The human body is an amazing thing. Its design is incredible, a magnificent network of cells, neurons, organs and blood all orchestrating the greatest feat imaginable--Life. Living in the body is what makes the human experience real. Our bodies and our five senses allow our human consciousness to navigate life on Earth in all of its complexity. This life is so fantastic, we never want it to end. Which is why we're spending millions of dollars trying to find ways to the prolong our lives and perhaps even stop death.
In eHuman Dawn, I've created a world where one of the many potential singularity solutions has been implemented. In this case, humanity leaves their carbon based bodies completely behind in order to live in synthetic, humanoid forms. Think Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but with an actual human consciousness operating it. These forms are upright, and grant us much of the same mobility we have now. In fact, these bodies in many ways are better – the eHuman can run for days without rest, never needs to eat or drink, and can't die, at least not naturally. Sound far out there? Just check out the 2045 Initiative. This organization plans on having the ability to transfer the personality to an avatar by the year 2030, and into a hologram-inspired form by 2045. The year 2045 not too far off.
For many, the avatar, or the eHuman, is the perfect solution for life on Earth.
At least it seems that way at first.
Still, some people might want to keep their carbon bodies, where the five senses rule their daily existence, no matter what alternatives may exist.
Why would anyone wish such a thing? One of the most interesting parts about writing eHuman Dawn was the distinct lack of body responses that I could draw upon in writing any given scene. My main characters don't have carbon based bodies, therefore they lack the organs, skin, and sensations that produce reactions to normal life events. When an eHuman meets the girl of his dreams, he still feels the same emotions, but without the racing heart, butterflies in his stomach, or sweaty palms. Imagine fear. Can you experience a cold chill down your spine if you have no spine? Dry mouth? Goosebumps? Or even tears? And what would sex be like without the heat, the friction, the moisture, or the climax? I'm sure you've got the point.
Writing about such a world truly opened my eyes to the way my body talks to me, and to the numerous events in my life where I rely on my five senses to guide me. I've only touched on a few here, but I must admit, I'm a bit suspicious of life without these things. I love the smell of warm flesh, the thrill of my stomach turning as I fly down the hill on a roller coaster, the rush of blood through my veins before I try something dangerous. I enjoy the fluttering of my heart as I dance to a fantastic lead guitar solo. Just the act of moving my hips to the beat of the drums brings sensations of complete joy and satisfaction, and I feel this because my ears and skin are receiving the notes and my body responds by dancing.
Of course I wouldn't miss hunger, pain, or sadness. But part of me wonders if we turn off the annoying parts of life in the flesh, can we keep the joyous ones? Many people who suffer from depression or anxiety take drugs to help stop the painful feelings that trigger their episodes. Most of them complain that this also stops their ability to feel real happiness, sexual desire or excitement. It seems we need the dark to experience the light.
In the end I think the pursuit of immortality will lead society down many exciting paths. It's many, many decades away, but in the meantime I will continue to advocate for research and technology, as well as for the rights of consumers. And as I do, I will remain in this body, flirting, laughing, riding roller coasters, having sex and dancing until the natural end of my days!
Even if it does mean I'll shed a few tears.
I'm always drawn to the magazines at the check out line. Even though I'm supposed to be paying attention and unloading my cart, I find myself drifting from the effort needed to be a good customer and into the cover stories. From the trite Hollywood and political rag mags, to the few "news" periodicals and the occasional self help issue thrown in for good measure, I'm helpless to the call of the headlines. So imagine how hard it was for me, a post-singularity sci-fi writer, to continue with my checkout line duties when Time Magazine asked, "Can Google Solve Death?" I almost answered out loud, "Really now. Is death something to be solved?" At that point the cashier asked me to please unload the rest of my cart. Before I complied with his request, I quickly pulled the September 30, 2013 edition from the rack and threw it in with the rest of my groceries.
Devouring the well written and insightful article, I learned that Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Google, is interested in solving the death element of the human story. He sees death as something that we ought to fix and figure out, and he's willing to shell out a ton of money investing in research that will bring us a new humanity – one where death's been forgotten and we’re free to live forever and ever, as ourselves. Which led me to ask first, "What might that self look like?"
In a culture obsessed with the body, one can only imagine. No one wants to live forever in an old body, thus any aging solution that Google's new company, Calico, comes up with will need to be attractive. I mean, after all, if they're going to solve death, perhaps they can solve the whole getting old and gray thing first. And ridding humanity of the obesity epidemic might be nice as well. Living forever in a broken down body doesn't seem like much of a party to me. Thus Calico will have to focus much of their efforts in preserving and maintaining the perfect body, so that it lives in a state of health, without aging. That's the immortality of dreams and fantasies. (Note: The eHumans in my novel are only one of many potential paths that could be taken here.)
But my next question was, "Why Google?" Why would the search engine giant pursue this particular effort? What do they have that will make their quest to solve death successful? And how will Google and their investors ever make any money from such a venture? Calico won't be the first company to pursue the fountain of youth; Much time, money and effort has already gone into this subject. Humanity has been obsessed with living forever since the dawn of time. But I have a few guesses as to why this company in particular might be interested in being the one to finally solve this elusive issue.
Studies have recently suggested that aging is caused by a gene in our DNA. Perhaps research at Calico will take a look at this, and begin to compile the work that's already been done in this area. The Genome project revealed that human DNA is a huge, elegant data sequence, one in which only three percent has been decoded. The rest, called "junk," is essentially a data puzzle of enormous proportions. Could the de-activation of the aging gene possibly be uncovered in this jumble of "junk" DNA? Parsing such a vast amount of data requires an innovative search algorithm. Which is just the thing Google is known for, and is why it makes sense for the company to be the one to solve death. They alone have the ability to parse the data already documented on the subject. They've already designed the data algorithms necessary to sift, search and refine questions and queries.
Google is also the leader in data acquisition, both their Gmail and Google Cloud businesses have millions of users. In addition, in 2003, they launched Google Books. This business eventually folded, due to litigation by publishers and authors, but the effort did manage to allow Google to collect a ton of older and out of print texts, where early research and opinions on death and dying may reside. To discover what the ancients believed, and where modern science intersects, just might bring us closer to discovering how to disable the aging gene within our very DNA.
That would be one very exciting Google Search. A true gift of health to humanity.
Yet there's another thing to consider in this discussion. What if the gene can't be disabled organically? What if the solution resides in a machine answer? Like an implant, something that prolongs life by secreting chemicals, or nanobots, into the bloodstream, at a rate specific for each human being. It could use personal health data and vital statistics stored on the implant to determine basic patient information such as blood pressure, DNA sequencing, and white blood cell count, to monitor the situation and make changes in the dosages as needed. This isn't out of Google's scope. The company has been interested in personal medical data for a while, launching Google Health in 2008. Interestingly, the effort failed, mostly because consumers didn't trust it.
Hmm…I wonder, why didn't consumers trust their health records to be stored online?
Let's consider the immortality implant again. What else could be stored in this life-enhancing device? What else could the device be used for? Such an implant would be very desirable to many, many people. So desirable that Google could find themselves with billions of users and thus become the owners of more data about humanity than ever before. The day we become devices on the network is the day that the network has humanity in the palm of its hand.
The race then isn't about who will solve death first. The race is who will own the network, and the application that drives everyone to become a device on the network, first.
Google as a company has been very clear that parsing their Gmail customer's emails is not a privacy violation. Their customers are data sets and agree to this when they sign on. If Calico discovers the perfect implant that overrides our very DNA in order to prolong our lives, who would turn that down? My guess is not too many. Most humans don't wish to die. That's a lot of potential customers, and a lot of data for Google to parse, use, and sell. It's this data that could make Google's investment in Calico worth pursuing.
The question we must begin to consider is this – Is immortality worth becoming a data set?
And if it isn't, if being nothing more than a data set is unsettling, then severing the ties with Google, or any company for that matter, after receiving an immortality implant won't be as easy as switching from Gmail to Hushmail, or using a different search engine on the web. Severing the ties in this way will mean removing the very implant that keeps you young and healthy, even at one hundred years old.
Choosing to die is never an easy thing.
And Big Business knows this. Which is why investing in technological singularity solutions looks very profitable indeed.
I find it laughable and ironic that people who cheer on Edward Snowden, who freak out that 'someone is watching' them with every online purchase they make, even those Gmail users suing Google, are also engaging socially on the internet in very intimate ways. They post pictures of kids' first and Grammy's 100th birthday on Facebook and Instagram, but damn anyone who sees them without being invited! Our paranoia, as well as our full disclosure, seem to go hand in hand.
Thanks to Snowden, WikiLeaks, and the recent trial between Google and Gmail users, people are beginning to realize that when using the internet, ‘somebody’ is indeed watching them. For some, this news is met with terror. The idea that someone is watching every communication is humanity’s worst nightmare. It has Big Brother and 1984 written all over it. And yet this fear doesn’t stop many users from continuing to use the web as a confessional for their daily adventures. Which ironically leaves us in a strange social dilemma as human beings.
If we crave attention so badly we’re willing to post our anniversary pictures as well as our crimes on the internet so they can be seen, then why does it also bother us so much that Google, Yahoo, the NSA, and even NFL football players are watching, and noting, our actions?
The internet is private, but not in the way that most want their secrets to be private. No, it's private in the sense of being owned and operated by big businesses. Many different players have come together to bring the world this ‘free’ product. Their investment into the technological efforts of creating this wonderful thing called the internet wasn’t free. Billions were spent creating it. And every internet financier has an interest in how their product is used.
Thus, every keystroke is watched. It has to be, so that those who own the technology can cash in on their investment. Just because applications like Facebook, Snap Chat and Kik are free to use, doesn’t mean they're without cost. There’s an actual financial cost to building and maintaining the internet. And here’s the kicker, there’s also a cost to society for accepting this ‘free’ gift. Gmail may be free, but the cost is that the users are not considered customers; rather, they’re considered data sets. It’s the user’s electronic footprint that big business is endlessly parsing, analyzing and sharing with others.
What is it then about our electronic footprint that makes us so nervous when business giants and government officials desire to see it? Are we more real out there than we are in our hearts and minds? Are we ashamed of it? Are we invested in it? Why do we cringe when our data is used by others for profit?
Perhaps this gut reaction is more of an omen about the future than anything else. In reality, we know that anything we post online is public, at least to those who own the technology. We know that when we use the internet and all of its wonderful offerings, we're putting a part of ourselves out there, and by taking part in the game, forum, blog or post, we're exposing ourselves. But at this moment in time, we can choose what part of our selves we expose. Our online personality is ours to create, it doesn't even have to match who we are in reality. There is a buffer between the real me and the one Google knows.
But with the movement towards machine-based singularity solutions for humanity marching ever closer to reality, perhaps the real reason we cringe when Snowden releases more and more data about how we're being watched is because we know what's coming – that there's only a small step between what I chose to put online to reflect my personality, and becoming an online device myself, where all my thoughts, desires and needs will be known to those who know how to mine the data.
On their website, the creators of Kik have this to say about smartphones and the future, "We believe we’re at the beginning of the smartphone era – one of the most transformative changes of our generation, comparative to the rise of the first personal computer or the creation of the Internet. For the first time in history, we have a device that isn’t just a tool. Your smartphone is actually part of you: always on, always connected, and always with you. We see it as an implant. It just hasn’t been implanted yet."
Always on, always connected, and always with you. This is one of our potential futures, and we all know it's coming. In my novel, eHuman Dawn, I've attempted to create that world, and I’ve spent the past three years writing that story.
Trust me, there are a lot of great aspects to being an eHuman.
But there are also consequences when we allow those who own the technology to be a part of our minds – to be the ones who hold the keys to life or death.
Do our business leaders have our best interests in mind? Or will they have an even easier time marketing to us, perhaps being able to actually create a desire for their products within our minds with simple suggestions, like auto-correct works now? In such a world, how could we ever know whether what we thought or did on the network was truly ours?
Perhaps this is what's behind our paranoia and anger when we find out Google sells information mined from our email. Because we know what's coming, and we know deep down that perhaps our business leaders can't be fully trusted with our thoughts, desires and dreams – in essence our very being.
It all comes down to this: Will those who own the technology to use it for good? Forever? Because that's what machine-based immortality truly means.