Wednesday, September 17, 2014

10 controversial future technologies

Our future will be a technological one.

That's obvious, I know.  Even a plow is a form of technology.  But futurist George Dvorsky at io9 has put together a superlist of "10 Horrifying Technologies That Should Never Be Allowed to Exist."

As I scrolled through the list, I had one of my usual reactions to this sort of cautionary cry but after reading further in the text, I saw that Dvorsky couched his list with the same thought and that made me feel better.  The idea is this: several of these technologies are not innately "horrifying" and could be of tremendous benefit to the world.  Once operational, they could help bring an end to hunger, clean the environment we've managed to ruin, favorite...modify the human body and eliminate our defects (please, somebody do something about depression.)

I have always cautioned, however much I've harped about the future, that there are pitfalls and we need to be aware of them.  There is also the Law of Unintended Consequences.  More than anything, the end result of these technologies will be determined by human nature...which I have even less faith in than I do the Big Invisible Sky Daddy.  Anyway, without further ado, let's take a look at the list.

-Weaponized nanotech.  I'll admit it.  This does scare me.  Swarms of micro-scale robots that can self-replicate and devour.  It's a scenario that doesn't stop with "grey goo." The nanobots would be organized and systematic in their attack while humans would be all higgleddy-piggleddy the face of it as nearly everything we depend on for life would be broken down.  Ultimately it would lead to human extinction.  The article features a clip from Animatrix to accentuate this point.

-Conscious machines.  This is different than artificial intelligence.  This would a device that as the name indicates, is conscious of itself and its situation.  Many philosophers have argued it would be unethical and torturous to have such a conscious imprisoned for its existence in a box like a computer.

-Super artificial intelligence.  Despite what Stephen Hawking says, I don't believe that AI is the harbinger of our doom.  There are many benefits to AI and since it already exists in at least a rudimentary form, it is naive to think that it won't advance as the technological genii is now fully out of the bottle.  What needs to happen is regulation to prevent an AI from seeing itself as our superior and therefore our master.  I don't know how you do that and I'm not sure anyone else really does either.

-Time travel.  Won't happen.  Not going to concern myself.

-Mind reading devices.  Orwell would've loved these things.  I, on the other hand, could do without them.  To quote Prince: "If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind, make me an electric chair for all my future crimes."

-Brain hacking devices.  As I've mentioned in regard to depression and boosting intelligence, I'd love to hack my brain with implants.  Dvorsky cautions against his, smartly pointing to the example of Ghost in the Shell when a malevolent intelligence was able to enter human brains through the network and actually modify their memories and desires.

-Autonomous robots designed to kill humans.  We already have trouble with drones and collateral damage.  The potential for even bloodier shenanigans becomes all the scarier with the idea that the armed drones could think for themselves.  "Please put down your weapon.  You have thirty seconds to comply..."

-Virtual prisons.  Your body is dead but your mind and your consciousness exist forever, imprisoned for all eternity within a computer system.  Makes the Phantom Zone from Superman (cited in the article) look like a low-security spa for Wall Street insider traders.

-Hell engineering.  I had not heard of this concept before reading the article.  Futurists usually think about ways to create utopia-like existences where the majority of our ills will be erased.  But the universe seems to have a tendency to balance itself out.  Having a good year?  Be prepared for the eventual downslide and vice versa.  If you can create heaven, then hell might be a natural byproduct.

-Weaponized pathogens.  I reordered this item to the end of the list because it genuinely terrifies me.  In 2005, there was much controversy over the publishing of genomes of deadly viruses.  Such a thing could be seen as a cookbook for bioterrorists.   A virus could be engineered to be highly contagious and guaranteed lethal.  Frighteningly enough, it seems that ISIS already has this in mind.

I certainly would never advocate to block progress.  You can, however, still progress while doing so with caution.  That's what we need to do.  Perhaps even more chilling is the idea that it's not enough to ban these ten technologies.  Instead, we should be looking at ways to respond and contain them when they inevitably arise from unscrupulous minds.

Sleep well, everybody!

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