Here is a question for transhumanists: What is the number one goal we should be pursuing?
Judging by the essays and arguments put forward on the topic, it seems that most of us deem ‘achieve immortality’ as the top priority. Anybody who does not consider this to be a goal whose importance is second-to-none, is condemned as a ‘deathist’ or even a person with suicidal tendencies. Everybody- with the possible exception of the insane- want life to go on indefinitely.
Well, that is the politically-correct view of things in transhuman circles. But is it right that immortality really is the top priority?
I would like to argue that, actually, there is another goal that aught to be achieved before we set our sights on the elixir of eternal life. This is not to say that the likes of Aubrey de Grey should give up R+D into SENS, only that this and other possible paths to dramatic or even infinite life extension should not be made out to be more important than the goal I outline below. I want my life to go on indefinitely. I have no desire for it to end whatsoever. But, then, I am kind of privileged in that I have a great life. I am a resident of Second Life and, problems like lag and other technical issues aside, every day is a fun adventure for me. I get to visit beautiful places, I meet lovely and interesting people (I meet some bad people too but have the power to rid myself of their unwanted presence). I am surrounded by the fruits of millions of creative efforts.
Very few people in SL indulge in content creation because it is what they are paid to do. Most of what you find in SL owes its existence to the fact that somebody or some team was passionate about making it. In fact, I have never met anybody who claimed the hope of financial reward is what motivated them to become content creators. Financial reward does come to a few, but it always seems to take second place to recognition amongst peers or just the sheer love of creativity, in terms of motivation.
If you can ignore the many technical issues that bedevil Second Life, for me it stands as an example of what everyday life should be like. A reality in which there is no ‘genetic lottery’ but instead the means to sculpt oneself into a physical appearance that boosts their self-esteem. A world in which nobody does a job they hate, and instead indulges in hobbies that give them a real passion.
I am sorry to say that this kind of reality is not everyday life for a lot of people in that larger plain of existence they call ‘RL’. This is a reality in which quite a few people find themselves with ‘nothing to do’ on a Sunday afternoon, or who have to spend every weekday doing a job they hate (and whose only realistic prospect is to exchange it for another job they will dislike just as much). And, these people are actually quite lucky compared to some real unfortunates out there.So, while I aught to want to live forever, why should those people want their life to go on indefinitely? If you are incapable of avoiding boredom on a Sunday afternoon, why on Earth should you think you could fill an eternity of them? And why should you desire endless weeks of dull work?
I believe we should wag our fingers at folks and tell them they should want life to go on forever, only when another dream has been realized.
And it is this: That TODAY should be great for everybody. Nobody should go hungry, nobody should suffer sickness, nobody should suffer from lack of material wealth, nobody should feel like they have wasted so much as a minute doing work they would rather not do.
Every person should feel as though today were as fulfilling and enriching as it possibly could have been.
Is such a world at all realistic? I believe so. While a utopia devoid of all problems is probably not achievable, the kind of world I just imagined probably is, given the right kind of technologies. Molecular nanotechnology could enable material wealth for all and dramatically lower the environmental damage caused by our current industrial practices. Genetic engineering and prosthetics could enable people to sculpt themselves into their own physical ideal, while nanomedicine could render illness a thing of the past. Advanced robotics could deliver a workforce of tireless operatives who work endlessly, enabling humans to engage in work that really matters to them.
We should really focus our attention on making ‘the best possible today’ a reality for every sentient being on Earth. This should be our number one priority, and not the pursuit of immortality.
That is a wish that only people living in a world in which today is full of wonder and delight would be wise to ask for.
Image 1, 2 – from the Venus Project