EXTROPY: When Man Merges With Machine And The Machine Merges With The World

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In the proof-of-concept video Speedhack, you have the chance to check the work of Dylan J. Nathan, a British architecter who has been in a long journey through electronic music, CGI and VFX. In order to present his project of a science fiction trilogy named EXTROPY, Nathan designed a short clip that stresses his skills and interest in the genre. One of the most surprising parts is that this is a completely solo project, since the artist is responsible for all the features: design, models, animation, score and even the gear that renders his creations.

As a child, Nathan had the opportunity to read the first British print of Akira and Ghost in the Shell. During university, he discovered William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. “Since then I’ve extensively traveled Asia’s megacities, and I’m heavily into tech like virtual reality, building my own computers. All of which are key ingredients in cyberpunk”, he tells. In fact, the subgenre has been a strong influence for him, as Nathan believes that cyberpunk expresses “rejection of sci-fi purism”. “I also love the Hacker vs Megacorporation mentality”, he adds.

Although Blade Runner was Nathan’s favorite movie during childhood, Tron also managed to get much of his attention, especially when it was about aesthetics and music. “It was pioneering work, building and animating 3D objects at the same time as synthesizing and sequencing sounds. It’s an important theme in my work”, he argues. In the end, Nathan even took part of the sequel Tron:Legacy at Digital Domain, Venice. “I worked on the Light Jet sequence, which is kind of a three dimensional version of the Tron lightcycles. The motion graphics team also co-opted me to work on the holograms and schematics.”

All this dedication brought him to the concept of EXTROPY, which is something that goes even beyond its meaning in Transhumanism. “Cybernetics, bionics, custom transplants, gene therapy, modified DNA, they will all be far more prevalent in the future. Transhumanism is certainly going to become a much larger phenomenon”, says Nathan. However, the artist likes to use the term “extropy” in partnership with “entropy”: while the latter is a fundamental law of physics, the first is “fundamental to life and complex matter”. “Self organization, replication and increasing complexity of structure are features of every level of our universe. Extropy is the process behind complex matter, life and intelligence, a theory far more comprehensive than Evolution and Natural Selection”, he states.

In this sense, Speedhacker shows how human life gets even more complex when in contact with cybernetics and bioengineering. Besides, as technology evolves, the concept of life is also modified. “We can now print custom DNA chains, insert them into empty cells and create complex organisms. At what stage did that organism become ‘alive’? How would we treat a human with synthetic DNA?”. Nathan questions not only the possibilities of technology, but how society would be affected and how we would react towards this transition. “Primate DNA is 98% similar to us, yet they have no rights, live in cages and we slaughter them. Would we treat humans with synthetic DNA the same? I think the distinction between inanimate matter and life is false and something born out of an archaic pre-science view of the world.”

I think the distinction between inanimate matter and life is false and something born out of an archaic pre-science view of the world. Is a virus alive? If software can pass the Turing test, is it ‘intelligent’? I think the whole notion of artificial intelligence is flawed, it’s like calling a car an artificial horse. Computer systems like Google image recognition and IBM’s Watson are already orders of magnitude more intelligent than humans. To label them ‘artificial’ is to compare them to humans, which is missing the point. – Dylan J. Nathan

Nathan believes that consciousness is something unique and a very privileged gift to possess, if we consider that most of the universe is inanimate matter. “I have read that consciousness is the universe trying to observe itself, which is poetic”, he mentions. For this reason, the artist is in a constant effort to make his creations a statement of his own style and perspective. “Once you create music, you can never listen to it the same way. The same goes for CG. Once you start trying to recreate reality, you never quite perceive it in the same way.”

As a filmmaker, musician and scriptwriter, Nathan tends to dedicate much of his attention to the details and the subtle things that surround us: “I find myself observing caustic refractions, chromatic aberrations, volumetric beams of light breaking up through clouds, all sort of amazing phenomenon that are all around us. Even watching ants march through cracks in concrete is life carving out a niche within an Entropic universe.” By observing the patterns and the complexities of the world, Nathan thereby decided to start using generative algorithms in his works, especially in music. “In my films, I use physics and dynamics to breath life into my scenes. I’m starting to use video game AI algorithms for characters, which are very interesting tools, a lot of which are emergent and not specifically coded. It is code that has evolved from multiple iterations until a generation starts to behave as needed, being race AI race cars a great example”, he tells.

Finally, in a game where the creator gives birth and questions about life, EXTROPY seems to be, indeed, an indie project that cyberpunk fans should keep an eye. Although this first video may look like an eye candy, we can all wait for more, since Nathan not only proves his grasp and his involvement with the subgenre, but he is also someone who will be adding a great contribution to cyberpunk fiction in, hopefully, a very short time.

5 Responses to “EXTROPY: When Man Merges With Machine And The Machine Merges With The World”

    • Yes! More and more we’ve been seeing people using prosthetics and this is getting something rather “cool” in some niches – Viktoria Modesta is one good name to be reminded as an example of this. Simply awesome!

  1. Funny how 20 years from now we’ll all look back and wonder why we didn’t embrace prosthetics and implants earlier. Probably because today it seems scary and risky.

    Just like the light bulb and a heart replacements use to be thought of. That fear is the biggest impediment to evolution to the cyberpunk.

    Awesome article thanks for sharing Lidia.

    • Yes. Sometimes I really believe that in 20 years we won’t have what the futurists say we could. Not because it’s impossible, but because society would be too scared of it – as you said. There’s a quote from The Prestige which I really like and it’s also part of another song that I appreciate: “The first time I changed the world, I was hailed as a visionary. The second time I was asked politely to retire. Society only tolerates one change at a time. And so here I am. Enjoying my “retirement”. Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier, what you want is simply expensive” – and it was said by Tesla. 🙂

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