Oct 142009
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer, Ryan Gibbons

Oh, hello there … excuse us, we were just frolicking in this meadow. That’s a normal thing to do, right? No? Really? Well, in that case we’re gonna go shuck this corn. Say again? OK, now we think you’re just pulling our proverbial transmogrified leg.

If you must … I suppose we’ll just settle into the parlor for a calm night of anticipating how technological developments may affect the human condition in fundamental ways.

Now you’re laughing at us. But we’ll have the last guffaw because that last one is actually kind of a big deal (no really, just kind of). It’s the mission statement for the Future of Humanity Institute. Sorry if you were misled by the headline — humanity is going to live out its days in rooms with pretty hard walls.

We digress. We realized that we probably spend at least as much time pondering technological developments and the human condition as the people at the Institute, located at Oxford University. Thus we decided to give our two cents on three of its research programs.

Global Catastrophic Risks

We’re all caught up in the global warming scare. Tsunamis are flooding New York, tornadoes are tearing up L.A. and super-cooled hurricanes are freezing everything in their paths. Or that might have just been the premise of “The Day After Tomorrow.”

We just don’t know who to believe these days. Dennis Quaid did seem to know a lot about the subject. Still, global warming or not, the world could end any day now by an endless number of means.

One of the most obvious disasters that the Institute failed to acknowledge is the unavoidable zombie epidemic (Confucious predicted it) of 2015. But there was also no mention of Google’s hostile worldwide takeover and not a word on Facebook causing global productivity to come to a screeching halt.

If none of the above end up causing our demise, there will undoubtedly come a day when Chuck Norris will become bored with living and die. At which point the entire world will cease to exist.

Human Enhancement

This section of FHI’s research deals with medicine and technology “enhancing biological capacities.” These words bring to mind the famous Steve Austin. We were unable to contact him by phone, but we found that he could hear us if we just spoke out our questions into the night.

He was able to get back to us promptly, and in the end he cited mixed feelings over life as a cyborg.

“My show was canceled the year after ‘Star Wars’ came out,” he said, teary-eyed. “It was tough to keep up after Vader came onto the scene.”Proxy-Connection: keep-alive

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Stephen Hawking also comes to mind but will unlikely be mentioned by FHI due to his affiliation with Britain’s “other school.” When we interviewed Hawking, he was unable to say very much on the subject of cyber-enhancements beyond “I like them” before his battery died.

Applied Epistemology and Rationality

We definitely don’t know what epistemology means just by looking at it, so we called Hawking back the next day and he let us know that it is “the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.” Wow. Tear. We like to think we walk that line every day.

FHI defines this section with the question: “How can we make better decisions under conditions of profound uncertainty and high stakes?” Fortunately, we have a sure-fire way of knowing when they’ve solved this one — all those old Oxford researchers will have Brazilian supermodel girlfriends.

This possibility alone is enough to continue paying close attention to the Institute’s research. It also justifies our sitting on the couch pondering relationship troubles instead of doing homework, because if they’re doing it at Oxford …

Columnists Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer are looking to get 1.21 jigawattes of power. If anyone can help us, e-mail us at verve@collegian.com.

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