It’s no disgrace to be poor, but it’s no great honor, either.
-Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof
When the trumpet of medical science calls us frozen patients back to active life, we shall see great and splendid things--almost as great and splendid as the Christians among us expect after Gabriel’s Last Trump. Yet there is a psychological problem, a certain ambivalence of potential immortals toward that world of the awakening. If it is pictured too much like the present, it isn’t very attractive: “Once around is enough.” If it is imagined too different from the present, that’s bad too; we are weakened by hesitance, trepidation, and a sense of unreality. Hence we must build half-way houses in our imaginations--not simple-minded utopias, but down-to-earth visions of a near future in which “superhuman” will still have the accent on the human.
Predictions of the near future are in many ways the most difficult. Again, there is no attempt to be comprehensive or even completely consistent; these “predictions” are intended mostly as casual--although not irresponsible-- looks at some of the possible avenues of change and new conditions of life. Most of these avenues require solid gold pavement, and the new conditions can exist only atop enormous mountains of money. Every Man a Billionaire In Al Capp’s comic strip, Li’l Abner, one of the more engaging institutions is the Billionaire’s Club, which has a sign in front to warn the riff-raff: Millionaires, Keep Out. Well within the next century or two, if exponential growth continues, that sign will be discarded, and the club disbanded, because not even in the most dismal pockets of poverty--not even in Dogpatch--will there remain any such pitifully disadvantaged wretch as a millionaire. One reason for determining to extend our lives, then, is clear: we simply can’t afford not to stick around.
At least, this would have seemed a reasonable expectation to almost everyone just a few years ago, since it embodies the traditional American outlook: bigger and better, faster and cheaper, onward and upward forever, excelsior! Many of us still have this outlook, but at the moment optimists have to be a little defensive. At any rate, we will concede that the possibility of unbounded economic progress is not self-evident.
The historical sources of increasing wealth are three. The first is the use of surplus wealth to create more capital goods; the growth of capital from savings is compound interest. The second is the discovery of better methods in economic tasks and the invention of labor-saving machinery, which we can typify as the use of robots. The third is the discovery of new bounty in nature, e.g., virgin lands or outcroppings of native metal or a medicinally useful plant. Can we depend on these in the indefinite future? Do they have limitations? Can wealth increase without limit?
Even the sober limits posed by serious students for the near future offer considerable scope. Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener estimate that for the Year 2,000--a scant three decades hence, when most people now living will still be within their “natural” lifespans--the Gross National Product per capita in the U.S. will be $10,160 (in 1964 dollars), compared with $3,557 in 1965. (87) They guess that the typical member of the “Postindustrial Society” might work 4 days per week, 39 weeks per year, with 13 weeks vacation per year in addition to 10 legal holidays. And this is only the beginning.
Of course, extrapolations can be dubious. We recall the statistician who noted that American girls were marrying ever younger, the average age declining by a year every four years, and who predicted that by 1999 the typical bride would be eleven years old. The economic growth curve will doubtless have some queasy squiggles in it, and maybe even dips, but material goods should, in the long run, increase without bound. Such wealth depends, after all, only on matter, energy, and organization.
Matter, including soil to walk upon, is in virtually inexhaustible supply even without leaving the Solar System; when necessary and desirable, we can anticipate manufacture of earth-like environments out of the other planets and planetoids, and perhaps one day out of the stars.
Energy is no problem either: there is a vast store of fission (atomic) energy in the granite bills, and a still vaster supply of fusion energy in sea water, when we learn to extract it; beyond that, again, the stars can fuel us. And organization should fairly soon reach its climax in the form of self- reproducing, self-improving, thinking and actuating machines capable of turning out almost anything desired in jig time and in any required amounts. We expect not to find our djinni in a bottle, but to design and build him ourselves, and thereafter to let him continuously redesign and rebuild himself. The humblest citizen then (if any remain humble) would have wealth to glut a million sultans.
Such optimism may seem glib and airy, although to me it reflects the clear trend of history. This is not the place to defend it in detail, but it does seem prudent briefly to answer the doom-criers, especially the sectarian ecologians and conservationists.
Pollution of the Mind
Rapid growth in industry and population has brought serious problems, including depletion of certain resources, loss of some natural beauty, and the release of poisons into air and water. At the same time, changing habits and weakening institutions have undermined the personalities and confidence of many. But the backlash almost threatens to outdo the frontlash at the moment, with the ecology freaks (as they sometimes call themselves) and the wild-eyed conservationists often substituting evangelical zeal for rational inquiry and useful programs. They tend to regard every problem as a doomsday crisis, and every loss as irreversible; furthermore, some of them equate material gain with spiritual loss.
In April of 1970 I was scheduled to lead off a “teach-in” at Highland Park College as part of the national Earth Day rites. At our school the program was cancelled because of the annual spring riots, but I learned a good deal about the radical ecologists, one of whom suggested we might meet the following disasters before 1980: (1) the death of all the fish in the ocean; (2) the collapse of agriculture in the under-developed countries; (3) the near-extinction of bird life; (4) smog suddenly killing 200,000 Americans; (5) a permanent drought producing a desert in the midwest; (6) the reduction of American life-expectancy to forty nine years or less--all from pollution or disturbed ecology. (43)
I am convinced such threats are grossly exaggerated, and that almost all the trends decried by the eco-faddists are very much slower than alleged, or reversible, or both. After all, the eruption of Krakatoa caused more pollution in one day than world industry does in a year, and so probably do routine natural disasters such as forest fires. Lake Erie, loudly mourned as “dead,” still has as many fish as ever, although it will cost a lot of money to restore the balance of species we desire.
Even where the eco-freaks regard their arguments as indisputable, they are not. “Extinct” species of wildlife, for example, are not lost forever; leading biologists expect that one day it will become possible to grow new animals from scraps of fossil tissue.(17) Talk of “spaceship Earth,” with its hints of an eventual “steady state economy,” is full of loopholes; many experts believe it will become feasible to expand beyond the earth, as well as into it.(42) (Yes, there are knotty problems meanwhile, and I hope to be forgiven if I don’t have an answer for every one.)
The flavor of thought of some eco-crusaders can be sampled in these fragments from The Environmental Handbook. “Americans might be happier with fewer automobiles.” “(We) had better learn how to live the Simpler Life.” “The ‘massive American housing shortage’ is a myth.” “Less emphasis on acquisition and material wealth as any measure of anything good.” “Let man heal the hurt places, and revere whatever is still miraculously pristine.” “Instead of being anthropocentric you have to care equally about all earth creatures.”
The emphasis was mine in the last quotation, although its absurdity scarcely needs emphasis. Fishes and flowers are fine, but whoever equates their welfare with that of people is a little confused; and a back-to-nature philosophy would simply bypass most of our present problems and altogether close out our future possibilities.
If someone chooses to live in the “natural” forest--or in the equally natural malaria swamp or alkali desert--it’s a free country. But let him not pretend that this will feed the underprivileged, or educate them; and especially let him not imagine that anything other than an intensive industrial-technological civilization can provide modern medical care. Unless he is rich to begin with, his bucolic idyll will come to an abrupt end with the first serious illness in the family--unless he succeeds in throwing himself on the mercy of the welfare institutions of the city folk. And for the longer term, the outlook is even clearer: the immensely improved and complex medical technology needed to provide extended life demands great wealth, hence can only arise from an industrial base and habits of work and competition.
It is needless (I hope) to say that I am not defending every aspect of modern life; among other things, the motor-boats that stink up our lakes disgust me. No more than anyone else is the cryonicist in favor of more smog or planetary paving; no less than anyone else do we enjoy quiet and open places. But one of our mottoes is “first things first.” We do not delude ourselves. Immortality costs money: to make it as individuals, we must earn and save substantial amounts; to make it as a society, we must increase the GNP, and rapidly. The notion that we can enjoy the fruits of labor without first laboring is a pollution of the mind, and it is this pollution which is the greater threat.
Enough, for the moment, of the fretful present; let us take out our trusty rose-colored glasses, and look at a few facets of the relatively near future.
A Measure of Justice
There is a striking relationship between “mere” wealth and gadgetry, on the one hand, and on the other, one of humanity’s loftiest ideals--that of justice under law. Regretfully restricting attention to just two aspects of guilt and punishment, I shall demonstrate the possibility of enormous improvement in our current barbaric customs--improvements which, as far as I know, have not been proposed by others.
For a period, crime will remain a problem, and we must end the disgraceful prevalence of crime without punishment, and punishment without crime. A giant step in this direction will be the elimination of the guilty-innocent dichotomy, substituting instead a finding of probability or percentage of guilt.
In our present criminal practice there is a presumption of innocence, with conviction requiring proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In civil cases, on the other hand, the finding is based on a “preponderance of evidence.” The arithmetic in both cases is very grim indeed.
In criminal cases, let us assume that the probabilities of guilt of a suspect run smoothly between 50% and 100%. Let us also assume (grim laughter) that the judges and juries assay the evidence scientifically, and return convictions whenever the probability of guilt is greater than 95%. We then have the following situation: 10 % of the suspects are convicted. 90% of the suspects are acquitted or dismissed. 75% of the suspects are (in fact) guilty. 12.5% of those released are guilty. 83 % of the guilty are released. 2.5% of those convicted are innocent.
In civil cases, on the other hand, if the “preponderance of evidence” rule is interpreted to mean that a judgment is returned on a 75% probability, and if we assume, in those cases tried, a smooth distribution of probabilities from 50% to 100% in favor of the plaintiff, then we have:
75% of those complaining have cause.
75 % of those defending are in the wrong.
50% of those complaining receive judgements.
50% of those defending have to pay.
87.5% of those receiving judgements have cause.
62.5% of losing plaintiffs were in the right.
25% of justified complaints cannot get into court.
12.5% of the judgements are unjust.
62.5% of absolved defendants should have paid.
Perhaps the most shocking injustice and danger here is that, in the criminal cases, 83% of the guilty are necessarily acquitted, and even so 1 out of 40 convicts is innocent.
Remember, also, that this is the ideal situation, assuming probabilities accurately calculated, whereas in fact our antiquated, sloppy system mangles the probabilities and makes the real situation much worse than this. We often say, with naive pride, that we would rather free one hundred guilty than jail one innocent man; but with this set-up, even idealized, out of every thousand accused we free over six hundred who are guilty and we jail two or three who are innocent.
Notice that there is no way out in the framework of the existing system. Even if we rationalize our procedures of evidence evaluation, even if we educate our juries and give them explicit instructions on the calculation of probabilities, even if we avail ourselves of the best computer services, we shall still reach the above situation as a ceiling or optimum; it is the best we can do on the basis of guilty-innocent, as long as there are doubtful cases. If we raise the required probability, say from 95% to 98%, this will cut down the number of innocent men convicted, but will increase still further the number of the guilty who are acquitted. If we reduce the level from 95% to 90%, we shall convict more of the guilty, but also many more of the innocent.
In the civil cases, the picture is in some respects even worse: counting those cases which do not get into court, one-eighth of penalized defendants are wrongfully punished and more than two-thirds of the legitimate grievances are not redressed. Is this not intolerable?
The remedy, as intimated, is to eliminate the dichotomies and make the disposition of the case reflect the probabilities. For example, an accused found to have a 50% probability of guilt in a robbery case should not be jailed--but neither should he go scot-free, since there is a substantial chance that he is a danger to society. Instead, be might be put under close probation, of a kind not yet economically feasible, e.g., required to carry an electronic signal allowing his location to be monitored at all times. If the probability of guilt is 75%, he might in addition be required to make restitution of part of the stolen money. There would also be indemnities--payable by the state to the convict, if it later could be shown that the penalty was unjust or excessive.
The exact determination of the appropriate levels and penalties will occupy large numbers of sociologists continuously for a long time and will cost a great deal of money, but it seems almost self-evident to me that, if we are to become civilized, this is the direction we must take. In what we now call civil cases, or generally in money disputes between private parties, similar reasoning would apply: if there is only a modest “preponderance of evidence,” then the amount of the judgement would be correspondingly reduced. Even if the defendant is more likely right than wrong, he might be required to pay something, e.g., if his probability or degree of error is 40%, he might pay somewhere between 20% and 40% of the maximum judgment. This would improve the over-all picture, reduce the likelihood of severe miscarriages of justice, and make everyone more circumspect. Possible abuses--nuisance suits, etc.--could be minimized in various ways, and there would doubtless be a cut-off point; perhaps the minimum accountability might be at the 25% level. The troubles created by the new approach should be of a better class than those eliminated.
Our second point concerns reforms in punishment, which should fit not only the crime but the entire situation, including the families involved. Some of the vast improvements foreseeable are available right now.
Suppose a crime, or a criminal, is so vicious or else so uncontrollable that even close supervision (with radio tracking) is not deemed sufficient protection for society: is there then any alternative to prison? Several possibilities suggest themselves. A confirmed, stubborn pickpocket might have a finger or two surgically paralyzed; a rapist might be given female hormones. These alternatives might be made optional with the convict himself to eliminate any accusation of cruelty; my guess is that many would prefer such a solution, and would benefit from it. If the procedure, besides being optional with the offender, were also reversible, there could scarcely be any objection.
(It is not asserted that such solutions would invariably work; we realize that the pickpocket might turn to another, equally offensive trade, and the rapist’s personality might still seek cruel expressions, but these avenues should not be closed.)
Another possibility, once suspended animation is perfected, would be to use anabiotic preservation in the case of the most serious crimes and the most conclusive evidence. The convict could simply be stored until a later age when a wiser court, with more resources, could review the case. This would be cheaper than prison, and would offer society complete protection, while still leaving the offender the potentiality of a full and normal life some day.
A Public Trough for Every Hog
The vastly greater complexity of the machinery of justice, intimated above, provides also a clue to another important aspect of everyday life--the nature of our daily work. I think that in the interim period we are considering--when wealth and technology are enormously improved, but we are still essentially human--that most people, most of the time, will do work related to government or politics. When automation becomes highly developed, very few people will be required for ordinary tasks of production and maintenance--what is now the chief economic business of the world--and all ordinary merchandise can be extremely cheap. Automobiles or their equivalents could be free in the same sense that drinking water is free today. Just as today you would give the most casual guest a drink of water, next century you may just as easily give him a Chevicopter if he needs one--and never think of expecting it back; municipal supply would routinely keep your garages full, presenting a small quarterly bill.
We could likewise expect food to be free, in ordinary quantity and variety, as well as clothing (if we wear any), furniture (if we continue to make it, rather than grow it), and most other kinds of “merchandise.” . . . But now the confusion that exists in some minds about who will pay for all this must be cleared up: how everybody can be rich without doing honest work.
The kind of system hinted at here does not require revolution or communism; far from being un-American, it already exists in the United States today, and need only be carried to its logical conclusion. It is a system in which a small fraction of the people are responsible for the production, but almost everyone shares its fruits.
Consider the barber, who a few years ago in Spain, I was told, would cut your hair for five cents, or fifteen cents if be came to your house. In Detroit today the barber gets three dollars plus a tip, and the difference is unearned. The American barber produces not a whit more than the Spanish Barber--but he demands, and receives, his share of our generally higher production, which is almost entirely due to our businessmen and engineers. And any good union man will tell you that you do not work for money: you vote for it and you strike for it. (Little sarcasm intended; within reason, this is just as it should be.) Our capitalist state has gone a long way toward realization of the communist ideal--from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
In a very real and important sense, then, the barber (like most of us) is living on a kind of public dole to the extent of at least 90% of his income. Put more tactfully and fairly, we implicitly recognize a basic dividend to which citizens are entitled, merely for breathing. This will probably be formalized before long, possibly under the name of negative income tax, which has been much discussed. When automation makes most types of work superfluous, perhaps only big businesses and unusually wealthy people will pay positive income taxes, the average citizen living (luxuriously) on his negative income tax, supplemented by investments and the occasional sale of artistic work or personal services. But our souls may still yearn for work, and work there will be.
That we require work for our mental health is reasonably clear. Freud seemed to think so: “Laying stress upon the importance of work has a greater effect than any other technique of living in the direction of binding the individual more closely to reality.” (51) Keynes also: “If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose ... I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.” (91) There are some counter- examples and arguments, but perhaps most would agree that we need at least some serious, challenging, goal-directed activity if we are to avoid alienation, disorientation, and a generally sick spirit. This activity could be primarily bureaucratic and political.
Problems of legislation, administration, and adjudication are growing ever faster, and are unlikely to be met soon by technology alone. We can expect heavily increasing demands for service on juries, drain commissions, election boards, regulatory agencies, boards of arbitration, social service administrations, watch-dog committees, advisory panels, municipal councils, civic welfare agencies, lobbying associations, special interest caucuses, and so on. In these activities, the common man can make two vital contributions.
First, his run-of-the-mill skills can fill the gap, probably long extended in time, when there is a great deal of work too ill-structured for robots, yet well below the level of human expertise. Second, his native suspicion and conservatism, his well-founded distrust of the technocrats and professional politicians, will be desperately needed. He himself, John Doe, must review new policies; he, in person, must verify the books and bank accounts to keep the thievery in check; he must snoop the laboratories to verify what the scientists are up to. He must, in short, be the final custodian of the custodians.
This is a big order, but not impossible. To understand the broader features of policy, to review budgets, to verify accounts--these things require some intelligence and training, but as long as the experts are available as consultants, a professional level is not needed. To ferret out wrongs and peculations and perils--this demands mainly persistence and determination and a nose sensitive to rotten smells. To maintain structure, morale, and vigor in political parties--this needs primarily a sense of community and an instinct for survival.
The ordinary, no-talent citizen, then (in the pre-superman period), is likely to be a government employee or amateur politician. The work may not be arduous, but for the conscientious it will always be challenging, continuing education being a must. And far from being a parasite on the big brains, the little man can continue to be the bastion of freedom, holding tyranny and anarchy at bay ... at the same time enjoying a grand life, some aspects of which are speculated on below.
Tissue Farming Foods & Fabrics
There has been much talk in recent years about farming the seas to feed our growing populations, and in particular about growing algae which can be processed for food. One hears of algae disguised as steak, hamburger, and other foods. Maybe so; but it seems more likely that tissue culture will largely replace animal husbandry, and perhaps much of plant farming as well. Instead of growing cattle, we will be able to grow steaks. Limited success in tissue and organ culture dates back several decades. Nearly everyone has heard of Carrel’s chicken-heart culture, which grew chicken-heart meat for many years and had to be constantly trimmed. Fairly soon, we ought to know enough about control of development so that any part of an organism can be nurtured separately.
For meat culture there are at least two obvious advantages, economy and humaneness, and at least one less obvious, versatility. It is wasteful to grow a whole steer when just a few select parts are preferred, and when the steer’s activity while growing is sheer loss of food energy. It is also inhumane and undermines our morale to treat other mammals so brutally, imposing a life of slavery ending in slaughter. At present, tissue culture is enormously more expensive than ordinary farmer’s methods, but eventually growth of chicken muscles invitro may be a bigger step forward in economy than the use of batteries over barnyard flocks. (The raising of poultry in “batteries,” or ranks of tiny cages with automatically regulated feeding etc., was responsible for dramatically reduced prices; chicken, formerly a luxury, is now one of the cheapest of meats and poultry.)
Along with economy, the new versatility promises to be equally remarkable. Instead of having to breed a new variety of cattle to gain different or better meat or hides, one could merely adjust hormone and nutrition balances in the culture tanks to produce meat finer-grained or coarser, fatter or leaner, red or white; choice would be quick and cheap. Hides for leather could be designed thick or thin, stiff or supple, porous or impermeable, and of course with a full range of color options. And all this would be only merchandise,with no conscious entities born or dying: just grow a few more pounds of sirloin, slice it off, and package it.
Even more impressive savings might result from apply- ing culture methods to such luxury items as mink pelts. To raise a mink for its skin is very roundabout and wasteful, minks being carnivores that demand expensive food. Growing the skins only, in culture, would allow furs of much greater variety as well as much lower price; we could develop every imaginable type and combination of hair and hide, for furs ranging from gossamer types fit for underdrawers to rainbow-hued and patterned sables and ermines. In fact, the individual customer, at no extra charge, can have his fur custom-made, his requirements being fed into the culture-computer which will set the growth parameters accordingly.
With plants the likelihood is not so clear, since the opportunities for economy are not so great; but even here, the versatility of tissue culture is so great that this may be the deciding factor. Being bound by the fixed heredity and development of a few standard plants is unsatisfactory, and we will probably insist on a system that permits the greatest flexibility in control and experimentation.
The Arthropods Among Us
Genetic engineering’s most sensational impact will concern the modification of humans; but it will have other uses as well. Some of the “robots” that will serve us will need to be nanominiaturized or picominiaturized and this can perhaps be accomplished better organically than electronically.
If we can design sufficiently complex behavior patterns into microscopically small organisms, there are obvious and endless possibilities, some of the most important in the medical area. Perhaps we can carry guardian and scavenger organisms in the blood, superior to the leukocytes and other agents of our human heritage, that will efficiently hunt down and clean out a wide variety of hostile or damaging invaders. Possibly they can even be programmed to remove the scale from blood vessels and the fat deposits from those who tend to obesity. This remains to be seen. But it is known that very complex responses can be carried in beasties the size of small insects; hence the arthropoda may constitute the cheap labor of the future.
Consider the sweeping-scrubbing-dusting-waxing aspects of housekeeping. Possibly these could be delegated to an appropriately designed species of small bee. The bees would enjoy the work, just as they presumably enjoy nectar- gathering today. They would be less nuisance than machinery (provided bees don’t bug you) for several reasons: they would require no supervision, would be subject to no breakdowns, and would be less obtrusive, patiently waiting for you to move your feet before attending to that spot.
The bees do not have to understand the work, of course; they only have to feel a desire to do it. Existing bees feel an urge to gather and store nectar; certain ants and termites feel the urge to gather grains of sand for their mounds. Our tidy bees would be content to seek out grains of dirt, in a certain range of size and composition, and remove them to the disposal place. They need not work in a particularly orderly way, any more than modem bees in clover; but they would keep coming back, and scouring the territory until it became clean. Appropriate signals--whether odors or colors or radiations or what-not--could delimit the territory. Landing to rest could be permitted only in the hive, and there could always be a shift on duty; breeding would be regulated by an instinct to keep the hive at optimum population. Economically, the savings would be impressive. (Yes, we billionaires probably will still be concerned with efficiency and thrift; didn’t Lyndon Johnson keep turning out the lights?) Bees are self-repairing and self-reproducing. (Our machines will be too, but they are likely for a long time to remain great, clumsy things, with voracious appetites for rare metals and energy.) Bees demand only simple, cheap fare. The beautiful aspect of the symbiosis is this: we can gather or make food more efficiently than bees, but bees can gather small particles of dirt more efficiently than we, or even machinery.
Let us look at some numbers. What happens when a housewife vacuums 300 square feet of carpeting? It may consume a half-hour of her time, and between the pulling and pushing, shifting furniture, etc., 50 (kilo) calories of her food energy; worst of all, it probably bores her. The vacuum cleaner itself may consume 0.2 kilowatt hour of electrical energy; depreciates perhaps 3 cents worth, and tends to wear out the carpeting with all that dragging. If the vacuum cleaner becomes fully automated, then the housewife is saved effort and trouble, but the machine becomes even more expensive to buy, operate and repair, is bulkier to store, and more subject to breakdown; it may also impose stringent requirements on the design of the house, if it is to operate automatically, as long as robots are relatively stupid and cumbersome. And all this expenditure-- the cost of the machine, the electrical energy, the repairs, the housewife’s effort, the wear on the carpet--all this is merely to move perhaps an ounce of dirt from the carpet to the trash bin.
Tidy-bees will do better and cheaper work. The carpet will always be clean, not just periodically. A hive of bees can gather several pounds of nectar in a day, ranging up to a mile or more. Thus, if your estate includes clover or other flowers and perennial blooms--and whose will not?--then the bees can gather their own food, and do the cleaning chores in addition, just by making the colony a little larger than otherwise would be self-sustaining. (However, your staff of multi-purpose bees may be too large to be self-supporting in this respect, with added chores mentioned below.)
Admittedly, there are other solutions to the housekeeping problem of dirt. The building could be hermetically sealed, dust not permitted to enter; and already moderately successful dirt-repellent fabrics have been developed. But these are probably incomplete answers; we may prefer open windows and a more natural mode of life. Who wants to be a stranger to the outdoors? Who wants to live in a submarine?
The tidy-bees could keep the outdoors clean too, acting as gardeners, scavengers and vermin-hunters. They could cut and remove weeds, carry off certain kinds of debris and rout unwanted rodents and pestiferous bugs. In these chores they could, of course, be aided by genetically-engineered species of other classes and even phyla. Birds could be built whose principal pleasure in life is hunting mosquitoes and house-flies. This recourse would have many advantages over the increasing and increasingly dangerous use of poisons.
Certain possible difficulties suggest themselves, naturally. They are not ecological: our pest-killing birds will not depend on the pests for food, but only for sport or work, hence we need not tolerate any substantial pest population; there can be a very large ratio of predators to prey. But if the vermin-killing instinct is strong, and there are few vermin, will the birds become neurotic? Can they be psychologically stable? There are many affirmative answers to this; I leave it to the reader to supply some of his own. Finally, let us note that the indoor tidy-bee could even be given chores of personal hygiene. Why should be not have sharp mandibles, a gentle touch, and shave you while you sleep? Trim your toenails? Remove your dandruff? His soporific buzzing will be better than a sleeping pill, and he will enjoy the chores you detest. To bee or not to bee; there is no question at all.
The Sporting Life
To convey adequate appreciation of our future lives seems, in most areas, nearly hopeless, because the changes beyond the very near future will be profound, awesome and bewilderingly complex. But if we look at sports, perhaps we can get some notion of the color, variety and sheer fun in store for us. In particular, let us toy with some of the implications of reduced weight, as found for example on the moon or (apparently) in the oceans.
Near the surface of the moon, a body’s weight is only one-sixth that on earth; that sounds like fun, and astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin and their successors have already reported that indeed it is. (We saw them bouncing around on television, bundled and burdened though they were.) When we have colonies in natural or artificial caverns on the moon, we could have a wild variety of new games and modifications of old games.
Plain and fancy jumping might alone be fun for even a jaded spirit. High-jumping and pole-vaulting will be dream- like experiences with slow-motion artistry. Probably we will run faster (leaning forward more), but bow much faster seems uncertain. We will jump higher, but the new high- jump record will not be anywhere near 40 feet. (The high- jumper on earth, who clears a 6 foot bar, raises his center of gravity only about 3 feet, which means that, if he could get the same spring on the moon, he could clear about 21 feet.) The platform diver will be in the air roughly 2-1/2 times as long as on earth, before hitting the water, thus having time for the most beautifully intricate convolutions. (Time of fall is inversely proportional to the square root of the gravitational acceleration.)
Tennis will require a whole new set of responses. Serves, of course, will start higher, since the server can jump higher. The ball will travel in flatter trajectories; it will rise and fall more slowly, while the horizontal motion remains unchanged. In volleyball, also, trajectories will be flattened; this does not mean the net will be much higher (which would merely produce a slow, boring game) but that the ball will seldom be hit upward to any degree, nearly always horizontally or downward. Billiards, on the other hand, will be affected scarcely at all.
Swimmers will go much faster. You will not float any higher in the water, since the water’s weight is reduced as much as yours; but using swimming strokes to raise yourself partly out of the water will be much easier, and there- fore swimming will be faster. It is even possible that, with a good deal of exertion, you could “walk on water,” i.e., tread water so energetically that you are immersed only to your knees or so.
Even more exhilarating than these games, however, will be a completely new one--flying. Not gliding, or parachuting, or powered flying, but using your own muscles to activate wings attached to your arms, like Icarus. (See also Chapter 4.) This is impossible on earth, because the muscular strength and the energy requirements are far beyond the ability of the strongest man; but with weight reduced by a factor of 6--with a 180 pound man weighing only 30 pounds--it should become feasible. (If necessary, the air in the flying cavern could also be made denser than one atmosphere, to make the flying easier.) What fun, and what a whole new world of sports in three dimensions! If professionals play these games, or zealous amateurs, they could be more dangerous than ice hockey, with damaged wings causing falls from dangerous heights. (And uninjured team- mates will make daring power dives in rescue attempts, etc., etc.)
Back on earth, under the seas, there will likely be another new world of sports and adventure, again in three dimensions, predicated on radical new developments in underwater adaptation. Perhaps we will submit to biological modification that will permit us to use oxygen with extreme efficiency. We may learn actually to breathe seawater. Or we may just develop miniature gadgets that will protect us from the water and extract oxygen from it. In any case, the feeling would be one of naturalness and freedom. Diving to the murky depths, rising to the sparkling surface, roaming the forests of seaweed, exploring the canyons of coral, hunting the shark and the squid--here, alone, excitement enough for an ordinary lifetime!
The Code Duello
Relative to our billionaire status, meat will be cheap. Even human meat will be cheap. (Yes, there will probably be “cannibals;” some will try, and like, human flesh grown in culture; but this isn’t what I am getting at.) Not only tissues, but organs and even whole bodies will be reason- ably priced as replacement parts. (The brain, of course, cannot be entirely replaced without creating a new person.) This opens up interesting possibilities in aggressive sports.
So long as the brain is protected, one could indulge in occupations, including sports, of any degree of roughness, including “fatal” injury. Karate could become a spectator sport--real karate, not throws but blows, intended to kill or maim quickly. The death suffered by the loser would not be as permanent as it would be now, but it would be just as painful.
Will some of us actually accept risk of dreadfully painful injury, even the physical experience of “death?” Certainly --for kicks. Fairly large numbers of people might be involved, not just a few masochists and sadists. The reason is obvious: many of us need the kind of stimulation and catharsis to be found in fierce physical combat. At least occasionally (especially when life is long and safe) we may need to “get back to nature,” to test our muscles and reflexes and nerves, to rejoin contact with the hunter, the warrior, the beast of prey.
One can only speculate as to the degree of indulgence in mortal combat, and the social institutions that could grow up in connection with it. As already indicated, it would partly be involved with spectator sport--and the champions may become trillionaires. Again, there may be whole subcultures centered around combat, as there are now around drag racing and surfing. And it may even permeate ordinary society in the form of a duelling code.
Many years ago Robert Heinlein wrote a novel about a future society, Beyond This Horizon (73). He postulated a duelling code for two reasons: to enforce good manners and to breed people with faster reflexes. The latter notion seems silly in terms of cost and alternatives, but there is something rather charming about the former idea. The idea has many obstacles and defects, but it has flourished in the past in various places, and persists to this day to some extent. (There are many places where public rudeness invites a rap in the mouth.)
It should not be thought that, just because permanent death is not allowed, combat will lose its challenge. It will take real courage to fight to the “death.” After all, ordinary fist-fighting involves scarcely any risk--one seldom suffers anything worse than a black eye or a broken nose--and yet most people are rather timid about fisticuffs. Saber-duelling, as at the German universities, risks only some superficial cuts on the cheek, and yet many lack the nerve to engage in it. When it comes to having your arms broken, or your testicles crushed, or your eyes gouged out--well, the poloplaying millionaires of today will seem like small potatoes.
Wall-to-Wall Grass & Homes Without Houses
The word cybernetics, coined by the late Professor Norbert Wiener, refers to communication and control, and es- pecially feedback, in mechanical systems--organization of a type which frequently mimics aspects of living organisms. But it will also often be useful for life to imitate art, for living organisms to be designed that copy certain features of mechanical systems or that are subject to mechanical controls. Certainly biological machines can be extremely flexible, and can utilize a degree of miniaturization not yet even approachable in any other way.
One of the obviously desirable features of many utilitarian devices is the capacity for self-repair, which is typical of living things. Your carpet, for example, will never wear out if it is a surface of living grass; it could be de- signed to grow just fast enough to compensate for wear, and only in those places where wear occurs. As for luxury, is there any carpeting of wool or silk or synthetic fiber that can compare with a lawn of bent grass?
Your indoor lawn, your living carpet, might also have features of flexibility and adaptability not to be found in the products of Persia. For example, each blade of grass could be given a different color, changeable at will, which means the pattern could be altered as frequently as you wished. At one stage in history, designing patterns for grass-carpets (and for clothes, furniture, walls, etc.) will become too complex for the home computer, but will be individually available, at a moderate fee, from a commercial computer. For a small monthly charge, your commercial designer could send periodic instructions to your home computer, which in turn would implement the new carpet art. Each day, if you wished, you would be pleasantly surprised at the change in decor.
This decor could be chosen to carry further the garden theme consonant with the carpet of grass. Living, growing flowers could be permanent indoor features, again with characteristics of extreme flexibility. You could sleep, if you liked, in a bower of roses; you could awaken, if you wished, to the smell of mint, and go to sleep, if you liked, to the scent of honeysuckle. Making the necessary radiant energy available for the growth of these neoplants, and the required nutrients, would be a matter of detail that would certainly offer no serious obstacle.
With grass and flowers all around, the indoors would seem a good deal like the outdoors. We can go even further, in view of our coming control over weather: we could leave off the roof, and be outdoors, snug in our own pocket of metered and controlled micro-weather. We could allow rain to fall just beyond the rooms, and lull us to sleep. If we have enough room or gadgets for privacy, we could even forget about walls, and give our living areas an outward look of open gardens. Compared with this, the flossiest of present mansions will seem no better than a stinking cave.
The House Dutiful*
Ways will probably be found to make the micro-environment extremely sensitive and responsive to us; the home, in particular, will be a wonder of care and solicitude on many levels.
*This term is due, I believe, to William Tenn.
In the present primitive state of affairs, although the best homes have some degree of flexibility, active and conscious control is almost universally required. Occasionally a door has sense enough to move aside when someone approaches; virtually all other functions demand either individual control or adjustment of automatic parameters. Room air is sometimes controlled by thermostats and humidistats, for example, but these stupid gadgets maintain the same temperature and humidity regardless of your changed feelings or inclinations, and you must actually make a decision, walk over and reset the control if you want a variation.
There exists a type of glass that darkens when the sunlight on it is brighter, so that roughly the same intensity of light is transmitted at all times; but the idiotic glass pays no attention to whether your eyes are open or closed, let alone to what you are thinking or feeling. How barbaric!
The future run-of-the-mill billionaire’s home, and the computer at its core, could have capabilities several orders of magnitude higher, and a built-in sense of mission. The effect would combine elements of a super-efficient staff of servants, a faithful dog, a Jeeves, a maiden aunt, a genii, a physician, a bodyguard and a psychiatrist. It would react not only to what you and others do, but to what is said, thought and felt; and it would not only take orders, but would make suggestions and take initiatives.
Beds and chairs, for example, could contain sensors for reading your physiological variables and referring these to the computer for diagnosis. (There already exist diagnostic machines and diagnostic computer programs.) Depending on its estimate of the kind and degree of dangers, the house might make suggestions, slip something in your drink or in your air, refuse to give you another drink unless you actuate the override, or call for help. (Speculative writers have sometimes imagined homes that could also go berserk, make love, and so forth; but I shall ignore such possibilities.)
Adjustment of such factors as temperature, humidity, electrical charges in the air, sub-threshold or super-thresh- old background noises, would be made through responses to many subtle signals. The super-home could easily sense the amount of perspiration on your skin, for example--in fact, the pattern of perspiration on your body--and would correspondingly adjust the composition of the air in various places and the design of the room’s breezes. But it could also pay careful attention to the pattern of your behavior, reading carefully all the small clues in your shifts and twitches, to deduce the existence and nature of any discomforts or desires. Furthermore, it would hear your sub- vocalizations and monitor your brain waves, which would make it very nearly, if not fully, a mind reader.
Such ideas may seem decadent and repulsive to some. Do we really want to be cradled and massaged, pampered, and coddled? Do we want to be hovered over by a simpering servant? Is not life more than lying on perfumed couches, waiting for the peeled grapes to drop into our mouths?
Certainly there are individuals, and there have been whole cultures, having the belief that vigor and virtue demand a rugged way of life, or at least a simple and frugal way of life. It is also true that ease can lead to sloth, and sloth to disaster; but this is not necessarily true. We would not improve ourselves by exchanging our mattresses for beds of nails, and it is unlikely that the Japanese owe any part of their success to wooden pillows. On the contrary, ease and comfort at the appropriate time almost certainly tend to increase general efficiency and the capacity, again at the appropriate time, to work hard and fight bard. We must remember that the super-home would not be just a “house,” and the central computer would not have the attitude of a Madam pandering only to sensual desires. It could have whatever attitudes you and your advisers build into it, and it would look out for your larger interests. So long as you permit, it could give you an argument when your welfare seems to demand it, and take over some of the wifely functions of prodding and nagging; to a consider- able extent, it would be a kind of prosthesis not only for your hands and brain, but for your conscience. How far it can go in these directions, and how effective it can be, will naturally depend on the rate of development of artificial brains; as in all else, there will be constant change and improvement.
The Era of Self-Sufficiency
The greatest of all inventions, in many respects, will be the self-improving (and, if desired, self-reproducing) robot, the machine with no fixed limits to its intelligence or to its physical capabilities. A source of potentially limitless power and improvement, it will pose profound problems of several different classes, only one of which is now considered here, viz., that of the self-sufficient individual or family. Automation and robotics will reach their culmination in the all-purpose thinking and actuating machine, which will supply its owner with endless merchandise, advice and services. (The merchandise, whether ermines, artificial hearts or spaceships, could be made from any materials at hand, even plain air, soil, and water; the advice might take such forms as improvement in the owner’s mentality and the services could include the surgery that might be necessary to implement that improvement.) One of the results, clearly, would be the emancipation of the individual (or family) from dependence on society, at least for most purposes. How far will this independence extend, and will it be good or bad?
(I bypass the question, considered elsewhere, of why the machine should remain subservient to its owner, remarking only that one possible solution is for the machine, or certain aspects of it, to be an extension of the owner, integrated with his mind through suitable links.)
Individuals, couples, families, or communities of any size will probably be able to isolate themselves--by distance, physical barriers, or simply by rules--and go their own way, and there is much good in this; it provides nearly the ultimate in freedom and diversity and eliminates many sources of conflict. (You are unlikely to quarrel with someone if your paths do not cross, although the American Indians did seek each other out, on a nearly empty continent, to make war.)
One can build an idyllic picture of countless free spirits, each the owner of wealth to glut a million sultans, each a master of a genii of bottomless resources, each the king of his castle and the ruler of his realm, yet each a gypsy, not rooted in any turf, whose star-wagon can carry him over the gulfs of space as across the chasms of the mind.
Answers-of a sort-are to be found for every objection. Does a king require. subjects? Not necessarily, for his mastery can include his own psychology, and he may excise, by psychological or even physical means, any unhealthy leanings; or, alternatively, he could create suitable robot subjects, with desired responses, possibly even including intelligence, but without genuine feelings. (There will probably be both kinds of automata--those with self-awareness, which would be “people,” and those without.) Or a family, or small community, might for a time find a stable set of relationships which would harmlessly allow a pecking order; when the order begins to chafe, those who are uncomfortable presumably would be allowed to have their own general-purpose robots built, and strike out for them- selves. Anyone who insists on his prerogatives as the head of the family or community can always raise another family --and even design the desired traits--although it is difficult to imagine a personality that would require that kind of satisfaction indefinitely.
Is there a danger to the larger human community in al- lowing such freedom to individuals? Might not some instruct their machines to concentrate on growth and weapons development, with a view to conquest? Does not the welfare of children--and even of all citizens--require some degree of government and paternalism? And would not such splinter-isolationism border on chaos, with even newsgathering reduced to haphazard gossip and progress to a random walk?
Such questions cannot yet be answered with any degree of confidence, because the answers depend sensitively on parameters still unknown, on the historical development of culture and human biology. My own thinking--wishful, as usual--is that sense, prudence, and empathy will prevail, and that we will indeed be able to combine nearly complete freedom with a suitable degree of cooperation and intercourse. Such a culture would represent very nearly the ultimate our minds can presently conceive in any detail; beyond this, the outlines of destiny will depend on discoveries and concepts still in the future.