What happens if obamacare comes to pass? (Monday, March 22, 2010)
As a long-term cyberpunk junkie, I have often had occasion to wonder about what could set up a situation where Gibson’s black market surgeries as described in Neuromancer could come to be. And then, while walking to work this morning in the aftermath of the passage of obamacare, it hit me: a world-wide network of government-run health care systems. Why? History teaches that when government tightly controls an economy, black markets organically arise. Think Cold War era USSR and even modern-day Cuba. Should government take control of the health care economy, a black market in health care will naturally arise and, presto!, in the gaps between the government systems we end up with the societal backdrop of Gibson’s thrilling cyberpunk genre, a place of wet-ware implants, augmented skeletal and amped-up neural systems and the gritty underworld where artificial intelligence loses its apostrophes.
Putting on my fortune teller’s hat: assuming that a black market in health care will arise, what form will it take? More importantly, though, is who is going to guide it and regulate it? NOBODY, that’s who. It’s a black market! By definition black markets exist outside the law.
When it comes to health care, one can be certain that those who are able to pay for ANYTHING will be able to get it. There will be a surfeit of talent as those health care practitioners disgusted by obamacare’s infringement on their liberty drop out, removing their skills from the government health care industry. But not from the market. Some will retire, others will find ways to continue their work. Some will find legitimate footing in the new environment and the others, well, the others will do what they must.
Later, dystopia fully realized, the economy stagnates in the deeper, second dip of the CRA-induced, housing market collapse driven recession, and serious hard times have settled in. Some of these practitioners will find that they are not as well-off as they perhaps thought they were. They will look to returning their services. But they are still disgusted by obamacare, so what do they do? Some will bite the bullet and return to the system, beaten but not broken, as slaves. Others will look into the black markets, offering their skills to those able to exploit them.
Ironically, the black market will be, in fact, a free market. And all of it illegal. Sadly, all of it preventable.
Sadder and scarier still are some of the implications. Once governance is removed, and in a black market there is no governance BY DEFINITION, there is no limit to what can be done by those with the skills and lack of moral constraints when unlimited resources are unleashed under the direction of a person dedicated to his goal. As a thought experiment, imagine what could happen if an evil genius teamed up equally alienated plastic surgeons, neurosurgeon, biomechanical engineers and computer scientists in an environment devoid of constraints, and then tasked them with, well, anything. Since there are no constraints, why not throw in a bioweapons expert.
Okay, scratch the bioweapons guy. Such a combination driven by a beneficent leader could produce enormous breakthroughs when relieved of all constraints on their development. Most of the man/machine interface gear described by Gibson and others in the genre could come to fruition under such a scenario. With the “privatization” of the space effort that preceded obamacare a lot of specialists in esoteric fields will suddenly be cut free from the umbilicus of big government and will hunger to continue their work. Or related work. I can forsee a whole population who would be interested in “upgrading” their physiques. Surgical steel bones, anyone? Video cameras for eyes? [Personally, I’d love a neural interface with my Macintosh.]
Now, add back in the bioweapons guy and make the leader malevolent.
In the background the impending singularity lurks.
Nanotechnology, now about 15 years old, is beginning to produce viable technology. Results from early CERN experiments yield profound quantum understanding, unleashing a wave of new technologies as transformational as the transistor. Computer technology continues advancing according to Moore’s Law, basically doubling in power every two years or so.
All have obvious off-shoot technologies in the health care field. Nano-probes. Quantum fields. Advanced “expert systems” (“artificial intelligence”-based computer systems). The singularity marks the date when we remove the quotation marks from “artificial intelligence.” How many times more need computing power double before an “artificial intelligence” system becomes an intelligent self-aware entity?
obamacare has all but set up the scenario where the onset of the singularity will occur in the black market, the health care black market to be specific. A lawless environment where all constraints are off.
Forget about the philosophical questions of “life” and the societal questions arising from having a sentience other than human among us. Forget about the issues of how such an intelligence would be treated were it to come into being as the result of a black market operation. Think instead about how this non-human intelligence could be used against us.
Introducing a new, non-human sentience into the world in an environment that is outside the boundaries of legitimate and ethical control is preventible. obamacare must be expunged and proper oversight of related technologies quickly instituted.
Gee, that’s a sad thought.