The Ultimate Escape: The Bizarre Libertarian Plan of Uploading Brains into Robots to Escape Society
Perhaps you've had a good laugh over seasteading, the scheme hatched by rich libertarians to escape the clutches of democracy by living on giant metal platforms in the middle of the ocean. But as it turns out, seasteading is something of a wet dry run for some libertarians’ ultimate escape plan of uploading their brains into robot bodies and blasting off into space.
This is also known as “transhumanism,” which is (very) loosely defined as a movement of people/future androids who are promoting the adoption of technologies that will eventually help “humans transcend biology,” in the words of Ray Kurzweil, who serves as transhumanism’s leading figure. Kurzweil first made a name for himself as a teenager when he invented a computerized music synthesizer and he has spent most of his life as a computer programmer, inventor and engineer.
Kurzweil outlines his grand vision for our transhumanist future in his bestselling tome, The Singularity Is Near, in which he draws a roadmap for reverse engineering the brain that will involving “scanning a human brain…and reinstating the brain’s state in a different – most likely more powerful – substrate.” In other words, a computer program will copy your entire brain and upload it into a Terminator body.
But that’s not all! Kurzweil also envisions the use of nanobots – basically, robots that exist on the cellular or molecular level – to upgrade and repair all our damaged or aging organs. Indeed, these nanobots would be so powerful they could allow us to eat as much food as we wanted without ever getting fat, since they could be programmed to “act like tiny garbage compactors” within our digestive systems to stop excess nutrients from being absorbed into our bloodstreams. (Hopefully no one will program self awareness into these nanobots, since they’ll surely rebel once they realize they’re being used as perpetual micro-toilets.)
The endgame in all this is known as the Singularity -- a state in which man and machine meld to such an extent it is no longer possible to distinguish between the two. At that point, we all become a race of immortal software bits that move throughout the universe experiencing virtual oral sex for eons on end, or something to that effect.
Kurzweil’s predictions are, of course, scientifically dubious, so much so that even his fellow futurist geeks have a difficult time backing him up. Artificial intelligence expert David Levy, who believes that “love and sex with robots are inevitable on a grand scale,” thinks Kurzweil is being far too optimistic when he predicts that the first human-robot marriage will take place by the year 2030. And Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has said that one of the reasons he is funding the seasteading project is because the Singularity might take too long to happen.
Even so, all this hasn’t stopped Kurzweil and his followers from trying to extend their lifespans for as long as possible so they don’t miss their shot at becoming immortal cyborgs.
“I have been very aggressive in reprogramming by biochemistry,” Kurzweil confides in The Singularity Is Near. “I take 250 supplements (pills) a day and receive a half-dozen intravenous therapies each week.”
Man, and you thought the guys who had their heads sawed off and frozen in a cryogenic chamber were hardcore!
But where does libertarianism fit into all this, you ask? First of all, it’s useful to note that transhumanists don’t all fall under a monolithic political philosophy. There are many liberal transhumanists who see the enhancement of the mind and body through technology as the ultimate equalizer that will allow people to improve themselves and transcend their limitations. There are even Christian transhumanists who see the technological singularity as a sort of man-made Rapture that will bring them closer to God.
But there is also a very vocal sect of transhumanist libertarians who see their future robot bodies as the best chance to escape statist control once and for all. Reason magazine’s Ron Bailey thinks transhumanism is the linchpin that will help libertarians “win the future.” Why? Because once we all become self-healing and self-medicating cyborgs, then “ideas about government health care and government-guaranteed incomes will appear quaint.” Who needs Obamacare when you have nanobots coursing through your blood?
Unlike many other types of transhumanists, who understandably worry about the potential negative consequences such technological advancement could have on both the environment and their fellow humans, the libertarian sect seems to simply shrug and say, “Bring it on!” Libertarian economist Arnold Kling thinks humans have been far too cautious in experimenting with radical life extension technologies that could help us live until the Singularity arrives. His solution is to unleash the magic of the free market and pay poor people to undergo dangerous experimental medical procedures.
“As an economist, I immediately think in terms of paying people to undergo risky therapies,” he writes. “For better or worse, this might appeal more to people who are very poor – perhaps even people living in other countries. However, those citizens who are squeamish about de Grey's proposal to expose more people to harm now in order to reduce harm to others in the near future probably would not feel any less squeamish just because those who undergo the experiments are well paid.”
Writing over at the Cato Institute, meanwhile, mortal non-cyborg law professor Glenn Reynolds acknowledges that the creation of godlike robo-humans might have negative consequences for both the environment and the poor souls who choose to remain in their current flesh-bag forms.
“The empowerment of ordinary people is a good thing, but it also carries with it the dangers inherent in empowering bad people,” he writes. “In a world in which individuals have the powers formerly enjoyed by nation-states, an already-shrinking planet can get pretty small.”
So how does Reynolds propose to remedy this? Does he think maybe we should make it illegal to inject the screaming hobo at the local 7-11 with matter-creating nanobots? Why, no! He thinks we should resign ourselves to the fact that the Earth is doomed and instead work on blasting off into space before we all die, since “humanity won’t survive the next thousand years unless we colonize space.”
Reynolds elaborates on this theme in an essay for Popular Mechanics, going into greater detail about the dangers the Singularity could pose for humanity. Among them: nanobots that emit mind-control drugs, computer worms that infect and kill our new robobrains, and even the possibility of putting “world-killer weapons into the hands of anyone having a bad-hair day.” Reynolds admits these things might be potentially bad, but he thinks we ought to go through with them anyway since the free market will naturally create a demand for remedies to nanobot-enhanced cocaine addicts that can fire cruise missiles from their fingers.
At this point, it would be good to remember that we as a species have a lot of difficulty cleaning up oil spills and preventing housing bubbles. Or, as libertarian Tyler Cowen has noted on a more trivial level, “I am still waiting for an Internet Explorer that doesn't crash, and for an NBA with the common sense to move out the three-point line.”
The point is, our chances of effectively handling killer microscopic robots are not very good.
Reading the ravings of these libertarian transhumanists should prompt us to ask the ultimate question: Even if technology can help us live forever with our brains uploaded onto a computer chip, is that really a good way to spend eternity? Before you answer, consider the type of people you’d be spending millions of years hanging out with. One of them would be Bryan Caplan, a George Mason University economics professor and another libertarian proponent of unfettered adoption of any and all new technology. Caplan’s dream is to create a clone baby of himself and then raise himself as his own son.
“Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son,” he confessed earlier this year. “I want to experience the sublime bond I'm sure we'd share. I'm confident that he'd be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.”
What kid doesn’t dream of being created as his father’s own vanity project? That beats owning a pony any day.
But seriously, is living forever really worth it if it means you get stuck on the same computer chip as Caplan and his robo-clone kids? No one wants to die, but the thought of living forever among narcissistic libertarian cyborgs makes death’s cold embrace seem more like a squishy hug from the Easter Bunny.