Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us — Revisited

When the stunning article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” by Bill Joy, chief scientist for Sun Microsystems, made the cover of Wired Magazine in April 2000, it created quite a rumble in high-tech circles. Its argument was that “our most powerful 21st century technologies–robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech–are threatening to make humans an endangered species.”

Bill Joy was writing about out of control, self-replicating technologies that, once the stuff of science fiction, were now on the way in decades if not years. Tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and systems analysts are working in countries all over the world churning out theories and specialized applications without much consideration of their overall impacts.

The funding has been coming from various governments’ military budgets, heavily contracted out to industrial corporations and, now increasingly, from the commercial pursuits of global corporations. The rate of knowledge production has been exponential as computers become faster and are programmed to become more self-reliant.

Seventy percent of the volume of stock trading in the U.S. is now driven by computers and their algorithms–a mere glimmer of the future pictured by Mr. Joy.

The worries among sensitive futurists are both the intended and unintended consequences. Autonomous weaponry, for example, may be intended for certain purposes by government militaries, but then emerge as more dreaded unintended consequences where, for example, these weapons decide themselves when and whom to strike.

Last month, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors were some of many specialists who signed an open letter that called for a ban on autonomous weapons. The letter says, “If any major military power pushes ahead with artificial intelligence weapons, a global arms race is virtually inevitable,” adding that “unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so —> Read More