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<nettime> Wired News : Valley to Bill Joy: 'Zzzzzzz'

 From Wired News, available online at:,1294,35424,00.html

Valley to Bill Joy: 'Zzzzzzz'  
by Lakshmi Chaudhry  

3:00 a.m. Apr. 5, 2000 PDT 
The bells are tolling for the cyberchurch, but the parishioners remain

Sun Microsystems' co-founder Bill Joy warns our exaltation of
technology reveals a fundamental "bug in scientific thinking" that
prioritizes progress even at the risk of extinction. The problem, he
says, is not with technology but our attitude toward it. 

Silicon Valley is not impressed. 

See also: 
Why the Future Doesn't Need Us (Wired magazine)
Debating Humanity's Demise 
Read more Technology news
Discover more Net Culture

The information revolution of the 90s brought with it a giddy
exuberance about technology, dispelling gloomy fears about nuclear
extinction. But when Dolly the sheep burst onto the scene, old
anxieties about technology began to resurface. 

>From genetically modified foods to human cloning, there have been
intense public debates over the dangers of scientific progress in
recent years. But the resistance mostly surfaced outside the
technology industry. Then came Joy's now-famous epistle in Wired
magazine warning of the possibility of technological doom. 

While the article written by Sun's chief scientist created an instant
media buzz, the reaction from Silicon Valley has remained skeptical. 

"There has not been a broad outpouring of concern within the
industry," Joy said this week. "Ordinary people seem more able to get
the point." 

Wired magazine writer Erik Davis says people working within the
Silicon Valley beltway have a deeper stake in the value of technology.

"The basic tenor is this highly intense emotional relationship that
expresses itself in giddy exuberance," he said. "It's very Star Trek."

But he says the public at large is becoming increasingly anxious about
technological change. 

"There is a sense at a very visceral level that things are getting
rapidly out of control," Davis said. "And now someone's been able to
articulate that sense of unease." 

Scientific advances seem to be occurring at a dizzying rate, making
yesterday's science fiction look like tomorrow's reality. While this
is cause for celebration amongst the scientific community, it's also
provoking a social backlash. 

"People are afraid precisely because there are no hurdles anymore,"
Davis said. "When you broaden the horizon far enough, there comes a
point when what we know and what we can control drops away. This is
very much about losing control." 

Joy, however, is more worried about what he perceives as a refusal to
take control of technology. He says scientists are taking a passive
attitude toward technology, abdicating their moral responsibility to
make responsible choices. 

"There is this fatalism," he said. "Like it's all going to happen
anyway, and we can't do anything about it." 

Robotics guru Hans Moravec, who foresees the gradual transformation of
human beings into robotic lifeforms, says Joy's call to relinquish
certain technologies is futile. 

"We will turn into robots. It's both inevitable and desirable," he

Moravec views this transformation as a natural part of the
evolutionary process. 

"It's bigger than we are. We are merely components within it."  
Joy says it's dangerous to treat technology as a power outside of our

"We don't have to make our moral choices subject to Darwinism. That's
what makes us human," he said. 

Many members of the scientific community view his call to stop
scientific research as unrealistic and irresponsible. "Relinquishment
is not possible and foolish, if you consider the possibility of other
countries developing the technology," nanotechnology expert Ralph
Merkle said. 

But Joy argues the scientific pursuit of truth must be tempered by
considerations about the human cost of progress. 

"Truth cannot be an ethical goal in itself," he said. "It's like
Ethics 101 never happened. We want to pursue truth at any cost." 

Joy says we seem to have regressed in the name of scientific progress.

"It's like we're going backwards," he said. "We've substituted science
as God." 

His peers point out that many of Joy's fears have been articulated by
other scientists before. 

"All these issues about (artificial intelligence) and genetic
engineering were discussed in the early 90s," said genetic programming
professor John Koza. "When the (Human) Genome Project started,
scientists were very concerned about the dangers of cloning." 

Theologian Jennifer Cobb says while the academic community does weigh
broader ethical considerations, Silicon Valley has a more narrow point
of view. 

"It's much more about building a company that can go IPO as fast as
possible," she said, noting a Gold Rush mentality that produces a very
short-term view of the world. 

And for the first time, cutting-edge research is taking place within
corporations rather than research labs. Many of the technological
advances are therefore being driven by the potential for profit rather
than lofty issues like ethics, Cobb said. 

Critics point out that the marketplace has yet to drive humanity to

"The existing market structure has worked pretty well so far, and
hasn't led to any major concerns," Merkle said. "It seems premature to
walk away from it." 

Whatever the scientific merits of Joy's arguments, it seems unlikely
that the reception from Silicon Valley will warm up. 

"I've worked in this industry for 20 years and am probably too
cynical," Cobb said. "But he is a real exception in the industry." 

Joy himself is pessimistic about the chances for a radical change in

"Only thing in our favor is that this is in the future," he said. "But
then we're not very good about reacting to something that hasn't
happened yet."  

Related Wired Links:  

Imagining First Contact  
Mar. 4, 2000 

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