Re: Event on April 1

Date: Sun Apr 02 2000 - 12:58:45 MDT

Spike Jones, <>, writes:
> Let me interject this one comment. I had read Bill Joy's
> article in Wired, and came with many misconceptions.
> Had he published his exact pitch at the nerdfest instead
> of what was actually published, he mighta convinced more.

I'd be interested in hearing more about what he said. Ken Clements in
another thread said he described "a 21st century of man made pestilence".
To me this sounds like he was mostly raising the fears of artificial

One of the many things that annoyed me about his article was his coining
of the acronym GNR to represent the threats facing us in the future;
genetic engineering, nanotech and robotics. These are said to replace
the worries of the past, NBC: nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
I see that our knowledge-free poster has adopted Joy's acronym and
perhaps it will now come into widespread use like Brin's "transparency".

The thing is, it's misleading because really only the G of GNR is a
fear which modern audiences can relate to. Nanotech is still far off
in the future and I can't imaging Joy getting people riled up with yet
another talk about gray goo. The robotics takeover also seems awfully
hypothetical and even somewhat dated; Galbraith was writing in the 60s
about how automation was going to put people out of work. It's mostly
just a response to people like Moravec with their singularity raptures.
Furthermore the R "threat" is much more complex and nuanced, raising
the question of whether we can become or merge with robots, or whether
robots should be better considered as enemies or our children. All this
is lost in Joy's fearmongering.

The bottom line is that only the fear of genetically engineered plagues
is rhetorically effective today. And the irony is, the G of GNR is just
an updated version of the B of NBC! Genetic engineering is the modern
way of creating biological weapons.

We've lived with biological research, including genetic engineering,
for decades. Of course genetics is in the news today and everyone is
fearful, so we shouldn't be surprised when Joy exploits these fears
for his rhetorical purposes. But realistically, this threat is not
entirely new. With the right knowledge, genetics has never required an
expensive research lab. And of course there are any number of potent and
dangerous organisms like anthrax which terrorists could have access to.

I find it quite annoying that Joy is able to hitch his cart of fears about
all these future technologies to modern day worries over frankenfoods,
especially if he is going to downplay the threat of NBC weapons as an
issue of the past. Weapons of mass destruction are arguably much more
severe and dangerous, even today, given the uncertain state of the world.


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