Transhumanist Web Series Likely to Disappoint Transhumanists

Posted by Emily Beitiks September 6, 2012
Biopolitical Times

The new high-profile digital series H+ portrays a world in the not-so-distant future in which transhumanism has moved from the fringe it currently inhabits to become a mainstream ideology and reality. The transhumanist link is explicit; in fact, the series opens with a definition of transhumanism. Before I watched the program, which debuted in August, I had somehow gotten it into my mind that the show’s focus on transhumanist technologies implied a pro-transhumanist bent. Fortunately, I was wrong, although I’ve come across some disappointed transhumanists whose remarks suggest I’m not the only one who made this assumption.

H+ is somewhat of an experiment for Warner Premiere, which has invested $2 million in producing the show to see if a fast-paced action/drama web series can become profitable. So far, H+’s financial success is at best up in the air with some episodes pulling in only 20,000 viewers.

The series of 48 episodes, each 4 to 7 minutes long, is directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men: First Class and The Usual Suspects, and executive director of House MD). It is based on this premise:

In the future, 33% of the human population will retire their cell phones and laptops in favor of a new technology which connects the human nervous system to the Internet. But something dark is coming to threaten this path of accelerating progress.

In the first episode, we learn that hackers have found a way to infect the neural implants with a virus, causing a huge proportion of the world to drop dead in an instant. (Though the teaser says only 33% have the implant, the numbers of the dead seem much higher.) The rest of the series that has aired to date fits squarely within the dystopian sci-fi genre with a feel similar to films like GATTACA, In Time, and AI.

Yet H+ is distinct in an important way. Unlike some of its dystopian precedents [1,2] that focus on the futuristic oppression of white men, H+ draws continuities between contemporary and future modes of inequality.  This is most clearly seen when the series introduces Leena, an Indian woman who agrees to be a surrogate for a wealthy, white Western couple. The episode gives the racial, socioeconomic, and geopolitical inequalities of the present a futuristic twist: in order to get the job, Leena must agree to the neural implant in order to provide the parents-to-be with the ability to monitor her throughout the pregnancy. She is apprehensive and explains that she will be the first woman in her town to receive one but accepts the implant anyway. This storyline will clearly continue in later episodes.

The total footage that’s aired so far amounts to less than an hour; that and the very short episodes have made it a bit difficult to follow the plot or get attached to any of the characters. But in content, H+ shows promise. It challenges the transhumanist movement’s fervent belief in the Singularity; it encourages viewers to question the wisdom of faithfully trusting the biotech industry (it’s pretty clear already that the company that created H+ is tied to the virus); and it uses a dystopian imaginary to criticize the persisting inequalities we face today.

Previously on Biopolitical Times