Stross (Singularity Sky) explores humanity’s inability to cope with molecular nanotechnology run amok in this teeming near-future SF stand-alone. In part one, “Slow Takeoff,” “free enterprise broker” Manfred Macx and his soon-to-be-estranged wife/dominatrix, Pamela, lay the foundation for the next decade’s transhumans. In “Point of Inflection,” Amber, their punky maladjusted teenage daughter, and Sadeq Khurasani, a Muslim judge, engineer and scholar, try to escape the social chaos that antiaging treatments have wreaked on Earth by riding a tin can–sized starship via nanocomputerization to a brown dwarf star called Hyundai. The Wunch, trade-delegation aliens evolved from uploaded lobster mentalities, and Macx’s grandson, Sirhan, roister through “Singularity,” in which people become cybernetic constructs. Stross’s three-generation experiment in stream-of-artificial-consciousness impresses, but his flat characters and inchoate rapid-fire explosions of often muzzily related ideas, theories, opinions and nightmares too often resemble intellectual pyrotechnics—breathtakingly gaudy but too brief, leaving connections lost somewhere in outer/inner/cyber space.
Every community has a way to distribute value among its members. We see this pattern in every social niche, from online communities having reputation points, to pop musicians comparing themselves on their top hit ratings. Communities form around promoting a certain value in the first place, so who ever has more of that value is considered most influential. At the collective level of all these communities, there has been some trading system at the macro level, based on the important scarce resources of what the human species had at that point. For a culture of one-celled organisms in a petri dish, it might be just connecting/reproducing the organism and also furthering that organism’s expansion in the petri dish or at the bottom of the sea. At the caveman stage, it was food and shelter protection — thus if you were judged of value, you would capture the few best caves. At the agrarian age, we competed over good land and built walls to protect it. Starting five centuries ago, the global trade of goods made material possessions the desired commodity, as we found newer ways to use and interact with the materials of our planet. In the last hundred years, many people have come to have enough of their basic needs met and the prized commodity became both social power (how important your accomplishments were determined whom you influence) and also information and ideas about the world. Money became suitable only to measuring material trade but not the social respect that certain brains garnered in a world that came to value brain logical problem-solving capacity so much more. Value soon became about how many other brains you influenced with your ideas and causes.
Read this New York Times article on progress being made on the first immortal rejuvenating organism discovered on Earth.
New York Times. “Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?” (November 28, 2012).
Also worth watching is the Smithsonian documentary “Decoding Immortality” of the current state of research on human aging.
Let’s think about the history of information and news. From the days of the Romans to the Middle Ages, ancient scrolls transmitted information, mostly for the social elite. With the invention of the printing press in the 15th century to the popularization of the public library by the 19th century, a much greater majority of society had access to public knowledge and information flow. We might call library scroll and printed books the first stage. Stage two would be the newspaper; from the founding of the New York Times in 1851, they gained traction and became the primary way to become informed of what’s going on in the world. Magazine articles were superior to books, often, because they summarized a topic in a shorter time than it takes to read a book, and news moves fast. Also part of stage two was the radio and then TV newscast: launched in the 1940s by major TV networks, TV newscasters soon occupied a podium in society. This is a very similar way to transmit the news, but it’s much easier for the viewer’s brain to consume since it only requires listening and watching.
As a human biological organism, your actions are predetermined by the human genome.
Species like ants are part of a collective whole carrying out the hive’s orders (somewhat like the military.) However, we have the evolutionary trait of self-awareness: we’re able to conceive of each of ourselves as separate organisms. This leads to human-to-human violence: it forms the basis for all social judgments and distinctions between people. We make decisions to carry out the desires of the “hive mind” that is the human genome, which has the primal instinct to spread the human species.
What is the drive behind the evolution of knowledge? Most people look at their life as if the world is centered around their genetic organism; they worry about their competitive career success, buying cars and houses, managing hobbies and friendships, and so on… But it is a blindspot to think of your individual organism as separate from the supra-organism of the human species. We are really more like bees or ants — a network of brains in separate biological vessels, linked together in a collective human global brain. People who choose to abstain from reading, buying, and working just discontinue contributing to this global brain. Most human functions and value judgments are linked to keep the collective brain functioning; with this our species has conquered earth, reached space, and understood the fabric that makes up our bodies and our reality.