Let’s start with a couple quick “what if” questions. What if someone invented a reliable and affordable way to connect you brain wirelessly to the internet? What if that technology became so ubiquitous that billions of people upgraded their heads to make use of it? Then, what if a global virus simultaneously caused that technology to catastrophically crash its operating system, that is to say, to kill the people running it? These are the questions that underlie the new web series H+, produced by Bryan Singer (among others) and written by newcomer Cosimo De Tommaso. The title refers to transhumanism, or the idea that humans can improve upon their biological limitations by integrating technological improvements into their bodies.
The show is well produced, decently acted, and even has a familiar face or two in the cast. H+ isn't just a television show for your computer, though. The story is told in short, somewhat interconnected episodes that are not released in chronological sequence, and which the viewer is invited to watch in any order that he or she prefers. On YouTube this will be accomplished by setting up various playlists that group together related episodes. H+ also offers an official hub, where you can find the videos grouped chronologically or geographically. This freedom to mix and match is somewhat undermined by the fact that the videos are being released one at a time from now until the beginning of 2013. We suspect that most fans will simply watch them in the order that they are released.
Probably the coolest part of this series is the subject matter. Whether the story itself turns out to be strong or weak, it’s cool to see someone tackling the subject of transhumanism in this format. Video games (like Deus Ex or Bioshock) frequently have central transhuman elements, but episodic stories, like television shows, usually leave the subject for one or two episodes at the most. It’s not an esoteric topic anymore, either (witness the hand-wringing that preceded double-amputee Oscar Pistorius’s participation in this summer’s Olympic games). Additionally, the plot of H+ deals directly with the far more pervasive reality of persistent internet connectivity. We may not all walk around with a chip in our heads, but a great many of us spend 24 hours a day with internet access in our pockets. That’s not to say that losing all our connectivity would make us instantly drop dead, but it wouldn’t be trivial, either.
The stories we tell each other are frequently (if not always) reflections of the concerns that occupy our minds. Fundamentally, what makes us human is our ability to use technology to improve our circumstances. What then should the limits be on this essential human enterprise.
Are these concerns you share? Would you “upgrade” your body if you had the opportunity? How far would you go?