mind, freed from pain and mood, will also be
free to choose its own mode of transport.  "I want to be able to
transfer my personality to different vehicles for different
purposes.  For walking around on this planet, basically the
human body is just fine.  But for a different planet or in outer
space you might want to download into a different vehicle."

He continues to extol the posthuman life that he hopes to access
before his system crashes.  But Max, won't you miss your body at
all?  "For the most part, we'll transfer sensations intact, then
we'll start to fiddle with things.  We're going to expand our
abilities - to be able to see in the infrared and the
ultraviolet, and pick up radio waves, useful things like that.
Or increase our ability to smell; it would be nice to smell as
well as a dog.  Increase our sense of touch - you could have a
very fine sense of feel if you wanted; right down to the
molecular level."

Now then: without an eye, a nose or a hand, how on Earth (so to
speak) will all this be done?  In the Extropy article entitled
"Persons, Programs and Uploading Consciousness", Extropian David
Ross attempts a step-by-step fictionalisation of the actual
mechanics of mind copying.  At the beginning of the procedure,
Ross' hero, Jason Macklin, is lying on a bed with a tube
connected to his neck through his carotid artery.  "For years he
has resisted the urgings of family and friends to get rid of his
natural body and upload his mind onto the Web, to become a
creature in Cyberspace like them."  As Jason frets about whether
he will really be Jason at the end of it all, microscopic
nanomachines are replacing the nerve cells of his brain and
sensory organs with emulators.  These transmit their input to
the artificial world inside the computer that stand's beside
Jason's body.  "Gradually, each synapse in his brain is absorbed
into the program structure of the emulation program, its
functionality retained but its physical structure gone."  All
the sensory input that gave Jason a feeling of continuity is now
duplicated in Cyberspace.  The structures in the computer are
interacting among themselves, in direct synchronisation with
the way they perform in his body.

Jason is now a virtual being.  He does not need his organs.
Virtual experience takes up less space; thanks to virtual
tactility and virtual versions of all the sensual input to his
body, his experiences will be indistinguishable from those he
had back in Old Pinky.

The new "electronic body" ceases to be an integrated array of
impulses and sensations and becomes instead a resource centre.
Since posthuman virtual experience depends for its existence on
the language of programs, there arises the opportunity for a
novel form of hands-off lobotomy: turn off the program and the
experience is nulled.  Personality is endlessly permutated, its
aspects brought on line like options on a Magimix.

The Extropian credo, we recall, advocates the "evolution of
intelligent life beyond its currently human form".  What exactly
do they have in store for us?  The champions of uploading are
happy to point out the extraordinary perks that will be
available to the virtual being.  Want to fly like a bird?
Right: upload a bird brain and copy to own disk.  You get to
soar off cliffs and eat worms - virtually, of course.  Want to
trudge across the South Pole without losing any toes?  Copy Sir
Ranulph Fiennes' Antarctic memories (assuming he's in the
catalogue), edit toe pain and upload.  Once the technology has
been perfected, the uploadee will have access to the finest
thoughts, memories and experiences of the human race.  Multiple
copies of oneself can be readily produced and despatched to the
corners of the galaxy.  There they will absorb the plasticities
of space-time, witness the death of stars and commune with alien
intelligences.  They then return to Earth, or wherever you wish
to keep your master copy, and the robots slot the well-travelled
clones into your drive.  Presto!  You've travelled the galaxy
without ever leaving your box.

Far from being a flight from sexuality, uploading will enable
forms of congress beyond the dreams of hormonal abandon.  Freely
borrowing the sexual memories, techniques and proclivities of
the most fascinating entities in the catalogue, the lustful
disk-jock will construct new sexual identities, select genders
and initiate algorithmic flirting.  Liberated from the old rod
and tube-based genital structures, he/she may even devise whole
new virtual organs of delight, guaranteed to melt the most
resistant chip and drive its molecules into paroxysms of quantum
disorder.  Given the general indifference of women to the
Extropian project, however, the uploadees may simply be reduced
to rerunning the memories of the resident Don Juan and editing
out the bytes that do not arouse.

But just how fantastical are the yearnings of the Extropians?
In order to evaluate their dream properly, we should look at
current developments in science and technology that seem to
prefigure a form of transhumanism.  The white hot centre of
future research is, as always, the military.  Last year the
Pentagon published /Star 21: Strategic Technologies for the Army
of the Twenty-First Century/.  Among the areas commended for
research are some of particular interest to Extropians.  One is
the robotic exoskeleton, a form of which we saw in Aliens when
Sigourney climbed into a two-legged freight shifter and beat off
the slimehead with her massively empowered hydraulic gripper

In the Aliens scenario, the operation of the limbs was carried
out manually.  What the Pentagon's engineers envision in the
longer term is the direct linking of bionic devices to the human
nervous system.  This biotechnology might emerge in two stages.
The ultimate goal would be brain-centred control, wherein the
soldier thinks of the action he wishes to make and the thought
itself animates the bionic extension.  Comparable experiments
being carried out by the US Air Force involve the development of
fighter pilots' helmets rigged to register deliberately induced
changes in the pilots' brainwaves.  The changes act as triggers
for activating gunfire, flight controls and so forth.

In Japan, the computer mega-corporation Fujitsu is painstakingly
measuring the brainwaves of subjects who are told to say the
word "ah" in their minds when they see a light of a certain
colour.  After ten hours and dozens of readings, researches were
able to identify the brain waves peculiar to the silent "ah".
Their goal is computer control by thought-induced brain pattern.
At the Wadsworth Center in New York State, Department of Health
scientists have trained subjects to move a cursor up and down a
computer screen by altering the amplitude of their brain waves.
By thinking about weightlifting, subjects found they could move
the cursor upwards.  Thoughts about relaxing brought the cursor
down.  Eventually the cursor could be moved without the imaging
process.  Stopping the cursor at a particular point is currently
beyond the capacity of all subjects, but the way forward could
not be clearer - direct, hands-off brains-on techniques will
lead to the redundancy of the body/machine interface.  Bodies
wil not be required; minds can do it on their own.

It's not only the military which is preoccupied with these
possibilities.  Thanks to the work of Stelarc, a Greek
Australian performer with distinctly Extropian proclivities,
neural robotics can currently be seen in art galleries.

Stelarc achieved notoriety in the Eighties with his
body-suspension performances, gruesome tableaux in which the
artist inserted over a dozen chrome steel butcher's hooks into
his flesh and hung himself on ropes from art gallery ceilings
and, on one occasion, from a crane over the streets of Tokyo.
At a conference in Brighton last year, Stelarc declared that
what he would really like is a photoelectric skin that would
take its energy from the sun, as plants do.  Were this the case,
he enthused, then the lungs and pulmonary system would be
redundant and could be removed.  The cavity thus formed could be
"packed with technology".

These days Stelarc works with a robotic third hand.  Clad in a
modest jockey brief, the stocky, balding performer bears the
device clamped onto his forearm.  Electrodes on his leg and
abdominal muscles channel signals that make the fully jointed
hand grip, grasp, release and rotate at the wrist.

The imagery of robots, electrode-covered brains and bionic
extensions has adorned popular culture for decades.  But it is
only with the explosive rise of the computer, and the sciences
that benefit from it, that the man-machine dream has started to
lift itself clear of the mythic haze.  Any number of respectable
futurologists believe that the achievements of researchers in,
for example, artificial intelligence, medical nanotechnology,
life extension and virtual reality have an inevitable point of
convergence: the creation of the cybernetic organism.

While Extropians would insist that the desire to replace the
body is "natural", it can be argued that the whole business has
a distinctly pathological side.  It's all too easy to construe
these machine dreams as simply another late-twentieth-century
displacement of the fear of death.  In the case of the
Extropians it seems, paradoxically, that this fear can be
morbid.  While the yearning for immortality can be seen as a
hubristic game of the-man-who-would-be-God, the flight from
flesh into mechanism looks more like an undignified retreat from
feelings.  These unpopular phenonena earn their name from the
fact that they register in the body just as much as in the mind.
If the body is gradually replaced with electronics and bionics,
then what's left to feel?  Thus disconnected, the mind can bathe
in the unsullied beauty of its own electrochemical efficiency, a
digital porpoise forever freed from the fear of predators.

In cyberspace no drive is safe.  "We can think of affecting some
of our basic biological drives," More states, "like our sex
drive, which for me, I think it's great.  I mean, I love sex,
but it's sometimes very inconvenient.  It's distracting.  It
would be nice if you could just switch it off occasionally."

Both More and my companion at the Swiss Centre, Russell
Whitaker, claim to have been proto-Extropians from an early age.
At the age of ten More started taking vitamin C tablets to
extend his life, while Whitaker in his youth was profoundly
influenced by the SF novels of Robert /Stranger in a Strange
Land/ Heinlein.  The latter is renowned for his espousal of the
values of the rugged individual and is widely regarded as one of
the most right-wing SF authors in print.

A closer reading of Extropy uncovers the political dimensions of
Extropian belief.  In article after article, More inveighs
against the interventionism of the welfare state, the
doom-mongering ecologists who would impede technological
development and the die-hard Marxist demagogues who yearn to
fetter the free market.

Whitaker is perfectly explicit about the Extropians' rightish
thing.  "Most Extropians start out with an interest in computers
and science fiction, but politically we are anarcho-capitalist.

"We tend to be libertarians, what some people would consider to
be of an extreme persuasion, but we consider ourselves to be
fairly reasonable."  He laughs, fairly reasonably, but is
interrupted by a beep from his pager.

The solution to all this lefty decadence is obvious: start an
Extropian colony.  Plans for Free Oceana are premised on getting
away from what Extropian Tom W Bell calls "the grasp of meddling
statists".  He suggests that the ideal would be an escape to
outer space but settles, more realistically, for the high seas.
Bell proposes a "Sociosphere" in which "we can test the limits
of real consent".  The tests would be carried out on "several
oil tankers [joined] together to make a huge floating island".
The benefits are plain to see: on Free Oceana "we could migrate
towards opportunities and away from threats as if we were
seafaring Gypsies".  Thus unfettered "we can take advantage of
our isolation to prepare ourselves for expansion into space".

A picture emerges.  Stripped of body, immortalised, plugged into
the Encyclopaedia Galactica, you're free to compete for virtual
space.  The nannyism of the state shall not enfeeble this
cyber-cowboy.  No one can hold him down because he is not
actually there.

We rejoin Jason Macklin, fictional posthuman seminarian, as he
is about to slip into that discorporated bliss.  Macklin is by
now downloaded onto a computer; everything he senses hereinafter
is virtual reality.  But then the two are no longer
distinguishable.  "After a while, a doctor comes into his room
and removes the tap into his neck.  She holds out her hand and
tells Jason to stand... [then] leads him over to a curtain at
the side of the room and draws it back... On a bed in the middle
of the room lies his body, still connected to its cable.  For a
moment he watches it breathe... The doctor hands him a switch
which he knows will turn off his old body.  He represses the
feeling that he is committing suicide and throws the switch.  In
the next room the body - he no longer thinks of it as himself -
releases its last breath and seems to relax... He feels less
emotion than he thought he would."

In the Swiss Centre the currently human bodies of the waiters
and waitresses, uploaded with plates, bump into each other in
the lunchtime bustle.  Whitaker is talking about the body that
is talking about his body.  His crisp delivery has an energetic
precision that seems fueled by the need to eliminate any form of
clutter.  "I want to be stronger.  I'd like an alternative store
of energy."

He warms to the theme.  "I'd like, say, just conservatively, a
titanium skull-case so if I fall down I don't crack my skull.
This is just a little first start."  He places his knife and
fork down neatly at the side of his plate.  He hasn't even
finished his baby chicken.

[End of article]

Version: 2.2


Russell Earl Whitaker                   
Communications Editor                                 AMiX: RWhitaker
EXTROPY: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought
Board member, Extropy Institute (ExI)
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