...in the rich world, we have comparatively few problems left to be solved. We are not, needless to say, underfed. Our lives are not consumed in wearisome toil. The spread of public health measures allows most of us to live a natural span of years. In material terms we currently live in utopia as it has always been pictured. And the things that keep it from seeming like utopia? The violence, the stress, the lack of solitude and silence, the lack of deep relationships, the failing sense of purpose, the ennui--are these susceptible to technological cure? Or are they more easily treatable by reducing the technology we already have?
[Developing countries aside,] the world is clearly not in need of dramatic further improvements. There is tinkering around the edges yet to be done, perhaps, with scourges like childhood disease, but the conscientious effort to spread and share existing innovations could solve most of the problems we face. That said, it is enormously hard to turn off the thinking that spurs us on. For a very long time we were clearly improving the conditions of our life with technological progress, and hence the momentum behind that push is enormous. With one exception, what we have still to gain is trivial and not worth either the physical or spiritual risks of this accelerated grandiosity. That exception is death. And it becomes exceedingly clear, reading these theoreticians and prophets, that that is what the game is about. For all our lengthened life spans and more comfortable lives, we still die. And that is seen as unacceptable.
It is clear that these revolutionary technologies are being driven by people with immortality, or something very near it, on their minds. In genetic engineering circles, much talk in the last year has centred on the promise of longer lives. As Danny Hillis, a computer scientist, says, "I’m as fond of my body as anyone, but if I can be 200 with a body of silicon, I’ll take it." One odd thing is that it is precisely this same class of thinkers--hyper-rationalist scientists, who have long sneered at religion as the refuge of the weak--who can’t face the fact of their own mortality. But clearly their own discomfort with mortality goes so deep that they will risk not only the dangers that come with genetic engineering, but even the loss of meaning that will attend this post-human future.
A single organism does not grow forever, constantly gaining new capabilities, constantly commanding more terrain from all around it. It grows for a while and at some point it stops growing. Some signal--a receding tide of hormones, perhaps--shuts down its expansion. Some of those signals--the comfort in which we live, say--might convince us that we had grown enough. Some of those signals--the rising temperature, the equations suggesting that genetic engineering could get out of hand--might convince us that it was impractical to grow further. In fact, something a little akin to that seems to have happened in regard to human fertility: a billion different families, making individual calculations about how far they had progressed and about the difficulties of expanding further, seem to have dramatically slowed the planet’s demographic tide in a generation.