The 2020s will be different. For the first time in more than half a century, we will feel the fresh breath of real progress. After Voyagers and Apollos, progress consisted mostly with just talking. We flew the same planes, drove principally the same cars, lived in the same buildings, and used the same energy sources. Computing and communication are the exceptions that prove the rule. As the steadily growing stupidity of operational systems precisely compensates Moore’s law and the inapplicability of capacitive displays in any serious work exactly offsets the advantages of remote co-working, the real balance sheet has no revolutionary increments. We shifted some cycles of production from the West to the East and back again, improved a bunch of minor things, called it all a new technological paradigm for some reason but we haven’t made anything truly substantial. However, at least the sentiment has recently become very positive, and a sentiment constitutes a good portion of any equity value.
Quantum computing, blockchaining, seriously considering aging as a curable disease, pursuing realistic and meaningful space exploration programs, building Hyperloop, reaching the dusk of oil-fed idiotic dictatorships and witnessing most of the world’s violence going to hell along with them, realizing distributed governance instead of archaic alphas’ politics, tangible VR, self-driving cars, real robots that mimic the biomechanics of a nimble species (not ours), copter-based logistics, nanobot medicine, next generation antibiotics, cell-grown meat, creating 3D prints of everything including homes, a computer brain interface, a distributed electricity exchange grid, and a new education paradigm — today, all these things look doable, to scale and in time, before we mess up the planet.
Any one of these items alone can shake the world beyond recognition, but market forces and regulatory obstacles can delay the coming of many of them indefinitely. Except one.
Human body upgrades, be it ultra-advanced silicon/carbon/metal prosthetics or DNA hacks, are going to be in high and realizable demand, regardless of whether they are legal or not, for the healthy or for the disabled. The same people who now keep bitching about Illuminati and their implantable chips will line up to get bigger/smaller body parts or acquire the eagle-quality eyesight or bat-quality two-way sonar hearing.
Technological evolution resembles the biological one with the role of death played by the absence of buyers. I don’t want to spoil the Google indexing of this post with the names of those resourceful people who managed to prepay the first nuclear bomb and sputnik but my point is that body upgrade, unlike the above two breakthroughs, is a well-fragmented tech with plenty of distributed demand at comparatively affordable price. So we don’t have to wait for another global scale maniac to get things working. Body upgrades will soon become available to all, at least in some societies.
A first-time motivation to upgrade yourself can happen at any point within Maslow’s pyramid. Some people will do it for professional reasons so they can better provide for their families. For many, various sexuality-driven desires will become a trigger. The particular reasons won’t matter because the no-return point of the trend is very close to its start. One way or another, once ignited, social mechanics will drive change exponentially because we all just hate to be any ‘worse’ than others. At some not-so-far-away stage, the posthuman it is, regardless of AI.
Right now, in the original homo sapiens’ body, the brain chemistry responsible for ‘rewards’ is outdated already, but we’ve circumvented its glitches and have no better choice anyway. With mighty bodily updates and, little externally hard-coded incentives, what exactly will be the reason to set alarm clocks and keep kicking then?
The impetus that currently drives people seem to be flawed in that new reality. What am I supposed to enjoy after the [rational] removal of the gastrointestinal tract? The number of joules? Aren’t we being fooled enough now, when making a reasonable choice of a spouse is obstructed by malfunctioning irrelevant instincts? Sane people will probably turn the stupid sex thing off, so boring it might be in a controllable mode when anybody can look and smell great. Spirit of cognition or helping those in need? Nah, we must admit it’s too shallow a thrill for most of us. Oppress others with power or authority? Quite a marginal joy and I bet it will be made impossible by that time. Fake, purely artificial pleasures? Yes, of course. But we know where an abuse of those leads — will the new tech take a heavier death toll than that of drugs? Conquer the Universe, maybe? Again, it’s a narrow type of a hobby for few. Creating universes? That sounds closer…
Stanislaw Lem, in his brilliant “Summa Technologiae” (1964), focuses on the adaptation of bodies to outer space conditions. The same ‘space discovery’ accent is present throughout the rest of the book, in both AI and alien chapters. The depth of analysis is incredible, but most of all, it is very hard to accept today after being exposed to the difference between the dreams of thinkers in the golden age of sixties with the rustic and primitive present. The book also misses some admissible answers as to why exactly we would want to devote our lives to this external vector en masse, given the reality that the strengthening of the demographic crisis has stopped.
Try to decipher it for yourself. Take any random human activity from today and look at it in the light of whether it would still fit the reality when each particular evolution-created motivation might be off.
So, let’s ground ourselves back down to earth in this little mental exercise; we are likely to end up with little incentive for living on the other side of the tectonics of body upgrades. Here’s my guess:
The warm joy of bringing up and educating a person from a white sheet state of mind (aka children) andThe pure joy of a game: no purpose, no reason.
Unfortunately, some brain data uploading technique will eventually kill the first one too. So, are we stuck with hollow gaming? I asked people in the futurology subreddit whether any contemporary author is seriously theorizing on what might become the reason for us to live then. A couple of people pointed me to fiction by Ian M. Banks. Let me quote some of his reasoning (it’s about AI but it doesn’t make it much less applicable here):
By Goîdel out of Chaos, the galaxy is, in other words, an immensely, intrinsically, and inexhaustibly interesting place; an intellectual playground for machines that know everything except fear and what lies hidden within the next uncharted stellar system.
This is where I think one has to ask why any AI civilisation — and probably any sophisticated culture at all — would want to spread itself everywhere in the galaxy (or the universe, for that matter). It would be perfectly possible to build a Von Neumann machine that would build copies of itself and eventually, unless stopped, turn the universe into nothing but those self-copies, but the question does arise; why? What is the point? To put it in what we might still regard as frivolous terms but which the Culture would have the wisdom to take perfectly seriously, where is the fun in that?
Interest — the delight in experience, in understanding — comes from the unknown; understanding is a process as well as a state, denoting the shift from the unknown to the known, from the random to the ordered… a universe where everything is already understood perfectly and where uniformity has replaced diversity, would, I’d contend, be anathema to any self-respecting AI.
In a very bombastic and much more primitive compared to S. Lem way, but the similar to mine idea is expressed there — an ‘interest’ is the only obvious universal motivation driver for a living being who can deliberately upgrade herself. ‘Interest’ is very vague thing and since the real-life implementation always turns out very prosaic, sort of broken, and full of profanity, I would advocate that gaming is coming..
There are a few contemporary VR companies, like Sensiks, for example, that produce very advanced equipment with temperature and humidity simulation, with heart rate and other body parameters back-looped into content scenarios, and other mind blowing features. Can they possibly focus on some polling and experimenting in the field, maybe by introducing some networked app with in-game crypto-tokens to quantify the ‘interest’? There’s is nothing wrong with this new round of indulging the gaming blemish. After all, this might be yet another channel for latent aggression to dampfer. Perhaps we can learn something new from the behavior of people sunk in deep gaming. Maybe their ways could give us some hints about the posthuman reality. What if we can learn something new about our present selves that way?Sensiks - Sensory Reality PodsWe are SENSIKS.. A group of 12 persons, combining distinctive knowledge, characters and competences to make impact on…www.sensiks.com
Proactive efforts in this direction are not any less relevant than the broadly discussed restriction of AI development and prohibition of autonomous weapons. I think we should be more concerned about boring ourselves to death than with AI killing us (which is probably going to be too suicidally inclined itself to notice us anyway).