Hi, I’m Scott. Welcome to 1-2-3 Tech Miscellany, a weekly newsletter about ethics in tech. Each week, I’ll introduce you to 1 ethical dilemma, 2 good news stories and 3 random quotes, photos or other oddities.
Reading time: 4 minutes
Part 1 - Ethical Dilemma
Who Wants To Live Forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today.
Who waits forever anyway?
But the question still stands.
Who Wants To Live Forever?
We all do. Right?
To date, there are four ways to outflank death, well sort of — and five if you can hang on for another few decades to let science to figure it out.
The pious amongst us seek to conquer death through salvation — that is, escaping the peril of death through faith and being granted eternal life in God’s presence.
If you’re religious, lucky you, because the message is simple — Believe in God and he will save you.
But what if you don’t believe?
Well, you could try having kids instead.
Through parenthood, you become, in a sense, immortal too. You join the eternal cycle of nature, a universe of things that can never die. Proof of this lies in the fact children look like their parents.
Unfortunately, no matter how prolific you are between the sheets, having children doesn't prevent your death in the truest sense. On your last day you’ll find, you’ve prepared a crowded vigil by your beside.
I mean sure, you do your bit for team human. The species survives another day. Hooray! But your actions still don’t save the individual.
What about martyrdom then?
3. Hero Status
You can achieve immortality by performing great deeds and heroic acts. But it’s tough.
You must become the protagonist in an epic narrative that will stand the test of time. Think Achilles, Leonardo Da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King, or that bloke from Quantum Leap.
No doubt, glory is a form of immortality. Many still revere the Greek heroes of antiquity for example. But like the previous two methods, it still feels inadequate.
To be a painting on a wall, or a bust in some stuffy museum, seems scant consolation — with no small dose of vanity thrown in for good measure.
Wouldn't it be best then, if we simply learned to accept our inevitable departure from this world?
4. Philosophise This
Conquering our fear of death is, according to the Stoics, the ultimate reason for seeking philosophical wisdom. It teaches us to be content in the certainty of our impending doom. This way we can get on with living our best life now, so we have fewer regrets come our final days.
Philosophy also enlightens us to the fact that, when we die, we simply transfer from one state to the next. In a pantheistic sense, this means, because the universe is eternal, we will forever remain a part of it, in one sense or another.
In other words, we too will never cease to exist.
But what if you could challenge your death now, or even prevent it altogether?
5. Science And Technology
A growing number of scientists believe death is a technical problem waiting to be solved.
In Silicon Valley, billionaire investor Peter Thiel believes, "one day we’ll be able to control the biological clock and keep you whatever age you want.”
He’s not the only one at the forefront of this surprising crusade:
At the San Diego’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, they believe epigenetic reprogramming may prove to be an “elixir of life” that will extend human life span significantly. They’re already able to rewind time for mice — rejuvenating aging and dying rodents.
Meanwhile, humans have been expanding their life expectancy for thousands of years. One thousand years ago it was nineteen years. By 1800 it had doubled to thirtyeight years. Since then, life expectancy has more than doubled again, in the developed world.
It looks like scientists have finally found the fountain of youth. So why not put our lot in with technology?
No doubt, to our friends and family, death is a loss. To you and me as well. It deprives us of everything we value, love and cherish.
I fear death, and who can blame me? Evolution has inculcated in us a drive to survive - for as long as possible too. We're programmed that way. We want to live forever.
But Auschwitz survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl saw it differently. He said, "If we were immortal, we could legitimately postpone every action forever. It would be of no consequence whether or not we did a thing now.”
Put simply, when something is scarce, we value it more. When it is abundant, we take it for granted.
There's nothing like a deadline to force us to do our best “work”.
Like death. It can make our lives meaningful, encouraging us to engage with the deepest existential questions. It should also give us space to ponder what we want to leave, not just to our loved ones and community, but also to our planet.
With that in mind, we must ask ourselves, given humankind’s level of consumption, is our contribution to the planet worthy of true immortality? Can earth even sustain it?
I don't think so. That's why I'm going with option four.
And Queen agree:
This world has only one
Sweet moment set aside for us
Part 2 - Good News Stories
The Photorealistic Principate
Using Artbreeder, a machine learning tool, along with Photoshop, artist Daniel Voshart has immortalised 54 Roman Emperors by recreating photorealistic portraits of them.
Is it more art than science though?
Read and see more on Medium.
Meet Audrey Tang — a trans woman, hacking prodigy and Taiwan's digital minister.
Inspired by Howard Wu (who used code to solve the mask supply problem in Taiwan), not only can she be credited for kicking coronavirus’ ass (just 7 deaths in a population of 24 million), she’s also leading Taiwan toward a truly participatory digital democracy.
Tang is a great example of what 21st century leadership should look like.
Listen to an interview on Undivided Attention.
Part 3 - Quotes, Tweets And Other Oddities
Thanks to Tom Carlisle for the heads-up on this gem.
Credit: Ozkan Bilgin/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images
Coronavirus face mask
Source: Creative Good
Thanks for reading.
Until next week.