by Nicholas West
If there is any question left about the God complex with which some scientists are afflicted, it is answered with this latest news. England’s prestigious Oxford University has been the site of ongoing research into life extension technology using various methods, one of which includes a drug that can distort a person’s sense of time in order to literally create a feeling of eternal damnation.
A recent article discussing the work of Dr. Rebecca Roache opens with one line: “Sentencing a criminal to 1,000 years in an artificial hell may one day become a reality.” And, according to researchers, that day could be quite soon.
Incredibly, this research is being championed by a doctor of philosophy at Oxford who is part of their official blog called Practical Ethics.
Life extension itself is a controversial topic. The era of cyborgs and transhumanism is fast approaching, as we will soon reach the theoretical point of Singularity before 2045 when machine intelligence is predicted to surpass that of humans. Current trends toward autonomous systems of war and the advancement of artificial intelligence are leaning toward a dystopian future. It has prompted ethicists and international human rights organizations to urge restraint. The research being conducted at Oxford is likely to stir a fresh wave of indignation at the possibilities being considered.
Dr. Rebecca Roache and her research team at Oxford apparently seek to correct the inadequacies of sentencing applied to the most heninous criminals. The prime example given is the deranged parents of a four-year-old boy they horrifically tortured and killed – the pair received 30 years; a “laughably inadequate” sentence in Dr. Roache’s estimation.
If one only had the power to balance the scales, perhaps to inflict endless suffering and pain ….
Technology might hold the answer, as Dr. Roache has previously summarized in her article, “Enhanced punishment: can technology make life sentences longer?” Technology such as lifespan enhancement, mind uploading, altering perception of duration, and robot prison officers comprise several rings of potential hellish torment on earth for those deemed deserving of it.
Technology, then, offers (or will one day offer) untapped possibilities to make punishment for the worst criminals more severe without resorting to inhumane methods or substantially overhauling the current UK legal system. What constitutes humane treatment in the context of the suggestions I have made is, of course, debatable. But I believe it is an issue worth debating.
Her suggestions are indeed debatable. In fact, the extreme negatives surrounding the technologies of war and mind control often overshadow the great benefits that technology can offer. Secondly, the current criminal justice system, especially in the U.S., is already rife with cases of extreme injustice and torture. Nevertheless, Dr. Roache forges ahead seemingly comfortable with governments condoning futuristic methods of punishment to be imposed as prison officials see fit.
Dr. Roache suggests that psychoactive drugs which distort one’s sense of time could be more precisely developed and administered within the prison system. Such distortion could theoretically lead to a prisoner to feel as though they are condemned to eternal torment.
As I was reading, I could only think, “What if a tyrant or garden-variety sadist got a hold of this type of power? This is like something out of a Nazi experiment or Abu Ghraib.”
Then I scrolled farther down in the Daily Mail article where I encountered the face of Adolf Hitler. Finally, I thought, someone is going to inject sanity into this discussion by showing how dangerous this line of thinking really is.
I was to be disappointed. Instead, Hitler serves as the ultimate example of why we need to extend life … so that we can torture people for eternity!
Enter the supercomputer – the transhumanists’ favorite tool to seek immortality. Futurist and a director with Google’s engineering division, Ray Kurzweil, (though recently divorcing himself from the term “transhumanism”) has stated that one concrete goal is to use DNA nanobots to connect people’s minds directly to cloud computing. This new computer mind could also be distorted, according to Dr. Roache, since the uploaded mind could be sped up or slowed down.
In a final appeal to the practical – ya know, if infinitely torturing someone is not quite psychologically fulfilling for you – think of the savings to the taxpayer! Although it’s a bit ironic since the article also mentions billions of dollars being invested in this type of research.
‘This would, obviously, be much cheaper for the taxpayer than extending criminals’ lifespans to enable them to serve 1,000 years in real time,’ said Dr Roache.
In one final ironic twist, Dr. Roache implies that such extreme punishments would have to be reserved for only the most extreme criminals or criminal threat.
‘Suppose there was some physics experiment that stood a decent chance of generating a black hole that could destroy the planet and all future generations,’ said Dr Roache.
‘If someone deliberately set up an experiment like that, I could see that being the kind of supercrime that would justify an eternal sentence.’
Mad scientists setting up experiments that could pose a permanent threat to humanity? Hmm, I think we have some early candidates.
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