Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chapter 13: Pokemon Go- Is the Human race already extinct?

In 1937 British science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon wrote a novel called Starmaker, about an average man who is walking home from the pub when he is "transported out of his body."   The man has been chosen by unknown forces to travel through the universe viewing endless variations of sentient life that have developed on earth-like planets.  After exploring our universe he travels to other universes.  He learns there are never-ending universes and that they are created by the Starmaker, described as an "artist" (perhaps like Arthur, the Time Artist- see Chapter 11).  Many of these universes are very strange, like one consisting only of music with no spatial dimensions.

The chapter that struck me most was about a planet covered with laboratories filled with functioning technology, but no visible life.  The man explores the labs and discovers that part of their function is to create fertilized humanoid eggs in petri dishes. Instead of facilitating the humanoids growth into whole beings, however, the machines work to stunt the growth so that only the brain develops.  The brains, which register on monitors as asleep and dreaming, are electronically hooked up to computers.  The man discovers that the computers are playing "shows" with fictional plots, authored by the computers themselves and transmitted into the viewing audience, i.e. the attached brains.  The entire mature existence of the humanoid species consists in passive viewing of shows.  The man deduces that this species developed an automated, surplus economy in which people did not have to work.  To fill the time, entertainment became the purpose of life.  Over the millennia, the humanoids evolved (or de-evolved) into spectating entities, with no need for mobile bodies.

We should ponder this.  Our society, since the agricultural revolution, has experienced surplus and its attendant unemployment.  Of course there has been famine and disease, but periodically there have been many surplus economies and people with nothing to do.  During most of these periods the ruling class enjoyed most of the surplus, but in post-war America the surplus is so extreme and the automation so advanced that very few people really have to work, in the sense of doing something useful.  This sort of unemployment includes, in addition to the officially unemployed, people with fake jobs, like telemarketers, whose only purpose is to rob you, but many real jobs are fake too, in that they are duplications of what other people have already done.  This sort of fake work is found, for instance, in government bureaucracies, school administration and corporate boards of directors.  The purpose of such jobs, aside from making money, is to have something, anything, to do.

We're at the beginning of the process described by Stapledon.  We still have a lot of people doing actual work, but that is expected to change.  In short order there will not be much real work.

I thought of Stapledon in the parking lot of the Family Dollar Store on Pearblossom Highway today when I passed a teenage boy staring into his cell phone, then glancing quickly at his surroundings.  I probed his mind and found that he was playing Pokemon Go, described in the literature as "augmented reality," in which a real location, in this case the Family Dollar Store parking lot, is represented accurately on a cell phone, but with fictional characters added for the player to interact with (as opposed to "virtual reality," in which the environment is fictional as well).  The boy was not living his life.  He was living a make-believe life.  In this sense he is already extinct.  

The technology is new, but there is nothing new about make-believe life. That's what novels and movies supply, and religion, and political platforms, and a good portion of human conversation.  We've been living fictional lives for a long time.

When a species has nothing to do, it might well de-evolve into passive bowls of brain-jelly and essentially go extinct.  How tedious to follow the 2016 Presidential campaign and hear nothing about such critical aspects of the human condition.  What a feeling of emptiness and aloneness for those trying to understand our evolution.  I've almost lost interest in fighting the fake Mideast war we're being seduced into (to some extent as a form of entertainment, another made-up story).  I may confess my funk to my colleagues, Gregory, Anthony and Rebecca, who joined me in this cause. I'm sure they'll cheer me up.

Meanwhile, humanity, you may already be extinct.

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