Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Upcoming Review of The Singularity is Near

I just submitted a review to the NSS Book Review site on The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil (the review hasn't been posted yet). Kurzweil is an inventor and "big thinker" about artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic research, and all manner of scientific knowledge. I rapidly capitulated to his superior knowledge of his central thesis: that our technologies will eventually reach the takeoff point, become smarter than us, and eventually able to provide us with whatever we need or want.

The theme of my review can be summed up by a quotation from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: "Let us redefine progress to state that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing." That pretty much sums up most of the works of Michael Crichton, too, and I can't say that he's far wrong. Would we want al-Qaeda getting hold of machines that could mass-produce weapons of mass destruction or a supra-intelligent computer capable of crashing the codes that protect our national defenses?

I'm not suggesting we stop technological development. I accept it, and also accept that I can do little about it. ("You might as well write an anti-glacier novel," Kurt Vonnegut once said about war, though it could also relate to technology.) All I think we need to do is take precautions against "the law of unintended consequences" and be mindful of the moral and ethical changes that such an embrace of technology will mean to institutions human beings have kept reasonably stable for centuries or millennia.

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