Would You Implant Your iPhone in Your Brain? A Slick New Web TV Series Explores Transhumanism.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 14 2012 3:57 PM

Would You Implant Your iPhone in Your Brain? A Slick New Web TV Series Explores Transhumanism.

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Still courtesy Warner Bros.

Warning: This post contains minor spoilers.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

In the slick new Web video series H+, from X-Men producer Bryan Singer, the iPhone has been rendered obsolete by the H+, a small implant that allows for a smartphone-like experience inside your head. Ads for the H+ promise those who are not yet implanted, “You’re always online. You’re always connected.” But that isn’t just a marketing slogan—it’s also a threat. In accordance with the grand tradition of science fiction warning us that technology may doom humankind (or at least remove a bit of our humanity), a virus released in the implant kills off one-third of the world’s poulation.

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Distributed by Warner Bros., H+ premiered last week with two short episodes, each about five or six minutes long (including titles), and another four are available if you subscribe to the YouTube channel.

Given the impending debut of Google Glass, this portrayal of physical computing doesn’t seem tremendously far-fetched. Indeed, in an interview with Fast Company’s Co.Create, director Stewart Hendler said, “We were racing to get our fictional technology out before actual technology, which was pretty funny.”

In some ways, it is reminiscent of another recent video, “Sight,” in which augmented-reality contact lenses serve as an intermediary in human relationships. And Daniel H. Wilson’s novel Amped, about a world in which “amplified” humans are widely discriminated against, was published in June. Brain-computer interfaces: almost as popular this summer as “Call Me Maybe”!

For transhumanists, who anticipate a future in which technology can “elevat[e] the human condition,” there are some problems with H+, starting with the decision to make the implant the only evident piece of breakthrough technology. On the website Acceler8or, Peter Rothman, a transhumanist, points out, “In the H+ series future, we’ve got magical nanotech implants but the cars don’t have autopilot.” There’s little if any evidence of artificial intelligence—which Rothman calls “a central theme of modern transhumanism.”

If you’re a transhumanist, these tales of “an apocalyptic future where technology has begun to spiral out of control” (as the H+ opening teases) must be getting mighty old. But in his Co.Create interview, Hendler admits that he would probably run out to buy the H+ implant if it were for sale—he doesn’t necessarily mean for the show H+ to be a tale of warning. It's just more fun to explore technology when the stakes are high.

Maybe the more interesting question here is not the technological issues explored therein, but whether H+'s high production values can help take Web-based TV to the next level.

Watch the first episode below, and find more on YouTube.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.