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The Life Of The Dead (An Essay From The Future)

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(Original appearance on my Patreon page, 04 July 2017)

To understand our ancestors and the Natural Lifers, voluntary and involuntary, throughout the Solar System, you must understand first that they are all dead.

For our pre-Longevity ancestors, that’s literally true. But I mean something  more profound than a simple observation of the state of being of those who formerly lived and died. I’m talking about people and whole societies that were and are dead in the depths of their souls and worldview from birth.

We share with them the technical fact of mortality. We, too, will all die. No matter that our organs, unlike theirs, continually rebuild and reengineer themselves from the inside, that we enjoy continual in-depth health monitoring built into our surroundings, clothing, bedding, skin, flesh, bones, and blood, every single moment of every single day. No matter that our brains and memories are tended like gardens and backed up like documents.

Sooner or later the Reaper will reach us. It happens. Statisticians and actuaries disagree amongst themselves but most give us between five and fifteen thousand years before chance delivers us a body-obliterating end. It happens to an unlucky few every year already, in fact, among the tens of billions protected by Longevity.

But our ancestors (and today’s Natural Lifers) grew up assuming that their lives will be over very quickly indeed, and that there’s nothing of consequence they can do about it — which never stopped them from trying to micromanage a few extra years our of their short spans. Few ever succeeded in truly taking a view longer than their own lifespans, and usually that longer view consisted of trying to lock the future into living in the comfortable past of their own youths. For most, “long term” consisted of thinking a bare handful of years ahead, literally. No more than a person could count on their fingers.

Imagine what it’s like to be born inevitably and rapidly terminal. After the normal human childhood frenzy of learning, you must hurry on, hardly pausing. Spend your twenties in frantic acquisition of career skills. Your thirties and forties in frantic acquisition of expertise and professional networks. And then you have perhaps twenty good years to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor before the inevitable decline of body and mind begins to steal that hard-won enjoyment back. You’ll be very lucky to live beyond ninety without Longevity. Ninety years. That’s it. And in the past, there wasn’t even the option to change your mind, which many Natural Lifers do around mid-life when the recognition of immanent mortality really solidifies.

Short-lifers hardly had time to accomplish anything, and they were the entirety of society for most of human history. A society built around the recognition of swift and certain death. For them, everything must be a headlong rush, even the most careful and thoughtful long-range planning.

And a personal failure at any stage of life often meant a literally fatal delay of ambition and enjoyment of life success.

No wonder schadenfruede and sadism and suicide and Amok and warfare were rampant.

Not that those things are extinct in Longevity society. But they’re enormously rarer, aren’t they? Because we not only have reason to plan for the long term, but we know we’re here for the long term. We know we are alive and will continue to live, deep down in our flesh and bones and blood and souls. Tomorrow is coming for us, but short-lifers could never be certain that even tomorrow would come for them.

We’ve got more to lose, more to gain, and more to hope for. Just this first half-millennium of Longevity has revealed a slower progress, which the Natural Lifers jeer at, but it is deliberate and broad and lacks the error-forcing frantic quality of ephemeralism. We’ve more caution in deploying new ideas, but enjoy an unprecedented range of pure research and great reliability in the new developments we add to our lives. For why would a person facing ten thousand years of life worry over a decade or two spent chasing a dead end? But the prospect terrifies Natural Lifers, because two decades in a dead end is a waste of the bulk of an advanced professional life with no chance for recovery. It’s also easier for us to admit errors, for that very reason. A twenty year long mistake is a blush for us, but the ruin of everything for them.

As they point out slower overall progress, Natural Lifers are also quick to point out other shortcomings and controversies within Longevity — sometimes with justice, but often out of that schadenfreude mentioned earlier.

In our society it is easier to consolidate wealth and power for those willing to devote all their centuries to doing so — and so far we have several prominent examples of that. The definitions of “career criminal” and “life sentence” have shifted in ways our legal systems have still not fully adapted to. There is still enormous debate and controversy among creatives and legal minds over what copyright and fair use should look like when a creator might live longer than the current age of all human civilization to date. Mental illness and attitudes toward it are also experiencing a sea change — it seems that over a lifetime of centuries we all are statistically certain to experience mental illness in one or several forms.

While these are all real concerns and ramifications of Longevity, none of them are reasons to ignore the advances of technology and rejoin the Natural Lifers. None of them are reasons to embrace a swift death, surely.

Every human advance has brought new benefits and new difficulties hand in hand. Cheap, powerful ion-drive spacecraft changed our entire society and outlook on life. The internet changed everything with its advent. So did the motor vehicle. Rocketry, airplanes, telephones, electricity, railroads, rifles, gunpowder, crossbows, credit, printing presses, steel, aqueducts, sewers, iron, bronze, domesticated horses, writing, agriculture, brewing, fire. Every one of these innovations, and more besides, radically changed human history, society, worldview, and reasoning. Every single one. We adjusted to them.

We’ll adjust to biological immortality too, and all the new innovations it brings us.

A Couple Of Centuries Makes Aliens

I had some fun with this hashtag, but the underlying idea is pretty important: it wasn’t the case in the distant past so much, but these last couple of centuries our rate of technological advance has been so rapid that time makes aliens of the people of the past quickly. It’s hard to conceive that they’d be so different from us, that we’re so different from them, only two or three centuries separated in time. The language has changed, but not so much we couldn’t understand it. We still run the USA on the basis of the documents they wrote. But the worldviews of people now and then are so different, I wonder if they’d even grasp how we interpret them now, or if we even truly grasp what they meant when they wrote. Certainly we have some clue. Certainly our legal scholars do. But really, one would have to be a historian and a lawyer and an anthropologist and maybe a psychologist and a few other things to really get it.

We have a vague idea of who and what people from a past so far removed from our present in time and technology and ideas were. But it’s a shallow idea, like a US founder might have had of the culture of Beijing at the time. A tissue of stereotype and rumor.

They’re aliens in a very meaningful sense. Or we’ve become aliens to them. The people of the 2300s will be just as alien from our point of view, whether they’re more advanced or the survivors of a civilization-destroying apocalypse.

Even if we never meet extraterrestrials, we walk in the footsteps of aliens every day of our lives.

SciFi News Network 2062: Self-Driving Vehicle Kills Three

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Posted: Monday, August 7th, 2062

WESTON, Mass.

Three pedestrians were killed Sunday when a self-driving car’s operating system was compromised outside a weekend farmers’ market in Weston, a wealthy suburb of Boston. Two local teens in the car were also treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries. Witnesses said the vehicle did not slow as it mounted the sidewalk and struck the victims, stopping only when it struck a line of heavy hedge at the end of the block. The names of the deceased are held pending notification of next of kin, and a Boston Metro press officer declined to identify the teens.

The officer did confirm that the teens were “on the younger side of teenage” and are the subjects of an investigation. No charges have been filed at the time of this report.

The teens’ attorney released a short press statement suggesting the car driving the teens had been hacked by an unknown party.

“It’s entirely possible the vehicle was hacked,” Boston Metro Chief of Police Esmerelda McLeod said in a press conference this afternoon. “On the other hand, there have been incidents of individuals deliberately using “spoofing” programs to subvert self-driving software and enable manual driving from a pocket tablet or phone. We have a very capable data forensics team working on the car’s systems to discover the truth.”

The three deaths bring the count of vehicle-related deaths in Massachusetts to 25, slightly above the generally accepted 1/8 standard as compared to vehicular deaths in the bloody pre-mandatory-autodrive era.

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The self-driving car is coming. As quickly as the automobile replaced the horse in busy city centers where a spooked horse would present a public danger, the self-driving car will replace the manually driven car in those same places and for the same reason.

It has already been discussed for some time that a computer-operated vehicle is vulnerable to hacking, malware, viruses, what have you in the realm of scary things that make your computer go AIIIIIIIEEEE and stop working the way it’s supposed to. Even now, with vehicles not driven by software but many of their systems controlled by it, it has already been demonstrated that a WiFi equipped vehicle is vulnerable to hacking.

And of course, like any computerized device, vehicles are already vulnerable to the knowledgeable subverting their programs.

People worry over this sort of stuff. And it’s worthwhile to worry about. A vehicle out of control, self-driving or not, is dangerous. Deadly.

And yet, over a million people yearly die in automobile accidents. Thirty thousand-ish of those are in the United States. Most of those deaths are caused by driver error or driver misuse. I went over the subject not too long ago in a post about a worker having to take a sick day because his/her car had come down with a virus.

So before I retread that same ground too heavily, I’ll just say that I bet self-driving cars will still kill people. I bet the first few times it happens there will be a public outcry and great consternation. And I bet that in the end, self-driving cars will still kill WAY FEWER PEOPLE. And once the last people who remember how often people died in manually-driven-car accidents, I bet there will be a cohort of “manual driving truthers” who will protest that history is misrepresented and lobby for “safer” human-controlled driving.

 

Stick around for a century or so, you’ll see.

 

(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page three days before it appeared here. Even one slender buck pledged per month gets you my fiction & writing posts 3 days early and ebooks 30 days before they’re released and FREE regardless of what I charge elsewhere. Woo-hoo!)

Thirteen Word Story — Continuity

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(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here — support me there, even for a buck a month, and you see all my posts first PLUS get a FREE copy of any ebook short story I publish THIRTY days before it goes live, even if I charge for it elsewhere!)

Also, please feel free to save the image above and share it anywhere you’d like! You’ll be helping me out if you do, and I will appreciate it, and I like to think it counts as a plus for you as far as karma goes.

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This story speaks to one of my most and least favorite things, tradition. Tradition perpetuates all sorts of things in societies, some as innocent as making snowmen, some nonsensical, some neutral, others negative or positive or even more likely all of the above wrapped up in a big Gordian knot built over centuries. Tradition can lift up or destroy, build community or disrupt it. Like it or not, it’s a product of human beings being social creatures — attempts to break the old patterns wholesale and build new ones anew have been disasters: think French Revolution, Soviet Union, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge. Like bending wood or bamboo to fashion the crook of a walking cane, human society in the large traditions that govern and define us must be reshaped slowly and with care lest they crack and shatter.

 

Small traditions, like the snowman, can become security blankets when the pace of change becomes rapid, as it has been these last two or three centuries. I have a feeling that within my lifetime (if I should make it into my 80s or 90s, fingers crossed) elementary education will become something accessed online rather than by gathering together in a municipal building, and printing breakfast cereal in your kitchen is likely to become common. For oldsters as I would be when that time comes, watching children play in the snow will be a comforting traditional blanket to wrap around my shoulders as I watch from a padded chair in the comfort of a heated porch. And maybe, who knows, I’ll go out and help roll some snowman body segments, something I remember fondly from my early childhood. Maybe despite the availability of conveniently printed food I’ll break out some primitive chicken eggs and vanilla and condensed milk and make a bowl of snow cream. Or make hot chocolate on a pan on the stove. All minor, comforting traditions — no doubt with the advent of the convenient powdered hot chocolate packet making it from bars of real bar chocolate on the stove is a small way for those born before their debut to relive a piece of the old world, the world they were born in before all these changes like internets came to be.

 

More than tradition, “Continuity” also speaks to the basic human condition that technology cannot touch — at least, not yet and not without radically redefining the human condition.

 

Even if humanity were to become, say, a population of consciousnesses loaded into android brains, there would still be snow (assuming we don’t really overdo it with this climate change thing). And still the potential to play by creating snow…er…droids. And if there are no children in such a strange new world, perhaps still some oldsters who remember what it was like to be raised in a world of meat humans will still go out and build snowmen, if only to take comfort for a little while by indulging in a little of what the world was before it changed.

 

 

Pluto, 1930 Yearbook Photo — Plus Space Program Grumbles

Pluto 1930 Tombaugh

This is how Pluto looked when Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. A bright mote, an apparent star that moved in a way that betrayed its planetary nature — for someone who was looking carefully enough.

Things have gotten a bit better with New Horizons; you can see the latest images on NASA’s NH page. Here’s one that’s new as of this post date:

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Edit: new image below, 14 JUL:

Pluto Icecap

Quite the improvement, no?

Well, yes. But it has been a long wait, hasn’t it? 85 years. Granted, we could hardly have dispatched an airplane to take a closer look in 1930. Modern rocketry as in its infancy, as was broadcasting. Even if a 1930s era rocket could have been launched at Pluto, we’d hardly have gotten word back of success reaching it, much less a picture.

I do worry that these are the best images I’ll see in my lifetime, and I’m only 45. But NASA’s funding has been either waning or just holding on against inflation these last three decades, not growing, and the bulk of the current crop of Presidential candidates seem to be mostly unenthused by NASA. ‘What’s the point of spending a whole penny on the federal budget dollar on all this sciency stuff? We’ve got people to feed, bomb, feed bombs to, bomb with food, and so forth, right here on Earth.’

Hostility to and/or disinterest in space, NASA, science, and scholarly investigation in general is nothing new. In the 1970s and 80s, Senator William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin is a ‘fine’ recent example, with his ‘Golden Fleece’ awards that, as often as not, lambasted space and science funding as wasted effort and wasted money. Plenty of commentators, regular folks, and politicians jump on that anti-intellectual, short-view bandwagon from time to time.

Frankly, it’s a nasty and dangerous habit, this idea that exploring the cosmos around us, exploring our own planet further, and learning in general is a waste of money and effort. There’s a lot to be gained by exploration, here and up there. Aren’t you reading this on a computer? Possibly a computer that also telephones people and locates itself by GPS? Thank scientists, scholars, inquisitive types, the space program, all those ‘wastes of money’ that pay off in knowledge and in the things that knowledge makes possible, if you spend the money learning now and have the patience to wait a decade or two for the payoff.

I know, we’re not that great at long-term thinking, most of us. But seriously. Yes, we’re just looking at Pluto, which is hardly going to be useful real estate or mining grounds next week, year, or decade. But every time we do something like this, we don’t just learn more about how our planetary neighbors work. We learn more about communications, propulsion, efficient generation and use of power sources, miniaturization, navigation, and so on, and so forth, and likely things that you and I haven’t thought of yet that will pay off come 2045.

Not to mention, as big as this earth is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the solar system. Planets and asteroids and comets, oh my, swimming in a constant rain of free-to-gather energy that is sunlight (or maybe magnetic if you want to venture to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and do some tinkering). Sometimes people talk about this ‘high frontier’ as if it could be a relief valve for overpopulation, but no, it’s not that. No more than opening California to colonization relieved crowding in New York City. But a wide frontier is a relief valve for people who are gravely dissatisfied with current affairs at home, and we as a planetary society haven’t really had one of those in quite a few decades now. Yes, there’s a certain lack of open air and flowing water up there among the various possible destinations. So what?

The big ‘so what’ is that we’re doing little practicing of how to keep people alive in places like that. There’s a space station, and 40+ years after people walked on the moon it’s still an itty-bitty one with a few people, entirely supplied from earth. It’s useful, and we learn from it, and we’ve no apparent interest in pushing the boundaries meaningfully as a species. Well, China has done a little talking in that direction, Maybe in response to US talk about sending people to Mars, maybe, one day, well maybe not, or maybe we’ll just push back the ‘maybe’ date… you get the idea. We like talking about it a bit, but few are serious about it, especially among those who would have to speak the loudest to fund such a nutty idea as putting a bunch of people on the moon or Mars to live long term, the politicians. They’re not that interested, and the public isn’t that interested. And that’s a shame. We won’t spread off this rock unless there’s an interest in doing so. Maybe the interest will come too late, after climate change gets nasty enough to cause even middle-class folks serious problems at home. Such a wait-till-the-crisis scenario would be a shame, too. Because, like in the ‘reduce population pressure’ scenario, colonizing the moon or Mars of anything else out there would not be a way to evacuate millions or billions of people in troubles.

But it would be a great way to spread the human race out a bit so that it’s not in danger of croaking en masse if a massive disaster of some sort were to loom. And it would, if no disaster comes to call, be a great way to expand the knowledge, both practical and abstract, of the human race as a whole — and that expansion would all be fuel for the next round of life-improving gadgets just as food preservation, improved transportation, construction and maintenance of internets, and so forth have been for us.

Don’t be selfish. Help the people of 2100 surpass us as much as we’ve surpassed the people of 1930.