I take a seat in the back row of folding chairs in Piedmont Veteran’s Hall. While the crew checks the microphones and PowerPoint setup, a middle-aged woman comes down the aisle, bent over a four-wheel Rollator. She stops at a chair and struggles to make the move from standing to sitting. She adjusts an oversized fanny pack that’s slung over her belly and spots a friend across the way. Her friend comes over and asks what she’s been up to since the last symposium. This is the third in the series of Transhuman Vision Conferences—Eros Evolving: The Future of Love, Sex, Marriage, and Beauty.
“Oh, I’ve been hanging out on OkCupid,” she says.
But her friend hasn’t heard of the site.
“They have all these questions for you to answer,” she explains. “And they use your responses to match you up with potential dates. I’ve answered over 2,000, and it’s interesting because I’ve found out a lot about myself. Like how important cruises are to me.” She pauses. “So my match better like going on cruises.”
The organizer of the event, Hank Pellissier, takes the stage. Hank is an affiliate scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He’s courteous and brief. Coffee’s in the back, and they’ll be selling Cesar salad for $5 throughout the day. Just Cesar salad. There’s a market across the street and we’re welcome to use the Veteran’s Hall kitchen, as long as we clean up after ourselves.
Piedmont is an affluent suburb surrounded on all sides by the city of Oakland. There’s a block party on a street adjacent to the Hall, and in the afternoon a wedding ceremony will take over the beautified park across the road. It’s a wonderful day for a gathering of mostly middle-aged polyamorists to sit in an auditorium and find out what the future holds for them and the rest of (vanilla) humanity.
Transhumanism is the belief that science and technology will help human beings evolve beyond our current physical and mental limits. Nanotechnology, bionic limbs, and lab-grown organs are but three examples you’ve probably heard of. But what about the idea of eventually getting rid of our bodies all together and uploading our consciences to supercomputers where we can potentially live indefinitely? Although it sounds like science fiction, transhumanists believe this technological Singularity could be a reality as soon as 2045. So, what will sex be like three decades from now?
The first speaker of the day, Susan Kuchinskas, has titled her talk, “The Love Drug.” It’s a short introduction to oxytocin, a hormone that’s released during childbirth and breast-feeding. The chemical plays a major role in intimacy—the first three years of life being particularly important. The level of bonding we achieve with our mothers during those seminal 36 months will affect our relationships down the road.
Now if your childhood was lacking oxytocin—if you had “an angry mother” who smoked and bottle-fed you (like Susan had)—don’t worry, it’s not too late. You can transform yourself by building up your oxytocin levels. Even little things like getting a pet, joining a group, or attending a transhumanist symposium can help.
“We can all use more oxytocin in our lives,” Susan says. She pulls out a tiny spray bottle and spritzes the audience. The oxytocin mist (available on Amazon) doesn’t reach us in the back, but Susan’s good intentions do.
If oxytocin is what you’re lacking, then chances are social media aren’t helping your situation. According to Bill Softky, a Ph.D. in physics from Caltech, whose presentation is called “Quantifying the Crises of Intimacy,” technologies such as texting and Skype, while convenient, are getting in the way of intimacy. In order for human beings to form bonds, their presence is needed. So unless your direct tweets lead to actual one-on-one physical meet-ups, it simply doesn’t have the “bandwidth” to establish the trust needed to make your relationships meaningful. According to his math, Facebook is basically “10 billion times less trustworthy than fucking.”
The symposium so far is light on its transhumanist offerings. Grace Walcott, a writer, performer, and Pilates instructor, discusses her experience with polyamory, her desire for “fluidity,” and the morbidity of “just you and me having sex ’til the grave.” Later, Susan Bratton gives a self-help talk promoting “cock appreciation” and “cumming your woman.”
Carol Queen, in her upbeat lecture, claims there are actually “Seven Billion Sexual Orientations” and that terms like “LGB” or “Hetero” tell us only the gender of the potential partner we want to have sex with—they don’t tell us about their sexual desires. (Carol wears a black sweater with an Eiffel Tower on it. She chose it because some people even want to fuck monuments. It’s called objectum sexuality.)
Tables are set up for conference sponsors: The Center for Sex and Culture and the Society of Janus, a San Franciscan BDSM education non-profit. At the same time Andrea Kuszewski warns against the diminishing dopamine returns of watching pornography and advises the attendees not to live out all their sexual fantasies. “Because once you do, it’s over.” At an event like this Andrea’s warnings surprise me and I expect the polys in the audience to heckle her. But they remain quiet and respectful in their seats.
There are only two talks that deal with transhumanism directly. One is by Nicole Sallak Anderson who discusses her novel, eHuman Dawn, where she addresses the question: When we abandon our bodies what will happen to desire and sex?
Nicole says both will “survive the jump” and we’ll navigate those timeless human realities through the avatars that house our consciences.
Many institutions will not survive the jump. Zoltan Istvan, a writer, adventurer, and pioneer of volcano boarding, says marriage won’t last into the 22nd century. 60 years is one thing, but are you ready to spend the next hundreds of years with your spouse?
The ways in which we procreate will drastically change when we leave behind biology and start uploading ourselves. Clones and other coding amalgamations will become our reality. Zoltan asks us to imagine being able to join our consciences with a piano concerto. I imagine someone uploading his clones so many times that he becomes, in a sense, transhuman spam.
The final lecture of the night is David Fitzgerald’s. A self-described “atheist biblical enthusiast,” David’s lecture on Old Testament hypocrisy is preaching to the choir. At first it seems unnecessary, but then I realize it offers a kind of spiritual bridge. After all, what is the idea of uploading one’s mind to a supercomputer but a type of atheist’s heaven? It’s a technological perversion of the heaven myth.
Even this “Techno Rapture” will leave some behind. Cost might be an issue, but more than anything, the real barrier is time. How many of the people attending Eros Evolving are going to live 30 more years? And what if the Singularity doesn’t arrive on time?
It makes sense now that the bulk of the lectures are about the relationships we have in the here-and-now. It’s almost as if before we can make the jump—before we can become transhuman—we have to become more human.
I look over at my neighbor whose Rollator is parked beside her chair. If the Techno Rapture does come, a lot of men are going to be uploading themselves to the digital heavens. I hope they love cruises too.
*The next conference, Religion and Transhumanism, is May 10, 2014.