Responses to Joy in Wired

Date: Wed Jun 14 2000 - 09:44:10 MDT

The July issue of Wired (the one with Sealand/HavenCo on the cover)
has about ten pages of responses to Bill Joy's article on the danger of
21st century technologies. 85 different readers respond.

I expected, given Wired's generally upbeat take on the prospects
for future technology, that readers would rake Joy over the coals
as we have done here. To my disappointment, most of the responses
are generally favorable. At a minimum they applaud Joy and Wired for
publishing this "important" document and bringing these issues forward
for public discussion. Many of them express agreement with Joy's (and
the Unabomber's) forebodings.

Even names which I recognize as being technology advocates often have
something good to say about Joy's warning:

Bruce Sterling, author, Distraction: It's a good, healthy development to
see some ubergeek guy come out of the obscurantist shadows, step right
up to the public podium like a responsible adult, and bluntly come up
with a moral crisis and a personal confession.... I strongly approve
of this approach on his part; clearly you should always have the moral
crisis *first*.

Tim O'Reilly, president, O'Reilly & Associates: I am mindful of the
farewell speech that Sir Joshua Reynolds gave to the Academy - his
repudiation of a lifetime of academic art, and a call for a return to the
passion of Michelangelo. Edmund Burke, who was in the audience, rose up
and strode down the aisle, saying, "I've heard an angel speak." I could
only wish that our own political leaders would be so moved by Joy's words.

Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines: Bill
Joy and I have dialogued on this issue both publicly and privately, and
we both believe that technology will and should progress, and that we need
to be actively concerned with the dark side. If Bill and I disagree, it's
on the granularity of relinquishment that is both feasible and desirable.
  Abandonment of broad areas of technology will only push them
underground, where development would continue unimpeded by ethics
and regulation. In such a situation, it would be the less stable,
less responsible practitioners (e.g., the terrorists) who would have
all the expertise.
  I do think that relinquishment at the right level needs to be part
of our ethical response to the dangers of 21st-century technologies.
By itself, fine-grained relinquishment won't solve these problems, but
it will give us more time to develop the necessary defensive technologies.

Vernor Vinge, author, A Deepness in the Sky: Granularity of relinquishment
is a nice way to think about all this. There may also be categories
or levels. Categories of relinquishment that require nonrelinquished
enforcement are probably bad. Hopefully the debate will continue into
post-human forums :-).

It appears that "relinquishment" will be the new buzzword for the 21st
century, with the debate only over which technologies go on the Index
of Forbidden Works. I'm sure we can count on every interest group
which hopes to coerce others to find ways to couch their demands in the
language of relinquishment. I can't wait to see what Greenpeace or the
Moral Majority call for us to relinquish next.


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