Silicon Valley Comic Con 2018 – The Future Definition of “Self” and “Being Human”

Silicon Valley Comic Con 2018 – The Future Definition of “Self” and “Being Human”


If there was one way to start a convention, it was to attend a panel looking into the very nature of what it was to be human. This panel was meant to look into advantages and pitfalls of the burgeoning digital era.


The panelists were Steve Frankel, who served as Moderator, Stacy Meyn, Steve DeWinter, and Lisa Smith Beasley. All of them come from a variety of backgrounds, being writers, members of the 501st, and fans of Science Fiction.


The first question posed to the panel was that of using Avatars. If people would be using them to either appear accurately, an ideal state or just as an avatar. Meyn make a joke that we already had something like in the world with “Second Life.” She also said that the appearance of the avatar would have drastic implications for how the power of the meeting would be handled and move throughout the course of it. The big question presented here was the implications of the ideal of humanity on the avatars themselves. How they would appear could affect the dynamics of the meeting, making it easier for it to shift into different places than it might have otherwise gone. It certainly would grant a little more freedom for the user in their own attire. It would allow someone to be dressed casually while, in the digital world, to be wearing the fully appropriate attire for the meeting itself.


After that came a very realistic if pessimistic thought on humanity itself from Frankel: that we are 50-100 kg units of purchasing power found in big bags o' water. Either Frankel or one of the panelist went on to mention that Millennials and Baby Boomers are simply marketing terms that the general population has taken on.


The next question presented to the panel was about the recent Facebook fiasco. This was asked if people's privacy was more than just an illusion. DeWinter talked about the data trails that people leave going around the Internet. He remarked that nothing on the Internet itself should be considered private. Beasley built on that, remarking that anything going onto the Internet, like with Facebook, the user should be aware it was like posting it on a billboard. Beaseley would elaborate, talking about how this data was predominately used for marketing. Also, that it was typically just managed by AI's and other programs to sift through it for specific items. This conversation did lead to the recurring theme of the tracking algorithms between searches and viewing being brought up. It did present an odd case of the advertisements essentially trying to sell the user the exact items that they had just purchased. However, among all the panelists it did also lead to that with enough information, weaknesses of the person could be gleamed that they themselves might not be aware of. It was ultimately bring up the point that business itself falls into an amoral portion of interaction. Facebook ultimately became a prime example of this. That those websites that offered a Facebook login were offering essentially a trade of privacy for convenience. This did raise the question of the degree of intrusion that someone would be willing to endure for a measure of convenience.


The next, lighter, question, presented was visiting places via an Avatar that could survive the environment. It was clarified that the panelist were talking about avatars like the movie bearing the same title, a mentally linked physical Avatar. DeWinter talked about the hazards of that, mostly that our brains have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. Beasely remarked, very accurately, that the brain has control over the whole body. She was clear to include that this covered even our involuntary functions (heart beat, respiration, etc). Both were bringing up the point that the human mind could very well kill itself just from the stimulus it receives from the Avatar. Frankel would later remark that no matter what, that the “Reptile brain would always be there.” It definitely did not end with a lighter tone here.


Things got a little more serious again with the next question. Most of that revolved around the personality of the avatar of the user. Most were concerned here because of the interpersonal damage that people can inflict through their interactions. Most of this stemming from the anonymity that the avatar affords a person. Still, there was the argument made for the Avatars and the unique personality they presented from the audience. That it would allow gender fluid and trans people to express themselves properly in a space they might not otherwise have.


The next question was about using Avatars to explore the lives of others. The given examples of these experiences were the movie “Total Recall”, but also the personality overwriting technology of “Dollhouse.” Most people in this conversation, both on the panel and in the audience were remarking on the brain's inability to differentiate between elements. Again, touching on its inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Many were in favor of forcing lawmakers to live a way in the lives of people that their legislation would be affecting.


The conversation then turned to the digital world offering the full experience of visiting a location. The example given was visiting Yellowstone National park on a specific kind of day. The digital, at a sufficiently advanced level could present an experience nearly akin to visiting the actual location. The main argument presented against it was that no matter how advanced the digital, it could not completely replace the actually sensory experience of visiting the location. There were some concerns that if technology advanced beyond that point, there could be strong arguments made to destroy the actual location since it had been preserved digitally. Many talked about their hope that the location would be preserved as it had historically been.


The conversation made its way back to avatars for the end of it. There was the big question of trolls that were brought out. It was remarked that the Internet itself was generally an all or nothing approach, that there could not be a tier system implemented across the whole of it to allow anonymous users and identified users. The argument was made that people simply needed to understand more about the world itself. There was a lot of talk about people encouraging empathy toward other people while on the Internet while using their digital avatar. It was also proposed to use some technology to simply send the message, “We know who you are” to trolls. Meyn talked about how one's reputation could previously be implicated by their actions. In the digital era, it could take a simple change of e-mail address to move away from a ruined reputation.


The panel ended stating that the younger generation was growing up knowing the digital world better than any previous one. That they would need to kick butt and take names. They would be taking on the fight of the digital front from the previous generation.


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