Our friend Dale Carrico, a rhetorician from the University of California at Berkeley, has written an incisive column for Betterhumans on "Technological Freedom Versus Technological Terror". He says:
Social discontent provoked by injustice is a primary trigger of violence and unrest. But we are fast approaching—if we're not already there—the extraordinary moment when technologies of abundance, intelligently administered, could provide new means to alleviate at last the sources of such discontent. Meanwhile, these same technologies will also provide new and relatively cheap means to express discontent with unprecedented destructive impact.
But the connection I have in mind goes deeper than the simple recognition that new technologies bring both new powers and new risks. I believe that the power of new technologies to redress the sources of legitimate social discontent—to end global poverty, to promote universal health and education and to develop abiding, genuinely representative and accountable public institutions—provides the only way to manage the lethal power of emerging weapons of mass destruction, as well as the relative ease with which they could find their way into the hands of those who would express or exploit such discontent.
Dale makes numerous references to the recent Lawrence Lessig essay for Wired that we highlighted in this blog entry. The point is that deterrence and surveillance are not enough; we must work to remove the incentives that would drive illicit use of powerful new technologies.
When devastating technologies become cheap and ubiquitous we must redress the social discontent that makes their misuse seem justifiable to more people than we can ever hope to manage or police.
His conclusion is reminiscent of CRN's mission:
Never has the need for global collaboration been more conspicuous. Never has the need to unleash the collective, creative, critical intelligence of humanity been more urgent.
The emerging threat of cheap and ubiquitous, massively destructive technologies provides a new reason to redress social injustice and the discontent it inspires... The existence of injustice anywhere might soon threaten you quite literally, and needlessly, with destruction.
Dale's column makes a nice companion piece to my January 2004 article at Betterhumans on "Nanotechnology: Time to Make a Choice".