Pink Floyd from the album, The Wall. Great song only…we’re talking technology today so that’s really not the right song to be singing.
HOWEVER, add two little words, Liberal Arts, and behind closed doors, while the cyclotrons are spooling, and our MRI machines are deciphering, we tend to wink-wink and high-five because…we don’t really need to know liberal arts, or the humanities anymore. C’mon…let’s get serious and smell the coffee. It’s just not necessary anymore. Maybe it never was? Who needs to know about philosophy, ethics, economics, music…art? or the dumbest term of all…common sense.
TECHNOLOGY is our Future…period. It’s not just the answer, it’s the ONLY answer. …yeah, I seem to remember this from…Germany?
Well, get out your tar and feathers folks because, this is a concept that is about to hit the wall. Scientists and engineers, silicon valleyers, and computer geeks, are just beginning like wildebeasts on the Serengeti to sniff the air and smell the danger. Hey, wait a minute…something’s not right. This can’t be!
It’s not like it just crept up on us overnight. It’s been a long time coming. Anyone ever hear of a car called the Pinto? In nearly every way it was a very average, very forgettable little car. Its only claim to fame was, if your kid happened to be driving it and got rear-ended…time to get a new kid because of a technical oversight that allowed the gas tank to explode all over the interior of the car…and your kid.
Now, this was obviously just a terrible mistake. With our current pace of technology…mistakes will happen. It is the price of progress. The only big problem and it’s a biggie…is this: At some very high level on the corporate ladder, it was determined that: X-number of crispy-fried sons and daughters was an acceptable number…compared to fixing the problem. FoMoCo’s only mistake was…someone found out about it. Thankfully, that’s the only time in history that this has ever happened. Well, not really. It’s happened a whole lot…and to us. We were those sons and daughters, and now we have sons and daughters of our own.
Contrary to where you might think this story is going, we’re not switching our metaphor over to Dirty Laundry (Don Henley)…though we certainly could. Now is not the time to be gazing in the rear-view mirror and sighing. Right now we are on the cusp of some wildly amazing technological breakthroughs. On one side, I want to jump up and down and cheer! In the very medium we are in right now, I’ve been floored by some of the DARPA lectures… little hyper-velocity drones that can deliver ANY payload…ANYWHERE ON THE PLANET at many times the speed of sound. I wonder what that payload might be…
It is also wondrous watching six or eight or twelve, tiny drones, flitting about in perfect formation through hoops and circles. They’re so cute! How could they do anything untoward? Seeing an unmanned X-47-B bomber (drone) take off from a carrier and land again…is amazing. Wait a minute…bomber drones? We have bomber drones?
For anyone with two ganglia to rub together, it should also be scary as hell. So far, as of today, the biggest concern most Americans have about drones, is that our government might spy on us. Golly, Uncle Fred is growing marijuana…again. Is that as far-sighted as it gets? What if…? What if our billion dollar X-47-B, bomber drone armed with four nuclear warheads takes off as planned, but then five guys in a rubber Zodiac a mile off our bow manage to hack it? What is plan B??? Or, do we just hope that this huge multi nuclear-tipped drone, which is NOT under our control, is not within range of the continental US? As a highly loyal American…it concerns me…a LOT.
What if that ballet of twelve wondrously coordinated tiny drones we’ve all seen, suddenly turned nasty? Instead of flying through hoops on stage, they were to fly out into a TED audience, or any group for that matter, laden with an ounce or two of anthrax? Ebola? The people in the audience would not have a chance…nor would people in the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court…or your home town. This is not the future. This is today… 2013. We have the drones…or more specifically THEY also have the drones, as well, plus any one of a number of deadly viruses.
What if those cute little (did I mention wildly inexpensive and easily obtainable?) drones were launched near the end of a runway while an L-10-11 is rotating for take-off? Does it take just one or more than one drone, sucked into the intake, to take out a jet engine and bring down 300 people?
Yes, this is the stuff of nightmares, but along with the brilliance of the technology, at this moment there is little or no focus on the big picture…the What Ifs.
Right now, the way it’s playing out is this: A team or teams of scientists focus on a narrow-beam goal of building a widget…let’s call it a drone, though there are myriad other things in a similar category. Once the widget is complete, the scientists and inventor’s job is over. Really? That’s a bit short-sighted. Create a new kind of Frankenstein monster and you’d better think of how to control it, or more importantly, how to insure that no one else controls it for you.
But science isn’t IN-TO ethics, isn’t IN-TO philosophy, science isn’t IN-TO legality, morality, any sort of big picture…or even common sense. What we have is technology for technology’s sake. That’s the over-riding rationale. We don’t need no humanity…
Just to make it interesting…let’s pick a greyer-area subject. Scientists are now frothing with excitement about the prospect of Increasing the Life Span of Mankind…from 75 to say…125. Well, now who could find fault with that? that’s not a good thing, it’s a great thing! Is there anyone out there who’d care to guess if there just might be some repercussions?
Right now, with our current economy and technology, 90% of what a person spends on his health occurs in the last ten years of his life…say 70-80. Care to extrapolate the costs of keeping millions…or billions of truly old people alive for another forty or fifty years? Bring in an economist so we at least have an inkling of the magnitude. Bring in a psychologist and a sociologist to examine…how many people would actually want to live that long. Bring in an ethicist to consider what this might do to future generations. Is it fair to them? Fair to anyone? Is it even a good idea? I don’t profess to have the answers, but I’d like to see someone at the helm…maybe the people designing the drugs to consider the consequences of what they are doing.
Here’s a thought: Do you own a relatively new automobile? I just got new 2014 and it’s a sweetie. Love it! It can slow-down, speed-up, change-lanes, panic-stop, avoid obstacles, beep the horn, brake, call 911 and more……………….all by its lonesome. This is GREAT! I’ve heard no one, particularly the manufacturers, addressing what might happen if a hacker screws around with a thousand or so cars on the way home from Manhattan. Or what if the chip just overheats or gets wet or gets old? What do you do with a car that suddenly begins acting like it’s haunted? Gee…………………
Way back when, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, some science fiction writers worried aloud about many of the things we are facing…today. Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov. Issac Asimov addressed the ethical problem of robots and drones brilliantly and succinctly with his Three Rules of Robotics. Clever, simple, effective…fascinating. Only…OUR scientists were far cleverer and much more pragmatic. We simply ignored the ethical part entirely and…no problem, mon. Just let the robots run around on their own, no ethic chips or back to square-one chips. Just party-on. To carry along the thin musical metaphor from above and quote Linda Ronstadt, the problem just Blue Bayou. It blew by all of us.
I believe we are right at the tipping point, not only with global warming, but with our holding the reins of technology. The reins are held loosely now if at all. We created the fascinating Pandora’s Box of the internet and cellphones, and are now playing catch-up with things we never even thought of. Privacy, cyber-bullying, cyber crime, cyber porn… And texting-related auto accidents, deaths, maiming…with no thought whatsoever by the manufacturer of what could happen. None… Zero… Nada…. The Null Set. Your kids and mine are paying the price for this and it’s sad.
Scientists, corporations, need to have an ETHICAL ARM, not just a financial one. A LEGAL ARM, a COMMON SENSE ARM. An arm that considers…HUMANITY. These same scientists, the ones working on the hardware, need to have in the back of their minds a sense of perspective, responsibility, consequence. “If we build it THIS way…is it just possible that something creepy, scary, horrible could happen?”
Here’s a scenario in the not-to-distant future. GO-GO Auto Manufacturer is just getting ready to exhibit its new PIZZAZ 300GT. It’s GREAT!!! It’ll do 255 mph, faster than a Veyron, and can corner at 1.5 G. The only problem is to do all this, they had to use a very new composite of boron epoxy and Graphene. It is amazing stuff, light, strong, the perfect material….only…sometimes, and they aren’t sure why, the Graphene de-laminates from the epoxy. Then the sub frame either cracks on a fast corner, or just turns back to dust… and…well, it’s pretty ugly. The good news is it only happens in about one in 200 cars. Is that an acceptable number? Is there an acceptable number? Do you buy it for your wife, your husband, your kid? No? We’re doing the same and worse every day…
Presently, the biggest Frankenstein monster out there isn’t visible and doesn’t breathe fire. It’s a wholly invisible monster. Care to guess what it is? It’s an ENTITY all right, with rights and the ability to grow, sue, destroy. And this Frankenstein monster has only one single goal: to make more money. Nothing else. No other consideration, not ethically, not common sensically, not far-sightedly…just money for shareholders.
If we are to survive, these huge Frankensteinian monsters need to be retrofitted with an ethical division that considers consequences, a division that considers long-term consequences…from other than a financial perspective. It should have at least a rudimentary concept in its heart of what Humanity is and a duty to protect Humanity before everything else. Right now…we don’t have it…at all. It’s just the profits. We need companies like Virgin, Apple, Micro Soft, Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Motorola, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Honda, Audi, BMW, to begin adding additional technology to their latest darlings. Technology that takes into consideration the actual world we are living in TODAY…not an ideal one. Let’s see, what song could we end with? In the Year 2525.
Is there hope?