Still Human (Just Human Book 2)
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Goertzel is just the right person to speak about human potential in the age of A.
Along with David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, Goertzel co-created Sophia , the first robot to gain national citizenship. Still, many people fear transhumanism. Critics warn of designer babies and chips implanted in our minds. If we all live much, much longer, we all consume more resources and have more children, leading to even more overpopulation and environmental degradation. No matter the intellectual misgivings surrounding this controversial topic, the fact remains that if we view transhumanism the way it is conventionally defined, people have been evolving toward an updated version of humanity for some time.
We use cars to get from point A to point B and air conditioners to regulate our temperature. But there may be other, more pragmatic reasons why we need to become transhuman, if only to stand up to the intelligent machines that are coming.
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Early on, Elon Musk sounded the alarm about humans being usurped by artificial intelligence in a series of well-publicized warnings. Since then, he has suggested that the only way not to be overtaken by computers is to merge with our creations. One day, a stray, injured dog finds its way to his street, filling Neville with amazed joy. Desperate for company, Neville painstakingly earns the nervous dog's trust with food and brings it into the home.
Despite his efforts, the sickly dog dies a week later, and Neville, robbed of all hope, resignedly returns to learning more about the vampires. Neville's continued readings and experiments on incapacitated vampires help him create new theories. He believes vampires are affected by mirrors and crosses because of " hysterical blindness ", the result of previous psychological conditioning of the infected. Driven insane by the disease, the infected now react as they believe they should when confronted with these items.
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Even then, their reaction is constrained to the beliefs of the particular person; for example, a Christian vampire would fear the cross, but a Jewish vampire would not. Neville additionally discovers more efficient means of killing the vampires, other than just driving a stake into their hearts. This includes exposing vampires to direct sunlight or inflicting wide, oxygen-exposing wounds anywhere on their bodies so that the bacteria switch from being anaerobic symbionts to aerobic parasites , rapidly consuming their hosts when exposed to air, which gives the appearance of the vampires instantly liquefying.
However, the bacteria also produce resilient "body glue" that instantly seals blunt or narrow wounds, making the vampires bulletproof.
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With his new knowledge, Neville is killing such large numbers of vampires in his daily forays that his nightly visitors have diminished significantly. Neville further believes the pandemic was spread not so much by direct vampire bites as by bacteria-bearing mosquitos and dust storms in the cities following a recent war.
The inconsistency of Neville's results in handling vampires also leads him to realize that there are in fact two differently-reacting types of vampires: those conscious and living with a worsening infection and those who have died but been reanimated by the bacteria i. After three years, Neville sees a terrified woman in broad daylight. Neville is immediately suspicious after she recoils violently in the presence of garlic, but they slowly win each other's trust. Eventually, the two comfort each other romantically and he explains some of his findings, including his theory that he developed immunity against the infection after being bitten by an infected vampire bat years ago.
He wants to know if the woman, named Ruth, is infected or immune, vowing to treat her if she is infected, and she reluctantly allows him to take a blood sample but suddenly knocks him unconscious as he views the results. When Neville wakes, he discovers a note from Ruth confessing that she is indeed a vampire sent to spy on him and that he was responsible for the death of her husband, another vampire. The note further suggests that only the undead vampires are pathologically violent but not those who were alive at the time of infection and who still survive due to chance mutations in their bacteria.
These living-infected have slowly overcome their disease and are attempting to build a new society. They have developed medication that diminishes the worst of their symptoms.
Ruth warns Neville that her feelings for him are true but that her people will attempt to capture him and that he should try to escape the city. Assuming he will be treated fairly by the new society, Neville stays at his house until infected members arrive and violently dispatch the undead vampires outside his house with fiendish glee. Realizing the infected attackers may intend to kill him after all, he fires on them and in turn is shot and captured. Fatally wounded, Neville is placed in a barred cell where he is visited by Ruth, who informs him that she is a senior member of the new society but, unlike the others, does not resent him.
After discussing the effects of Neville's vampire-killing activities on the new society, she acknowledges the public need for Neville's execution but, out of mercy, gives him a packet of fast-acting suicide pills.
Neville accepts his fate and asks Ruth not to let this society become too heartless. Ruth promises to try, kisses him, and leaves. Neville goes to his prison window and sees the infected staring back at him with the same hatred and fear that he once felt for them; he realizes that he, a remnant of old humanity, is now a legend to the new race born of the infection.
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He recognizes that their desire to kill him, after he has killed so many of their loved ones, is not something he can condemn. As the pills take effect, he is amused by the thought that he will become their new superstition and legend, just as vampires once were to humans. The book is full of good ideas, every other one of which is immediately dropped and kicked out of sight.
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The characters are child's drawings, as blank-eyed and expressionless as the author himself in his back-cover photograph. The plot limps. All the same, the story could have been an admirable minor work in the tradition of Dracula , if only the author, or somebody, had not insisted on encumbering it with the year's most childish set of 'scientific' rationalizations.
Then there is the evolution of money and, more importantly, credit. There is, connectedly, the spread of empires and trade as well as the rise of capitalism. Harari swashbuckles through these vast and intricate matters in a way that is — at its best — engaging and informative. It's a neat thought that "we did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. It was a bad bargain: "the agricultural revolution was history's biggest fraud". More often than not it brought a worse diet, longer hours of work, greater risk of starvation, crowded living conditions, greatly increased susceptibility to disease, new forms of insecurity and uglier forms of hierarchy.
Harari thinks we may have been better off in the stone age, and he has powerful things to say about the wickedness of factory farming, concluding with one of his many superlatives: "modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history". He accepts the common view that the fundamental structure of our emotions and desires hasn't been touched by any of these revolutions: "our eating habits, our conflicts and our sexuality are all a result of the way our hunter-gatherer minds interact with our current post-industrial environment, with its mega-cities, airplanes, telephones and computers … Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah.
The consumption of pornography is another good example. It's just like overeating: if the minds of pornography addicts could be seen as bodies, they would look just like the grossly obese. He is sanguine about its eventual success. But amortality isn't immortality, because it will always be possible for us to die by violence, and Harari is plausibly sceptical about how much good it will do us.
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As amortals, we may become hysterically and disablingly cautious Larry Niven develops the point nicely in his description of the "Puppeteers" in the Ringworld science fiction novels. The deaths of those we love may become far more terrible. Even if we put all these points aside, there's no guarantee that amortality will bring greater happiness.
Harari draws on well-known research that shows that a person's happiness from day to day has remarkably little to do with their material circumstances. Certainly money can make a difference — but only when it lifts us out of poverty. After that, more money changes little or nothing.