Nicolai Federov — the Russian proto-transhumanist philosopher — believed that the “Common Task” of humanity was to technologically conquer death. Immortality for the living… right? No, think bigger. Federov believed that the evil horror of death that we have all suffered from would not be fully conquered until everyone who had ever died was brought back to life.
In recent years, Ray Kurzweil has duplicated this demand for “resuscitative resurrection.” Kurzweil believes his deceased dad’s DNA combined with copious momentos and living memories of him (Frederic Kurzweil, a musician), could recreate “Father 2.0” in a post-Singularity world.
Let’s set aside the scientific problems of this “Lazarus Project” for a while, to focus on an ethical issue. If dead humans could be brought back to life, how would we, as a society, prioritize their return? Who gets out of Limbo first? If funds are limited (they always are) who should we initially wrench free from the cold clammy grasp of death? Here’s four suggestions:
The Honorable Deceased. Kurzweil has said, “if you can bring back life that was valuable in the past, it should be valuable in the future.” Many heroic and intelligent humans had their breath rudely abbreviated; should we haul them back immediately, to utilize their timeless skills? Two examples in this category are Alan Turing, the English computer scientist/mathematician who was persecuted into suicide when he was 41 because of his homosexuality; and Joan of Arc, burned alive at the stake at the age of 19 or 20. Okay, the French maid might have been crazy, but her leadership, managerial, and foresight skills were exemplary.
Dead Babies. Millions of infants have perished in childhood or they’ve succumbed to malnutrition or disease before their fifth birthday. Obviously, they got short-changed. Should we bring back the innocent infants first? Grant them the years they never had? One biologist I know disagrees – she believes their failure to survive indicates weaker genes. But this argument is archaic – the nasty germs and mishaps that killed the tots in yesteryear will be incapacitated in the future.
Parents. Sure, this seems sentimental but both Federov and Kurzweil would probably vote for this category, due to their filial love. Breeders are definitely not superior to the childless, but there is something symmetrically pleasing about returning to life all those who have bestowed life upon others. Tit for tat, hmm? Obviously, the descendants would be required to pony up a substantial percentage of the resuscitation fee.
Victims of Genocide. The horrors of history could be partially atoned for if groups who were slaughtered were returned to life via the bank accounts of their executioners. Germany recently bailed out a bankrupt Greece; surely it can find funds in the future to resuscitate six million Jews? The Turks are still in denial, but their economy is healthy and their PR would look better if they resurrected at least one million Armenians. Rwanda’s Hutus can shell out some dough to bring back macheted Tutsis, and Serbia can pay for the ethnically-cleansed Bosnians. The USA can of course clean up its own bloody past with resuscitation of Native Americans, and Africans who succumbed on slave ships or plantations.
Ponder the choices, readers. Four options, at least. I conducted a brief survey in my household and there was no consensus — my own children decided “Parents” were the least deserving.
If you want to post your vote or add a new category, just leave it in “Comments” below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.