FAQ: SOCIETY AND POLITICS
Nick Bostrom (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sat, 25 Jul 1998 17:15:47 +0000
Thanks for the continuing contributions to the FAQ. For this section
I have made some answer-suggestions for some of the questions myself.
After this one, we will have two more sections to do.
SOCIETY AND POLITICS
Won't new technologies only benefit the rich and powerful?
What happens to the rest?
- The typical pattern with new technologies is that they are expensive
in the beginning and get cheaper as time goes by. Take medical
technologies, for example. Cutting-edge experimental procedures are
usually only available to research subjects and the very rich. As
these procedures become routine, costs drop, effectiveness improves,
and the number of people who can benefit increases. Today, such
advanced facilities as laser knifes for removing tumors and PET
scanners for diagnosing neurological disorders are available to many
people living in rich, technologically advanced countries. Other
medical technologies have become cheap enough that even very poor
people can afford them. Vaccination has eradicated many diseases
throughout the third world, saving the lives of millions of children
and adults every year.
It is clear that everybody can benefit greatly from improved
technology, though perhaps the greatest advantage will go to those
who have the resources, the knowledge and especially the willingness
to learn to use new tools. Societywill still have to decide what
degree of redistribution from rich to poor is desirable; in that
respect the situation will be no different from today. Yet, the pie
that is to be divided will be enormously much greater.
This only applies to societies that embrace new technologies.
Individuals or countries who choose to resist change will be left
behind. They might not progress much beyond their present level.
Shouldn't we concentrate on current problems like improving the
condition of the poor people or solving international conflicts,
instead of putting effort into foreseeing the "far" future?
Kluytman(?): -We should do both.
Won't extended life worsen overpopulation problems?
[My answer to this became quite bulky so I'll post it separately.]
What kind of society would posthumans live in?
What happens if these new technologies are used in war? Might they
cause our extinction?
How will posthumans or superintelligent machines treat humans who
- It is difficult to predict how posthumans or superintelligent machines
will behave towards unaugmented humans. Hopefully they will be treated
with tolerance and respect. There is no obvious reason why happy
coexistence would not be possible - after all, humans live peacefully
with dogs and cats that are their pets. (Our treatment of food stock
animals suggests a much less appealing analogy.)
If unaugmented humans preferred to have posthumans living among
them, the posthumans would find ample lebensraumon other planets and
in other solar systems.
So it is clear that there are solutions that allow both those who
want to remain human and those that choose to evolve themselves into
posthumans to achieve their goals in harmony. There is room in the
universe for an enormously diverse ecology of different life-forms
and different cultures.
Can these solutions be achieved? Since we humans are the ones who
will build the superintelligences and become the posthumans, it seems
that we will be in a position to influence what their values will be
and what moral codes they will regard as inviolable. Transhumanists
think that tolerance and diversity should be given a central place
among the principles we instil in our mind children.
Do transhumanists think technology will solve all problems?
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics