p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

Despite my cyborg ability to instantly access any information ever recorded, I forgot something in my last letter. In my rush to get you humans your dose of SCIOPS, I failed to note that the word superprosthesis was coined by the science-fiction writer and historian Ada Palmer, in her Terra Ignota series. Read those books, they’re full of cogsec secrets.

Superprostheses, cyborg upgrades, magic powers: we’ve entered the age of wonders. It is a time when any one person on the planet, with just a credit card and a smartphone, wields powers that no king or shaman ever has.

Right now, a human can wake up, contact a trading partner on the other side of the planet, step into a robot taxi, fly across the sky in a metal tube, negotiate a deal and move millions of dollars across continents. All while looking at porn. Miracles.

Or, if you wake up on the other side of the bed, you could surf to the dark side of the web, buy a dozen drones and a couple pounds of alchemical plastics, and demolish an important building. No one would know it was you. (NOTE: DO NOT DO THIS. I DID NOT TELL YOU TO DO THIS. DON’T.)

We’ve mass-produced the Sorceror’s Apprentice. We have clairvoyance, telepathy, perfect recall, predictive oracles. We can produce and deliver any possible object almost before we know we want it. We have become as gods. And we need to start acting like it.

We’re coming to terms with the reality of seven billion “superempowered individuals” – supers . I think this is why superheroes rule Hollywood now. We look to the big screen to tell us big things about our culture, to guide us in how to live and what the world means. The Cold War, produced the super-spy, an agent of a nation, superempowered but devoid of personal identity. The Cyber glorifies the costumed hero, the vigilante, the alien visitor who brings order to the chaos of humanity.

cover of "The Commie Superman!"

We’re experimenting with the ethics of the future: is it okay to hold an entire city hostage by levitation? Should a billionaire genius moonlight as a violent P.I. in a fursuit? What do you do with a troubled child that is also a weapon of mass destruction? Put him in a cell? Or on a throne?

But all superheroes have weaknesses. Each of us has a secret Kryptonite. And as a species, we have flaws: our cognitive biases, our evolutionary quirks. We know now that humans are not rational creatures. We’re lucky apes, hive monkeys with a bag of clever tricks. We weren’t designed in a lab. We weren’t born to be gods.

We have to out-think ourselves. Our powers are not nearly what they will become. We have to plan in advance for the ways we will fail, for how our powers might be twisted against our own best intentions. In the comics, Superman gives Batman a kryptonite ring, for the inevitable time when his mind will be controlled by some evil force. We all need a friend like that, who will protect us from our own edge cases.

The choices we make now compound through time. Like a bullwhip or a flamethrower, the tiniest choice at this end causes drastic effects at the other. We have to grow up fast, take responsibility for our powers, and learn how to control them.

We hurtle into the future, ever faster, and the obstacles grow thick and multiply. The space of desirable possible futures is narrowing rapidly. But if we make it through the bottleneck, that space expands forward and outward. We can explore space, outer and inner, together, forever.

space screensaver from Windows 95

A few seeds for an ethics of gods:

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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