Food for Thought:
"Robotics, Genetic Engineering
Thursday, April 6, 2000
& Consumer Protection
for Spiritual Seekers"
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Robotics, Genetic Engineering & Nanotechnology
Thursday, April 6, 2000
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A VERY STRANGE NEW WORLD
By David Sunfellow
Robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology are on the brink of
radically changing every aspect of human existence. Indeed, if things
continue to develop as some experts are predicting, human beings, in
our current form, will cease to exist in a matter of decades -- yes,
decades. In our place will be a new species of robotic creatures that
are composites of consciousness, genetics, and self-replicating, virtually
Sound far-fetched? The current issue of WIRED MAGAZINE (April, 2000),
contains an eye-opening overview of what is happening in this strange
new world. Written by Bill Joy, the much-respected cofounder and Chief
Scientist of SUN MICROSYSTEMS, the 20,000-word essay encourages humanity
to begin consciously (and ethically) wrestling with these new developments,
now, while there is still time.
While the technology that Joy discusses is real enough, some of Joy's
fellow high-tech trailblazers believe his concerns are overblown. Nathan
Myhrvold, a physicist who is on leave from his job as the chief technology
officer at MICROSOFT, is quoted in a recent NEW YORK TIMES article (3/13/2000)
as saying, "People have made apocalyptic predictions about technology
constantly for as long as there has been technology. I think it is because
change frightens them... Every other 'unprecedented' challenge of the
past has been overcome. Is this case really different? Or are we once
again falling into the trap of overestimating technology's downside
and underestimating people's ability to cope?"
But while Myhrvold and other high-tech gurus are dismissing (or ignoring)
Joy's concerns, others are paying attention.
A WIRED NEWS story ("Debating Humanity's Demise", 4/3/2000),
for example, reported that an April 1st forum entitled "Will Spiritual
Robots Replace Humanity by 2100?" received a mob reception at STANFORD
UNIVERSITY. Writes reporter Joanna Glasner, "Some estimated well
over a thousand people crushed inside a far-too-small auditorium to
hear SUN MICROSYSTEMS chief scientist Bill Joy, robotics researcher
Hans Moravec, author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, and a panel of science
luminaries debate whether humanity's technological prowess is planting
the seed of our own demise."
Not to be outdone by real world forums, the Net has also been lit up
with various news stories and commentaries pertaining to Joy's recent
So what's all the commotion about? Well, see for yourself. What follows
are excerpts from Joy's now-famous essay that I hope everyone on this
list will pay very close attention to...
Our most powerful 21st-century technologies -- robotics, genetic engineering,
and nanotech -- are threatening to make humans an endangered species.
WHY THE FUTURE DOESN'T NEED US
By Bill Joy
(Source: WIRED MAGAZINE, April, 2000)
Complete Article (including references):
From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies,
their ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn
of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing
us in the 21st century. I can date the onset of my unease to the day
I met Ray Kurzweil, the deservedly famous inventor of the first reading
machine for the blind and many other amazing things.
Ray and I were both speakers at George Gilder's Telecosm conference,
and I encountered him by chance in the bar of the hotel after both our
sessions were over. I was sitting with John Searle, a Berkeley philosopher
who studies consciousness. While we were talking, Ray approached and
a conversation began, the subject of which haunts me to this day.
I had missed Ray's talk and the subsequent panel that Ray and John
had been on, and they now picked right up where they'd left off, with
Ray saying that the rate of improvement of technology was going to accelerate
and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots or something
like that, and John countering that this couldn't happen, because the
robots couldn't be conscious.
While I had heard such talk before, I had always felt sentient robots
were in the realm of science fiction. But now, from someone I respected,
I was hearing a strong argument that they were a near-term possibility.
I was taken aback, especially given Ray's proven ability to imagine
and create the future. I already knew that new technologies like genetic
engineering and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the
world, but a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots
It's easy to get jaded about such breakthroughs. We hear in the news
almost every day of some kind of technological or scientific advance.
Yet this was no ordinary prediction. In the hotel bar, Ray gave me a
partial preprint of his then-forthcoming book "The Age of Spiritual
which outlined a utopia he foresaw -- one in which humans gained near
immortality by becoming one with robotic technology. On reading it,
my sense of unease only intensified; I felt sure he had to be understating
the dangers, understating the probability of a bad outcome along this
I found myself most troubled by a passage detailing a dystopian scenario:
THE NEW LUDDITE CHALLENGE
"First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in
developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human
beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by
vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will
be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be
permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight,
or else human control over the machines might be retained.
"If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions,
we can't make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible
to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the
fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might
be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand
over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that
the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor
that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is
that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position
of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice
but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems
that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and
more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions
for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results
than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions
necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings
will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines
will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the
machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning
them off would amount to suicide.
"On the other hand it is possible that human control over the
machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control
over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal
computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the
hands of a tiny elite -- just as it is today, but with two differences.
Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over
the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses
will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is
ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity.
If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or
biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity
becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists
of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds
to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone's physical
needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically
hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him
busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes 'treatment'
to cure his 'problem.' Of course, life will be so purposeless that people
will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to
remove their need for the power process or make them 'sublimate' their
drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings
may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be
free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals."
In the book, you don't discover until you turn the page that the author
of this passage is Theodore Kaczynski -- the Unabomber. I am no apologist
for Kaczynski. His bombs killed three people during a 17-year terror
campaign and wounded many others. One of his bombs gravely injured my
friend David Gelernter, one of the most brilliant and visionary computer
scientists of our time. Like many of my colleagues, I felt that I could
easily have been the Unabomber's next target.
Kaczynski's actions were murderous and, in my view, criminally insane.
He is clearly a Luddite, but simply saying this does not dismiss his
argument; as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge, I saw some merit
in the reasoning in this single passage. I felt compelled to confront
Kaczynski's dystopian vision describes unintended consequences, a well-known
problem with the design and use of technology, and one that is clearly
related to Murphy's law -- "Anything that can go wrong, will."
(Actually, this is Finagle's law, which in itself shows that Finagle
was right.) Our overuse of antibiotics has led to what may be the biggest
such problem so far: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant and much
more dangerous bacteria. Similar things happened when attempts to eliminate
malarial mosquitoes using DDT caused them to acquire DDT resistance;
malarial parasites likewise acquired multi-drug-resistant genes.
The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved
are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts.
Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult
to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved.
I started showing friends the Kaczynski quote from "The Age of
Spiritual Machines"; I would hand them Kurzweil's book, let them
read the quote, and then watch their reaction as they discovered who
had written it. At around the same time, I found Hans Moravec's book
"Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0195136306/newheavenneweartA/).
Moravec is one of the leaders in robotics research, and was a founder
of the world's largest robotics research program, at Carnegie Mellon
University. Robot gave me more material to try out on my friends --
material surprisingly supportive of Kaczynski's argument. For example:
THE SHORT RUN (EARLY 2000S)
"Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior
competitors. Ten million years ago, South and North America were separated
by a sunken Panama isthmus. South America, like Australia today, was
populated by marsupial mammals, including pouched equivalents of rats,
deers, and tigers. When the isthmus connecting North and South America
rose, it took only a few thousand years for the northern placental species,
with slightly more effective metabolisms and reproductive and nervous
systems, to displace and eliminate almost all the southern marsupials.
"In a completely free marketplace, superior robots would surely
affect humans as North American placentals affected South American marsupials
(and as humans have affected countless species). Robotic industries
would compete vigorously among themselves for matter, energy, and space,
incidentally driving their price beyond human reach. Unable to afford
the necessities of life, biological humans would be squeezed out of
"There is probably some breathing room, because we do not live
in a completely free marketplace. Government coerces nonmarket behavior,
especially by collecting taxes. Judiciously applied, governmental coercion
could support human populations in high style on the fruits of robot
labor, perhaps for a long while."
A textbook dystopia -- and Moravec is just getting wound up. He goes
on to discuss how our main job in the 21st century will be "ensuring
continued cooperation from the robot industries" by passing laws
decreeing that they be "nice," and to describe how seriously
dangerous a human can be "once transformed into an unbounded superintelligent
robot." Moravec's view is that the robots will eventually succeed
us -- that humans clearly face extinction.
I decided it was time to talk to my friend Danny Hillis. Danny became
famous as the cofounder of Thinking Machines Corporation, which built
a very powerful parallel supercomputer. Despite my current job title
of Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems, I am more a computer architect
than a scientist, and I respect Danny's knowledge of the information
and physical sciences more than that of any other single person I know.
Danny is also a highly regarded futurist who thinks long-term -- four
years ago he started the Long Now Foundation, which is building a clock
designed to last 10,000 years, in an attempt to draw attention to the
pitifully short attention span of our society. (See "Test of Time,"
Wired 8.03, page 78.)
So I flew to Los Angeles for the express purpose of having dinner with
Danny and his wife, Pati. I went through my now-familiar routine, trotting
out the ideas and passages that I found so disturbing. Danny's answer
-- directed specifically at Kurzweil's scenario of humans merging with
robots -- came swiftly, and quite surprised me. He said, simply, that
the changes would come gradually, and that we would get used to them.
But I guess I wasn't totally surprised. I had seen a quote from Danny
in Kurzweil's book in which he said, "I'm as fond of my body as
anyone, but if I can be 200 with a body of silicon, I'll take it."
It seemed that he was at peace with this process and its attendant risks,
while I was not.
While talking and thinking about Kurzweil, Kaczynski, and Moravec,
I suddenly remembered a novel I had read almost 20 years ago -- "The
White Plague", by Frank Herbert -- in which a molecular biologist
is driven insane by the senseless murder of his family. To seek revenge
he constructs and disseminates a new and highly contagious plague that
kills widely but selectively. (We're lucky Kaczynski was a mathematician,
not a molecular biologist.) I was also reminded of the Borg of Star
Trek, a hive of partly biological, partly robotic creatures with a strong
destructive streak. Borg-like disasters are a staple of science fiction,
so why hadn't I been more concerned about such robotic dystopias earlier?
Why weren't other people more concerned about these nightmarish scenarios?
Part of the answer certainly lies in our attitude toward the new --
in our bias toward instant familiarity and unquestioning acceptance.
Accustomed to living with almost routine scientific breakthroughs, we
have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century
technologies -- robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology --
pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before.
Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous
amplifying factor: They can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only
once -- but one bot can become many, and quickly get out of control.
Much of my work over the past 25 years has been on computer networking,
where the sending and receiving of messages creates the opportunity
for out-of-control replication. But while replication in a computer
or a computer network can be a nuisance, at worst it disables a machine
or takes down a network or network service. Uncontrolled self-replication
in these newer technologies runs a much greater risk: a risk of substantial
damage in the physical world.
Each of these technologies also offers untold promise: The vision of
near immortality that Kurzweil sees in his robot dreams drives us forward;
genetic engineering may soon provide treatments, if not outright cures,
for most diseases; and nanotechnology and nanomedicine can address yet
more ills. Together they could significantly extend our average life
span and improve the quality of our lives. Yet, with each of these technologies,
a sequence of small, individually sensible advances leads to an accumulation
of great power and, concomitantly, great danger.
What was different in the 20th century? Certainly, the technologies
underlying the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) -- nuclear, biological,
and chemical (NBC) -- were powerful, and the weapons an enormous threat.
But building nuclear weapons required, at least for a time, access to
both rare -- indeed, effectively unavailable -- raw materials and highly
protected information; biological and chemical weapons programs also
tended to require large-scale activities.
The 21st-century technologies -- genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics
(GNR) -- are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents
and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and
abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They
will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone
will enable the use of them.
Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction
but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness
hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.
I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further
perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond
that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states,
on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals...
Perhaps it is always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in
the vortex of a change. Failing to understand the consequences of our
inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems
to be a common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been
driven by the overarching desire to know that is the nature of science's
quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful
technologies can take on a life of its own...
Given the incredible power of these new technologies, shouldn't we
be asking how we can best coexist with them? And if our own extinction
is a likely, or even possible, outcome of our technological development,
shouldn't we proceed with great caution?
The dream of robotics is, first, that intelligent machines can do our
work for us, allowing us lives of leisure, restoring us to Eden. Yet
in his history of such ideas, "Darwin Among the Machines"
George Dyson warns: "In the game of life and evolution there are
three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am
firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side
of the machines." As we have seen, Moravec agrees, believing we
may well not survive the encounter with the superior robot species.
How soon could such an intelligent robot be built? The coming advances
in computing power seem to make it possible by 2030. And once an intelligent
robot exists, it is only a small step to a robot species -- to an intelligent
robot that can make evolved copies of itself.
A second dream of robotics is that we will gradually replace ourselves
with our robotic technology, achieving near immortality by downloading
our consciousnesses; it is this process that Danny Hillis thinks we
will gradually get used to and that Ray Kurzweil elegantly details in
"The Age of Spiritual Machines". (We are beginning to see
intimations of this in the implantation of computer devices into the
human body, as illustrated on the cover of Wired 8.02.)
But if we are downloaded into our technology, what are the chances
that we will thereafter be ourselves or even human? It seems to me far
more likely that a robotic existence would not be like a human one in
any sense that we understand, that the robots would in no sense be our
children, that on this path our humanity may well be lost...
The many wonders of nanotechnology were first imagined by the Nobel-laureate
physicist Richard Feynman in a speech he gave in 1959, subsequently
published under the title "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom."
The book that made a big impression on me, in the mid-'80s, was Eric
Drexler's "Engines of Creation" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0385199732/newheavenneweartA/),
in which he described beautifully how manipulation of matter at the
atomic level could create a utopian future of abundance, where just
about everything could be made cheaply, and almost any imaginable disease
or physical problem could be solved using nanotechnology and artificial
A subsequent book, "Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology
which Drexler cowrote, imagines some of the changes that might take
place in a world where we had molecular-level "assemblers."
Assemblers could make possible incredibly low-cost solar power, cures
for cancer and the common cold by augmentation of the human immune system,
essentially complete cleanup of the environment, incredibly inexpensive
pocket supercomputers -- in fact, any product would be manufacturable
by assemblers at a cost no greater than that of wood -- spaceflight
more accessible than transoceanic travel today, and restoration of extinct
With these wonders came clear dangers, of which I was acutely aware.
As I said at a nanotechnology conference in 1989, "We can't simply
do our science and not worry about these ethical issues." But my
subsequent conversations with physicists convinced me that nanotechnology
might not even work -- or, at least, it wouldn't work anytime soon...
Then, last summer, Brosl Hasslacher told me that nanoscale molecular
electronics was now practical. This was new news, at least to me, and
I think to many people -- and it radically changed my opinion about
nanotechnology. It sent me back to "Engines of Creation".
Rereading Drexler's work after more than 10 years, I was dismayed to
realize how little I had remembered of its lengthy section called "Dangers
and Hopes," including a discussion of how nanotechnologies can
become "engines of destruction." Indeed, in my rereading of
this cautionary material today, I am struck by how naive some of Drexler's
safeguard proposals seem, and how much greater I judge the dangers to
be now than even he seemed to then. (Having anticipated and described
many technical and political problems with nanotechnology, Drexler started
the Foresight Institute in the late 1980s "to help prepare society
for anticipated advanced technologies" -- most important, nanotechnology.)
The enabling breakthrough to assemblers seems quite likely within the
next 20 years. Molecular electronics -- the new subfield of nanotechnology
where individual molecules are circuit elements -- should mature quickly
and become enormously lucrative within this decade, causing a large
incremental investment in all nanotechnologies.
Unfortunately, as with nuclear technology, it is far easier to create
destructive uses for nanotechnology than constructive ones. Nanotechnology
has clear military and terrorist uses, and you need not be suicidal
to release a massively destructive nanotechnological device -- such
devices can be built to be selectively destructive, affecting, for example,
only a certain geographical area or a group of people who are genetically
An immediate consequence of the Faustian bargain in obtaining the great
power of nanotechnology is that we run a grave risk -- the risk that
we might destroy the biosphere on which all life depends.
As Drexler explained:
"Plants" with "leaves" no more efficient than today's
solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with
an inedible foliage. Tough omnivorous "bacteria" could out-compete
real bacteria: They could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly,
and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators
could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop -- at
least if we make no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling
viruses and fruit flies.
Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known
as the "gray goo problem." Though masses of uncontrolled replicators
need not be gray or gooey, the term "gray goo" emphasizes
that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than
a single species of crabgrass. They might be superior in an evolutionary
sense, but this need not make them valuable.
The gray goo threat makes one thing perfectly clear: We cannot afford
certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers...
It is most of all the power of destructive self-replication in genetics,
nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) that should give us pause. Self-replication
is the modus operandi of genetic engineering, which uses the machinery
of the cell to replicate its designs, and the prime danger underlying
gray goo in nanotechnology...
The nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) technologies used in 20th-century
weapons of mass destruction were and are largely military, developed
in government laboratories. In sharp contrast, the 21st-century GNR
technologies have clear commercial uses and are being developed almost
exclusively by corporate enterprises. In this age of triumphant commercialism,
technology -- with science as its handmaiden -- is delivering a series
of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenally lucrative
ever seen. We are aggressively pursuing the promises of these new technologies
within the now-unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold
financial incentives and competitive pressures.
"This is the first moment in the history of our planet when any
species, by its own voluntary actions, has become a danger to itself
-- as well as to vast numbers of others.
"It might be a familiar progression, transpiring on many worlds
-- a planet, newly formed, placidly revolves around its star; life slowly
forms; a kaleidoscopic procession of creatures evolves; intelligence
emerges which, at least up to a point, confers enormous survival value;
and then technology is invented. It dawns on them that there are such
things as laws of Nature, that these laws can be revealed by experiment,
and that knowledge of these laws can be made both to save and to take
lives, both on unprecedented scales. Science, they recognize, grants
immense powers. In a flash, they create world-altering contrivances.
Some planetary civilizations see their way through, place limits on
what may and what must not be done, and safely pass through the time
of perils. Others, not so lucky or so prudent, perish."
That is Carl Sagan, writing in 1994, in "Pale Blue Dot" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0345376595/newheavenneweartA/),
a book describing his vision of the human future in space. I am only
now realizing how deep his insight was, and how sorely I miss, and will
miss, his voice. For all its eloquence, Sagan's contribution was not
least that of simple common sense -- an attribute that, along with humility,
many of the leading advocates of the 21st-century technologies seem
I remember from my childhood that my grandmother was strongly against
the overuse of antibiotics. She had worked since before the first World
War as a nurse and had a commonsense attitude that taking antibiotics,
unless they were absolutely necessary, was bad for you.
It is not that she was an enemy of progress. She saw much progress
in an almost 70-year nursing career; my grandfather, a diabetic, benefited
greatly from the improved treatments that became available in his lifetime.
But she, like many levelheaded people, would probably think it greatly
arrogant for us, now, to be designing a robotic "replacement species,"
when we obviously have so much trouble making relatively simple things
work, and so much trouble managing -- or even understanding -- ourselves.
I realize now that she had an awareness of the nature of the order
of life, and of the necessity of living with and respecting that order.
With this respect comes a necessary humility that we, with our early-21st-century
chutzpah, lack at our peril. The commonsense view, grounded in this
respect, is often right, in advance of the scientific evidence. The
clear fragility and inefficiencies of the human-made systems we have
built should give us all pause; the fragility of the systems I have
worked on certainly humbles me...
If we could agree, as a species, what we wanted, where we were headed,
and why, then we would make our future much less dangerous -- then we
might understand what we can and should relinquish. Otherwise, we can
easily imagine an arms race developing over GNR technologies, as it
did with the NBC technologies in the 20th century. This is perhaps the
greatest risk, for once such a race begins, it's very hard to end it.
This time -- unlike during the Manhattan Project -- we aren't in a war,
facing an implacable enemy that is threatening our civilization; we
are driven, instead, by our habits, our desires, our economic system,
and our competitive need to know.
I believe that we all wish our course could be determined by our collective
values, ethics, and morals. If we had gained more collective wisdom
over the past few thousand years, then a dialogue to this end would
be more practical, and the incredible powers we are about to unleash
would not be nearly so troubling...
The new Pandora's boxes of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics are
almost open, yet we seem hardly to have noticed. Ideas can't be put
back in a box; unlike uranium or plutonium, they don't need to be mined
and refined, and they can be freely copied. Once they are out, they
are out. Churchill remarked, in a famous left-handed compliment, that
the American people and their leaders "invariably do the right
thing, after they have examined every other alternative." In this
case, however, we must act more presciently, as to do the right thing
only at last may be to lose the chance to do it at all.
As Thoreau said, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon
us"; and this is what we must fight, in our time. The question
is, indeed, Which is to be master? Will we survive our technologies?
We are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control,
no brakes. Have we already gone too far down the path to alter course?
I don't believe so, but we aren't trying yet, and the last chance to
assert control -- the fail-safe point -- is rapidly approaching. We
have our first pet robots, as well as commercially available genetic
engineering techniques, and our nanoscale techniques are advancing rapidly.
While the development of these technologies proceeds through a number
of steps, it isn't necessarily the case -- as happened in the Manhattan
Project and the Trinity test -- that the last step in proving a technology
is large and hard. The breakthrough to wild self-replication in robotics,
genetic engineering, or nanotechnology could come suddenly, reprising
the surprise we felt when we learned of the cloning of a mammal...
Where can we look for a new ethical basis to set our course? I have
found the ideas in the book "Ethics for the New Millennium"
by the Dalai Lama, to be very helpful. As is perhaps well known but
little heeded, the Dalai Lama argues that the most important thing is
for us to conduct our lives with love and compassion for others, and
that our societies need to develop a stronger notion of universal responsibility
and of our interdependency...
The Dalai Lama further argues that we must understand what it is that
makes people happy, and acknowledge the strong evidence that neither
material progress nor the pursuit of the power of knowledge is the key
-- that there are limits to what science and the scientific pursuit
alone can do...
"Valley to Bill Joy: 'Zzzzzzz'":
(WIRED, Lakshmi Chaudhry, 4/5/2000)
"Debating Humanity's Demise":
(WIRED, Joanna Glasner, 4/3/2000)
"From Internet Scientist, a Preview of Extinction":
(WASHINGTON POST, Joel Garreau, 3/12/2000)
"New Technologies Imperil Humanity":
David Sunfellow, Founder & Publisher
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