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 system of government-run health care system. Why? I realized that, historically, when government tightly controls an economy, a black market organically arises. Think Cold War era USSR and even modern-day Cuba. Control the health care economy and 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.
Putting on my fortune teller’s hat: taken as a given is that a black market in health care will arise, what form will it take? More importantly, though, is who is going to 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-caused 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. Imagine what could happen if an evil genius teamed up equally alienated plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons and biomechanical engineers in an environment devoid of constraints. And tasked them with 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 hungry to continue their work. Or related work. Personally, I’d love a neural interface with my Macintosh. I can forsee a whole population who would be interested in “upgrading” their physiques. Surgical steel bones, anyone? Video cameras for eyes?
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 the quotation marks are a thing of the past?
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 issues of how such an intelligence would be treated were it to come into being as the result of a black market operation. Forget about the philosophical questions of “life” and the societal questions arising from having a sentience other than human amongst us. Think instead about how it could be used against us.
Introducing a new, non-human sentience into the world in an environment that is outside the boundaries of legitimate control is preventible. obamacare must be expunged and proper oversight off quickly technologies instituted.
Gee, that’s a sad thought.