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RE: <nettime> Steven Levy: Tech's Double-Edged Sword
Kermit Snelson on Wed, 10 Oct 2001 08:07:11 +0200 (CEST)


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RE: <nettime> Steven Levy: Tech's Double-Edged Sword


I attended a lecture by Bill Joy on this subject at Stanford last year.  He
was clearly aware of the long history of ideas concerning the ethics of
science and technology, and had studied it for a long time with considerable
passion.  It was also clear that he had sought out and profited from the
assistance of many experts in the field.

The 60-or-so years of controversy over atomic energy that Geert mentions
were not only central to Joy's presentation, but were also applied to the
present age of KMD ("Knowledge-Enabled Massive Destruction"), extrapolated
forward to the year 2030 (the age of "spiritual machines" in Ray Kurzweil's
term) and traced back to classical Greece and Rome.  Among many, many
examples of how various fields of technology may be used for purposes of
destruction, he showed that what we call "biological warfare" goes back a
long way (e.g., the use of catapults in the Middle Ages to throw
plague-infested corpses into walled cities.) It is true that he didn't quote
Zizek, Butler and Negri, but he did manage to make do with far greater
thinkers:  Aristotle and Nietzsche, for example.

Whether or not one agrees with the solution he proposes ("avoid
democratizing extreme evil"), his lecture is sophisticated and extremely
relevant in the wake of 911.  In fact, one passage of his talk, in
retrospect, seems horribly prescient:

    "So what we're talking about here is whether we're going to give these
kinds of people illimitable power. It's hard to think about what that would
mean, but what I think about it is it's like Flight 990.  Remember where the
pilot probably crashed the plane?  Imagine if everybody on the plane is a
pilot and has a button to crash the plane.  How many people are going to be
pilots with you on the plane before you're not willing to get on anymore?
Imagine the whole planet is full of pilots.  How does that make you feel?"

And even if one isn't personally interested in the topic, there's a
wonderful, none-too-subtle swipe at Microsoft that shouldn't be missed.  An
MP3 audio recording and a somewhat imperfect transcript is freely available
on the Web:

http://technetcast.ddj.com/tnc_play_stream.html?stream_id=258

Kermit Snelson

> What do nettimers think of the double-edged sword theory? The 'discovery'
> that evil forces also use technology can hardly be called new. The rise of
 <...>

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