The Post-Biological Universe of Lee Baldwin
If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.
~ Jeff Bezos
One goal of Lee Baldwin’s breakout science fiction is to show that even with such current negative trends as smart machines taking away the human workforce, technology will be a net positive for human progress. It will not come in a single stroke. That’s in part because Baldwin’s future vision sees a community of post-biological intelligent individuals… people who are part human and part machine.
Who’s Post-Biological?They are here already, they are among us. Artificial hips, hearts, and joints will soon give way to softer organs and then to cybernetic implants. A smarter you with more memory? Just go to Dell.com. Baldwin visualizes a slowing of urbanization toward a softer footprint on the land, leading humanity to a more pastoral way of life in concert with the needs of plants, animals, and the living Earth. This author feels that these beliefs will promote the evolution of humankind. Yeah… when we can agree on what that evolution is to look like.
In Baldwin’s future worlds, humans are confident in their technology and confident about a shared intention, an intention in which high technology is not seen as having power over humankind. The much-vaunted artificial intelligence ‘Singularity,’ a near-reality in terms of technological power, won’t necessarily prove out as a doomsday mentality.
But there are always villains, the friction of fiction.
In Baldwin’s upcoming novel, Hidden Perils of Suicide, set in 2099 California, some individuals prove smarter than computers. In that society, people generally regard themselves as the equal of their tools, in the same sense as today, when anyone can operate a motor vehicle or computer. In 2099 California, technology does advance, controlled by a shared sentiment about its purpose, which is to serve humankind. Like Philip K. Dick, but for much different reasons, Baldwin believes the solution to human misgivings about technology is to accept it, not as an infernal boogeyman by as the powerful and beneficent servant of humankind. Think of is as power brakes and power steering.
Baldwin’s series of science fiction novels, Next History, Halcyon Dreamworlds, and the coming Hidden Perils of Suicide, expresses his ideas about technology as part of human evolution toward post-biological intelligence. Here, Baldwin sees no Frankenstein, but cautions that the divide between human beings and their inventions must be kept clear. The problem is not whether androids can approximate humans, because to achieve the goals of the State the sheer cost of humanoid simulacra such as an army of androids makes that approach non-competitive when compared to virtual sex in a shared cyber-biological dreamtime. The question then becomes, why should we see smart machines, conscious or not, as in any way sacred?
His new series, kicked off by Savage Genesis in 2018, takes a fictional look at a mysterious past in which life is inspired on Earth by a benevolent spacefaring culture which plants designer microbes deep in the rocks of Earth. Add heat and four billion years and voila – humanity.
Baldwin is strong in his assertion that machine intelligence will one day become conscious and self-aware. But this does not rule out a harmonious future between biological humans and humans wedded to cybernetic abilities. Even in 2017, the definition of human is challenged and redefined by human ventures into the alternate worlds of virtual reality, simulations which become ever more realistic in the minds and bodies of the players. This vision was elaborated in Baldwin’s 2015 novel, Halcyon Dreamworlds.
In sum, Baldwin’s fictional universe relies on humans dropping all pretense to realize what they are, and accepting the assistance of smart machines, even as we today accept pacemakers and self-driving cars. The least effective way to define our human identity is to defend it as somehow special. It’s a big cosmos.