Pretty But… Deadly?

We’re nearly at the 17th anniversary of Bill Joy’s warning that “the future doesn’t need us.” On April 1st, 2000, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems warned us that if we remained on our then-current innovation path, moving forever forward but seemingly without a driver, our technology could endanger our existence.

The warnings since haven’t ceased, and thankfully the debate about the how and why of species-threatening technological innovation has picked up.

But guess what, the steps toward immensely powerful technologies (bio-engineering and artificial intelligence, especially) with the potential to create change on massive scales aren’t slowing. Instead, they’re accelerating.

Depending on your interests and background, those advances can look “mind blowing” or just confounding. Others, regardless of your feelings about things like AI and the threats they pose, can look lovely. As recent “brain scans” of active machine learning attest.

Whether all this innovation is step forward for human evolution or devolution (or worse), however, remains an open question. More and lively debate is a good thing. The problem, for now, is that not a lot of that debate seems to be shaping the course of innovation. Til that changes, we’re at best facing the prospect of seeing more of tech’s downside than its up.