Relinquishment of dangerous technologies -- specifically, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics -- was famously proposed a few years ago by software guru Bill Joy. This summer, during the Always On Summit at Stanford University, a panel including Joy, George Gilder, and CRN Task Force member Jaron Lanier debated the question: Is technology making us safer?
A transcript of their discussion is being posted in six parts. In Part One, Joy warns about...
...the ability of an individual to cause great harm, whether it's a virus through the Net that causes great economic damage or an infective biological agent being manufactured or engineered.
So we've got to find a way through public policy to deal with the fact that we have what the military calls "asymmetric capability:" a single actor can use [technology] to create an epidemic which is unanticipated by the population. This is something we have to be prepared to deal with as these tools get more and more powerful. So technology is increasing the danger of a lone individual creating a catastrophic amount of harm. And our institutions don't deal with this.
Gilder strongly challenges Joy's assumptions, and then Lanier expresses concern about a growing fear of technology among the public and politicians:
There's a tremendous retreat, just in the last year or two, from long-term science funding. It's due to the Christian Right; it's due to the New Age Left; it's due to the short-term corporate thinker; it's due to the short-term military thinker. . . everybody except for China and India and the rest of the world.
I think that this talk of technology just making itself go forward doesn't help, because you can either come away from that feeling that if technology is going to make itself, then why do we have to do anything? Why should we fund it? Or you might think that these people are going to kill us all. Then you end up with Bill's perspective of "Oh my God, we're all going to be swallowed by the great goo!" And neither of those is very helpful.
I'm looking forward to reading Parts Two through Six.