The 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?