Larry Ellison and the human zoo

Pacific Ocean, off the coast of San Diego. 15 December 2018

The helicopter landed gently on the deck of the gigantic yacht. Sergey could see Larry Ellison, the boss of Oracle, being helped out of his wheelchair by his assistants. He was anxious to greet his guest standing up. 
Sergey marshaled his energy to create a good impression. It was the first time he had been out in an eternity. He felt nervous and unsure of himself. Wayne winked at him in encouragement.

Sergey waited until the copter’s blades had come to a complete halt before getting out. He took a deep breath and jumped on to the deck. Smiling, he walked briskly up to Larry Ellison. He wanted to look young. He was shit- scared of giving a bad impression. Ellison was a Google shareholder but, most important of all, he was a malicious gossip. He would have no qualms about spreading the word if Sergey had an attack.
Ellison was even more hunched and skinnier than the last time. The slightest gust of wind of could blow him away by the looks of it. He held out a limp, pale, liver-spotted hand that Sergey shook as delicately as possible from fear of snapping a finger.
– Hi, Larry. Looking good, he lied
– Sergey, so happy to see you. But where’s you wife?
– I came alone, Larry.
I am sorry. You know how much I like your ... Her name escapes me.
– Anne. My wife’s name is Anne, Larry.
– Sure.

Ellison was starting to feel tired. His legs trembled with the strain. Standing upright had become difficult for him. He clicked his fingers and his carers put him back in his electric wheel chair.
Oracle V was a veritable floating town. Larry Ellison had fitted it out to live there full time away from prying eyes. The old man controlled his empire from the ocean. Two heavily armed frigates were on constant patrol around the yacht to ensure his safety – the paranoid multibillionaire’s latest folly. Four hundred feet long and practically unsinkable, Oracle V was the most powerful private vessel in the world. It flew the flag of Lost Island, a desert island in the Pacific which belonged to Ellison.

The two men shut themselves away in Larry’s private rooms. Like all poor boys who’d made good, Larry had never managed to shed his bad habits. He had to show off and parade his wealth for all to see like some two-bit gangster. Plebeians bought art books online from Amazon. Ellison bought art online from Sotheby’s. Sergey pretended interest in his latest purchases – an autoportrait of Rembrandt and a sculpture by Giacometti. The yacht overflowed with works of art and items from 20th-century movie sets. 

They sat down to drink tea at a Louis XV table inlaid with marquetry. Pornographic Jeff Koons photos were displayed cheek-by-jowl with original Star Wars costumes and paintings by the Italian and Flemish Renaissance masters. It was all so overpowering it was nauseating.
Sergey swallowed a neurosoother with a mouthful of green tea.

– Tell me about your Parkinson’s, Sergey. Under control?”
– Nothing to report, Larry. As you can see, I’m in fine fettle. My doctors are positive.”
– Don’t believe those fool doctors. They’ll tell you anything to keep you in their clutches.”
– I’m real good, Larry. Let’s talk about you. Your artificial legs, when are they
scheduled for?
The operation is scheduled for the middle of next year. I asked the engineers at Toyota to tweak a few details here and there.”
– I can’t wait to see you get out of that chair, Larry. A guy with your energy deserves a better life.”
– I’ll be the first man in the world to get the new generation of robotic
prosthetics. Up to now the prototypes were only ever tested on animals. Officially, anyways.”
Man-machine fusion is slowly starting to look like something, Larry. And like always, you’re a trailblazer, the leader ever showing the way.”
– Come on, let’s not get carried away. I’ll probably feel pretty ne
rvous when I go into that operating theater at the idea of losing these two,” said Larry, tapping his old legs.
– You’ll be pleased with the result. I know Akiro Suzuka, the boss of Toyota’s robotics department. We were together at Stanford. You’re in good hands. I tried my best to hire him a few times but he can’t even think about quitting Japan.”
– He’s a top class yellow devil. If the legs work like he says they do, I might even be tempted by the prosthetic arms. They’re about to finalize the brain interface. Akiro Suzuka told me just yesterday that a guinea pig from the army, both arms amputated, could already peel an apple with a knife.

– How are your clones?”
– My personal clone just celebrated its second birthday, thanks for asking. It’s already as like me
as two peas in a pod. A lousy personality and an obvious flair for science.
– Great.”
– What about yours’?”
– He’s one year old. I’m not, you know,
ready, to meet him just yet.”
– I can understand that.”
– What about the other clones?”
– They’re growing up so fast! Life at sea isn’t always easy. All those kids bring a bit of life and high spirits to the ship.”
– Glad to hear it, Larry.”

Wayne was eating with Ellison’s men. They were screaming and shouting as they watched a base ball game. The noise was intolerable. He pushed away his plate and went out on deck to stretch his legs and breathe in the sea air. It took him more than an hour to tour the ship, explore its three teak decks, and some of its passageways. Oracle V was a labyrinth of cabin-lined passageways which always came out somewhere on to a tennis court, a swimming pool, a laboratory, a kindergarten, even a movie room.
Wayne came to a halt at the glass window of a games room. Some fifteen little children were playing with building bricks and scribbling on sheets of paper under the watchful gaze of three blonde women built like goddesses. The sight soothed him. This was his first outing for a long time and it did him good. Being cooped up at Mountain View had put him on edge. The last few weeks had been a strain. The Googleplex had become like a prison to him.

Sergey was no longer the same man. The brain implant had changed his personality and caused mood swings that were hard to handle. The boss had become paranoid and thrived on gossip. Only hot stuff in dirt files could raise his spirits. He had pushed his wife out of his inner circle. Sex tapes with starlets and dirty phone taps turned him on. Google’s share price and the stewardship of his business empire left him cold. Sergey had become a bitter misanthrope, focused only on his grand project. He watched over AI like a maniacal gardener over a bonsai tree. His baby’s progress brought tears to his eyes.
The scalability of the algorithm was stupendous. AI improved its codes at exponential speed. Even the most conservatives estimates from his cognitive ICT specialists put the critical development date at 2035, when AI would be millions of times more intelligent than homo sapiens, doubling its brainpower every six months, and becoming de facto the only source of progress on earth. AI would be man’s final invention. From stone carvings to Google, homo sapiens had given his all and had now reached the limits of his biological creativity.

Sergey was waiting for the singularity with near-demented impatience. He wanted to stay alive until the ultimate paradigm shift. The singularity would mean unimaginable changes. Non-biological intelligence was the key to his own immortality. Soon, humanity would be in the hands of machines. The singularity was a byword for posthumanity. And nobody outside a handful of initiates measured the scale, force, or imminence of what was coming.
Sergey had put his life on pause, content to wait. He had to survive at all costs in the prison of his sick, nauseating body until awareness could be uploaded. To kill time, he got his rocks of watching sex tapes and humiliating politicians. Wayne accompanied him on this destructive, deathly journey like a devoted servant.

He watched the children piling up building bricks with a broad smile. He was probably the best paid personal assistant in the world. But his mental health was invaluable to him. He wouldn’t be able to last much longer in these conditions.
Larry Ellison was fascinated by the American movies of his youth and the stars from the golden age of showbiz. He paid fortunes for snippets of the hair of dead and living movie stars. 

His precious collection of human DNA included hundreds of celebrities. With a resurgence in the incidence of grave-robbing, cemeteries had had to hire security personnel to stem the flourishing trade. A lock of hair or a bone from a famous star would find buyers willing to pay over a million dollars. Larry had paid ten million for Michael Jackson’s femur. And competition between fetishistic billionaires was as fierce as it was discreet. The heir to the IKEA fortune had snatched a strand of Albert Einstein’s white hair from under Larry’s nose for five million dollars.

Sergey held out. He put up with his host’s conversation throughout the interminable dinner. He stayed calm, polite, and not even the slightest tremor ruffled his hip entrepreneur number. Ellison bombarded him with questions about AI, how European bioethical legislation was evolving, his new Boeing 797 aircraft, and rumors that the governor of California was gay. He quenched the old man’s thirst for news. Since he had been living on the ocean and become involved in genetic manipulation, Larry Ellison had missed contact with others of his standing. He had cut himself off and couldn’t conceal his solitude. Sergey was one of the loyal few who were allowed to set foot on his ship. As such, he was also entitled to visit Larry’s laboratory zoo. It was a just reward for the effort Sergey had made.

A two-way mirror gave on to an enormous child’s bedroom. The clone of Michael Jackson, dressed in a genuine spangled suit from the Jackson Five days, was scribbling in a copy book. He paid no attention to the Supremes video that was showing on a giant screen. He was black as ebony, with a flat nose and fuzzy hair. He was more like Lionel Richie than the King of Pop.
Michael is three-and-a-half,” said Larry proudly. “He’s already got rhythm in his blood, believe me.”
– He’s going to need serious plastic surgery,” Sergey commented.
Michael will do what he wants. I want to be magnanimous and treat these kids like a father should, with humanity and respect.”
– Is he always dressed like that?”
– You’ll see, they’ve all dressed in their best just for you.”
– How nice.”

Larry peered at the bedroom command screen. The computer was looping through the entire musical background the singer had steeped in as a child. Genes alone couldn’t produce a worthwhile clone. The environment was just as important. Larry put on an old James Brown number.
– This song always gives him itchy feet. He’ll start dancing, you’ll see.”
Impassively, the kid continued his scribbling. Larry seized the microphone. – Michael, it’s Dad. Do a little dance for me, will you, buddy.”
Glancing rapidly at the screen, he shook his head. Larry raised his voice.
– Michael!”
Reluctantly, the little boy stood and unenthusiastically rolled his hips to the funk music. He did a quick moon walk, bowed, and went back to his colored pencils. Larry was over the moon.
– Well, what do you say?”
– Marvelous,” lied Sergey.

Marilyn Monroe was a pretty little redhead with chubby, freckled cheeks. She wore an immaculate white dress over her diapers. She was playing with a doll on the carpet. Another athletically built little girl was beating on a teddy bear with a plastic hammer.
Guess who her friend is,” asked Larry.
Looks familiar ... That face ... That haughty air, that self-assurance.”
Katharine Hepburn, two-and-a-half!”
Sergey was dumbfounded. He had always worshipped the actress. The sound of her voice made him melt.
Marilyn needed to share a room with someone. She’s, you know, psychologically fragile.”
Katharine Hepburn ...!”
My man had an incredible stroke of luck when he burgled her personal physician’s practice in Connecticut. The doctor could never bring himself to throw away Katherine’s blood samples after she died.
Katharine Hepburn, oh my God ...”
– As you know, she carries markers that predispose her to Parkinson’s disease. I’m relying on your foundation to find a cure.”
Sergey tapped the old man on the arm.
– It’s a matter of years, you know, maybe months.”
– That’s great news.”
– Can I go in and talk to her for a moment?”

Larry activated the door command. The faces of the two little girls lit up. They ran to their daddy’s wheelchair. They hugged his old legs, squealing “Daddy, Daddy!” Sergey introduced himself. Both model little girls curtseyed.
They wanted to please their father and perform for him. Marilyn suggested a song by the Pointer Sisters, while Katharine wanted to dance. They argued. Katharine’s voice dizzied him. He would have recognized it among thousands. 

The electric wheelchair whizzed along the ship’s passageways. Larry was proud of his zoo. Sergey followed his guide with quaking legs. The visit was entertaining, but gut-stirring.

Elvis Presley, at four years old the eldest of the brood, sang That’s All Right Mama and jerked his pelvis. The resemblance was striking. 
He answered Larry with “Yes, sir, Colonel Parker” and didn’t seem to know where he was. 
Larry admitted that he might have gone too far with the kid from Mississippi. He was the first of his clones and had borne the brunt of Larry’s still raw educational expertise. Elvis had been raised more strictly and in greater solitude than his brothers and sisters. The method had not paid off. He had grown unpredictable, bulimic, and prone to eczema.
Some junk behaviorist suggested playing him delta blues at night and rock’n’roll during the day,” confided Larry. “From the time he was an embryo up to two years old, he never knew what silence was.”
That helps understand why his gaze is so weirdly vacant.”
– Can’t make an omelet without cracking eggs. There’s another little Elvis under preparation in the lab. This one I’ll call Jesse Garon.”

Sergey felt as if he was in a dream that bordered on a nightmare. There was single-minded method in Larry Ellison’s madness. Breeding clones was just
another way of sating his passion and passing time until the singularity came. Whereas most billionaires collected sports cars and real estate, Larry devoted himself to turning reproductive cloning into an art form. There was flair to his folly.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers spent their time fighting. Larry had had no choice but to take away their colored pencils and any blunt instruments to prevent them killing each other. A beautiful blond nurse was changing Humphrey Bogart’s diapers while he relieved his teething trouble by chewing a felt hat.
He saw Frank Sinatra pulling Kurt Cobain’s hair. 
He saw Diana Ross steel John Wayne’s pacifier. 
He saw John Wayne in his cowboy get-up crying like a little baby. 
He saw Liz Taylor as Cleopatra having her behind ogled by a precocious gladiator with a dimple in his chin.

Eventually, Sergey begged for mercy. He was mentally exhausted. Larry insisted on introducing him to JFK, but he refused politely and claimed he had an urgent matter to attend to at the Googleplex so he could leave that day. He wouldn’t sleep a wink if he stayed on board the Oracle. He could picture himself starring at the ceiling, unable to get the children’s faces out of his mind.
One question gnawed at him.
– What are you going to do with the clones when they grow up?”
– What do you mean?”
– These kids are going to grow up. They’ll understand where they came from
and who they are ...”
They already know who they are, Sergey. We make it our business to remind them all day long.”
– Some of them might take it badly. They might turn aggressive towards you.”
The unstable subjects will leave the ship and pursue a career in show business. They’ve got fine futures ahead of them. In 2035 the public will be tolerant and
sophisticated. Cloning will be a non-issue, something as banal as basket- weaving or fishing. Believe me, Sergey, people will love ‘em.”

The long return flight passed off without a word being exchanged. Sergey was worn out. The coastline approached fast. His gaze wondered over the horizon that glittered like an army of glowworms. The copter cut through the night at full throttle, its vibration numbing limbs and preventing sleep.
Occasionally, Wayne glanced at his boss and thought of his future. He had enough money to vanish and start a new life under a new identity. He could buy a house on a tropical island. He could buy a boat and start fishing. Maybe he would even manage to lead a normal life far out of the reach of Google’s tentacles. There was, however, a problem: he had no idea what a normal life entailed. All he knew about the lives ordinary people led was what he saw on TV. He had been raised by his father, a military man, before going to West Point, serving in army special units, and then joining the CIA. The ABC of a social life and human relationships were unknown to him. He closed his eyes and pictured what everyday life with a pretty girl at his side might be like. A redhead with a Southern accent, preferably, like that Times Square hooker he used to see when he was on leave in Manhattan.
Running away was complicated and risky, though. He knew too much to hand in his notice and retire. In his branch of business and as deeply immersed as he was in the personal life of the master of the world, he could retire only on the day of his funeral. Negotiating was not an option. Desertion would mean a bullet in the back of his neck and winding up in a slab of concrete. The fantasy about the neat redhead was just a delusion, a straw of hope to clutch at.

The copter flew along the West Coast heading north to Mountain View. Since Los Angeles, Sergey Brin had been staring fixedly ahead. Occasionally he did actually faint with his eyes wide open. In two seconds Wayne could open the door and toss him out into to the void. The pilot wouldn’t notice a thing. He could say it was suicide, an act as sudden as it was desperate caused by Sergey’s illness. He smiled as he considered how stupid the idea was. Sergey was a good guy who suffered from a debilitating, still incurable, disease. He felt friendship and admiration for him. His desire to breathe fresher air was not connected to any sense of hate. It was the result of a stifling situation, a Gordian knot which no blade was tough enough to cut through. His fate was tied to his boss’s. For ever. If Sergey were to die, moppers-up from the government or Google would have no hesitation in bumping off his personal assistant to help him hold his tongue.

Wayne turned on the TV and came across a documentary. It was about the real life of some real people. A family of average Americans set off on vacation in their campervan. The kids were sang way out of tune in the back. As he watched, his spirits rose. It looked as if real people actually did lead shitty lives. 


Ray Kurzweil is dead

Carmel, California. 25 March 2018

Ray Kurzweil’s death was a bombshell. The media went wild. Conservative columnists ran ironic pieces on the high priest of transhumanism dying at only seventy years old. In France, Le Monde devoted two columns on its front page to his demise: The man who would be immortal: the Singularity dies ... young”. His death was attributed to the shock to his system brought on by vitamin supplements, the capsules he guzzled by the handful. The transhumanist media saluted the memory of the most famous popularizer of the grand NBIC convergence. “See you again,” headlined the Wall Street Journal.

A week after his death, crowds of loyal followers still gathered outside his home. The Singularity University, of which he was dean, changed its name. At the initiative of Sergey Brin and NASA, its two main shareholders, it was renamed Kurzweil University amid much pomp and ceremony.
Ray’s family had organized a last tribute to him. The entire city of Carmel was cordoned off. The crème de la show-biz crème were expected, as were the President, representatives from the Senate and the House, corporate bosses, and foreign heads of state. Not a single reporter or camera was allowed into the Californian Institute of Cryogenics. Squadrons of police kept the crowds at bay to let the limousines through. The most important guests arrived by helicopter, landing on the institute’s roof.
Marine One, an impressive VH-71 Kestrel, landed shortly after Google’s small hybrid helicopter. Surrounded by secret service goons, the President of the United States swept into the VIP suite. He was as handsome, charismatic and spectacular in real life as he was on TV. Jet-black hair, tall, athletic, and tanned, he looked like an urbane Antonio Banderas. A walking sex symbol with a top lawyer’s gift of the gab. That was why the people had voted for him: he was the ideal son-in-law. A model integrated immigrant. Fernandez liked golf, attended church with his family, was in favor of the death penalty and tracking down undocumented immigrants. Politically, though, his program was a mystery. He knew how to press the right buttons at the right time. He had come to power by reconciling chalk and cheese and won the election by reiterating a few sound bites that had hit home: “Technology means growth, but within reasonable limits.” People feared the future. NBIC convergence both fascinated and frightened them: “Our great future must be steered by biopolitical governance that puts humankind and nature first.” Joe public needed reassuring. During his second term Obama had gone far too far too fast. People had voted Republican too slow things down: “Our great future is everybody’s business. I say ‘no’ the apocalyptic discourse of the conservatives, and I say ‘no’ to the way the scientific and industrial lobbies worship technology.” With his Latin lover’s looks and reassuring discourse Jeff Fernandez had even won Europe over.

Sergey stood behind Ray’s wife and children. He had come with Wayne. Anne had been delayed in Europe an enormous deal was at stake. The European Commission in Brussels was on the verge of giving ground on gene therapies. The wall was about to fall. Nearly thirty years after the Berlin Wall came down, the genetics tsunami would sweep transhumanist globalization home.
President Fernandez was led to the widow. He assumed the air of gravity he used when he spoke of the fight against poverty or terrorism on TV. He took her hands in his.
– Please accept my condolences. Ray was an exceptional man.”
– Thank you, Mr. President.”
America owes him much. Speaking for myself, I read all his books when I was still just an ordinary lawyer. I had the opportunity of telling him so in Washington once.”
– He told me about that meeting.”
– Ray didn’t vote for me,” he joked, “but I believe that we were in agreement on essentials.”
– You’ll get the chance to continue your discussion with him when science brings him back.”

– I hope I do,” smiled the president. “Amen.”
The president did the rounds, slapping shoulders and shaking hands. He shook Sergey’s and winked at him at the same time. Nick Borstrom, the new boss of In-Q-Tel, was standing to one side having a drink. Eric Schmidt was next to him, hopping nervously from one foot to the other. Borstrom regarded Google’s number two as a fat slob devoid of interest. Nothing but a physically repulsive management man. He had benefitted from Obama’s largesse by licking his boots. And it had worked. The antitrust legislation had spared Google. But the new Republican administration worried Schmidt. A fat man who spent his life lobbying in Washington backrooms and restaurants, he had put on even more weight. He wanted information and hassled Borstrom even at funerals. Schmidt was Sergey Brin’s pitbull. He had the telephone numbers of the whole world and hassled, hassled, then hassled some more.
Nick was passing comment on the physiques of the show biz stars that science kept alive through gene therapy and stem cell injections. Robert de Niro looked about a thousand and had trouble walking. Mick Jagger couldn’t have weighed any more than 90 pounds but was about to go back on tour with the Rolling Stones. They had all booked their liquid nitrogen tank at the California Institute of Cryogenics. A million dollars for each promise of eternity chicken feed for the rich and famous. Rumor had it that David Letterman was no longer responding to his leukemia treatment. Eric Schmidt bet a crate of Château Petrus that he would be joining Larry King and Jay Leno in the deep freezer department before the year was out. Nick Borstrom said: “You got a bet.”
– We need to know what the president’s got on his mind, Nick.”
Borstrom shrugged.
– Nobody knows whether there’s anything in his mind. He’s a pragmatist. He governs by opinion poll.”
– Obama thinks he’s a public menace, Nick.”
Obama did some good work for us. But when he quit the White House, the attempt on his life had made him bitter and weak.”
– When there are no cameras, he gets around on crutches.”
– Obama hates the Mexican because he’s younger and more handsome than he
is. Am I right?”
– Right.”
– He use to like having you around, Eric, because you’re on the plump side. You
made him look good.”
The fat man sneered.
– Borstrom, you’re one son of a bitch. Am I right?”
– Right.”

The ceremony was not due to start for another ten minutes. The governor’s helicopter had been delayed by an electric storm. And with no reporters or cameras around, impromptu conversations started up.

The president loved big stars. He was chuckling with Katie Holmes. Madonna laughed at all his jokes. She dug handsome Latinos. The Material Girl was still a fine figure of a woman. The president had a soft spot for mature women. The secret service people knew the encounter with Madonna would have a sequel. La isla bonita, si si si señor.

Transhumanist funerals were odd gatherings. Few tears were shed. The most fervent believed firmly that one day nanorobots would bring the dead back to life. Others were reluctant to rule themselves out of the future. The exponential rise of scientific progress was a fact of life. Nobody had anything to lose. A long sleep in liquid nitrogen was better than rotting in a coffin, even if it was gold plated.

Sergey held Mrs. Kurzweil in his arms. He had known the Kurzweils since he had founded Google. Ray was a visionary. Sergey venerated him. The old man had been a second father to him. He had guided him as an entrepreneur, had advised him. He had saved him time. He had come up with the idea of hiring Eric Schmidt to handle backup matters. “The fat man will help Google earn billions in advertising revenue,” he had said. “He’ll push up Google’s stock. Larry and you will be able to concentrate on what matters: changing the world through artificial intelligence.” Sergey was shattered by his death. He would never see the old man alive again. Cryogenics caused irreversible molecular damage. Secretly he didn’t believe in it. Only consciousness uploads would one day bring immortality. Of that he was convinced. Uploading awareness probably wasn’t that remote a prospect. Ray Kurzweil had missed out by only a few years.
Kurzweil’s widow was exhausted by several sleepless nights. The hubbub in the VIP lounge was a strain. They were now moving to the prayer room. Wayne followed in their footsteps. Sergey motioned to him to leave them. The institute was more heavily guarded than the Federal Bank. He ran no risk.
– Obama cried off at the last minute,” she said.
– He hardly goes out any more,” sighed Sergey. “Especially when he could run into Fernandez.”
– I still can’t believe Ray’s gone. I can still smell him in the house.”
– I understand.”
I look for him in every room. When I wake up nights and put out my arm I hope I’m going to touch his warm body. When I go into his lab, I think I’m going to see him there with his nose in his experiments.”
They proceeded along Neil Armstrong Alley. The place was both glacial and superb. Pink marbled floor and personalized headstones at each aluminum container. In the six years since it had been founded, the institute had received into its care the remains of nine hundred people from the Who’s Who of business, politics, and entertainment. It was a lucrative affair. A subsidiary of General Electric, the institute had branches pretty much all over the world. The imposing California building had plenty of room for thousands more would-be eternals. Its reinforced concrete structure could withstand the impact of a jetliner. A powerful auxiliary generator sixty feet underground was poised to kick in at the slightest hitch. The corpses could sleep peacefully.
– Be patient. He’ll be back,” Sergey felt impelled to add.
– I want to join him, Sergey. I can’t live without Ray.”
– Don’t say that.”
I want to be preserved whole, I want us to be together again. I want us to meet again unscathed in ten, twenty years. I want our story to pick up again where it got cut off.”
– What are you talking about?”
– What’s the point of being with Ray again one day if I’m an impotent old lady. You know exactly what I’m saying.”
He held her to him and kissed her on the cheek. She sat there, no reaction. Her eyes empty.
– You need to get your spirits up. You’re still feeling the shock. Anne and I will help you get through this.”
She didn’t answer. They sat for a while on the bench, in front of the last
aluminum container in the aisle. René Angelil. The name rang a bell.
– This bunker and these metal coffins give me the creeps,” she sighed.
Industrial aesthetics has its enthusiasts. Ray used to love this place. We went up and down all the aisles on the day of Steve Jobs’s funeral.”
– Ray loved you like his own son.”
– And I love you like my own mother.”
He took her hand. It was cold.
– Promise me you won’t do anything stupid. Ray wouldn’t want that.”
– I’ll do as I see fit, Sergey.”
No resurrection can work if awareness isn’t uploaded. It’s a question of years, maybe months,” he lied.
– I don’t want to ride in the new history train if Ray isn’t in it, too.”
– I’ll take you home to our place after the ceremony. I won’t let you brood. We’ll take my plane and fly to Hawaii. Anne will join us there.”
She breathed in deeply. Shook her head slowly.
– I need to be alone.”

One after the other, the big shots delivered their addresses. The ceremony was webcast live. They all paid their conventional little tribute. A film was shown, a few minutes long. Ray at the White House. Ray in 2012 addressing Congress, defending Obama’s NBIC economic program. Ray explaining the principles of the Singularity in universities all over the world. Ray having stones thrown at him in Paris. Ray under police protection from attacks by Bioluddite protesters outside France’s National Assembly. Ray, the indefatigable mouthpiece of the transhumanist cause, preaching the same concepts year after year in the desert: Moore’s Law, exponential growth, nanorobots, DNA, virtual reality, digitizing human awareness, AI, cognitive sciences, gene therapy ... Ray topping book sales worldwide in 2016 with his best seller, "Immortality is Inevitable".
Sergey spoke after the president. Fernandez shook his hand before leaving the lectern to him. Sergey pressed his palm against the aluminum tank with its GE logo that stood on the altar.
“If Ray is lucky enough to emerge one day from his liquid nitrogen bath, which I hope with all my heart he will, he’ll have a considerable advantage over all the
other cryogenized people at rest in the institute. He won’t be surprised by the world he wakes up in. Whether he returns in ten, twenty, or fifty years won’t make much difference to him. For he had already broadly outlined the way world will be in ten, twenty, or fifty years ... We loved Ray because he was an altruist. He loved people and humanity. He never worked for money or power. He devoted his life to science because he had understood that it could be the way to a better future for humankind. Ray was one of those people who put America on the right track. Thanks to heavy investment in the new technologies early this century, our country enjoys fabulous economic growth today. If Ray had earned just one cent from each dollar his intuition earned America, he would be even richer than I am.”
The audience smiled broadly.
“But Ray didn’t care about money. Ray railed against money that slept in bank accounts. For him money was just fuel for funding research and working on the future. He used to say: ‘Why have five pairs of pants when four are enough?” All that mattered to him were our country’s economic success, the spread of its ideas across the world, and the freedom of the individual. All his life Ray fought for the rights of individuals to do with their bodies what they saw fit. He fought for women’s right to abortion if that was their choice. He fought for the right of deaf children to have cochlear implants and the blind to have artificial retinas. European bioconservatives caricatured the transhumanism which he stood for as if it was some kind of sectarian folly. The Polish president, whose religious stances have marginalized his country economically, has spoken about the ‘totalitarianism of machines’. In spite of the attacks, Ray stayed the course. He always put human beings and human rights above all other considerations. If, today, we live in a world that is free, prosperous, and at peace, where we can choose to repair our genes and augment our capacities, we owe it in part to the great Ray Kurzweil. See you soon, friend.”

The thunderous applause lasted until Sergey was back in his seat. Madonna and Elton John climbed on stage for a duo of Candle in the Wind. The deceased’s favorite song. Ray’s musical tastes had always been dodgy. 


Sergey Brin woke bathed in sweat

Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, California. 11 January 2018

He woke bathed in sweat. He had slept fitfully. A conveyor belt of bad dreams. Sergey Brin stared at the ceiling for a moment before propping himself up on his elbows. His mouth was dry as sawdust. He looked at his hands, watching for any sign of shaking, just as he had every morning for ten years.
He carried a genetic mutation inherited from his mother’s side. Parkinson’s disease had ravaged his family. He was terrified. The statistics were not on his side. Some day his hands would start shaking. Gradually, his central nervous system would change into a debilitated goo. Horror could strike any time, even very early sometimes. From the age of forty-five, anything was possible. He was already forty-four. Every time he watched TV footage of Michael J. Fox or Mohamed Ali, he was overcome by nausea.
He had already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research. So far, nothing had come of it. The geneticists floundered. Yet ten years earlier, when he had found out the bad news, he had felt confident. His genetic burden was just a wrong sequence of computer code that would never outwit science’s lightning progress. Parkinson’s was a bug in his biological program. Optimism was the key. Gene therapy or stem cells would rip out the disease at its roots. Mountains of cash had been channeled into the best labs in the world. Pure waste. Techno-medicine was advancing on all fronts, but Parkinson’s held out. Sergey Brin cried with rage. Time passed, stress fed his illness. Meanwhile, the rich were curing their cancers and reprogramming their DNA in the US, Asia, and Scandinavia. There were gene havens galore. The genome big shots took
care of the global elite in their five-star clinics well out of the reach of Europe’s bioethics laws.
Sergey was in a panic. In his nightmares he was in a wheelchair, quivering like a leaf, a thread of drool dripping on his knees. He didn’t want to end up like Howard Hughes, sick and crazy, filthy rich and paranoid. He wanted to go on living. He wanted to do complex things like continue reshaping the world. He wanted to go on fashioning humanity and living like a head of state. He also wanted to do simple things like swing on a trapeze and fuck his wife. Fear of losing everything gnawed at him.
It was already midday and the sun shone high in the California sky. Not a cloud on the horizon. Sergey Brin had returned from a business trip to China in the middle of the night, but he didn’t feel tired. He had slept like a baby in the Googlejet. He donned his sports gear and jumped onto the treadmill. He forced himself to do cardiovascular exercises every morning. Thirty minutes at 140 heartbeats a minute. He would sweat like a pig for the last ten minutes. Staying thin: the right defense against all ailments, said his doctor.
He watched the latest news on the liquid crystal wall screen of his gym. In New York, small Microsoft stockholders were still demonstrating in Wall Street. Same thing in Redmond, WA, outside the corporation’s head office. A ruined mother had soaked herself in gasoline then self-immolated. Microsoft shares were no longer worth a dime. In just a few years, Google had brought all the software editors to their knees. Nothing and nobody could resist. It had pulverized the world of ICT, Internet, and the media. Cloud computing had become the norm. Sergey was the head of the most disruptive business in history. Two billion human beings logged into its servers every day. Petabytes of personal data from all four corners of the globe. He was dubbed the Information God. The press described him as the Thomas Edison of the twenty-

first century. He had the power of a head of state. But it was a long time since he had got any joy from musing over such things. His priority was saving his skin. Like any good transhumanist, he got a hard-on from considering the exponential curve of scientific progress. It would one day be the byword for the immortality of humankind. But Parkinson’s was grit in his shoe. Right now, his billions and his influence were laughably useless.
He clenched his teeth and cranked up the heart rate. One hundred and fifty a minute. Wayne, his personal assistant and bodyguard a former CIA agent brought him breakfast and biomedication. He showered then slipped on a bathrobe. He washed down around fifty capsules of all colors with a glass of water. He was paying a fortune for all those tailor-made molecules. He swallowed a nutritional mash from a tube had sent across from Japan. Gross stuff made from seaweed, green tea, and caviar. Keeping healthy until techno- medicine reached its peak called for a few sacrifices. They was a price to pay for future immortality.
Wayne inspected his triceps in a mirror. The windows were wide open. Sergey thought he caught the scent of frying in the balmy air of Silicon Valley. He would have killed for a plate of bacon and eggs.