Memento Mori or Can Peter Diamandis Make Uncomfortable Shoes?

Singularity University is a think-tank in Silicon Valley, perhaps the most important place in the world for technology philosophy. It appears there is no problem that technology can’t fix: Death? Trans-humanism suggests to freeze your head until medicine develops far enough to sew it onto a new body. Or maybe upload your mind to the cloud and live forever? World hunger? The internet will set you free, once the satellites, balloons or drones are up and beam connections to remote places, the blessings of the internet will give the hungry access to world markets plus bring them freedom of speech and democracy as a bonus. Maybe.

Don’t get me wrong, living longer sounds great and who can argue against putting an end to world hunger? But I have issues with the image of technology as an evolutionary force which can only go in one direction and our job is to cheer along the way. As much as real problems like hunger and death are about humans, the techno-ideology solution leaves humans out of the equation.

The idea of uploading a person’s mind to a computer was first articulated by sci-fi author Jerry Sohl in The Altered Ego (1954). Great fiction, but I’m not sure Sohl meant for it to be taken seriously. Living forever as a digital mind assumes that the mind can be disconnected from the body. I’m not sure I’m convinced. The other day, I had new shoes and they we’re hard on my feet. It hurt and I got grumpy and moody. But that night, I had my favourite food (spaghetti puttanesca) for dinner and felt much better. What happened to my body was much a stronger influence on my mind that any of the conscious thoughts I had that day. Peter Diamandis is the visionary and charismatic co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University. His ideas are intriguing, but I must ask: can he make uncomfortable shoes for the digital mind?

It can of course be debated if death is a “problem” or rather a part of life. Is life without death meaningful? Is looking for a way to cheat death a meaningful way to spend one’s life? Legend has it that Caesar had a slave whose only job was to occasionally whisper in his ear the words memento mori. Remember you are mortal.