Dangers of New Age Technologies

Dangers of New Age Technologies

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Dangers of New Age Technologies

Bill Joy in her article expresses deep pessimism about the rise of new technologies that keep being produced in this century. He puts across several reasons against it and reiterates the need to curb the need for making machines that may eventually come to overpower the human race. This is because as we make more complex machines, even more complex problems will arise during our interactions with the machines in such a manner that we will be forced to allow the machines operate on their own. A direct consequence of doing that will be that we will no longer have control over the machines’ action-a potentially catastrophic scenario. The author also puts across the point that in the event human beings decide to retain a level of control over the machines, particularly the large complex ones, and then the whole population will be at the mercy of a tiny elite. The sheer ability of complex machines to do practically what human beings can, will pre-empt the need for the population and give the elite the ability to do whatever they want with the population, be it extermination or just ensuring they live with no significant purpose in life. The author thus states, “Of course, life will be so purposeless…”

The author also describes the law of unintended consequences from Kaczynski’s dystopian vision which explains that in the design and usage of complex technology, any changes to the particular system can bring out unforeseen problems especially when human action is involved. He gives the example of the use of antibiotics which as direct consequence gives rise to even more antibiotic resistant bacteria. Bill Joy also expresses concern with the new 21st century technologies like nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics which share the ability to self-replicate. This is especially dangerous today, considering most of these technologies can be acquired through simply acquiring sufficient knowledge to enable their use. This has the potential of creating destructive machines, something the author describes as “…not just weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD)…” . He tries to explain this by faulting technologists’ and scientists’ fixation with innovation and discovery in such a manner that they lose sight of the consequences of their inventions.

Bill joy also puts forward the two goals of robotics. The intelligent machines attempt to substitute human input and do work on our behalf, and more troublingly, also attempt to have human consciousness thereby achieving something close to immortality. This would create a scenario where humanity will gradually be lost thereby creating a moral and ethical dilemma. This same dilemma would be encountered in genetic engineering where the possibility of human cloning would threaten the very essence of democracy and challenge the notion of equality in the human population. Nanotechnology, just like nuclear technology, has clear terrorist and military uses and is far easier to create its destructive uses than destructive ones. As a result all these issues concerned with the new 21st century technologies should give us reason enough to sit down and chart a way forward in our interaction with them.

The only realistic way the author thinks is possible to limit the rise of dangerous technologies would be relinquishment. That is, limiting the need to know certain kinds of knowledge. This in itself goes against the natural instincts of human beings to always seek knowledge and the author states as such, “We have, as a bedrock value in our society, long agreed on the value of open access to information…”However we should guard against being our own worst enemy in as far as access of information is concerned. The author states that we should agree on how exactly we can move forward in this New Age through having constructive dialogue and agreeing on the right way based on our collective ethics, morals and values. Bill Joy also states that relinquishment is very possible, even giving the example of the unilateral US abandonment of the development of biological weapons. The only possible drawback would be to do with the verification of relinquishment. However, he suggests a way around this by suggesting the adoption of a strong code of ethical conduct among the engineers and scientists. There would also be the need for new protection policy for intellectual property in the event that proprietary information would be required to enable enforcement of relinquishment.

In conclusion, I find Bill Joy’s argument about limiting the advancement of 21st technology as convincing enough for all of us to take stalk of it all and chart the way forward especially considering the present capitalistic society, where there is constant competition for better innovations without a keen look at the future repercussions. This partly explains the reason for pessimism as too many major companies are always in a constant race to outdo each other in such a manner that ethical moral conduct are more or less likely to be thrown out of the window in the pursuit of superior technological inventions.


“Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” (pp. 285-301), Bill Joy