Federico Pistono's blog
How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks
I entered a Scientific American contest with an essay titled "Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks" on How Should Humanity Steer the Future. Help me win by reading and rating the essay here :D http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2074
Direct link to the PDF file: http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Pistono_steer-humanity-futu.pdf
Book Project: http://opensourcesociety.net/
Essay Contest Guidelines: http://fqxi.org/community/essay\
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HenehoarY
Self-portrait, pencil, photographed and retouched on PS CS6.
Download full-res/buy print (if you're into that).
Isaac Asimov was the most prolific science fiction author, and one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. In fifty years he averaged a new magazine article, short story, or book every two weeks, and most of that on a manual typewriter. Asimov thought that The Last Question, first copyrighted in 1956, was his best short story ever. Even if you do not have the background in science to be familiar with all of the concepts presented here, you should be able to appreciate it. It is quite remarkable that Asimov was able to foresee some of the things that physicists only now are beginning to discover (for decades scientists have been discussing about the Ultimate Fate of the Universe, and only very recently they seem to agree on what Asimov understood and took for granted five decades ago). The ending of this short story packs more impact than any other book that I've ever read. The ending is so majestically great, and the curiosity grows so with every line you read, that you will feel the urge to skip to the end with your eyes. Don't.
I know the temptation to glance at what's coming is great, so I would suggest the following. Scroll down line by line, prevent the spoiler from happening. You will thank me for that later.
Here's a copy of the original text. I also added a YouTube video, with the audiobook version, if you prefer listening.
This is by far my favorite story of all those I have written.
After all, I undertook to tell several trillion years of human history in the space of a short story and I leave it to you as to how well I succeeded. I also undertook another task, but I won't tell you what that was lest l spoil the story for you.
It is a curious fact that innumerable readers have asked me if I wrote this story. They seem never to remember the title of the story or (for sure) the author, except for the vague thought it might be me. But, of course, they never forget the story itself especially the ending. The idea seems to drown out everything -- and I'm satisfied that it should.
The Last Question by Isaac Asimov — © 1956
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:
I was in a pretty bad car accident last night. I should say from the start that nobody was seriously injured. The two girls in the front (driver and passenger) are fine. I was in the back, all I have now are a few bruises caused by the seatbelt, and my shoulder and my thorax hurt like hell, but fortunately nothing is broken. What's interesting - to me - is what went through my head right before the moment of impact and what I experienced afterward.
First, the crash against a light pole was unexpected. The driver wasn't drunk and there was no one else on the street beside us. When she lost control of the vehicle (she got distracted by something, I don't know what), and I saw the car moving towards that pole at considerable speed, I experienced what many refer to as perceived time dilation. It felt like the whole world had stopped for a moment, and everything was in slow motion. Of course, this is a subjective experience, a rush of dopamine and norepinephrine was released into my bloodstream and I could have many different clear thoughts and perceptions compressed in a short amount of time - this is know as tachypsychia. It's a survival mechanism that we humans have evolved in order to escape from predators and to respond quickly in life threatening situation. I knew this, but one thing is reading about it, and a completely different one is actually experiencing it.
These are some of the thoughts that went through my head during that fraction of a second, roughly in the same order that have emerged:
- What the fuck is going on?
- Wait, we are going to crash. What? Seriously?
- OK, don't panic.
- Shit, not like this. Not now.
- I will not die in such a stupid way.
There is something you should know about facing death, when you see it right in front of your eyes. That image, the last image just before the crash, remains in your head like a permanent mark. It is as clear are the meaning of the word itself. Something that you will carry with you for a long, long time.
Right after the crash, everything shuts down and all you can think of is to breath. You rib cage feels like is about to explode, and you can't catch your breath. Nothing else exists - the car, the pole, other people, even yourself - nothing exists, there is only one thing in your mind. Breath. Just fucking breath!
When I caught breath again, probably about 15 seconds later (which felt much, much longer), other thoughts started to arise. "OK? Are you OK?" - I shouted. "Yeah, we're OK. You OK?". "Yeah". No I wasn't. I couldn't move my head, my ribcage felt crushed, I couldn't breath, and I started to feel the bruises burn from the impact with the seatbelt. THE SEATBELT (one of the many technologies remediating human errors). Thank you seatbelt! Everyone was wearing it. And fuck you to everyone who pissed me off in the past for wearing a seatbelt all the time, even when I was in the back seat. Oh, you wear a seatbelt in the back? Like the children? - Yes, I do wear a fucking seatbelt all the time, like the children, who are probably much smarter than you.
I was just coming out from a lecture I gave in Brazil for my book tour, where I presented the case for automated vehicles, and how computer don't fall asleep, don't get tired, don't get drunk, don't get distracted, nor do they check the GPS or text while driving; but instead they follow every street rule, never cause accidents, and could potentially save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives and prevent many more injuries every year.
After this accident, the case for automation could not possibly be clearer in my mind.