I’ve been meaning to post these for a while, but am just now getting to it.
A few years ago I read the following article:
For those of you that don’t know, Bill Joy was the Chief Scientist at Sun for years… Anyway, after reading it, I sent it to my Dad to get his opinions, and we had a few emails back and forth over it, that I thought was “blog worthy. (And note that these were written around November of 2001…
First, I sent it to Dad with this intro
I don’t know if you still read Wired or not. It’s Bill Joy’s article from April 2000 “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” If you read it, what do you think? If not, I recommend it.
And he responded with:
The general subject of the article is something I began to think about a little more than 30 years ago. About 10 tears ago, because I believe in God, I decided to put the right answers to the questions raised by the article among what I call “God’s Secrets” which are only unlocked by my faith in Him. So that you don’t think that I didn’t try to resolve these questions before I turned to my faith, let me explain how I arrived at my answer.
This article has either been written or verbalized countless times throughout all of human history. The general structure of such articles or polemics has always been that something is on the horizon that has the
potential to destroy the human race. In retrospect as we look at past instances of this phenomenon, the common thread has always been the “Armageddon lag time” (forces of evil) between the arrival of the threat to
Humankind and the “birth lead time” (forces of good) and the arrival of the solution for Humankind. The antidote never arrived with the poison. We look back and consider all the past instances of such ill-timed threats to have been simple to counter and we can’t understand why they constituted threats to our preservation. We look at ours today and say that these are truly the threats that have the potential to do us in. What we need to think about was the inventory of tools available to each period in history facing such threats and realize that the state of human invention and wisdom for the antidote was somewhere behind in time the state of invention and wisdom of the threat. Since today we have all the invention and wisdom to counter all the past threats, we think that occurred prior to us should have been simple to solve. So today we face myriad threats to our preservation, all of which the counters to each are lagging way behind in our human inventory of invention and wisdom. It’s God’s version of “just in time” inventory management, and it is my faith in him that says He will deliver as he has in the past. So now, let me explain even further how He manages to do that.
There are three laws that God uses to govern His “just in time” inventory management.
1) Evolution and therefore discovery are God’s gifts to us as is all that is made possible by these gifts.
2) What God has made possible Humankind will do; what God has made impossible man cannot know and will therefore not do.
3) The precipice between threat and solution is the discriminator God has placed between Humankind and all else.
This discriminator starts with reason and ends with faith.
Finally, how do I take all of this and suggest where the GNR threat may take us? I believe that for the last three decades we have been standing at the crossroads of Euthenics and Eugenics. I believe Humankind will move off this planet and in order to explore and thrive in the universe it is the promise of GNR that will enable us to be successful. God’s just in time inventory management will enable us to take the threat of Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics and turn it into the promise of settling the rest of the Universe.
My response was:
First, let me tell you that I appreciate the time you took for such a detailed exposition. 🙂 I think “John Adams” must still be fresh in your mind!
Second, I know your position that “there is nothing new under the sun,” at least in certain areas of human thought. So it does not surprise me that you say this has been contemplated by humans throughout history. I have not seen such articles, and I find it hard to believe that someone could think that, a catapult, for example, which was the most devastating weapon of it’s time, could cause human extinction. Perhaps the people on the other end of the weapon thought they could be extinguished, and that is understandable. But there is a big difference between a small sub set of humanity and all of humanity. Perhaps we have the advantage now of being more aware of the rest of the world and humanity than they did.
I guess all of that is a side road that isn’t that important. I can see that with the advent of NBC weapons(nuclear, biological, and chemical, for those who haven’t yet read the article), that such thoughts (on the possibilities of human extinction) would be easy to conjure. However, I believe that those technologies require a huge amount of resources, finances, brains, and time, to create. We’ve been lucky that because of that, only rational (in terms of not wanting to cause the extinction of our species) people have developed them. Also, I think that a certain respect for the power is developed because of the effort required.
Witness Pakistan and India, who both now have the power but have not always been rational in their war over Kashmir. (Ok, so the other powers have certainly not always been rational in their conflicts either.)
At any rate, with GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics), I think things will really changed. No longer will it take huge amounts of resources to create weapons of mass destruction. No time to gain respect. In fact, the time thing jumps out at me. Progress now is faster than it has ever been. There is no time to contemplate what one is doing in grand terms. Also, innovation in these areas is more corporate and less governmental now. All the more reason the time process has sped up. Capitalism at its best!
Not to say that things did not move fast on the Manhattan project. They of course did, and look at the consequences. Thankfully, the technology was not far enough along, and only one side was capable, or the outcome could have/would have been much different.
At any rate, the weapons side is of course scary. Witness the use of anthrax now. That is something that takes tons of capital and expertise, so most likely a government was at least at some point behind it. Perhaps not so now, that is yet to be seen. But the fact is that there are people now using it as a weapon. Smallpox, which has the potential to be much more devastating, is also a possibility.
So, the thought is that NBC weapons can only be created by those who use them somewhat rationally, where rational is just the idea that those who have the power, choose not to utilize it because they don’t want to destroy the world. But witness anthrax as the beginning of non-rational use. Of course, it is highly unlikely that anthrax could cause extinction, but it is a step in the direction of a non-rational person releasing weapons of mass destruction. But with GNR technology, it is much easier for a non-rational person to gain access to the technology.
But all of that is perhaps less scary than an accident with GNR, which could cause just as much, if not more, damage. Again, it comes down to speed of innovation. So here I can see your argument taking a stand. God will provide the solution before we get to the point where it is too late. (BTW, I’ve never heard you talk like that before.) Also, your point about space colonization is, to me, perhaps our only chance. (Again, something I haven’t heard you talk about.) We need to diversify habitats to survive. The chance of mass destruction on earth is great, but has been held in check by the rationality argument, but that will soon be out the door with GNR, in my opinion. I’d put the chances of humankind causing our own extinction quite high unless God steps in. But it scares me when I think of how far we are from being able to colonize in space. GNR technologies will be here long before that.
Will God be on time with this solution? Or could it be a part of the prophesied Apocalypse?
(I also believe God will step in. Either with a solution or the promised end times of this age.)
And finally Dad’s response back:
In the context of this discussion, my “nothing new” position is that God’s “inventory management” system provided Humankind by means of Greek thoughtthe tools for governance and conflict resolution. What He had in mind as the means to conduct conflict down through the ages have tested everything the Greeks provided as the basis for governance and conflict. We have through the years advanced our science of the means to destroy each other, rapidly escalating the time between science based development and counterdevelopment, so that an interdependent globe with instantaneous information overload and proliferation has sorely tested those original tenants of governance and conflict resolution.
My thinking was crystallized on this subject when I took over the Political Theory course at West Point. It had been taught in a very conventional manner by then Major Wesley Clark, now General Wesley Clark, Ret. I had really been into Sagan and O’Neill, and I was a member of the Lagrange Society and L22, so I was reading everything on Space Colonization that I could get my hands on. I was also a member Of the Hastings Institute for the Study of Ethics and genetic engineering was the major topic of the day. So I put together a course that taught all the Western philosophers and I introduced the cadets to the potential of euthenics and eugenics. The objective of the course was to take the great philosophical thought that forms the basis for political theory in the West and considering the potential outcomes of our world being on the crossroads of euthenics (engineering our environment, in this case space) and eugenics (engineering the human body) and produce a thesis that sets up the political, economic, and social basis for the first colony in space. That was quite progressive for the Military Academies in I977. The subject matter was not as controversial as the “no test, just a thesis” for the course grade. I presented this course to the Rhodes Scholar candidates in PP&E.
Let me say that everything from gunpowder (to those that didn’t have it) to the printing press(to the Church) portended the end of humankind. What did they know then? But each was just the next logical step respectively in conflict and communications. Remember plague just about wiped out all civilizations. Introduce it now and we might lose a few, but we could bring it under control in short order. Plague comes close to an example of something being introduced before humankind was ready to counter it. How about if air conditioning had been introduced before we had learned how to control plague. Its introduction to countless more bodies would have been assured.
Now to the point of how many individuals are out there that would destroy humankind given the chance. Try to remember who didn’t find entertainment in the death of human beings at the hands of other human beings or animals a few centuries ago. Could there have been such a thing as a terrorist back then? Terrorism can only be understood in the moral climate of today. When everyone relished games in which people died, the ability to handle WMD is problematic. We have, at least, greatly increased the number of people on this planet who value human life.
Enough for now.
And that was it, unless I’ve lost something… This came up when I recently migrated my mail from my own server to Google, and I was going through some old stuff. Unfortunately, “old stuff” at this point is well over 10,000 mails, so the chance of actually going through them all is probably slim. But I did want to try to pull a few out that I thought others may have interest in.