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Why The Future Doesn't Need Us

'Why The Future Doesn't Need Us'
3Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us Bill Joy From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technolo- gies, their ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the 21stcentury. I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil, the deservedly famous inventor of the first reading machine for the blind and many other amazing things. Ray and I were both speakers at George Gilder’s Telecosm confer- ence, and I encountered him by chance in the bar of the hotel after both our sessions were over. I was sitting with John Searle, a Berkeley philosopher who studies consciousness. While we were talking, Ray ap- proached and a conversation began, the subject of which haunts me to this day. I had missed Ray’s talk and the subsequent panel that Ray and John had been on, and they now picked right up where they’d left off, with Ray saying that the rate of improvement of technology was going to ac- celerate and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots or something like that, and John countering that this couldn’t happen, because the robots couldn’t be conscious. While I had heard such talk before, I had always felt sentient robots were in the realm of science fiction. But now, from someone I respected, I was hearing a strong argument that they were a near-term possibility. I was taken aback, especially given Ray’s proven ability to imagine and cre- ate the future. I already knew that new technologies like genetic engineer- ing and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the world, but a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots surprised me. Bill Joy is co-founder, chief scientist, and corporate executive officer of Sun Microsystems. This article is reprinted with permission from Wired 8.04, April 2000. Copyright 1993–2000 The Condé Nast Publications Inc. Copyright 1994–2000 Wired Digital, Inc. 48BILLJOY It’s easy to get jaded about such breakthroughs. We hear in the news almost every day of some kind of technological or scientific advance. Yet this was no ordinary prediction. In the hotel bar, Ray gave me a partial preprint of his then-forthcoming book The Age of Spiritual Machines, which outlined a utopia he foresaw—one in which humans gained near immortality by becoming one with robotic technology. On reading it, my sense of unease only intensified; I felt sure he had to be understating the dangers, understating the probability of a bad out- come along this path. I found myself most troubled by a passage detailing a dystopian sce- nario: The New Luddite Challenge First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in devel- oping intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be pe
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