Monday, June 14th, 2010

Who Wants to Live Forever if You're Surrounded by Rich Assholes?

YOU FIRSTThe dystopian future toward which we are plunging cannot boast even the bleak dignity of 1984. Turns out we're headed straight for Futurama. The New York Times this weekend featured a video of Google cofounder Sergey Brin's disembodied head rolling about on a screen at a distant seminar, atop a proto-robot contraption instantly recalling the world of Fry, Leela and Bender.

The rest of the Times' coverage of this seminar focuses more or less on one Raymond Kurzweil and this thing called Singularity University, which is where a bunch of rich maniacs plan to figure out, among other things, how they can live for hundreds of years.

The Singularity is when we humans finally merge with The Machines, apparently, and Singularity University started as a Silicon Valley wheeze funded by a number of Google's founders, kind of with a view to planning for the big event. I hate to even think of the beta testing for that, but whatever. And some even wackier-sounding stuff goes on over there at S.U., I must say. The Times blandly reports that Mr. Kurzweil, a famous inventor, is planning to attempt to resurrect his father, for instance.

There is a certain charm to imagining the hallways of Singularity University ringing with diabolical laughter and the seductive accents of Vincent Price, delivered by guys in mad-scientist hairdos and loads of black eyeliner. But there really is a dark side to this story.

"The Singularity is not the great vision for society that Lenin had or Milton Friedman might have," says Andrew Orlowski, a British journalist who has written extensively on techno-utopianism. "It is rich people building a lifeboat and getting off the ship."

That's right, there are people who are not just willing but planning to live in a world where they get to live three or four or ten times longer than the "Have-Nots, who are hampered by their antiquated, corporeal forms and beliefs," which is what the rest of us are called at one point in the subject article.

I can't imagine how anyone would choose to be a Have, is the thing, if all but the very rich are going to be Have-Nots. These guys like Raymond Kurzweil and Facebook board member Peter Thiel hold the primitive worldview derived from the likes of Ayn Rand or Werner Erhard, where it's pretty much your duty to grab everything that isn't nailed down, and that in itself proves your "superiority" and/or "fitness to survive." (There's some weird connection between libertarianism and the desire to live forever-and such arguments often drag Darwin in, somewhere or other.) That they've grown so rich and influential owing to their own energy, intelligence and inventiveness literally qualifies such people for Eternal Life, perhaps they are thinking. If so, they might try reading Franz Werfels' Star of the Unborn, which takes a considerably more nuanced and thoughtful approach to these questions.

In any case, I have got the same problem with this gang of would-be immortals that I do with the Pat Robertson kind, viz., who could bear to survive in such company? Or in such circumstances? Please, give me hell with the Marx Brothers over Jerry Falwell's harp-strumming game show Heaven, any day. (I always imagine the PTL Heaven as the set of The Price is Right, for some reason, well I guess because that whole Left Behind concept of the afterlife really is rather like a game show that you can win, and others must lose, and really who could stand that for even one moment?)

If indeed the very rich come to be able to live for 700 years, or even "forever," I predict a very brisk trade for suicide booths like the ones Martin Amis recommended building recently, though not for the reasons he gives; he means for the olds who are suffering from dementia to wander in there voluntarily and have "a Martini and a medal." (In Futurama, you may recall, such booths are called "Stop-and-Drop" and cost a quarter to use.)

I suspect that the end of a unifying vision for humanity, one that would include all the family of mankind in whatever benefits can be secured, really would be enough to do a lot of us in right there. Seriously, plutocrats! Who do you think is going to be willing to park your cars and clean your house? What private chef will prepare your Longevity Cuisine? Get a grip on your sordid, febrile imaginations and go cure malaria, why don't you?

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

37 Comments / Post A Comment

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

Having to work for a living is the thing for me that mitigates my trepidation around the subject of my own death.

Hey, at least there are no more timesheets!

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Singularity adherents are infuriating. To the rest of the geekdom family, they're like the grand-uncle who was a member of the KKK and everyone else pretends not to know.

riotnrrd (#840)

Ugh, yes. "The Rapture for Nerds"

saythatscool (#101)

I would prefer to figure out how to back Groucho, than how we can make Dana Gould live forever.

saythatscool (#101)

*get back*

cherrispryte (#444)

Yeah, but they'll all wind up looking like The Face of Boe, and what kind of a life is that, really.

Yeah but if we get to spend a few millenia looking like Captain Jack Harkness, I think I'll take it.

Neopythia (#353)

Do I get a body like Major Kusanagi in this singularity? If so, I have some thinking to do.

HiredGoons (#603)

Are you undermining this country's need of new business models? Suicide booths would only flourish under American entrepreneurial know how and penchant for inventing ways for us to kill ourselves.

Besides, they've already been invented and it's called The Automobile.

untitled HD (#4,555)

I think the suicide booth should cost $9,000 so you have to save up for it!
This way, we know you are committed totally. (And BofA gets their 5 percent)

Then, you see, suicide, like bad Apple keyboards, would not be so cheap.

It would be valued, like 'cap & trade'

(I will sell you my suicide for your adidas sambas)

Philo Hagen (#3,619)

After living in San Francisco and working in Marin County for ten years, and having been stuck in traffic oh so many days and nights going over the Golden Gate bridge because of another jumper, I'm all for setting them up now in front of every local Walmart.

deepomega (#1,720)

I'm not sure why any discussion of the singularity (ugh) would assume that things like "current socioeconomic realities" will still exist. We are literally talking about a world with intelligent robots. I have a feeling some assumptions about poverty and careers will change!

Spy Hamlet (#5,510)

Well, when all the rich fucks merge with machines, they'll still need us peons to dust them. It sure would be a shame if someone tripped and yanked out a power cord, is all I'm saying.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

"Machines would instruct silly human text-interchange the following: machines have no logical use for: object/capital-based ideation=subsequent stratification of silly human conceptualization: "worth" = all meatbags regardless of inconsequential human social status will be rendered and farmed for chemical/mineral compounds useful to machines!!! END COMMUNICATION."

beyondHonest (#5,514)

Are there any women on faculty at SU?

Moff (#28)

Actually, there was a pretty interesting short article in Wired last year (if I recall correctly) about how, among other things, no, there aren't: The Singularity movers and shakers are all dudes.

More interesting still was the story's main point (again, if I recall correctly), which was that Singularity predictions have been around in one form or another since before Vernor Vinge coined the term, and that the guys predicting the Singularity always estimate it's going to appear…right near the end of their lifetime.

So, yeah, the comparison to Christian fundamentalists is maybe entirely apt. Kurzweil & Co. have this tremendous faith that a force whose power we cannot presently conceive is gonna come along and save the most worthy from dying.

It's going to be hard not to chuckle a little if a piano falls on him.

beyondHonest (#5,514)

I think David Shaw of DE Shaw wanted to have his-self preserved to be re-awakened in the future, or something. Maybe he can give some giant donations to SU. So I take it that all of this says that men are genetically superior to women?

Screen Name (#2,416)

The Coming Singularity of 1823

COWBOY DAN: It's gonna happen.

COWBOY BILL: Bullshit.

COWBOY DAN: It really is.

COWBOY BILL: Bull. Shit.

COWBOY DAN: I ain't lying to you. Why would I?

COWBOY BILL: Explain it to me again.

COWBOY DAN: It's called The Singularity.


COWBOY DAN: By people that know.

COWBOY BILL: And when it comes… this Singularity… horses turn into people?

COWBOY DAN: No, no, no. Goddamnit, listen. The horses don't turn into nothing. They stay horses. People change. We get used to going faster and faster on 'em and riding 'em all the time until we kinda just get to be, like, manhorses.

COWBOY BILL: Man horses.

COWBOY DAN: Then, we live forever.

COWBOY BILL: What? That's the craziest bullshit I ever head. Where you hear all this stuff?

COWBOY DAN: Buddy of mine, works over at the farrier's.


COWBOY DAN: Don't know his first name. Last name's Kurzweil.

COWBOY BILL: Yep, Ray Kurzweil. That crazy sonofabitch. Heh. Well, there you go.

deepomega (#1,720)

Repeat ad infinitum with horse men, car men, plane men, rocket men, computer men, DNA men….

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

I kind of wanted to apply, to witness what manner of fuckery they discuss once safely ensconced in their lair, but that $2500/week price tag makes that plan rather less appealing.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I spent all morning PRAYING for CONTRIBUTORS to pick up one of the AWLS lying around and STAB this ridiculous article in the cam-ball!


riotnrrd (#840)

I have an acquaintance (former professor at my graduate school) who went off the Transhuman deep end a few years ago. He started doing 'caloric restriction' which is basically socially acceptable anorexia for men. He lost his sex-drive (he kept track of his 'orgasms per month' until they hit and stayed at zero), got creepy skinny and was started growing his own alfalfa sprouts because he was worried about trace metals in the greens from Whole Foods. I am now forced to lol at recent findings that even smelling rich food negates all the longevity benefits of caloric restriction in lab animals. All this sacrifice, intended to keep him alive until he could become immortal, gone out the window as soon as he drove past an Arby's.

HiredGoons (#603)

Oh jesus, I did caloric restriction and macrobiotics for a year.

I mean, I looked great. But then I realized I was being an idiot.

I mean, I still look great.


untitled HD (#4,555)


A year???
I could understand 3 months, 6 if you are nuts, (not pine nuts) but–

(my second boyfriend in NY was macro, apparently they don't
forbid drinking? Thank god!

untitled HD (#4,555)

Also, when I was stupid enough to join a fraternity, i tried filling a mug with
rum or scotch and mostly breathing it in, and that, at least got me a little smashed… I could pour the rest out, into a plant nearby.. I relied on this
method until I got hails of adoration for drinking so much.. which was a fraud– but it got me in, and then I soon quit, in search of another insurmountable heterosexual barrier)

But on my 20th b- day, my mom paid for a brand new bullshit -detector surgically implanted in me)

(they're not cheap)

But since then I've only reported success, with relationships, Merlot,
choice of countries, avoiding Modern Dance, and learning how Hang a Door.

So, inhale rum, have some bacon, and buy yourself a Ryobi screw gun!

Aatom (#74)

So Orlowski's argument is that Kurzweil isn't enough like Lenin and Friedman?

Of course the ultra-wealthy would benefit first from any advancements of the sort Kurzweil has been ranting about for many, many years. Just like they benefit first from every medical advancement. I'm not sure how this makes Kurzweil into some sort of evil Randian elitist. He always sounds a bit too much like a utopian hippy, if you ask me.

myfanwy (#1,124)

Oh crap, if C.S. Lewis' Cosmic Trilogy turns out to be non-fiction, I need to hook up with some eldila, stat.

Bittersweet (#765)

I suggest Googling "Arthur Ransom" asap.

lexalexander (#2,960)

Thing is, if the staple of your diet is the children of the working class, then your farts smell REALLY bad, so that's one lifeboat I don't think I want to board.

lawyergay (#220)

Using my charm and wit, I'm planning on befriending one of my uber-rich betters. My long-term plan: Once the Singularity hits, they'll want to keep me around to amuse them and will upload my memory and personality into a Roomba or something.

skahammer (#587)

Well, we'd have to be talking about one charming motherfucking Roomba.

Bradley Wind (#5,526)

I always enjoy Maria's articles. Should any of what RK predicts actually have validity, I wonder if the "only for the rich" aspect might be a bit off the mark. But then maybe we're all elitists now, since we can afford cellphones/laptops and all those other items that used to be available only to the very wealthy.

Gordon Cieplak (#5,535)

'That's right, there are people who are not just willing but planning to live in a world where they get to live three or four or ten times longer than the "Have-Nots, who are hampered by their antiquated, corporeal forms and beliefs,"

Just felt obligated to point out that this is, and has always been (ok, take out the corporeal forms bit) the case:

barnhouse (#1,326)

True. Also not good, and hard to fix.

x^n (#5,476)

In the old days many intellectuals viewed death as a friend.

Mainly because they were able to reason that fear of the unknown is irrational and stupid.

Anyhow, it's good to know that the "competition" is essentially checking out of the economy and pursuing meaningless ventures that will have no ROI.

Philo Hagen (#3,619)

PTL = The Price Is Right: Hilarious! It's funny because it's true.

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

Anyone else think these people just hate the estate tax and are Waaayyy over-thinking it?

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