From: patrick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 11:17:27 MST
From: patrick <email@example.com>
>>From Internet Scientist, a Preview of Extinction
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2000; Page A15
A respected creator of the Information Age has
written an extraordinary critique of accelerating
technological change in which he suggests that new
technologies could cause "something like
extinction" of humankind within the next two
The alarming prediction, intended to be
provocative, is striking because it comes not from
a critic of technology but rather from a man who
invented much of it: Bill Joy, chief scientist and
co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc., the leading
Web technology manufacturer.
Joy was an original co-chairman of a presidential
commission on the future of information
technology. His warning, he said in a telephone
interview, is meant to be reminiscent of Albert
Einstein's famous 1939 letter to President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt alerting him to the
possibility of an atomic bomb.
In a 24-page article in the Wired magazine that
will appear on the Web Tuesday, Joy says he finds
himself essentially agreeing, to his horror, with
a core argument of the Unabomber, Theodore
Kaczynski--that advanced technology poses a threat
to the human species. "I have always believed that
making software more reliable, given its many
uses, will make the world a safer and better
place," Joy wrote in the article, which he worked
on for six months. "If I were to come to believe
the opposite, then I would be morally obligated to
stop this work. I can now imagine that such a day
Joy enjoys a level-headed reputation in the
industry. "Nobody is more phlegmatic than Bill,"
said Stewart Brand, an Internet pioneer.
"He is the adult in the room."
Joy is disturbed by a suite of advances . He views
as credible the prediction that by 2030, computers
will be a million times more powerful than they
are today. He respects the possibility that robots
may exceed humans in intelligence, while being
able to replicate themselves.
He points to nanotechnology--the emerging science
that seeks to create any desired object on an
atom-by-atom basis--and agrees that it has the
potential to allow inexpensive production of smart
machines so small they could fit inside a blood
vessel. Genetic technology, meanwhile, is
inexorably generating the power to create new
forms of life that could reproduce.
What deeply worries him is that these technologies
collectively create the ability to unleash
self-replicating, mutating, mechanical or
biological plagues. These would be "a replication
attack in the physical world" comparable to the
replication attack in the virtual world that
recently caused the shutdowns of major commercial
"If you can let something loose that can make more
copies of itself," Joy said in a telephone
interview, "it is very difficult to recall. It is
as easy as eradicating all the mosquitoes: They
are everywhere and make more of themselves. If
attacked, they mutate and become immune. . . .
That creates the possibility of empowering
individuals for extreme evil. If we don't do
anything, the risk is very high of one crazy
person doing something very bad."
What further concerns him is the huge profits from
any single advance that may seem beneficial in
itself. "It is always hard to see the biggerimpact while you are in the vortex of a change," Joy wrote. "We have long been driven by the
overarching desire to know that is the natural science's quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies
can take on a life of its own."
Finally, he argues, this threat to humanity is
much greater than that of nuclear weapons because
those are hard to build. By contrast, he says,
these new technologies are not hard to come by.
Therefore, he reasons, the problem will not be
"rogue states, but rogue individuals."
Joy acknowledges that to some people, this may all
sound like science fiction. "After Y2K didn't
happen," he said, "some people will feel free to
dismiss this, saying everything will work out."
Joy is less clear on how such a scenario could be
prevented. When asked how he personally would stop
this progression, he stumbled. "Sun has always
struggled with being an ethical innovator," he
said. "We are tool builders. I'm trailing off
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