‘Thank you Dr. Krause, we will be in touch with the results of your application’, said the one in the middle, standing up and reaching his hand out.
There was no choice but to shake his hand and effectively acknowledge the interview was over. Krause tried to reason quickly, looking at this hand hovering in the air, but the sweat which kept furiously pouring out of his forehead must have interfered with his already limited social conduct.
‘Could you give me some feedback on the interview?’, he asked bluntly.
This question was taken with some surprise by the panel. The three interviewers looked at each other puzzled, then at him, as if he were some bizarre creature. The one in the middle, with the stern symmetric face and fading blonde hair lowered his hand and sat down.
‘Very well’, he responded, visibly annoyed, jerking his notes straight and adjusting his glasses.
‘This is not the usual proceeding but as this process is rather quick, we can get it over with.’
The man in the middle cleared up his throat, read his notes for a few seconds and started:
‘Although you seem accomplished in your field, we did not see a need to invest in this type of project for the extended future.’
‘Indeed, although brilliant, your field is rather limited and inapplicable to greater problems’, the woman to his right pitched in.
‘We simply have no interest in this type of work, honestly. It does not justify these types of resources.’, the bulky man to the left barked.
By now, Dr. Krause was already very regretful of his attempt of prolonging the interview.
‘For this pilot project, we are looking for outstanding scientists and inventors which have made world changing contribution in their fields and still have a lot of potential to carry on, for a long time.’, the middle man carried on.
‘Thus, unfortunately, we see no fit between your profile and our pilot programme in life extension.’ he said, this time without standing up, without a goodbye handshake, only a piercing cold look masking a sense of entitlement, like the executioner just after he drops the guillotine. ‘Thank you.’
‘Pour me another one.’
The taste was strong and on point, unlike himself. ‘How is my research not relevant enough?’ Krause thought. ‘We are looking at _________. I mean, what else, what else could be a more fundamental question than this?’
‘Calm down there.’ said a voice from across the bar ‘I’ll have one of those he’s having. What’s troubling you?’
She drew closer to him, pushing along the manuscript she was reading.
‘I know you, Dr. Krause. My name is Charlie Blanche. I’m reading one of your collaborators’ work right now.’
‘Let me guess, Kazev?’
‘Nice paper on ______, by the way, Dr. Blanche. You can call me Yves, by the way.’
‘Thank you. I used your work.’
‘Yes, that’s how I know about your paper. Still, not many people know exactly what I meant.’
The bar was empty. Fair enough, it was only Wednesday.
‘So why the drinking?’
‘No good reason.’ he felt suddenly chatty, though. ‘ Have you heard of this pilot programme on life extension by Temporal Dynamics?’
‘Yes, of course. Everyone is talking about it…’ she paused. ’I think it’s madness.’
‘Madness or not, I just got turned down. My life’s work is not interesting enough. I’m not worth preserving, it looks like.’ he continued, bitter and drunk. ‘You know, I don’t get it, I am the head of _______ group in UWA, I have been cited over hundreds of thousands of times. Who are these people to judge the importance of my work, if they don’t a fraction of what I am doing?’
‘Well, I guess these people have a narrow definition of utility.’
‘It looks like the only one that matters, if effectively means that you get to live forever under this particular definition of utility.’
Turning to the barman, Krause asked ’What do you think Gustavo, about this life extension programme?’
‘I heard about it.’ Gustavo replied, absent, looking over his two remaining customers to catch the highlights of the football game.
‘Hm. It’s nothing for me, it seems like something for these rich, famous or smart people. I don’t care so much. What would I do anyway, if I got my life extended and my family didn’t – my little son? I don’t think I would want to do that.’
‘That’s a good point.’ Krause said, realising it was something he could never understand, for he was childless and unwed, a single child with barely any contact to his family.
He drank in silence.
His ride was soon to arrive, as he tried to balance himself outside of the bar. The night was fresh and the streets quiet. The lights seemed like they had taken a life of their own, oscillating in front of his eyes.
‘Well, if you want to feel like the whole process is complete bullshit, I got admitted.’ remarked Dr. Blance.
But he didn’t. He felt relieved, if anything. She was a brilliant researcher, far better and more promising than Kazev, in his highly regarded opinion.
‘At least they made one good choice.’ he thought more excited than usual.
‘At least they made one good choice! You might just offset the bad choice of Kazev.’ he proclaimed, a bit louder than needed, as he stumbled into the cab. ‘Good night!’
He found himself in front of his apartment. Unlocking the front door was suddenly a hard task. He stumbled into his dark, damp flat, shutting the door behind him. And it suddenly hit him, at the same time as his stomach rumbled due to the alcohol, that the feeling of rejection was painful. Although it had never been something he had never though of two months prior, his failure made him feel inadequate. He looked around, at different shades of dark – and felt the emptiness in his chest.
It was half past eleven, Sunday night. They sat on the edge of the road looking down the city. There were some lights on, but not many.
‘Yves, I honestly don’t understand your obsession with this programme.’
‘Well, it’s easy for you to say that – you don’t have to deal with a panel telling your work is too useless to be prolonged.’
This was a hill Blanche often found herself in. It was on the path of her bike ride to work.
‘I don’t think I’m going to enrol in the pilot programme.’
‘I tried to reason about it – I don’t know. I think I just don’t have it in me – wanting to be here forever. Aren’t things beautiful because they are somehow time limited?’
‘Who cares? Think of all you can learn and make, all you can do. You can be almost a religious figure – but of something useful, of knowledge.’
‘I don’t want to. I don’t know how to explain it. It seems like a drag.’ she said quietly ‘Look at old people, they are so grumpy and jaded.’
‘Yea but that’s probably cause they are unfit, like they have joint pain or can’t move. The programme also preserves your health.’
‘Physical health.’ Blanche remarked. ‘I’m just saying… even now I have difficulty being a human being, connecting with others – I think it’s partially because I have lived enough to not be naive. I have seen that humans can be terrible creatures. I don’t know, I just always thought I was going to die soon, as soon as my brain stops being as quick or creative. And now…’
‘Maybe you can fix that.’
‘Your troubled relation with life. Isn’t it partly chemicals?’
‘Yea, but will that still be me? Will I still be a good researcher, creative and hard worker, if I were to appreciate life?’
‘I would think so.’
‘I don’t know – work has been an escape, a distraction from reality. I used to say to a good friend of mine, reality literally poisons me.’
‘Yea it’s terrible right now, isn’t it?’
She laughed. The last airplanes were coming into the city far far away. It was already Monday.
’We deserve a chance’
These words were sprayed across the main hall of the university in bright red. It was a reference to the life extension pilot project – the aftermath of the public lecture had been somewhat unpredictable.
A lot of students felt that it was unfair that only a few chosen ones were able to have their lives indefinitely prolonged, their memories and thoughts backed up.
Soon enough, pamphlets calling out for a protest got distributed over campus. Some pamphlets were borderline defamation.
It was rumored that a technology investor, well known in the field of artificial intelligence, had been chosen to partake in the programme. The problem was that he was also known for his radical views on humanity. Thus, words like eugenics, forced euthanasia, oppression, classism got thrown around.
The unlucky staff of UWA that got into the programme became victims of harassment. Every single aspect of their lives, scrutinised, to show these people were not good enough – but who, then?
Yves suspected the ones protesting didn’t have a good answer.
Dr. Gross had it particularly bad. He was a number theory professor responsible for breakthrough works in cryptography – effectively guaranteeing existence of privacy. He was though, a rather meek and unimpressionable man. The days following the lecture, hoards and hoards of students poured into his lecture in analytic number theory, not with the intent to learn but to disturb. It got so bad he switched to cancelled his course and switched to remote teaching. Over videos. Comments disabled. What a pity for those really taking the class.
Yves couldn’t help but even feel sorry for Kazev. His research has become the prime target to a lot of scientists and speculators. Yves understood, had he been accepted, he would have the same faith.
It got as bad as some of the candidates receiving death threats. Although mostly empty threats, they ought to be frightening.
This sense of entitlement was completely foreign to Yves. ‘Do these people not realise they might not be worth saving?’ He would think to himself, passing by the corridors filled with students, with a great part of them discussing this pilot project. Inhumane.
Was it because there was a national call for applications rather than a hidden campaign?
But Yves found himself wondering, what does it mean, to be useful? Most people are not very useful, in the grand scheme of things. Most people would have a negligible impact if they were to disappear. Yves felt strange thinking about people this way. The planet would benefit if most people just disappeared. There are only a hand full of people who really would make a difference if they disappeared. A huge difference for whom, with regards to what?