Saturday, March 15, 2014


I think it was caused by
reading the Daily Mail.
Britain's Daily Mail isn't the first new site of choice if you're looking for, well, news. For every legitimate piece of journalism, there are about 50, er, questionable items, often involving the supernatural, weird science and celebrity gossip rejected by the National Enquirer.  Yet once in awhile there comes an article so fascinating that it demands to be read, if not respected. It's almost legally impossible to pass by a headline reading: Could we condemn criminals to suffer for hundreds of years? Biotechnology could let us extend convicts' lives 'indefinitely'.

The first warning sign of any headline is a the question mark. That's the Daily Mail's way of saying, "We're not saying it's true. Somebody's just saying it could be." They could write something like, say, "Was the Grand Canyon a landing strip for ancient aliens?" because some crackpot with internet access put up the theory on a website that happens to be 2,500 links away from the New York Times. (I just made up that headline, but someone's gonna make the claim sooner or later.) But the source the current Daily Mail question-of-the-week is impeccable: 

Sentencing a criminal to 1,000 years in an artificial hell may one day become a reality. At least, that is the claim of scientists at Oxford University who have been exploring controversial technologies that could extend human life.

They say billions are being invested in techniques that could mean the cruellest criminals will be kept alive indefinitely in condition befitting the crime.

Oxford, you say? The institution that gave us smartypants like Stephen Hawking and telescope guy Edwin Hubble? That's good enough for me, even if other grads do include Hugh Grant, Bobby Jindal and Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of Bridget Jones' Dairy, one of the most insufferable movies I've ever sat through.

Now living 1,000 years might not be your idea of fun, although Clint Eastwood seems to be doing OK. But how about experiencing it artificiallyScientist Rebecca Roache, believing some crimes are so heinous that 30 years in the pen isn't enough, says that a psychoactive drug could be developed that would make a prisoner feel he's served 1,000 years in only eight and a half hours. The same effect could be also be created, she says, by uploading the prisoner's mind into computer and running it a million times faster than normal.

The future official song of
Don't ask me how you upload someone's mind to a computer. I have enough trouble attaching pictures to emails. However,  how does releasing murderers from prison after eight-and-a-half hours serve society? If you really really really wanted to punish someone, wouldn't you keep locked up for life with this super-duper Windows system and make it seem like they've been there a kabillion years? (That's not the exact number, but I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure it out on my laptop calculator and gave up in tears.)

Ethics aside -- and isn't that always the case? -- there are far easier, less expensive ways to feel like you've lived 1,000 years. Off the top of my head, I can suggest listening to John Kerry talk about Crimea or waiting for my teenaged daughter to get out of the shower. (That last one might be cheating, however, since I think it really does take her eight-and-a-half hours.) I have no problem giving heinous criminals what-for, so if making them feel like they've lived ten centuries is possible, I can't say I have any objections.

But once those Oxford geniuses have created their anti-wonder pill, would it be asking too much to spend billions on improving the lives of the rest of us?


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