Nature

I spent much of the day walking snow covered trails with incredibly beautiful views of the snowy mountains around me. What I loved most was the silence. Almost total silence. No distraction. No interruption. Just snow, mountains, beautiful views, and me. I realized how much I miss nature. Spaces to explore. Walking around. Climbing mountains. Using my legs. Indulging in nature. It feels so good.

Immortality

Immortality will unlikely mean we simply live longer and get older. Long, or ultimately immortal, life is likely to be qualitatively different from life as we know it today. Probably, life will be initially prolonged through bionically enhanced body replacement parts. Over time, replacement parts could become enhanced parts that increasingly differ from, and improve on, the organic originals they replace. As our mind controls non-organic/artificial/enhanced body parts, the original organic body is discarded. In the end, there may just be a part of the brain that contains our consciousness kept in a lab from where it directs real and virtual reality and a web of computers around us. Our consciousness could live in a virtual reality world in eternal happiness.

Immortality may come in an entirely different shape or form of course. But immortality will come. We are too close to it already with artificial limbs that can be directed by our mind. With our mind being able to control artificial machines already, thr biggest steps to immortality seem already behind us. Humans will invest more and more as those investments yield concrete enhancements and prolongation of individual lives. The incentives are just too strong.

One interesting side effect of immortality could be the end of religion. Many religions are based on the desire for immortality. Some promise eternal life in heaven or threaten eternal life in hell. Others promise eternal reincarnation. If immortality is put into the real of human achievements, religion will loose its power and appeal. The world could be saved  the enormous sufferings and the wars triggered by religious zeal and hatred.

A new class society

We may be witnessing the beginnings of a new class society divided into one class of those who enhance their capabilities through new technologies in bionics or informatics and control the development of technology (the ‚Enhanced’) and another class of those who are manipulated by technology and reduced to a consumer role whose labor assets are diminished by robots and AI (the ‚Diminished‘).

The Enhanced develop technology. They own the Cloud. They guide the development of algorithms. They capture the rents generated by AI and robots. They thus gain the resources to enhance themselves and ultimately achieve immortality through bionic enhancements. Of course, the enhanced are not protected from manipulation themselves. They are unlikely to become the great conspirators that run the world. They are more like the actives players in a web too complicated for any one of them too understand in full.

The Diminished loose their jobs, which are taken by robots, and their income and turn into passive consumers of YouTube and Netflix. Their economic and political choices and actions are increasingly driven or manipulated by the Cloud. They may not be unhappy at all. Their basic needs can be taken care off and mental manipulation (virtual reality) or physical manipulation (drugs) can maintain them as subjectively very happy individuals, maybe happier than the enhanced who worry about their power and the sate of the world

Is this very different from today‘s economic classes? It amplifies and cements differences and inequalities and it extends inequalities to such fundamental dimensions as the length of human life and choice of the political system. The classes could become rigid but might also remain fluid with diminished individuals able to enhance themselves and vice versa.

Who do want to be? Will you know who you are going to be? How do you prevent becoming diminished? How much YouTube consumption before you turn into a manipulated diminished individual? What kind of education system will enable the enhanced?

The source of value and meaning

Traditional societies postulated a religion or other forms of absolutism (king, dictator, etc.) as the source of meaning. Liberalism postulated the well-being of the individual as the source of value. This liberal utilitarianism is the moral foundation for market economics and democracy. The extension of the self through external algorithms and the disaggregation of the self into algorithms that can be directed (manipulated) by external algorithms calls into fundamental doubt the meaning of individual utility as source of value. Harari (in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century ) seems to suggest that suffering (or its absence) would be a more appropriate source of value. That does not convince me as suffering is also just an algorithm (the brain chemicals causing the feeling of suffering), and the quest for the source of value remains unanswered. Yet, the attempt to link the source of value to our consciousness (rather than our actions that are subject to multiple layers of manipulation) sounds appealing. But how can we determine the state of our consciousness and how can that state be used to express value and meaning? And is that state of consciousness truly independent of the brain chemicals that induce feelings of sadness and happiness and are subject to all the usual manipulations.

Know yourself better than the algorithms know you!

We are entering a world where manipulation of the self can reach un-imagined intensity. Political manipulation (Hitler-Germany; Trump-USA) or commercial manipulation (advertising) is not new at all. But it was based on aggregate appeal and not based on detailed understanding of each individual. Big Data allows that understanding of each individual and can take manipulation to a new level where the notion of the individual itself (and certainly the liberal notion of free will) is profoundly called into question. The only defense to remain in control (if that is what we want) is to know yourself better than the algorithms know you. Meditation and observation of one’s own consciousness could be one path where individuals can retain control in a world that is not (yet) accessible to the algorithms: or consciousness. (reflections on 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari)

The Trump who stole Christmas

Feeling deeply depressed at the end of the year. Every morning since November 7, I thought I would finally wake up from this bad dream. Instead, in this holiday season with time for reflection and absorbing news, the bad dream is making it into more and more aspects of daily reality.

63 million Americans have voted into the White House a bully, narcissist, lunatic, madman, and clown, all in one. A man who represents everything that I was taught by my parents as bad and wrong and everything that I am teaching my kids as bad and wrong. A man who manages to bring the worst self-promoting and self-interested instincts out of his followers and his opponents. 

63 million Americans have killed the American Dream.

63 million Americans have dramatically accelerated the decline and abruptly ended the moral leadership of the US as a beacon of liberty and democracy. They have reminded us that cultures built on the values of enlightenment may degenerate and collapse just like other great civilizations have in the past.

63 million Americans have left the world grasping for the best, a very sad outcome of a world rudderless and helplessly in the hands of an ignorant, while fearing the unspeakable worst outcome.

63 million Americans have taken away hope and belief in progress and democracy and in public policy as the art of promoting the public good. They have hit in the face those who fight for freedom, democracy, tolerance, pluralism, equity and justice, anywhere in the world.

63 million Americans did not remember or did not care about the fragility of institutions and the values of enlightenment on which their country was founded. They forgot the lessons of the madmen who have been here before and the suffering they caused for millions and millions.

63 million Americans are less than one percent of the global population.

The other 99% have to start rebuilding together. I don’t know yet how.