Re [CRYONICS][BOOK] "The First Immortal"

Brian D Williams (
Tue, 3 Feb 1998 08:48:04 -0800 (PST)

The following post is long and contains potential spoilers for
those who have not yet read James Halperins novel "The First
Immortal" read ahead at you own risk.

From: Hal Finney <>

>One of the big problems in any 21st century SF which incorporates
>nanotech and similar advances is how to avoid the Singularity -
>the acceleration of advancement into a pace so furious that the
>world becomes unrecognizable. It appears that Halperin has no more
>than postponed the Singularity, as it looks unlikely to me that
>humanity will come out of his 22nd century in any kind of
>recognizable form.

True, the "Singularity" as you define it did not appear, but I
think that there is a certain amount of subjectivity to it's
definition. The rate of progress as portrayed in the book would
floor the average American, and completely overwhelm the average
third-worlder. I know I was reeling at some of the possibilities.

>Halperin has a couple of tricks to slow the rate of technology
>advance. One is to put restrictions on AI research. Some early AI
>machines become aggressive and kill people, and after that they
>are not supposed to be programmed with emotions or survival
>instincts. They're just a bunch of Vulcan types. They do become
>much smarter than humans over the course of the 21st century, but
>presumably these restrictions do limit their rate of advance.

I think this was more than a mere trick to avoid the singularity,
The author, seems to be against certain advances:

"We could implant intelligent machines in physical bodies like
ours, or some other higher life-forms. Hell, before you know it,
we'll be advanced enough to create a wholw new species superior to
ourselves. Sure we could do that, but why would we? Then we'd have
created a hyperintelligent competitive species. Such an act would
be insane: would have a wholly unpredictable outcome. It would be
as mad as a full-scale nuclear exchange in the 1980's so I don't
expect it, even in light of todays crisis." (page 303)

>The other magic which Halperin has up his sleeve is his Truth
>Machine. This was the subject of his first novel, which I haven't
>read. The device is a foolproof lie detector, and it allows laws
>to be enforced with a certainty far beyond anything which would be
>reasonable today.

Yes, I've ordered, but not yet received his first book, the truth
machine made for a very interesting story element.

>Once there is a world government armed with the truth machine,
>they can pass laws restricting access to nanotech (and presumably
>any other destabilizing technologies) and be sure they are
>enforced. This prevents various technology runaway scenarios,
>both good and bad.

>Not having read the first novel, I find the potential for abuse
>with a truth machine very troubling. It is presented in almost
>purely beneficial terms, but obviously it could be misused as
>well. The idea reminds me somewhat of David Brin's "transparent
>society", where you have a Big Brother-like monitoring system, but
>it's OK because the people doing the monitoring get monitored,
>too. The danger is that if an evil person somehow got into power,
>he'd be able to use these technologies to maintain his power very
>effectivelly. No revolt or rebellion could be hidden.

>In effect this kind of technology is a power amplifier. Whoever
>has the bulk of power in society can use this to enforce their
>will. If the mass of people ultimately has the power, then in
>many ways the truth machine will be beneficial, as they can
>prevent evil people from seizing power away from them. On the
>other hand, where the masses misuse their power, there won't be
>the limitations on their abilities that we have today. The
>majority of people in the United States believes in conventional
>religious morality, but if it wants to legislate on that basis, in
>practice it can't control people's private lives very well. A
>truth machine would change that.

Good points all, I have serious doubts about the idea of a "world
government". They mostly revolve around "redistribution" (wealth,
poer, etc) scenarios. Control junkies are dangerous.

>> I see it is in development as an upcoming mini-series, if done
>> properly, IMMHO it could change the future of cryonics.

>I'm a little skeptical about this, having seen many efforts fail
>in the past which were going to change the future of cryonics.
>For example, Omni magazine had a reasonably well promoted contest
>where the prize was "immortality" - a cryonic suspension contract
>with Alcor. This was a big jump into the mainstream, especially
>with the idea of cryonics as a prize, a reward, not some kooky
>perversion. However it was not much of a success; there weren't
>many entries, and I think most people were just not ready for it.

Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if WIRED were to try the same
thing today?

>I thought Halperin's novel was most effective in depicting a 21st
>century where we'd like to live, and where technology really does
>advance to the point where it solves many of our most difficult
>problems. I was uncomfortable when it took on a scolding tone,
>shaking its head over how blind people were in the late 20th
>century not to sign up for cryonics. This reminds me too much of
>a temperance tract regaling us with the evils of Demon Alcohol.

I didn't see this as a scolding, it made me a little sad, and more
determined than ever to sign up. In my own case this novel
solidified my reasoning on the issue.

>Science fiction authors often succumb to the temptation to have
>their future characters talk about the mistakes of the 20th
>century - if only they'd taken care of the environment, or if only
>they'd been more socialist, no, if only they'd been more
>capitalist, etc. I never find this realistic (how much time do we
>spend talking about the mistakes of the 1890's?), and even when it
>does fit, I don't necessarily think the future characters are
>right (people today disagree over the morality of the "robber
>barons" of the 19th century, even with 100 years of hindsight).

>Halperin doesn't overdo this, fortunately. If his novel is a
>success then it probably will help to make cryonics more
>acceptable. But I suspect that it will be many years before it
>becomes truly mainstream.

Yes, vision in the "retrospectroscope" is always 20/20, but I
thought he accomplished this quite well. In a world where cryonics
has proven to work, those who didn't see the possibility will be
seen as lacking vision.

I think when this is widebanded as a T.V. miniseries, this could
have a big effect.

Member, Extropy Institute