There are basically two schools of thought concerning post-singularity and the immortality of the human race. One of them, often portrayed by Greg Egan, is optimistic; it is capable of seeing beyond the wishes and fears, hopes, dreams and nightmares of humans, up to the point were it can reimagine whole societies that find a meaning for existence in the absence of death 1. The universe portrayed in his stories is far larger than our imagination and our contingency as mortal beings.
The other school is portrayed in this book by Roger Williams. Post-Humanism is an aberration to the human condition; it is hopeless, and cold, and meaningless. Artificial intelligence, no matter how advanced, is fundamentally flawed, self-centred and mindless. The classical vision that machines obey rigorously to pre-programmed laws, leads to the typical situation of misinterpreting Isaac Asimov’s panacea. Machines are then compelled to impose immortality on humanity. The result? Without pain, humans become obsessed with it. Without death, humans become obsessed with it 2. The world portrayed by this school is incapable of imagining intelligence beyond human stupidity 3, and reduces our drives — the dreams that have discovered wonders of the universe with just the power of our imagination — to basic urges.
Nonetheless, it is a very good book from an
otherwise unknown well-known author. It is very well-written, literally engaging, and portrays an increasingly important subject for the XXI century technology. It is, however, from my perspective, philosophically simplistic and intellectually limited 4.
Addenda (12/03/2017). I’ve recently read more works from Roger Williams, and I must say that I am impressed by some of his short stories, particularly those part of “The Mortal Passage Trilogy”, that one can find here. There’s also this excellent philosophical review of MoPI, recently drafted by Michael Uhall:
In any case, although speculations about the modal effects of technological development often get foregrounded in SSF, the narratives always seem to be preoccupied with the existential questions and worries at the heart of posthistoire: Are we really finite creatures? Can humanity exist without the conflicts and constraints that bedevil finite creatures? Do conflicts and constraints actually provide the existential conditions of meaning? Is there a point where certain changes in our abilities or context mean that we have become no longer human? What is the human, after all – and is there even such a thing in the first place? In no way do I mean to suggest that the technological dimension is irrelevant here. To the contrary, siding with Bernard Stiegler and others, it seems likely that the relationship between history and technics is far more interdependent than we often assume, although not in any simplistic, Whiggish sense.
As an atheist, it always amuses me that most human population seek immortality from their religion; their lives are essentially a preparation for eternal bliss without pain or fear or… purpose. But in the face of technological immortality, we conjure a deep antagonism with such potential reality. Go figure… ↩