3 Body Problem: The Netflix present’s wildest query isn’t about aliens

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3 Body Problem: The Netflix present’s wildest query isn’t about aliens


Stars that wink at you. Protons with 11 dimensions. Computers fabricated from rows of human troopers. Aliens that give digital actuality an entire new that means.

All of those visible pyrotechnics are very cool. But none of them are on the core of what makes 3 Body Problem, the brand new Netflix hit based mostly on Cixin Liu’s sci-fi novel of the identical title, so compelling. The actual beating coronary heart of the present is a philosophical query: Would you swear a loyalty oath to humanity — or cheer on its extinction?

There’s extra division over this query than you may assume. The present, which is a few face-off between people and aliens, captures two opposing mental traits which were swirling round within the zeitgeist lately.

One goes like this: “Humans may be the only intelligent life in the universe — we are incredibly precious. We must protect our species from existential threats at all costs!”

The different goes like this: “Humans are destroying the planet — causing climate change, making species go extinct. The world will be better off if we go extinct!”

The first, pro-human perspective is extra acquainted. It’s pure to need your personal species to outlive. And there’s tons in the media as of late about perceived existential threats, from local weather change to rogue AI that at some point might wipe out humanity.

But anti-humanism has been gaining steam, too, particularly amongst a vocal minority of environmental activists who appear to welcome the tip of damaging Homo sapiens. There’s even a Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which advocates for us to cease having children in order that humanity will fade out and nature will triumph.

And then there’s transhumanism, the Frankensteinish love youngster of pro-humanism and anti-humanism. This is the concept that we should always use tech to evolve our species into Homo sapiens 2.0. Transhumanists — who span the gamut from Silicon Valley tech bros to tutorial philosophers — do need to maintain some model of humanity going, however positively not the present {hardware}. They think about us with chips in our brains, or with AI telling us the way to make ethical choices extra objectively, or with digitally uploaded minds that dwell endlessly within the cloud.

Analyzing these traits in his guide Revolt Against Humanity, the literary critic Adam Kirsch writes, “The anti-humanist future and the transhumanist future are opposites in most ways, except the most fundamental: They are worlds from which we have disappeared, and rightfully so.”

If you’ve watched 3 Body Problem, that is in all probability already ringing some bells for you. The Netflix hit truly tackles the query of human extinction with admirable nuance, so let’s get into the nuance a bit — with some delicate spoilers forward.

What does 3 Body Problem must say about human extinction?

It would give an excessive amount of away to say who within the present finally ends up repping anti-humanism. So suffice it to say that there’s an anti-humanist group in play — people who find themselves truly attempting to assist the aliens invade Earth.

It’s not a monolithic group, although. One faction, led by a hardcore environmentalist named Mike Evans, believes that people are too egocentric to resolve issues like biodiversity loss or local weather change, so we mainly need to be destroyed. Another, milder perspective says that people are certainly egocentric however could also be redeemable — and the hope is that the aliens are wiser beings who will save us from ourselves. They seek advice from the extraterrestrials as actually “Our Lord.”

Meanwhile, one of many principal characters, a superb physicist named Jin, is a strolling embodiment of the pro-human place. When it turns into clear that aliens are planning to take over Earth, she develops a daring reconnaissance mission that entails sending her brainy pal, Will, into house to spy on the extraterrestrials.

Jin is keen to do no matter it takes to save lots of humanity from the aliens, although they’re touring from a distant planet and their spaceships gained’t attain Earth for one more 400 years. She’s keen to sacrifice Will — who, by the way in which, is head over heels in love together with her — for later generations of people who don’t even exist but.

A man and a woman are seen from the side, each holding a folded piece of paper in one hand and looking toward each other.

Will and Jin, star-crossed lovers (actually) in 3 Body Problem.
Courtesy of Netflix

Jin’s finest pal is Auggie, a nanotechnology pioneer. When she’s requested to hitch the battle towards the aliens, Auggie hesitates, as a result of it might require killing a whole bunch of people who’re attempting to assist the aliens invade. Yet she ultimately offers in to Jin’s appeals — and plenty of individuals predictably wind up lifeless, due to a deadly weapon created from her nanotechnology.

As Auggie walks round surveying the carnage from the assault, she sees a baby’s severed foot. It’s a basic “do the ends justify the means?” second. For Auggie, the reply is not any. She abandons the mission and begins utilizing her nanotech to assist individuals — not hypothetical individuals 400 years sooner or later, however deprived individuals residing within the right here and now.

So, like Jin, Auggie can be an ideal emblem of the pro-human place — and but she lives out that place in a very completely different approach. She is just not content material to sacrifice individuals at present for the mere likelihood at serving to individuals tomorrow.

But essentially the most attention-grabbing character is Will, a humble science instructor who’s given the possibility to enter house and do humanity a serious stable by gathering intel on the aliens. When the person in control of the mission vets Will for the gig, he asks Will to signal a loyalty oath to humanity — to swear that he’ll by no means renege and facet with the aliens.

Will refuses. “They might end up being better than us,” he says. “Why would I swear loyalty to us if they could end up being better?”

It’s a radical open-mindedness to the likelihood that we people may actually suck — and that possibly we don’t need to be the protagonists of the universe’s story. If one other species is healthier, kinder, extra ethical, ought to our allegiance be to furthering these values, or to the species we occur to be a part of?

The pro-humanist imaginative and prescient

As we’ve seen, there are alternative ways to dwell out pro-humanism. In philosophy circles, there are names for these completely different approaches. While Auggie is a “neartermist,” centered on fixing issues that have an effect on individuals at present, Jin is a basic “longtermist.”

At its core, longtermism is the concept that we should always care extra about positively influencing the long-term way forward for humanity — a whole bunch, 1000’s, and even hundreds of thousands of years from now. The concept emerged out of efficient altruism (EA), a broader social motion devoted to wielding motive and proof to do essentially the most good doable for the most individuals.

Longtermists typically speak about existential dangers. They care so much about ensuring, for instance, that runaway AI doesn’t render Homo sapiens extinct. For essentially the most half, Western society doesn’t assign a lot worth to future generations, one thing we see in our struggles to cope with long-term threats like local weather change. But as a result of longtermists assign future individuals as a lot ethical worth as current individuals, and there are going to be far more individuals alive sooner or later than there at the moment are, longtermists are particularly centered on staving off dangers that would erase the possibility for these future individuals to exist.

The poster boy for longtermism, Oxford thinker and founding EA determine Will MacAskill, revealed a guide on the worldview known as What We Owe the Future. To him, avoiding extinction is sort of a sacrosanct responsibility. He writes:

With nice rarity comes nice accountability. For 13 billion years, the identified universe was devoid of consciousness … Now and within the coming centuries, we face threats that would kill us all. And if we mess this up, we mess it up endlessly. The universe’s self-understanding may be completely misplaced … the temporary and slender flame of consciousness that sparkled for some time can be extinguished endlessly.

There are just a few eyebrow-raising anthropocentric concepts right here. How assured are we that the universe was or can be barren of very smart life with out humanity? “Highly intelligent” by whose lights — humanity’s? And are we so certain that the universe can be meaningless with out human minds to expertise it?

But this mind-set is fashionable amongst tech billionaires like Elon Musk, who talks about the necessity to colonize Mars as “life insurance” for the human species as a result of we’ve got “a duty to maintain the light of consciousness” quite than going extinct.

Musk describes MacAskill’s guide as “a close match for my philosophy.”

The transhumanist imaginative and prescient

An in depth match — however not an ideal match.

Musk has loads of commonalities with the pro-human camp, together with his view that we should always make plenty of infants with the intention to stave off civilizational collapse. But he’s arguably a bit nearer to that unusual combo of pro-humanism and anti-humanism that we all know as “transhumanism.”

Hence Musk’s firm Neuralink, which not too long ago implanted a mind chip in its first human topic. The final purpose, in Musk’s personal phrases, is “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” He desires to develop a expertise that helps people “merg[e] with AI” in order that we gained’t be “left behind” as AI turns into extra refined.

In 3 Body Problem, the closest parallel for this strategy is the anti-humanist faction that desires to assist the aliens, not out of a perception that people are so horrible they need to be completely destroyed, however out of a hope that people simply may be redeemable with an infusion of the suitable data or expertise.

On the present, that expertise comes by way of aliens; in our world, it’s perceived to be coming by way of AI. But whatever the specifics, that is an strategy that claims: Let the overlords come. Don’t attempt to beat ’em — be a part of ’em.

It ought to come as no shock that the anti-humanists in 3 Body Problem seek advice from the aliens as “Our Lord.” That makes whole sense, on condition that they’re viewing the aliens as a supremely highly effective pressure that exists exterior themselves and may propel them to the next type of consciousness. If that’s not God, what’s?

In truth, transhumanist considering has a really lengthy non secular pedigree. In the early 1900s, French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argued that we might use tech to nudge alongside human evolution and thereby convey concerning the kingdom of God; melding people and machines would result in “a state of super-consciousness” the place we develop into a brand new enlightened species.

Teilhard influenced his pal Julian Huxley, an evolutionary biologist who popularized the time period “transhumanism” (and the brother of Brave New World creator Aldous Huxley). That influenced the futurist Ray Kurzweil, who in flip formed the considering of Musk and lots of Silicon Valley tech heavyweights.

Some individuals at present have even fashioned explicitly non secular actions round worshiping AI or utilizing AI to maneuver humanity towards godliness, from Martine Rothblatt’s Terasem motion to the Mormon Transhumanist Association to Anthony Levandowski’s short-lived Way of the Future church. “Our Lord,” certainly.

The anti-humanist imaginative and prescient

Hardcore anti-humanists go a lot farther than the transhumanists. In their view, there’s no motive to maintain humanity alive.

The thinker Eric Dietrich, for instance, argues that we should always construct “the better robots of our nature” — machines that may outperform us morally — after which hand over the world to what he calls “Homo sapiens 2.0.” Here is his modest proposal:

Let’s construct a race of robots that implement solely what is gorgeous about humanity, that don’t really feel any evolutionary tug to commit sure evils, after which allow us to — the people — exit stage left, abandoning a planet populated with robots that, whereas not good angels, will however be an enormous enchancment over us.

Another thinker, David Benatar, argued in his 2006 guide Better Never to Have Been, that the universe wouldn’t be any much less significant or priceless if humanity have been to fade. “The concern that humans will not exist at some future time is either a symptom of human arrogance … or is some misplaced sentimentalism,” he wrote.

Whether or not you assume we’re the one clever life within the universe is vital right here. If there are many civilizations on the market, the stakes of humanity going extinct are a lot decrease from a cosmic perspective.

In 3 Body Problem, the characters know for a proven fact that there’s different clever life on the market. This makes it tougher for the pro-humanists to justify their place: on what grounds, apart from primary survival intuition, can they actually argue that it’s vital for humanity to proceed present?

Will may be the character with essentially the most compelling response to this central query. When he refuses to signal the loyalty oath to humanity, he exhibits that he’s neither dogmatically pro-humanist nor dogmatically anti-humanist. His loyalty is to sure values, like kindness.

In the absence of certainty about who enacts these values finest — people or aliens — he stays species-agnostic.

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