Category Archives: Technology and Society

How About Monkeys?

Microsoft says that Vista isn’t “People Ready” yet:

Microsoft execs also talked about “Impacting People,” then they dragged out fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who seemed very “impacted” as he sang praise for Microsoft programs. Actually, he was reading meaningless statements from a TelePrompTer. Here is one of his quotes, verbatim: “When you combine people and technology, you have a very powerful combination.” Think about that. Just let it sink in for a minute…

…No one mentioned the fact that in 1997, Microsoft held a similar event in New York City to declare that IBM’s “big iron” was dead, because Windows NT–remember Windows NT?–was going to “scale up” and replace the mainframe. I wonder if Ballmer ever feels like the guy in Groundhog Day, reliving the same press conference, over and over. I know I do.

As I Become More Mature

(That title is a euphemism for having one foot in geezerhood), I don’t need an alarm unless I need to get up very early after getting to bed late. I generally wake up pretty early anyway. And when I do need some external assistance, the plaintive little “beep, beep” of my watch is generally sufficient.

But when I was younger, I definitely could have used one of these: Behold, the world’s ten most annoying alarm clocks.

Not Getting It

Via Glenn, I find a new group blog about the future. But I found this post pretty disappointing, and I’m hoping that it’s not indicative of a more general cluelessness:

According to Cambridge University biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, the first person to live to 1,000 years of age has already been born. True or not, this idea is frightening to me mainly because the average person today starts to get pretty frail right around sixty, so unless we manage to improve the quality of life for the elderly along with their lifespan, we youngsters are doomed to some 900 years of infeebled misery. While I’m sure that at some point the necessity for some kind of physical rejuvenation process would breed the requisite ingenuity to devise one, I’m still not convinced that several decades, if not centuries, of torture would be worth it.

He can’t have actually read much of what De Grey wrote, if he believes that the intent, or likely outcome, is to “provide nine centuries of torture.” The whole point is to defeat senescence, not merely to keep frail bodies alive. Note also the commenter who is already bored with life at age fifty seven.

As I wrote in a letter to the editor of The Economist back in the late eighties, if your idea of life is to come home from work with a six pack in front of the television, then three score and ten is plenty (and perhaps even too long). But if you’re a Leonardo or Leonarda da Vinci, several centuries could be all too short. We will have to come to terms with the reality that many won’t want to live forever, and become more societally accepting, at some point, of the right to end it, lest we do in fact be sentencing people to centuries of “torture” (mental, perhaps, if not physical).

More Decline In The “Giggle Factor”

Not about space tourism. About anti-aging therapies. From Reuters:

Olshansky and his colleagues have called on the U.S. government to inject $3 billion a year into the field, arguing the benefits of achieving an average seven-year delay in the process of biological aging would far exceed the gains from eliminating cancer.

Ethically, the extension of life is controversial, with some philosophers arguing it goes against fundamental human nature.

But John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester, said any society that applauded the saving of life had a duty to embrace regenerative medicine.

“Life saving is just death postponing with a positive spin,” he said. “If it is right and good to postpone death for a short time, it is hard to see now it would be less right and less good to postpone it for a long while.”

Yes, this is the logical dilemma that the Kassians and other deathists find themselves in. Who are they to decide how long other people should live?

I was talking about this with someone last summer in DC, and he asked an interesting question. There’s a respectable argument to be made that, while not every individual requires religion to be good, society itself does, because not everyone will be moral without a belief in a divine lawgiver and retribution in the afterlife. Similarly, he asked me, though no one wants to die, isn’t it good for society that we do?

My trite response, a la Groucho, is “what has posterity ever done for me?”

Unquestionably, death has some beneficial consequences for society. For one thing, it’s currently the most effective means of defeating dictators and tenure (which are often the same thing). I think the answer to that, though, is to come up with more effective means of dealing with dictators than the UN, and once it’s recognized that people are effectively living forever, or at least as long as they want to, tenure will have to face reform as well (in addition to an end to life-long appointments in general). Death also promotes innovation (as the old saying goes, science progresses, funeral by funeral).

But I’m not aware of any benefits that are worth sacrificing my life for. Risking, yes, but not sacrificing it. If death taking a holiday causes problems, I’d rather spend my life coming up with better solutions to those problems, rather than arbitrarily deciding that three-score and ten, or any other number, is the right one. After all, if one is going to argue that we should only live for a finite period of time, how would one come up with the right length? And how does this differ from mass executions, for the mere crime of living too long? It seems to me that the slope on which folks like Leon Kass and Eric Cohen tread is very slippery, with extremely ugly terrain at the bottom.

More Decline In The “Giggle Factor”

Not about space tourism. About anti-aging therapies. From Reuters:

Olshansky and his colleagues have called on the U.S. government to inject $3 billion a year into the field, arguing the benefits of achieving an average seven-year delay in the process of biological aging would far exceed the gains from eliminating cancer.

Ethically, the extension of life is controversial, with some philosophers arguing it goes against fundamental human nature.

But John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester, said any society that applauded the saving of life had a duty to embrace regenerative medicine.

“Life saving is just death postponing with a positive spin,” he said. “If it is right and good to postpone death for a short time, it is hard to see now it would be less right and less good to postpone it for a long while.”

Yes, this is the logical dilemma that the Kassians and other deathists find themselves in. Who are they to decide how long other people should live?

I was talking about this with someone last summer in DC, and he asked an interesting question. There’s a respectable argument to be made that, while not every individual requires religion to be good, society itself does, because not everyone will be moral without a belief in a divine lawgiver and retribution in the afterlife. Similarly, he asked me, though no one wants to die, isn’t it good for society that we do?

My trite response, a la Groucho, is “what has posterity ever done for me?”

Unquestionably, death has some beneficial consequences for society. For one thing, it’s currently the most effective means of defeating dictators and tenure (which are often the same thing). I think the answer to that, though, is to come up with more effective means of dealing with dictators than the UN, and once it’s recognized that people are effectively living forever, or at least as long as they want to, tenure will have to face reform as well (in addition to an end to life-long appointments in general). Death also promotes innovation (as the old saying goes, science progresses, funeral by funeral).

But I’m not aware of any benefits that are worth sacrificing my life for. Risking, yes, but not sacrificing it. If death taking a holiday causes problems, I’d rather spend my life coming up with better solutions to those problems, rather than arbitrarily deciding that three-score and ten, or any other number, is the right one. After all, if one is going to argue that we should only live for a finite period of time, how would one come up with the right length? And how does this differ from mass executions, for the mere crime of living too long? It seems to me that the slope on which folks like Leon Kass and Eric Cohen tread is very slippery, with extremely ugly terrain at the bottom.

More Decline In The “Giggle Factor”

Not about space tourism. About anti-aging therapies. From Reuters:

Olshansky and his colleagues have called on the U.S. government to inject $3 billion a year into the field, arguing the benefits of achieving an average seven-year delay in the process of biological aging would far exceed the gains from eliminating cancer.

Ethically, the extension of life is controversial, with some philosophers arguing it goes against fundamental human nature.

But John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester, said any society that applauded the saving of life had a duty to embrace regenerative medicine.

“Life saving is just death postponing with a positive spin,” he said. “If it is right and good to postpone death for a short time, it is hard to see now it would be less right and less good to postpone it for a long while.”

Yes, this is the logical dilemma that the Kassians and other deathists find themselves in. Who are they to decide how long other people should live?

I was talking about this with someone last summer in DC, and he asked an interesting question. There’s a respectable argument to be made that, while not every individual requires religion to be good, society itself does, because not everyone will be moral without a belief in a divine lawgiver and retribution in the afterlife. Similarly, he asked me, though no one wants to die, isn’t it good for society that we do?

My trite response, a la Groucho, is “what has posterity ever done for me?”

Unquestionably, death has some beneficial consequences for society. For one thing, it’s currently the most effective means of defeating dictators and tenure (which are often the same thing). I think the answer to that, though, is to come up with more effective means of dealing with dictators than the UN, and once it’s recognized that people are effectively living forever, or at least as long as they want to, tenure will have to face reform as well (in addition to an end to life-long appointments in general). Death also promotes innovation (as the old saying goes, science progresses, funeral by funeral).

But I’m not aware of any benefits that are worth sacrificing my life for. Risking, yes, but not sacrificing it. If death taking a holiday causes problems, I’d rather spend my life coming up with better solutions to those problems, rather than arbitrarily deciding that three-score and ten, or any other number, is the right one. After all, if one is going to argue that we should only live for a finite period of time, how would one come up with the right length? And how does this differ from mass executions, for the mere crime of living too long? It seems to me that the slope on which folks like Leon Kass and Eric Cohen tread is very slippery, with extremely ugly terrain at the bottom.