Monday, February 27, 2006

Changing the world, for the better?

First a reading exercise, go, read it, and then come back.

So you read it, right?

Before I'd read this, the only other 'literature' I'd read on aging and its potential effects on society were Asimov's robot novels. In them, he imagines that among the side-effects of people living to practically unlimited life-spans, would be that people would not reproduce as much (questionable), avoid risk taking of any kind (possible), reject any new ideas (quite possible), and stall the progress of the human race entirely (no guess). Quite a disheartening outlook.

As you can imagine, it's quite different from Mr. Bostrom's thesis. Asimov, although usually eager to embrace change, even defining the change itself many times, may have been too stuck in his ways to be able to accept that unending life might be a good thing.

But thinking about more of Asimov's writing, like say the "The Last Question," it seems that when he actually doesn't make it the crux of the story, he finds a long life to be quite worth living. Of course in "The Last Question," Woman/Man*, have created one universe-girdling supercomputer, which babysits humanity, allowing for a population explosion that *completely dwarfs* any imaginable population explosion - I remember something like humanity occupying the entire known universe in a few hundred or thousand years. After this, since there's pretty much no place left to move into, people's life spans seem to keep increasing, ending with people abandoning their physical manifestation for an electronic life. The final killer is entropy - the universe seems to end with a cold whimper.

Among his other short stories, Asimov and his contemporaries seem to have a vision of human kind as the underdogs of the universe, arriving on a stage where there are many mature civilizations, all of their maturity going to waste in the face of human courage/intelligence/vigor or some other such typically human trait. Much of this must have been due to the great editor John W. Campbell's insistence on humanity as a master-race; the same reason that Asimov himself gave for having no aliens in most of his stories.

Perhaps he actually saw human striving to accomplish something in the few years of individual existence as the defining characteristic of humanity. Take away that mad scramble, and what does it leave? Will we be able to recognize a humanity which does not need to look past its short term objectives?

Hmm, now that I ask myself the question, yeah I'd damn well like to see a humanity that can look past short-term objectives, get its head out of its collective ass, and rocket off this coffin of a planet.

So on this issue, I think I'll prefer to stay optimistic and go with trying to live an incredible life for ever and ever. The Lord** knows, we young people feel and behave as though we're going to live life forever anyway.

So what else can we think of as side-effects of immortality?

Painful sunday afternoons?

Century taxes - if you live a century you get to pay 40% of your current wealth as tax - can't imagine that becoming popular. Imagine Bill Gates, or Larry Ellison, earning and earning and earning, would they, could they, concentrate all the wealth of the world between them?

Relationships - would "till death do us part" hold the same ring to it? Indian culture holds divorce as taboo, would that continue?

Reincarnation, he he he, those guys would have a tough time explaining it to the kids, if there are any.

Imagine immortality, and discovering that, what with the speed of light and other such pedestrian constraints, we as a race can't even get off the Earth! What kind of weird life would that lead to? Nothing better than today perhaps, with far more constraints on resources?

Or imagine the Singularity, with all its attendant glory/madness and whatever else we cannot even imagine now.

Well, whatever is up, I hope it happens fast. I, for one, can't take the Sunday afternoons for much longer...

fReaK ouT!

* My token attempt at placating/infuriating The Feminists
** HHGTG reference. In case you didn't notice, I've got to have at least one per blog,spot more for chocolates.


Aditi Das Patnaik said...

Quite a HHGTG fan you are ... :)Can't deny being one myself

Aditi Das Patnaik said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.