In other words, bad software will make biological hacks like near-immortality expensive instead of cheap in the future. Even if everything else gets cheaper, the information technology side of the effort will get more expensive.
Cheap near-immortality for everyone is a self-limiting proposition. There isn't enough room to accommodate such an adventure. Also, roughly speaking, if immortality was to become cheap, so would the horrific biological weapons of Bill's scenario. On the other hand, expensive near immortality is something the world could absorb, at least for a good long while, because there would be fewer people involved. Maybe they could even keep the effort quiet.
So, here is the irony. The very features of computers which drive us crazy today, and keep so many of us gainfully employed, are the best insurance our species has for long term survival as we explore the far reaches of technological possibility. On the other hand, those same annoying qualities are what could make the 21st century into a madhouse scripted by the fantasies and desperate aspirations of the super-rich.
I share the belief of my cybernetic totalist colleagues that there will be huge and sudden changes in the near future brought about by technology. The difference is that I believe that whatever happens will be the responsibility of individual people who do specific things. I think that treating technology as if it were autonomous is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no difference between machine autonomy and the abdication of human responsibility.
Let's take the "nanobots take over" scenario. It seems to me that the most likely scenarios involve either:
So, therefore, I'll worry about the future of human culture more than I'll worry about the gadgets. And what worries me about the "Young Turk" cultural temperament seen in cybernetic totalists is that they seem to not have been educated in the tradition of scientific skepticism. I understand why they are intoxicated. There IS a compelling simple logic behind their thinking and elegance in thought is infectious.
There is a real chance that evolutionary psychology, artificial intelligence, Moore's Law fetishizing, and the rest of the package, will catch on in a big way, as big as Freud or Marx did in their times. Or bigger, since these ideas might end up essentially built into the software that runs our society and our lives. If that happens, the ideology of cybernetic totalist intellectuals will be amplified from novelty into a force that could cause suffering for millions of people.
The greatest crime of Marxism wasn't simply that much of what it claimed was false, but that it claimed to be the sole and utterly complete path to understanding life and reality. Cybernetic eschatology shares with some of history's worst ideologies a doctrine of historical predestination. There is nothing more gray, stultifying, or dreary than a life lived inside the confines of a theory. Let us hope that the cybernetic totalists learn humility before their day in the sun arrives.
(*Parts of this manifesto draw on material from two earlier essays. One appeared in CIO Magazine in English, and the other in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in German, as part of that newspaper's ongoing coverage of the Edge community.)