The End of the World
An article by Bill Joy is only one expression of a
serious concern that computer technology could bring the world as we
know it to an end.
Human-level artificial intelligence working at electronic speeds could
take over its own development and move far beyond us before we could
possibly respond. Nanotechnology adds a radical spatial-scale
difference to this time-scale difference. Self-replication
completes the picture.
Personally, I think that the threat is real, but I am also an optimist
about the existence of solutions and countervailing forces. The world
is very different at scales of time and space that are
different from ours by orders of magnitude. (See my essay
What about the Singularity?)
However, I believe that we have a responsibility as computer
scientists and as citizens to be informed about these threats.
Essays on technological futures
- Vernor Vinge. Technological singularity.
Whole Earth Review, Winter 1993.
- Bill Joy. Why the future doesn't need us.
Wired 8.04: 238-262, April 2000.
- J. B. S. Haldane. On being the right size.
Essay published 1927 or before. Widely reprinted.
- See Scientific American, September 2001, special issue
on nanotechnology. In addition to interesting articles on
science and technology, articles by Richard E. Smalley and
George M. Whitesides give reasons why
we are unlikely to face rampant self-replicating assemblers
reducing the world to "gray goo".
- Ray Kurzweil. The Age of Spiritual Machines.
Viking Penguin, 1999.
- Jeremy Rifkin. The End of Work.
- See E. F. Schumacher, Good Work (Harper Colophon, 1979),
for a distinguished economist's explanation for why work
should be considered an output of production, not
just an input.
Science fiction writers' explorations of possible futures
Kurt Vonnegut once said something like, "Science fiction writers
are the most important writers in the world today. If only some
of them could write!"
There are important ideas here.
And to keep it all in perspective...
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Dell Publishing Co., 1952.
- Philip K. Dick.
Original publication, Space Science Fiction, 1953.
- Stanislaw Lem.
Avon Books, 1974. (Originally published in Polish, 1967.)
- Rudy Rucker. Software and Wetware.
Avon Books, 1982 and 1988.
- Vernor Vinge. A Fire Upon the Deep.
Tor Books, 1992.
- Wil McCarthy. Bloom.
- Greg Bear. Blood Music.
- Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (Eds.). Beyond Singularity.
Ace Books, 2005.
There are undoubtedly more. Please send them.
Suggestions I've received
I haven't read these yet. I hope to get around to them,
but my stack is big and it keeps growing.
- Neil Gershenfeld. When Things Start To Think.
- James Martin. After the Internet: Alien Intelligence.
- Michio Kaku. Visions.
- Hans Moravec. Robot.
- Gregory Paul and Earl Cox. Beyond Humanity.
- Frank Tipler. The Physics of Immortality.
- Stephen Baxter. Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space.