As one with the machine

Reading and watching a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one comes across a lot of elegant ideas and no small amount of wish-fulfillment. Some of these ideas are catchy because they’re so elegant or kooky. Space elevators totally rock! Others are appealing because they stimulate our imagination. Nanotech is the scariest thing since Margaret Thatcher! But there are some that stick in my mind (I can’t speak for anyone else on this) like fish-hooks, because they’re just so desirable:

  • The cell-by-cell healing machine.Shipdoc
    If you’re a freaky healthy person who has never been seriously injured, horribly unwell, or even moderately unfit, you won’t get this. The idea as various authors use it is just that one can build a perfect medical-care machine which can look at an entire human body and fix anything that isn’t ideal. The superficial idea is cool because it yields a bunch of traditional holy grails like clinical immortality, endless youth, effortless fitness, and the instant gratification of removing all physical pain.
    In fact, it gives you the potential for a kind of confidence in your own wellbeing that no real-world person can ever have: to know that you’re healthy: no lurking subtle problem, just waiting for the right moment to leap out and ruin your life, or end it.
    What really gets me about this idea though, is the thought of impossibe things like genuinely perfect skin. Even if it only lasted for half an hour, imagine every microscopic fleck of dirt removed, every irritated follicle soothed, every tiniest scar or irregularity gone without trace.
  • TeleportationTransporter Room
    Again, if you’ve never commuted in city traffic, or endured interminable intercontinental air-flight, This may not ring true.
    If, like me, you spend more than an hour (or two) of every weekday struggling through the tortuous tedium of an urban commute, you can probably already see it: You get up in the morning much later and do your normal routine, you kiss your loved-one goodbye and step into that fictional booth by the door… and you’re at work. Instantly. Coming home at night (or for lunch, or to change your shirt, or to take a personal phone call… you get the idea) is just as trivial.
    But again, that’s the superficial view. Instead, consider: is there a restaurant (or a family kitchen) anywhere in the world where you remember having a fantastic meal, and you frequently wish you were there, or reminisce fondly to distract yourself from your packet-soup. Imagine if it was as easy to go there, any time, as to walk from your study to the kitchen. That would of course go for everything. You can visit your friends anywhere at a whim. You can live anywhere you like, regardless of where your friends live, or where you work, or where the kids go to school. Now that’s something to fantasize about.
  • Direct neurological learningHow to fly a B12B helicopter
    This has always been the most desirable idea, for me: Like Neo suddenly acquiring kung-fu, or Trinity learning to fly a helicopter, you just choose the trick you want to master, the topic you want to cram, and stuff it directly into your brain. Imagine: you decide you want to do make a rose-garden, so you take the wall of rose lore from a big library, and you just upload it into your head, like reading every book, but without the hours of tedium, the eyestrain, or the sheer investment of time paid out from your ever-dwindling four-score-and-ten.
    Then think bigger.
    You want to beef up your general knowledge? Upload Wikipedia into your head, complete with reference and commentary on potential bias.
    No, bigger.
    A net-pundit whose name escapes me recently pointed out that a ten-terabyte piece of personal storage is no longer an unreasonable or infeasible thing, and that in such a store, one could keep a complete audio/video record of every second of one’s entire life. In itself, this is an intriguing and quite spooky idea, but taken with the idea of the machine as a natural extension of the mind: Imagine perfect photographic recall of your entire life, even when you were asleep.
    I know Kung-fu You’re a theoretical scientist. You have a complex theory, or theories, from the edge of your field, which synthesize breakthroughs in several adjacent fields. You don’t know enough about the neighbouring fields to really properly test this theory yet though, and neither does any other individual human being. So, you go round the leading minds in those fields, and borrow their life-recordings for their latest twenty years work, including all of their own postgraduate study. You upload it all. Now, suddenly, you’re an expert in all of those fields. Not only do you have all the underpinnings your theory could ever need, you now have the practical experience to empirically test it too.
    Must remember to keep that appointment with the super-synthesist tomorrow to loan her your vastly expanded life-record.
    I’m sure you get the idea.

2 thoughts on “As one with the machine

  1. Hmm, seems to me the direct learning machine would almost certainly double as a mind-control device. Possibly even unintentionally. After all, something that can instill the reactions and attitudes needed for kung fu or flying a helicopter safely will likely be able to instill reactions and attitudes in general.

    Perhaps not, I don’t know; people are pretty resistant sometimes.


  2. Oh they’re all flawed ideas, for sure. Even if you ignore the pragmatic impossibilities (or extreme difficulties) that would plage these imaginary technologies, you run up against something Korny once referred to as “Thorne’s Law”. This can roughly be stated as:

    “There is no point speculating
    (or fantasizing) about the simple practical ramifications of a technology in the context of the present day, if that technology would make such radical changes to the world as to leave it unrecognizable and completely incomprehensible to our present ways of thinking.”

    1. If you have cell-by-cell healing, what limitation remain on the human form? What might we become? Why should I expect the present-day notion of ‘health’ or ‘comfort’ to reain meaningful?
    2. If you have teleportation, the entire present-day notion of ‘place’ breaks down, potentially taking with it things like ‘cultural identity’, ‘nationality’, ‘governments’ and who knows what else.
    3. If you have direct neurological learning and perfected mind-machine interfaces, the most basic defining unit of humany has already ceased to exist. Such a world is so far beyond our capability to imagine as to be meaningless. What madness is it to speculate about a ‘scientist’ in such a world when one can’t even be sure if there are still ‘identities’ any more?

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