Sometime soon — maybe in our lifetimes — we humans will finally exceed our design limitations. We'll interface with artificial intelligences, extend our lifespans, and gain the ability to modify our bodies far beyond our current understanding of prosthetics. And when that happens, our capacity to make total idiots out of ourselves will be increased a thousand-fold. But sadly, there's never really been a posthuman Bertie Wooster. Here are a few pointers on how to write the transhuman fool's progress.
Just think about the era Bertie Wooster comes from for a sec: the automobile, the telegram and the telephone are both incredibly new, and they massively boost his ability to travel and communicate across vast distances. The first Wooster and Jeeves collection, The Man With Two Left Feet, came out in 1917. He's an early adopter, and the car and the phone (and later the airplane) play a huge role in setting up his imbroglios with his various aunts and suitors.
But all this technology doesn't make Bertie wiser or cleverer — the ability to talk to anyone, access any piece of information, travel anywhere — it just enables him to make more of an idiot of himself than ever. More gaffes, more misunderstandings. Wooster's propensity for tooling around the countryside in his newfangled car gets him into lots of scrapes. And then there are the cryptic telegrams and cables that launch many of his storylines. Like this one, from "Jeeves And The Impending Doom":
"A telegram, sir," said Jeeves, reentering the presence.
"Open it, Jeeves, and read contents. Who is it from?"
"It is unsigned, sir."
"You mean there's no name at the end of it?"
"That is precisely what I was endeavoring to convey, sir."
"Let's have a look."
I scanned the thing. It was a rummy communication. Rummy. No other word.
REMEMBER WHEN YOU COME HERE ABSOLUTELY VITAL MEET PERFECT STRANGERS.
We Woosters are not very strong in the head, particularly at breakfast time, and I was conscious of a dull ache between the eyebrows.
So what makes us think our posthuman descendants (or us, if we're lucky) will be any luckier? According to the internet's own disinformation campaign, "posthuman" refers to people who have extended their capabilities so far, that they no longer meet the strict definition of humanity. Enhancements could include neural connections to the cyberverse, artificial intelligence grafted onto our own, cyborg limbs, nanotechnology, mind-enhancing drugs or biotech, and unlimited rice pudding.
But extending our capabilities also means expanding our ability to make jackasses out of ourselves. It will be a jolly nuisance once we start receiving encrypted instant messages directly into our brains. We'll be stuck, in the middle of backing up our consciousnesses, trying to figure out exactly who tunneled that animated video directly into our visual cortex. And how to deal with that attractive but misguided young person who may have mistaken the grace and liveliness of those who have transcended ortho-bodies for flirtation.
The fabric of society will rend and fray, like our old blue jeans the first time we try to fit our new cyborg legs into them.
Our most private internal monologues will accidentally go out on an insecure channel for our brother-in-law to pick up. Our canniest plans to escape from social gatherings, or help our less-suave friends find romance, will dash to pieces because we were wearing the wrong pelvis, and sent diametrically the wrong signal. Or you'll forget to tie up your spare exo-body, and it'll stagger in circles around your favorite local bar, convincing everybody that you've finally succumbed to utter dissoluteness.
And yes, maybe our implanted artificial intelligences and neural networks will be wise and all-knowing. But that could just make them the Jeeves to our Woosters. I picture the A.I. in your head trying to advise you of the correct spoon to use at dinner, or help you navigate a tricky nest of social relationships. You'll get more and more dependent on the sagacious A.I. in your head, and thus more and more helpless if your neural link ever goes down. And whenever you disregard your A.I.'s advice because you know best, total disaster will result.
Not to mention, posthumans will have bizarre fads that make Wodehouse's weird affectations seem like nothing. There will be cyber-pants. You will sport hats emblazoned with the rudest thing your subconscious is thinking at any given moment. You will try backing up your consciousness and restoring it in a sentient aquarium, with some disastrous consequences due to incompatible hardware. It will seem like a terribly amusing idea to play tennis using your own head as the ball — until it suddenly isn't.
And then there are the aunts and suitors. If you think Bertie had a hard time getting away from his relatives and would-be relatives in the Woodhouse stories, just imagine how hard it'll be when everybody can ping him all the time. Our bally relatives will always know exactly how to get a hold of us, and our every move will be trackable by someone who knows how to track the IP addresses your brain piggy-backs onto. Your alibis will be futile!
So I'm hoping someone will take up the challenge and write the Wodehouse/Varley mashups we deserve. Give us the incredibly advanced, yet clueless demigods who may, if we're lucky, replace us on this planet eventually. And make sure there are lots of cocktails involved!