What will sex be like when we're disembodied digital entities floating around the matrix?
Natasha Vita-More is many things. She’s an author, artist, bodybuilder and designer who created the Primo Posthuman—her design for the future human. It’s a kind of Lawnmower Man/Woman who exists half in the virtual, half in the real world, snacking on nanobots when they feel a bit peckish. This posthuman world seemed like an intriguing place, but it posited a question: If we live on in non-biological form, how are we going to enjoy the most basic and elementary of human experiences? That's sex, if you hadn't guessed already.
As the recently crowned chairperson of Humanity+, a nonprofit transhumanist organisation, I figured Natasha might be able to help me out. While she claims to be no expert on sex, she is interested in the future of sensuality, our senses, our relationships and how we might interpret the passion and thrill of sex outside the biological system. Perfect. Our human forms met via Skype and this is what took place.
VICE: What will sex be like in a transhuman world?
Natasha Vita-More: In order to think about the future of sex, we have to think about the history of sex. What was the role of sex and why did we have it in the first place? The reason we had sex was because our organs were created to exchange genetic code and sex was basically an exchange of genetic code through wet material, through moisture. When we think about the future of humanity, we’re going to be integrated a lot more with machines, which means we’re looking at removing a lot of that wetness and becoming a species where we’re partially wet and partially computational.
By wet you mean flesh?
Yes, because we’re fleshy wet organisms, the body is mostly water.
Will technology make sex a more mental experience, and less physical?
We need to think of what that is to be transhuman/posthuman. First there’s a transition from being human flesh to becoming a type of post-human computational organism. You have to think about what our bodies would be and what we’d want to preserve and generate. In a posthuman world, it may be that we don’t want to reproduce with another person, we may want mosaic reproduction with many organisms or lifeforms.
I have no idea if these images of Natasha are real or not, but I'm going to litter them through the text anyway. I'm sure she won't mind – she's a transhumanist.
What do you mean by “mosaic reproduction”? Like colourful floor tiles?
What I call mosaic reproduction would be the compilation and conglomeration of different gene types, not cross-species, but within one species. Like today we have the reproduction of a man and a woman. Both their genes come together and form the embryo. In the future some people may want to reproduce with one person, while some people may want to reproduce with elements of various different people. You may want someone’s humour, someone else’s intelligence, and another person’s athletic capabilities and another person’s body type. So that might be a mosaic.
What about transhuman pornography. Will there still be pornography when we’re just disembodied digital entities floating in a virtual sea?
How is gender going to change? Are we being 21st century, stick-in-the-mud prudes with the whole "you have to be male or female, one of the other" thing?
When I designed Primo Posthuman, a future body prototype, I designed it with the understanding that the future human does not have to be restricted to any one gender. That the future human could be male or female or male and female, it could be androgynous, neither gender or it could be a multiple combination of genders. So you could be male for a certain amount of time, then female for a certain amount of time, hermaphroditic or you could be asexual with no specific gender.
Natasha's "Primo Posthuman"
OK, so is that going to be a much more common thing?
Yes. I think that we’ll have male attributes and female attributes. We may want to enjoy or live within the male prototype for a certain period of time, and then the female prototype for some time. This is something that human psychology has enjoyed doing but at the same time you’re not supposed to do it because you’re supposed to be one gender.
So could we be in a situation where a child wakes up one morning and their dad’s now their mum?
It could be possible, but I don’t know if it would be the optimum choice.
If we have different bodies, live longer, and are living in multiple environments, how will that affect our sexuality?
The transhumanist aspect of sexuality enjoyed by the posthumans would be looking at what is pleasure, what is desire, and what is spontaneity. The part of the sexuality that we will want to preserve is the mating ritual itself. The element of that ritual that is exciting is the intrigue. How can we make that intrigue even more wonderful and delightful? This may take place in multiple environments, where you have virtual sexuality as well as telepresent sexuality.
What’s telepresent sexuality?
Telepresence is where you’re in one location and your lover is on the other side of the world and you want to be together. Telepresent sex is based on a haptic system, on the computer generating a sensuality to our senses. You could create a virtual, three-dimensional representation of your lover in a different geographical location.
And virtual sexuality?
Instead of going to a bar where you get drunk and you regret it the next day, you’d have simulated sex. And it wouldn’t be so dangerous as traditional sex is biologically. You wouldn’t have to worry about sexual diseases like you have with the human body.
What else would be possible?
Well, for instance, an orgasm could be redirected in the brain so we could use it for highly creative or intellectual purposes.
So you would harness orgasm energy?
Yeah, harness that energy and maybe move it to another area of the brain to facilitate, say, finishing an article, or producing some music. One way to look at it would be neurological, where we redirect the energy in the brain. Also, we could duplicate the sensation of orgasm in the brain, the problem is people could become addicted to it. You might get habitual users of orgasms.
What happens in the later stages of the transhumanist revolution where we’re becoming posthuman and non-biological. How will we get our rocks off then?
If we are non-biological and we are uploaded into a computational, artificial system, we’ll exist in a new sphere of connected, multiple identities all co-existing on some kind of computer.
Like an online network…
Right, we’re thinking about the upload. Are you familiar with the upload?
No, I’m not sure I am.
The upload is the posthuman. It’s called whole brain emulation, or mind uploading. It’s the copying and transfer of the brain, your cognitive properties, onto a non-biological system, which could be a computer system. So this is a field of cognitive and neuroscience that’s very transhumanist. Taking memories, electro-neurological properties and uploading that into a computer. So you would be within a whole different universe of computational matter. And that would be a very beautiful simulated environment.
Like The Matrix.
Yes, that’s a computational system.
So we’re going to be living in the matrix but we won’t be enslaved by evil machines harvesting our bioelectrical energy?
You could still have a biological body and have part of your identity within the biological body, but also be uploaded into the system.
One or the other?
You could exist in both, or you could just exist in one.
At the same time?
You could exist in one for maybe ten years and then go back into the other. So it’s real-time and virtual.
What happens to your body when you’re in the virtual world?
Well your body could be suspended or your body would not be in the biological, because you’d have multitrack.
What does that term mean?
Multitrack means thinking simultaneously along different fields. While we’re creating this upload the whole universe will exist in a computational system, but things won’t just stop on another level. They’ll still be programming, graphic designers, body designers, prosthetics, our human body’s not going to just stop in time it’s going to continue evolving with nanomedicine, nano-robots.
So nanobots are going to augment the human body?
Yes, we’ll have them there to regenerate it, deal with cell damage.
OK, so we’re going to have these multiple digital selves that exist across time.
I just want you to see that it’s not one or the other, that there are all sorts of alternatives. The whole psyche of the human species is that we have to be one identity, one gender, and one village with one job—one existence. But that will change in a transhuman world. And we’re going to totally redefine what death is. Death is very important when we talk about sexuality because it is the concept, which is Freudian, that the act of sex is an act of death. And if you think about some of the more morbid sexual acts, which is what killed my friend Carradine…
Yes, he was in a sexual act where it’s a type of strangulation.
That’s the type of human that’s not transhumanist. That’s a human psychological strangeness.
But that’s quite interesting, if we live in a world where anything is possible, then you could live out any fantasy that you like.
Exactly, but some people have rape fantasies and rape is not a very nice thing to do to someone.
Well how would you mediate that then, how would you stop someone having a rape fantasy?
That’s the problem with being human and what you see in places like Second Life. They have islands where rape is a game and that’s not transhuman.That whole thing is about the psychology of death and fear, which is what transhumanism wants to get away from.
Have you got a timeframe of how long into our future you can see this happening?
I see changes and advances in society on a whole level, from socio-politics to advances in technology happening in circles, waves. It’s like the stock market, sometimes it goes up or down, so it’s hard to predict. I would say that logically speaking certainly before the 22nd century.
Sweet, there's a chance I'll actually still be alive.