Staff Writers



Chapter 1 - FOSSILS

Dated: May 19, 2019
Format: Unexpurgated written transcript

The human race stands on the precipice of a new era.

As we near the dawn of the twenty-first century’s third decade, technological progress has delivered up its first truly messianic paradigm shift. Nanotechnology and molecular engineering promise a potential end to problems such as world hunger, overcrowding, and the environmental catastrophes long prophesied by the green movement.

Already, our cities are transformed, clustered with monuments to the glories of the new age: impossible towers, built by swarms of atom-sized molecular machines, drip from ground to sky like stalagmite vines or veins, their outward forms repeating (and in most cases exceeding) the size and intricacy of their industrial predecessors. But these are natural effigies, vat-grown buildings. They are living things, some would argue – programmed DNA chains, molecular computronium composites that whisper digitally to the exocortexes we carry with us in our fifth-generation mobile phones. Intelligent matter surrounds us, and we are used to the chatter of so-called ‘living’ buildings and structures. Nanotechnology has brought this life (of a kind) to the eternally static. It has given intelligence to dead matter – but does that qualify the matter in question as ‘living’, or even as a product of life?

The definition of food has also evolved beyond recognition, thanks to this technology – edible proteins can be mass-produced, and the population explosions that have brought us to the nine billion-point of human existence – the point at which, in the early stages of the century, scientists warned of overload and Malthusian catastrophe – are fed by atom factories, rather than farms.

So what is the net effect of this technological paradigm shift? This is an important question to consider – the nanotech revolution could potentially dwarf the effects of the nineteenth century’s industrial one, which caused so much unforeseen harm to our ecology and our societies, along with the benefits it unarguably wrought.

We are approaching an era of plenty, or so it seems. We will soon have not just enough, but infinite capacity to build and feed. Plenty for everyone, regardless of wealth, race or creed. Some would argue certain long-cherished societal structures are threatened by this change. The mechanics of production have outpaced traditional capitalism, going beyond competition and profit to the point where their raison d’etre is simply fulfilling need wherever they find it.

Of course, the nanotech labs are all still in the hands of the wealthy nations, meaning we still have what used to be called a ‘third world.’ But the point at which nanotechnological advances become universal is approaching – a Maker in every home, and no person left unclothed or unfed.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the other two, less developed aspects of nanotechnology could still have a massive impact on human society – imminent advances in weapons technologies, based on molecular engineering techniques, present immeasurable opportunities for ecological catastrophe and mass slaughter. Meanwhile nanotech advances in the field of medicine could drastically alter the implications of disease and old age, causing yet more population growth. In this post, I will focus for now on extant nanotech – which affects construction, food production and environmental engineering in the main.

Humanity has arguably transcended the basic Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, to position us as the only Earth species whose evolution is in some sense guided. We control and select which ideas shape our cultures - at least to some extent. Therefore we are able to ask ourselves a fundamental question about the possible futures nanotechnology offers. Specifically, the question we must ask is – do we want this kind of future?

Do we want an end to scarcity, an end to societal privilege? What does the imminent nano-salvation entail for us, not as individual humans, but as a culture, or collective of cultures?

Imagine a world where evolutionary selection no longer applies to cultural ideas – a world beyond competitive memes. As the means of production finally and completely pass into the hands of the workers (a kind of super-Marxism, powered by emergent nanotech), do we run the risk of homogenising our essential selves? Was this not the nightmare we left behind in the era of the totalitarian regimes – standard dress and goods to fit only the requirements of each citizen, rather than their desires? Are we in danger of becoming communal cultures of identikit individuals, abrogated only by their endlessly repeating symmetry? This was the nightmare abandoned by those who chose the empty solace of the Western identities market over Communism or dictatorship – the massive popular uprisings of the North Koreans, the Soviet Russians and the Eastern European Federation over the past ten years. Are we prepared to go back to this kind of world, in order to eradicate poverty and hunger?

In an era without scarcity, have we a need of a free market? Why trade, when you can Make? Take this argument further, and what need have we of democracy, freedom, ideas of any kind? Would we merely become closed loops – eating and defecating and entertaining ourselves with an ever-decreasing pantheon of archetypal devices, stories and activities?

Nanotechnology promises a limitless life, repairable bodies, and curable diseases. Limitless construction and production, from so-called ‘living’ materials, integrated into the fabric of our societies, our consumables, even our physical bodies. And yet there is a curious reek of stagnancy and death about its by-products. Built not from inert matter, but from living materials animated by our dark design, the buildings and foods we will come to depend on are both living and dead – they are zombies. Animated corpses, which we live on like maggots upon carrion.

Those who advocate nanotech would have you believe we have become Gods, conducting atoms in symphony. But are we instead mere necromancers, perverting nature?

As Utopia beckons once more, those who speak dissent are shouted down and called Luddites. But study of the Industrial Revolution shows that all progress has a dear price. Therefore in my opinion, listening to these dissenters is the most valuable lesson we can learn from history. Their doubts and fears, if taken into account, could possibly forestall many of the negative effects of nanotechnological change without denying us the potential benefits, on which we already rely for so much of our infrastructure.

I suggest we pause, and consider what it would be like to live in a place where nothing was built or farmed by the hand of a human being. I suggest we ask ourselves whether we would sacrifice history, art, architecture, music, film, for limitless food and drink, and buildings which build themselves.

Ask yourself this: have we, the human race, become like the Dodo, the Blue Whale, and the Indian Tiger – evolutionary relics?

Are we fossils, or are we yet in motion?

- Professor John Romney, NYC 2019

John Romney is a philosopher and evolutionary theorist, and Professor Emeritus at New York University. His book, ‘Nanotechnology: Death in Life,’ was a bestseller, winning him acclaim among radical intellectuals and conservatives alike. He lives in Manhattan with his two cats.

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