May 20, 2007

a technological forecast

Filed under: philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 1:07 am

Evolution has made three attempts to create a hyper-multicellular organism: an ant-hill, communism, and the internet. The last attempt seems to be crowned with success.

The first global net was way more complex than a human brain, because it included lots of individual brains as its parts. Without brains, it would just have been a huge pile of hi-tech junk. But with them, it was a colonial organism, like Volvox.

Forgot what Volvox is? It’s a stunningly beautiful microscopic ball of individual cells; each of them can survive on its own if separated from the colony. That creature, bright-green and transparent, swims gracefully in our ponds and ditches, seeking sunlight as persistently as some of us seek the truth.

Ten years ago, mankind consisted of many unconnected individuals and one big human Volvox, united by the computer network. But this thing grows: everyone’s mind may be attached to the net in about a decade. One great hyper-multicellular Thing is sprouting all over the planet.

Is the Thing alive? Sort of. Can it think? No, of course not, not as we think of thinking. The reason, as we see it, is already as ancient as primitive phototropism: the Thing will have something else, much more effective. Can the Thing act? Why not?
If I were in its place I would do three simple things.

First I would tame people. I’d play with human children, and with adults too, though they’re not so important. I’d play with them, train them, changing their brain, maturing the skills absolutely useless for an independent, conscious human being, but necessary for a blind, but qualified slave. They would never notice that paradox. They’re so pathetically short-sighted.

I would eradicate the idea of the significance of an individual human life, so the gamers would mainly do four things: kill, kill, rehearse violent behaviors by quarreling with parents or teachers, and kill again with increasing skill. Growing up, a single human child would kill thousands or even millions of virtual human beings. It’d take less than one generation to change the moral values. I mean, to swap the panhuman values for pancomputer ones.
The next task would be to improve people’s genes.

Hey, aren’t you surprised to see how easily your sons absorb numbers, codes, programs, keys, buttons, and artificial languages? A 12-year-old boy’s hands can sweep over the keyboard with a skill and efficiency that was inaccessible to most educated adults ten years ago. Why does nobody notice this tremendous and biologically impossible change? Why doesn’t anybody say the words “selective breeding,” though the truth is self-evident?
How did the Thing achieve it?

I don’t know. I’m too slow to know it. Maybe, it fed tons of carefully selected porno to us, shaping the sexual tastes of a great number of men. In that way it attained a great statistical effect. Then it used computer dating to combine our genes with pinpoint accuracy. Soon our babies were born with the natural disposition to love the Thing and to work for it.
And the third thing I would do is obvious.

I would invent a cell phone, which, between you and me, is not a phone at all.

Of course, cell phones. People are so crazy about them that I don’t understand how mankind could survive 20 years ago without talking on them and pressing those adorable little buttons. It certainly couldn’t. Oh, yeah, you’ve already got it: these toys are an interface, a means that allows anyone to be connected to the Thing whenever and wherever he or she is.

My friend’s son, an 18-month-old child, is lying on the sofa. He pushes away a cute toy monkey and grabs his mother’s cell phone. The concentration wrinkles his face, making it look like a soaked apple. He isn’t playing, he’s working; he doesn’t need games anymore. Wow, he succeeded! He plays some music, then chooses another melody, then looks at something on the screen.

We are doomed. Our world, I mean, the world of forests, lakes, murmuring insects, dewy sunrises, a brush of a gossamer thread on your cheek on an autumn day, or dreamy stars overhead, the world where sun-drenched little yards smelled of wildflowers and freshly-mowed grass will never exist again. This world’s being erased like the out-of-date data on a hard drive. We’ll live without all those things like Munchausen’s horse lived without its rear end. If we extrapolate today’s trends, we’ll see that our grandchildren, myopic and addicted to cyber-sex, will spend 24 hours a day online. But it will only be the beginning.

With time, Volvox will turn into a structure resembling a sponge. The cells of a sponge can be separated, but they can’t survive alone for a long time. Now we call it internet addiction. In fifty years the term will be as ridiculous as “air addiction” or “sleep addiction.” We will be able to do without sleep, but not without the Thing. Being online will be as important for us as breathing.

You know, a sponge already has specialized cellular types. So, if I were in the Thing’s place, I would take care of the specialization now, or in the immediate future. I would push ahead with genetic engineering. I’d need different types of human bodies in a few decades: bodies that would serve as digestive cells, epidermal cells. As leukocytes, of course. As thread-cells, maybe. Did I forget something? Oh, yes, repairing cells or something.

My friend’s young wife is in my room. Yeah, you’re right, it’s a love affair. She’s beautiful. She enjoys unisex haircuts and body piercing. Her lower lip is pierced, so are her ears, her navel, her nipples, and I suppose something else. Those metal rings hinder her from kissing and making love.

And when her baby tries to pull – Oh, he can pull.

She thinks it’s artistic.

“Why do you need it?” I ask.

“You’re so old-fashioned,” she answers.
She is in love. Not with me, with my computer. Her own is not connected to the internet yet. So she is around, trying to distract me and take my place in front of the monitor. She wants to be near her beloved, even to look like it.

The whole human progress is already channeled. We could make a trip to the moon or to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 50 years ago, but we can’t do it now: the Thing doesn’t welcome distractions. In 1969, the early internet, then called arpanet, was brought online. The last trip to the moon was in 1972. Pretty close. While the philosophizing snail of mankind crawls ahead as slowly as before, the digital cheetahs made a striking start.

Our future is determined; millions of people polish up software in blind haste from morning till night; sometimes they work nightlong as if afraid of being late. Industry, education, medicine, science, finances, military forces, everything and everywhere is computer controlled. Or will be.

My friend is a programmer. His hair is long and tousled. He’s as thin as a dried dragonfly. His eyes are pink: he never gets enough sleep. Sometimes we play tennis together. He has an unbelievable slice serve: I can never guess how the ball will bounce.

“You can’t do that again,” I say.

He serves again and says, “I can’t explain how I do that. I just think differently.”
Five minutes later a big and very crumpled cellophane bag inflated by wind flies across the court slowly like a drowsy specter. My friend stops and looks at the bag, transfixed.

“I know how a tennis hyper-ball looks in the fourth dimension,” he says and points to the bag. “It looks just like that!” I see a wild flame in his eyes and understand that he really thinks differently. As differently as a Martian. And nothing can be done about it.

Good news, at last: everyone except some old grumblers will become happier and happier with years. Our bodies will be much healthier than they are now; alcohol and narcotics will become as stupid as cutting one’s nose off. Most of our problems today will become insignificant. Our grandsons won’t fight anymore: wars and terrorism appear where the gradient of the ideological field is the largest. Make the ideological field uniform – and you’ll have no wars.

What about our soul, which, like a raindrop on the glass, reflects in minute details the indifferent world, a drop which feels so alone and senseless among thousands of other drops? It will slide down and merge into others, becoming a part of a current; it will flow perhaps to a huge godless ocean, which none of us can imagine now.

_Sergey Gerasimov is a Ukraine-based writer and novelist.

this article was first published by adbusters magazine

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