Column Jim Stolze: The 4 Pills From Steinbuch

The 4 pills from Steinbuch

Since I have been giving speeches on behalf of SingularityU The Netherlands, I have had the pleasure to collaborate with Eindhovens favorite professor: Maarten Steinbuch. Last week we both performed for the top 100 of an energy company. I talked about the future of algorithms and Steinbuch engaged in a remarkable thought-experiment.

He told the audience about a number of imaginary pills. I will first tell you what they do and then you have to choose at least one, but no more than two. Will you join?

Each pills gives you a present. After you take the first pill for instance, you will instantly speak an extra language. Japanese, Russian, Spanish, whatever you want. The second pill goes a bit further. This one consists of a number of ‘nanobots’, which will, through your bloodstream, look for defects in your body and repair them immediately. This pill will assure you to reach the age of 150. The third pill is similar to the second one, but without a limit. Thanks to this pill you will have eternal life. And finally, the fourth pill. You may take this with you to someday counteract the effect of one of the other pills.

Have you made a choice yet? It won’t surprise you that the participants chose the first pill without hesitation. There is little harm in adding some extra information to the motherboard of the brains.

The second pill was preferred by some 20 percent of the respondents. These are generally optimistic people who find the guarantee for a long life rather attractive. Only a handful of people will choose the third pill. This number doubles as soon as they hear that pill 4 can help out in case eternal life does not meet expectations.

What strikes me is that most people would rather not make a choice at all. They have difficulty assessing the possible consequences. We find it difficult to talk about these matters. Still we need to make a start with it very soon.


Uploading knowledge?

As the mentioned pills are closer than you think. Computer scientist Nicolas Negreponte predicted as early as 1984 that we would once have computers in the shape of touchable glass, the touch-screen. He now states that in due course we will insert software into our bodies by means of pills. Swallow once and you know the complete works of Shakespeare by heart.

Ageing is also being challenged. Silicon Valley millionaires are fascinated by the “longevity escape velocity”.  That is the situation in which the scientific progress with respect to fighting the ageing process always stays a touch ahead of the actual degeneration of the longest living. Still others assume that they can upload their thoughts and memories to the cloud and thus become immortal.

And professor Steinbuch? He gives his own twist to the experiment. If he had to choose, he would choose two eternal-life-pills. One for himself, and one for his wife. They have worked out their plans by now. Every 100 years they may retire twice and then simply start over again.

Are you ready for you pill?