Steal This Singularity Part 3: Bean Counters in Paradise

 

It was 2008 — maybe a week or two into my first experience working with “official” “organized” (as if) transhumanism as editor of h+ magazine. I was being driven down from Marin Country to San Jose to listen to a talk by a scientist long associated with various transhumanoid obsessions, among them nanotechnology, encryption and cryonics. As we made the two hour trip, the conversation drifted to notions of an evolved humanity; a different sort of species — maybe disembodied or maybe not — but decidedly post-Darwinian and in control of its instincts. I suggested that a gloomy aspect of these projections was that sex would likely disappear, since those desires and pleasures arose from more primitive aspects of the human psyche. My driver told me that he didn’t like sex because it was a distraction — a waste of brain power… not to mention sloppy.

I arrived at a Pizza Hut in an obscure part of the city. This gathering of about 15 – 20 transhumanoids would take place over cheap pizza in the back room that was reserved for the event. There was even a projector and a screen.The speaker — a pear shaped fellow clad in dress pants held up by a belt pulled up above his stomach — started his rap. As I recall, he predicted major nanotechnology breakthroughs (real nanotechnology i.e. molecular machines capable of making copies of themselves and making just about anything that nature allows extremely cheaply) within our extended lifetimes, allowing us, among other things, to stay healthy  indefinitely and finally migrate into space.

I recall him presenting a scenario in which all of us — or many of us — could own some pretty prime real estate; that is, chunks of this galaxy, at the very least that we could populate with our very own advanced progeny (mind children, perhaps.) I’m a bit sketchy on the details from so long ago, but it was a very far out vision of us united with advanced intelligences many times greater than our own either never dying or arising from the frozen dead and, yes, each one getting this gigantic chunk of space real estate to populate. (That these unlivable areas can be made livable either by changing it or ourselves or both with technology is the assumption here.)

Once the speaker had laid out the amazing future as scientifically plausible, he confessed that he was mainly there to make a pitch.  Alcor  — the cryonics company that he was involved in — needed more customers. As he delineated how inexpensively one could buy an insurance policy to  be frozen for an eventual return performance, he began to emphasize the importance of a person in cryonics not being considered legally dead… because that person could then build interest on a savings account or otherwise have his or her value increase in a stock market that was — by all nanocalculations — destined to explode into unthinkable numbers (a bigger boom).

For the bulk of his talk, the speaker dwelt on the importance of returning decades or maybe even a century or so hence to a handsome bank account. It was one of those “I can’t emphasize this enough” sort of talks that parents used to give to their 20-something kids about 401ks.

As the floor opened up to audience participation, the questions continued to dwell primarily upon the financial aspects of suspension and its aftermath. Insurance. Savings. Investments.  Finally, a woman raised her hand and asked something along the lines of…  “In light of all the stuff you’re predicting, will US currency still be meaningful in that future?”

An audible groan went up from a portion of the gathering, implying, “fuckin’ stupid hippie asking that ridiculous question again.”

So there they were accepting…

  • Raising people from the dead
  • Becoming more or less immortal
  • Making intelligences many times more powerful and capable than our own
  • Individual earth humans privately owning big chunks of the galaxy

…but they could not imagine that the local (local in time, perhaps, more that space)  currency and the nuances of its valuation and growth would be irrelevant in that envisioned world.

This, it seemed to me, represented a stunning and peculiar kind of stasis sitting at the heart of radical technological change or the imaginings of same, a clinging to the most trivial and boring sort of continuity by the very sort of people predicting extreme “disruption” and radical discontinuity.  The Singularity then, if any, would present before us as an unthinkably complex quantum accountant, as — figuratively speaking  — a godlike 1950s bespectacle nebbish, a bean counter (literalized already by the fashion for “quantified life.”)

3 thoughts on “Steal This Singularity Part 3: Bean Counters in Paradise”

  1. As I mentioned on FB, no one seems to consider the cost of electricity running one of these places – Liquid nitrogen takes a lot of energy to make, and there’s no perfect insulation – every Dewar will have to be topped off periodically. To me it’s an invention that allows you to consume the world’s resources even after you’re dead…..You’d have to have a gigantic ego to even consider this…..

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