Science, Technology, Trends, Tensions and Society

Few take pause to ponder why our technology advances in its current direction, much less the consequences for our society and species.  Let there be absolutely no doubt that commercial interests control technological developments more so than ever before.  Sure, we have our universities with their "purely" academic research labs.  But try to find a university professor worth his salt that isn't looking for grants, research contracts and consulting income.   Do commercial and social benefit correspond or conflict?  Of course, there are the occasional populist books about technology and innovation.  Gilder, Toffler and Kuhn are notable names that come to mind.  But in our rapidly changing and accelerating times, their views seem ancient history. 

Some see technology and it's benefit, but also fear it's destructive consequences.  Some only revel in the decadent living standards and lifestyles that it supports without questioning.  Others, being more Luddite, long for the quieter, slower, more peaceful times when we were not visually  and audibly saturated with a noisy, agitating world that demands faster, faster; don't stop to think too deeply, just consume. 

Interestingly, those that question most seriously are a few of the most seasoned and capable scientists and engineers.  They see it from both sides, and have their personal experiences of  how technical decisions were made without overdue concern about social consequences or ultimate outcomes.  Perhaps their thoughts are most visible as a result of their status within the technical community and not their innovativeness or originality. 

Here are a few of these people, some of their thoughts and a few links.  And some surprises. 

Bill Joy, Senior Scientist co-founder of Sun Microsystems and formerly a leader in the Berkeley Unix development has been a leader in the computer software and operating system software arena for decades.  Only recently has he withdrawn from corporate and technical activities and begun verbalizing his concerns. 

Bill Joy's Hi-Tech Warning 

 Why The Future Doesn't Need Us

Ray Kurzweil of music synthesizer fame has a web site that expounds his theory of the approaching technology singularity, the Law of Accelerating Returns.  In his theory technical advances accelerate in their arrival and we transcend all that has been invented and discovered in an exponential growth pattern.  (Link can't be made to work - go to and find singularity articles.  Click on the article about the Law of Accelerating Returns.)

Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis have become engaged in the Clock of the Long Now and the need to return to a slower, more natural flow of deeper, slower thinking: "slower/better" and not "faster/cheaper".  Their Long Now Foundation site espouses their philosophical leanings, best stated in About.  This is a fascinating site if you follow all the links. 

Some of the predictions or beliefs are of a darker nature.  But respecting the intelligence, thought and sweat put into them, some merit reading as counterpoints without considering their source.   One particularly disturbing piece, reads more appropriately today if it is read replacing "leftist" with "progressive", given that "liberal" has become an outdated dirty word, as has "leftist".  "Progressive" is the contemporary descriptor possessing the positive connotation that those of this ilk find an acceptable description.  Industrial Society and Its Future by Theodore Kaczynski, also known as Unabomber