A vat here, a vat there

Published 10 May 2012 05:04, Updated 10 May 2012 08:18

+font -font print

Pity the plight of financial advisers when they have to contend with the impact of ever advancing technology. There are science fiction-like leaps occurring in nanotechnology, biotechnology, the growing of new body parts and rave parties. It is not overstating the case to say that we humans are facing deep and profound questions about our future as a race. The Actuaries Institute recently outlined some examples of what advisers may have to contend with (and no, this is not a joke).

1. How much of a person would be replaced before they are counted as legally dead?

2. If you live beyond 120 as a brain in a vat, fully able to communicate and able to participate online, and in virtual reality, are you still eligible for life-time annuity payments?

These are very pertinent questions that have really set me thinking. Here are a few other problems that I see coming down the future scope.

1. If you have fallen off a 25-storey building, reducing you to a small clump of blubber about 200 centimetres by 500 centimetres, then when the doctors decide to auction off your organs, should you be paid in a lump sum or with an inflation indexed pension?

2. If you have a brain transplant and develop an overpowering desire to become a geranium called Doris, should you apply for a vegetation bonus, or just dig in and smell the compost?

3. If you replace your left leg with a nanotech substitute that suddenly and unexpectedly mutates into a set of golf clubs, then what should your handicap be, and would Tiger Woods be interested if he is just a brain in a vat? I doubt it, somehow.

4. Is a nano-joke a joke that is not funny, a joke with a punchline so small it cannot be seen by human eyes, or a mouse with the ears of Michael Jackson and the left nostril of Barack Obama? And does anybody really care?

As we can see, these are enormous challenges that we all face as an aggregation of consciousness-enabled carbon molecules arranged in biped form and traversing the space time continuum somewhere in the known universe (or perhaps several known universes, depending on which string of string theory you happen to be hanging on to at the time). Pity the plight of financial advisers.


Slithershanks poked his virtual reality and scratched his interactivity interface. This was an exciting moment.

“Doll, I have come up with a way to increase our productivity deliverables and sprinkle some fairy dust on our human resources face time.”

“I hope it isn’t painful. We wouldn’t want to imperil that delicate constitution of yours.”

“It goes like this. We replace our staff with avatars and turn the whole operation into a video game.”

“Oh, excellent. Why didn’t I think of that. I know. Because I have a brain.”

“Well, you don’t need a brain, Doll. Just an artificial intelligence hook up to a synapse overload. But I digress. What we need to do is convert our staff to culture icons and holograph mascots. For instance, I can be Cary Grant and you can be Marilyn Monroe’s rather unattractive younger sister. The staff can all be trolls or slugs, or something.”

“And why exactly will this be such a major advance in our efficiency?”

“Well, it means that I will not have to say hello to any employees in the corridor. Or look them in the eye. I can get Cary Grant to do it instead. This will free me up to . . . ”

“Get that all day nap? Yes, I can now see how our productivity really will be improved.”


Banks Businesses that make money at the expense of all other businesses.

Commonwealth Something very uncommon.

Heart disease A phenomenon that is costing the community billions each year. Which makes one wonder why the community is paying so much for it, really.

Neo classical economics A form of economics attractive to neo cons and other cons. It is based on an understanding of history that goes something like this: “Six hundred years ago in 1903, 45 seconds after the Big Bang on a Tuesday morning during the Dark Ages, a part-time doorstop and Cambridge economist called Alfred Marshall discovered the principles of supply and demand hidden inside his large moustache. This excited him so much he decided to add terms such as “marginal utility” and “think of a number and double it”, resolving to figure out what they might mean at a later date. Unfortunately, he never did.

Poverty Something that desperately needs to be privatised so that it works better.