Francis Bea is a New York-based contributing technology writer for Digital Trends, and writes about anything that excites his inner geek. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him working on Pop ‘stache, a Chicago music blog, and other miscellaneous projects. Follow Francis on his Facebook and Twitter.
Should we wholeheartedly embrace transhumanism? This was the question that inspired John Cabrera (“Gilmore Girls”), who spent a total of six years, including countless years of writing, 29 days of filming, 48 days of film prepping and months upon months of editing, to create “H+,” a digital web series that debuted on the H+ YouTube channel on August 8.
We sat in on an early screening of the first half of the 48-episode series, and while we won’t get into the details and spoil the plot, Cabrera brings to life a sci-fi world that geeks would dream of living in.
The series begins by defining transhumanism: “An international movement that supports the transforming of the human body and thereby the human condition through advanced technologies.” It’s a poignant introduction for a setting in a not-so-distant future where a revolutionary rice-sized implant, coined “H+,” is injected into the spines of just about every First World citizen.
The benefits to humankind derived from the tiny device are boundless. H+ hosts have 24/7 access to their health status. Flight times and movie showings are at the tip of a user’s fingers. And H+ exists during an era when the WiFi network is global — something that would invoke envy from New Yorkers or any United States citizen, for that matter.
But groundbreaking innovations like H+ don’t come without a price. College students are watching YouTube videos during lectures, and spouses are sneaking in Sunday Night Football in lieu of browsing hotels for the next family vacation. As the introductory episode quickly reveals, a computer virus has infected and instantaneously killed off billions of H+ hosts standing within an operational distance of a WiFi connection.
There’s an eerie foreshadowing in Cabrera’s “H+” of what’s to come for the real world, and the series raises questions of ethics that are more complex and contentious than just patents and copyright.
Speaking to NewMediaRockstars, Cabrera mused over the realization that the next generation of technology is just waiting to be debuted to the public:
“Augmented reality, neural implants that allow disabled individuals to moved computer mouse cursors with their minds — this stuff already exists.”
For example, it has only been six years until Cabrera was recently introduced to an early “H+ cousin,” codenamed by Google, “Google Glasses.” The glasses, much like Cabrera’s H+, displays augmented reality, manipulated by the flick of one’s fingers, coupled with unfettered access to the Internet within the wearer’s field of vision. And if this technology isn’t close enough to Cabrera’s H+, just last year, scientists at the University of Washington announced an early prototype of an LED-embedded contact lens (tested on rabbits) that may soon rid of augmented reality glasses altogether.
But there should be a question that lingers in the back of your mind. What are the dangers of a technology like H+ or even Google Glasses, for that matter?
Hackers could hijack the augmented reality devices (or implants) to display seizure-inducing images. Or on a social behavioral level, could H+ or like devices replace face-to-face spoken conversations with face-to-face unspoken instant messages? It’s definitely plausible.
The production and distribution of ‘H+’
“H+,” considered as a film, is a work of art that drums up a compelling forewarning of a world that we just might live in within the next century. But executing this vision, as you’ll notice by the production value, required a budget of a couple of million dollars.
Cabrera was luckily unconstrained in its financial restrictions thanks to Warner Brothers. According to Lance Sloane, head of digital productions for Warner Brothers, “H+” was an experimental move by the big-shot movie studio, which funded the full cost of the project. “We [Warner Brothers] have been given the opportunity to be creative and experiment with digital distribution,” Sloane revealed.
But the studio didn’t have to reach all that deep into its pockets. To put the investment value of H+ into perspective, funding a web series compared to a full movie is just a tiny fraction of most movie budgets, which today often run in the upwards of the high-eight or low-nine figures.
H+ was shot in Chile throughout 13 differing geographical locations that mimicked the United States, Ireland, India and even Africa. The motive behind setting the series in different locations is closely tied into the conceptualization and distribution strategy.
First, the series would illustrate the scale at which the H+ implant has affected the world regardless of socioeconomic hierarchies. “We wanted this to truly be an international series, because an event like this would affect the entire world, not just the U.S. And it also allows us to look at the major shifts that could happen in terms of political power after an event like this,” Cabrera explained to NewMediaRockstars.
Second, Cabrera has taken full advantage of the web format by breaking away from the non-interactivity of traditional television and introducing a groundbreaking strategy for the consumption of original programming content.
“What we’re doing with this series could never be done on TV. I’m not sure it could even be done on HULU. It requires a community to bring it to life, and I think we will see the future of WebTV taking advantage of this interactivity between creators and their audience.”
Each episode runs for five minutes and are from the perspective of characters or scenarios during differing time frames before or after the mass die offs. Because the series has been developed around a time-shifting style that is clearly reminiscent of “Lost,” viewers are free to mix and match episodes and watch the series using YouTube playlists – Cabrera’s primary motivation for selecting YouTube as the series’ official distribution partner. In other words, audiences can re-watch the series from the perspective of the engineer responsible for developing H+’s technology, of one of the hackers suspected to be responsible for the infection, or of a common citizen implanted with H+ that is struggling to survive.
However, YouTube won’t be the only portal for curating “H+” episodes. By the second or third week of the series, on the official site for “H+” will be a digital world map application that will enable audiences to select and view episodes based on the corresponding setting of each episode.
“It basically allows viewers to drag a time slider and see where individual episodes live both in time and geography. We’ll have little hotspots for each episode (or sets of episodes if they fall in the same time and location), and those hotspots will contain links to the episodes as well as extra content clues. These will be images, videos, text that serve as extra insight to the deeper mythology.” Cabrera explained. “We hope that the map helps audiences visualize and explore this larger story world. But we also have faux commercials, faux websites for companies in the series, and lots of little Easter eggs that audiences can try to find around the web and explore.”
Despite producing a dissident’s take on a hypothetical consequence of humankind’s progress with technology, Cabrera is actually a self-professed tech nerd and a stolid believer in the transhumanist ideology. “In fact, I’d likely be an early adopter of an implant like HPlus,” Cabrera admitted to NewMediaRockstars. His beliefs are admittedly contradictory to his work. But after the completion of “H+,” he has come to an understanding that humankind is quite adept at dealing with the consequences of our own actions. Cabrera hypothesizes that, “progress has a cost, but we always seem willing to pay it, and perhaps it’s because we always make it past the bumps and come out on the other side stronger, smarter. Maybe somewhere deep inside us we understand that truth about ourselves.”