A Future Man Experiences Sex as a Female

April 20, 2012

I am a heterosexual male, happily married, and by most accounts, normal and healthy. This blog post is a what-if, extrapolating upon the idea of having a virtual body…..


Frank Zappa said that the dirtiest part of your body is your mind. It is hard to disagree with this. Your mind is capable of generating some serious filth (unless you never bathe, in which case, it is possible that parts of your body may actually be dirtier than your mind).

Obviously, the body has something to do with sex. But there is indeed a psychological, cognitive, emotional, imaginative dimension. It seems that these mental aspects of sex become more important as we get older. One obvious reason: aging. Entropy! Deteriorating, wrinkling, flabbifying, and weakening our bodies. But our aging minds are often as sharp as ever, and capable of higher dimensions of love and romance (and filth). It’s a shame that youth must be wasted on the young. I am referring to us in our earlier years when we had great bodies and great physical strength…but OH how immature we were.

Ray Kurzweil and other futurists suggest that virtual reality will be fully-integrated into our lives in the future. One could also assume that virtual sex will continue from its current occasional manifestations of phone sex, sexting, and avatar play in virtual worlds. There are already non-technological forms of virtual reality such as imaginative play, role-playing, etc. It’s only recently that technology has evolved enough to enhance the experience (or ruin it…depending on your vantage point).

Fantastic Sex at Age 100

The difference between mortality and immortality will become fuzzier in the future. Humans may achieve a certain kind of immortality by having their brains uploaded into a virtual reality when they are physically dead (or transformed into a cyborg, whichever comes first). This of course is based on the assumption that one can still experience a continuous life, having nothing left but a brain, and that this brain can be uploaded to some renewable medium…highly-debatable at this early juncture. But let’s roll with it anyway. I can imagine that a 100-year old future human might engage in sex with all the vigor and muscle tone associated with youth (think Jake Sully in Avatar who got his legs back as a Na’vi). Think of this youthful sex…but with the imagination, wisdom, and capacity for love that only a 100-year-old could possess.

I’m a software guy, not a hardware guy, so I can’t say much about nanobots and teledildonics and other technological enhancements of human physicality. But I can imagine that given the appropriate virtual reality enhancements, I could experience something akin to being a female. If nanobots are indeed a part of our future, they might be able to stimulate the brain chemistry and bodily sensation associated with female thoughts and feelings.

Is this a good thing? It is a bit creepy. But I say it is a good thing. Here’s why: human imagination has no limits. Human creativity knows no bounds. The desire to understand how others experience the world is based on empathy and natural social bonding. Technology can be used for this purpose.

An earlier blog post I wrote explores the question of how we might experience non-human embodiment, and body language, through future virtual reality technology. Within the realm of human society, there are still a lot of experiences and perspectives that can be shared. It might help us understand each other a bit better. Empathy could be technologically-enhanced; generated through simulation and virtuality.

And it might make for some awesome sex.

One can only imagine. (That’ll have to do for now).

Here’s a piece by Robert Weiss about the pros and cons of virtual sex.

Can You Trust Email Body Language?

December 2, 2011

Steve Tobak wrote an article in CBSNews.com called, How to Read Virtual Body Language in Email.

Steve makes some interesting observations. But, like so many attempts at teaching us “how to read” body language, Steve makes several assumptions that miss the highly contextual, and highly tenuous nature of interpreting emotion via email.

In fact, email is often used by people as a way to avoid emotion or intimacy. It’s an example of asynchronous communication: an email message could take an arbitrary amount of time to compose, and it could be sent at an arbitrary time after writing it. Thus, email is not a reliable medium for reading one’s emotions. It’s hard to lie with your body. It’s much easier to lie with a virtual body. With email, you don’t even have a body.

Damn That Send Button

Actually, I wish I could say that I have always used email in a premeditative, calculated way. I have been guilty of sending email messages in the heat of an emotional moment. A few too many of those emails have lead me to believe that the SEND button should be kept in a locked box in a governmental facility. And the box should have a big sign that says, Are You Sure?

People often make the mistake of assuming that a given communication medium provides a transparent channel for human expression. Oddly enough: email can bring out certain negative qualities in people who may not be negative in normal face-to-face encounters.

People don’t take into account the McLuhan effect, and assume the message is determined only by the communicators. Steve says this about flame mail:

“You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but when you receive what we affectionately call flame mail – where someone lets loose on you in a big, ugly way – that’s aggressive behavior. In other words, they’re acting out like a child throwing a temper tantrum and it’s not about you, it’s about them. I know it’s tempting to think it’s just a misunderstanding, but ask yourself, why did they assume the worst?”

But it’s not just “about them”. It’s also about the medium – an awkward, body-language-challenged medium.

Also, people can feel “safe” behind the email wall (meaning they know they won’t get punched in the face – at least not immediately).  There’s something about the medium that can cause people to flame – EVEN if they are not normally flame-throwers. Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget gives a good explanation for how and why this phenomenon occurs. Read the book, even if you don’t always take Jaron seriously. He is brave and bold, and he challenges many assumptions about internet culture.

Everyone has stories about email messages they wish they had never written, or email messages they wish they had never read.

It’s wise to understand how media mediates our interactions with each other. That is an important kind of literacy: a literacy of understanding media effects.

“Consider Including” Google Stupidity and Arrogance

November 12, 2011

A little off-topic here, but I just can’t resist taking another jab at The Google.

I am a gmail user, but more recently I have considered switching.

Every so often, I notice a new gmail feature. Google is usually kind enough to let me know that a new feature has been introduced, such as offering me the option to try the “new look”, although after I say “no thank you” which I always do, I keep getting notifications to try the “new look”, even though I had already said “no thank you” to the “new look”. Thanks Google, but please STOP TELLING ME ABOUT YOUR “NEW LOOK”.

And then there is the little yellow “Important” symbol that one day magically appeared next to some of my messages. When I roll over the symbol I see the text, “Important mainly because of the people in the conversation”.

Yo Google: how ’bout if I decide what’s important.

One person in the Google forums complained about gmail tagging her message as: “Important mainly because of the words in the message”. She says, “Can we stop with the idiotic messages from Google, as if our paternalistic uncle was looking out for us?”


But that’s not what I want to talk about: I want to talk about a feature which is the ultimate example of Google developers trying to be oh so clever but just coming across as stupid. I’m talking about the text that appears when I’m composing an email to someone, which says, “Consider including: John, Rebecca…” And so on.

Peter Thomas, one of the many bloggers who has complained about this ridiculous feature, summarizes it:

“When you type an e-mail, Gmail comes up with a list of people that you may like to also copy it to. Let’s pause and just think about this. You are writing an e-mail, generally the first thing that you do is to type in the address of the person (or people) you are writing to. Gmail has a useful feature that scans your previous mails, so typing “Pe” will bring up “Peter Thomas” as an option. So far so good….

…but then, gmail offers a list of people that you may consider including as recipients of your email, based on simple association. Hello? What if I am emailing a colleague to complain about the boss? I certainly don’t want to include the boss, and it scares me that his name is sitting up there, a mouse-click away from disaster. Or what if I am plotting a surprise birthday party for Beth? Including Beth is specifically NOT what I want to do.

And…what if the person is DEAD?

I found this on the Google forums:

I deleted my dead friend as a contact which was traumatic enough, but having google STILL suggesting I include her when there’s honestly nothing I’d like better than to be able to include her BECAUSE SHE’S DEAD.  How do I make this stop?!?!?!

Note to Google:

Please get out of the business of reading our minds. You suck at it.

Peter Thomas concludes: “This “feature” is bad enough to have merited me writing to Google asking them to remove it, or at least make it optional. Their support forums are full of people saying the same. It will be interesting to see whether or not they listen.”

Do a search for “consider including”, and you’ll come across several people railing against this act of stupidity from Google. My blog post is not original. Yet I feel compelled to add another voice to the chorus.

Do I have any conclusions or insights? Not really, other than my opinion that any good thing can turn bad when it gets too big and too powerful. Google is generally a good thing. But I think Google is getting too big and too powerful. And I am getting smaller and less powerful, in relative terms. I want to be completely in charge of how I communicate with my friends and colleagues.

The fact that Google is brimming with young, clever, cocky geeks does not make for an agreeable form of world domination.


The Tail Wagging the Brain

October 14, 2011

Our beloved dog Higgs died a few month ago. Higgs was a very special dog; full of life, full of love. Higgs and I had established an intimate body language connection for over ten years. He changed my brain.

My smiles were his tail wags; his tail wags were my smiles. Because of neuroplasticity, the ability for our brains to adapt and adjust, we were able to fuse semiotically across species lines.

This communication across species lines is analogous to people and software interpreting signals across the internet. We have invented new forms of punctuation to make up for a lack of physical expression in emails and text chats. I would say the same is true for 3D games and virtual worlds. But avatars, no matter how awesome-looking, are terribly clunky as instruments for realtime expression.

Meanwhile, new forms of punctuation have been invented: small, packaged symbols. They are quick to create, and they travel efficiently across the internet. Smileys and emoticons have more currency and emotional leverage than avatars, because they live in typographical soil: an ecosystem that is still much more established and pervasive than virtual worlds. Perhaps text will continue to become more electric, dynamic, intelligent, and integrated with graphical interfaces, such that smileys will evolve into avatars.

The internet is accelerating our posthuman evolution. We will come to have a deeper understanding of our animal cousins – because the primal affordances of the biosphere will be better-understood. Wha? you might say.  Jaron Lanier has already been talking about this kind of stuff for a long time – this idea that (with virtual reality) we will be able to “become” lobsters or snakes or cloud-sized creatures. I mention Jaron in a previous post, and the ways in which our bodymaps adjust to posthuman communication.

It’s not just about imagination: it’s about communicating and having a form of body language that is compatible with the internet. More and more of our communication is migrating to the internet. And since living languages evolve (including body languages) the new ecology of the internet will fertilize new forms of gesture, sound, moving text, and other dynamical forms.

What does this have to do with tails and brains?

Me and Higgs had established a body language bond. New kinds of body language bonds are emerging as we interact through the internet. Our brains are adapting.

Micha Cardenas became a Dragon in Second Life for 365 hours straight. What happened to her brain? I can imagine that people who spend large portions of their lives as Furries with animated tails have dreams of expressing with their tails and ears, like the Na’viThese ideas are covered more thoroughly in The Tail Wagging the Brain.

Speaking Dolphin

Researchers from Aberdeen University and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia found that dolphins use discrete units of body language as they swim together near the surface of water. They observed efficiency in these signals, similar to what occurs in frequently-used words in human verbal language.

As human natural language goes online, and as our body language gets processed, data-compressed, and alphabetized for efficient traversal over the internet, we may start to see more patterns of our embodied language that resemble those created by dolphins, and many other social species besides. The background communicative buzz of the biosphere may start to make more sense in the process of whittling our own communicative energy down to its essential features, and being able to analyze it digitally. With a universal body language alphabet, we might someday be able to animate our skin like cephalopods, or speak “dolphin”, using our tails, as we lope across the virtual waves.

Without a Body, Our Conversations Bifurcate

August 23, 2011

While talking on the phone or texting with a friend, it is impossible to give your friend visual signals that indicate understanding, affirmation, confusion, or levels of attention. These indicators are typically provided by head motions, facial expressions, hand movements, and posturing. In natural face-to-face interaction, these signals happen in real time, and they are coverbal; they are often tightly-synchronized with the words being exchanged.

You may have had the following experience: you are exchanging texts in an online chat with a friend. There is a long period of no response after you send a text. Did you annoy your friend? Maybe your friend has gone to the bathroom? Is your friend still thinking about what you said? One problem that ensues is cross-dialog: during the silent period, you may change the subject by issuing a new text, but unknowingly, your friend had been writing some text as a response to your last text on the previous topic. You get that text, and – relieved that you didn’t annoy your friend – you quickly switch to the previous topic. Meanwhile, your friend has just begun to respond to your text on the new topic. The conversation bifurcates – simply due to a lack of nonverbal signaling.

Like frogs in boiling water, most of us are not aware that our bodies are slowly dissolving as we engage increasingly in text-based communication, which is often asynchronous (or at least running at lower than conversation-rates). My theory: new forms of body language are emerging in the absence of our real bodies. Smart design of visual/interactive interfaces can adapt to this natural evolution. I don’t see it as a choice. It’s simply a part of our evolution – our adaptability.

Jill Chivers, in the blog, “I’m Listening – the Power and Magic of Listening in Everyday Lives“, makes a great case for reaching for the phone when repeated email pings are not getting through to someone, or for going face-to-face, when phone calls are left unanswered.

Call her old-fashioned, call her a Luddite. But she is simply suggesting that we all need to stay connected in ways that maximize our body language. It’s not an anti-technology stance. In fact, I would argue that we need more technology and smarter technology – just that it has to be the kind of technology that manifests embodiment over the internet – in whatever forms it takes. Without bodies, virtual or otherwise, and without the synchrony of realtime bodies, voices, and some stream of co-presence, we tend to fragment into text-like pieces.

Some people like deconstructing themselves into textual fragments. Sometimes I like it – I can hide behind my well-crafted words. But I don’t like the fact that I like it. I don’t want to like it anymore than I do. I would prefer to like connecting with people more in realtime, like I used to – before the world was wired.

Finally, here’s a relevant piece by Si Dawson