The Future Of Technology: Where Are We Headed?

916663___gump__ Nanotech Self-Assemblers.  Genetically Engineered Offspring.  Full     Immersion Virtual Reality. Robots That Can Think.

It’s easy to dismiss many of these “future technologies” as the stuff of     science fiction, existing only in the ‘advanced’ societies we’ve seen       rendered in the movies.  But Ray Kurzweil, famous futurist and author   of “The Singularity Is Near,” believes we are at a precipice of a technological revolution where nanotechnology, information   technology, and artificial intellegience will, over the next few decades, develop at such a fast rate that the human race will soon be faced with a fundamentally restructured way of living. He declares that we are entering into “an era in which our intelligence will become   increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today–the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity.

Kurzweil takes an extreme view, and whether or not this type of “singularity” will occur remains to be seen; however, it is certain that technology will continue to advance.  And yet, we aren’t going to wake up one morning and suddenly live in a transformed society.  Kurzweil concedes, “It’s not like we’re going to go along and nothing’s going to happen and then suddenly we’re going to take this huge leap to super intelligent machines. We’re gonna get from here to there through thousands of little steps.”

So what steps are being taken right now, and to what sort of future?  How do we examine these technologies in a morally principled way as they are developing, so that we can influence the direction they ultimately go in?

Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems co-founder and author of the essay, “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us,” explains the importance of evaluating these ethical issues while these technologies are in development, and before they become integrated into society.  After they are released into society, it becomes nearly impossible to  backtrack:

Ideas can’t be put back in a box…once they are out, they are out.” He says. “Churchill remarked, in a famous left-handed compliment, that the American people and their leaders “invariably do the right thing, after they have examined every other alternative.” In this case, however, we must act more presciently, as to do the right thing only at last may be to lose the chance to do it all…”

He continues:

“The experience of the atomic scientists clearly show the need to take personal responsibility, the danger that things will move too fast, and the way in which a process can take on a life of its own.  We can, as they did, create insurmountable problems in almost no time flat.  We must do more thinking up front if we are not to be similarly surprised and shocked by the consequences of our inventions.”

How can we best assess the ethical issues posed by nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology by taking the “personal responsibility” that Joy speaks of? Are there certain technologies that we shouldn’t pursue, and if so, why?  We will be exploring the future of technology – and what we can do to handle it responsibly and ethically—here at The Technological Citizen.

Watch an interview with Ray Kurzweil below:

8 Responses to “The Future Of Technology: Where Are We Headed?”

  1. karlcook says:

    i don’t believe that there are any ethical issues in nanotechnology because all nanotechnology is, is really small molecules that will make things for us much like our factories today just much smaller and hopefully more efficient. biotechnology is here already there are scientists making complete chromosomes for very basic bacteria and then inserting the chromosomes into bacteria cells and having them live and reproduce essentially scientists are making life. life in history is something only god are some deity can create, but now humans can do it. now this takes some serious personal responsibility but at the stage that it is at right now there is no place to weaponize this and it is so basic. i think it is hard to address issues that we think will come up in the future because we dont no exactly what people will care about and how much they will care about now so we can only hypothesize what is going to happen and what people will try and do as a result of scientific breakthroughs. there are scientific technologies that we shouldn’t pursue but it doesn’t matter what i think because my neighbor may be pursuing something i think is wrong. all people are different. if you showed the creators of the atomic bomb what would happen with creation in the future they may not have pursued the atomic bomb. the the fact still stands that someone else, may be the russians, would have created it without our help a little later on. it is impossible to stop everybody on earth to not try and pursue a certain area of science. at this point in scientific development there is always going people against the new developments in science. i think the only way to move forward is to find a place for every new development or else we are just like the catholic church with galileo.

  2. ltong29 says:

    Nanotechnology has many ethical issues. Even though nanotechnology has applications that will benefit humanity, there are still applications can harm humanity. Weaponization of nanotechnology will be inevitable after the technology is perfected. Even though nanotechnology’s major application is the assistance of Humans, whether destroying cancerous cells or cleaning our arteries, nanotechnology can be used to destroy cells which are healthy, effectively killing people.

    I think what Ray Kurzweil is trying to convey in “The Singularity is Near” is the fact that technology will continue to progress. If humanity is not ready for this technological progress, this can easily lead humanity down a path of destruction which it will never recover from. His “singularity” will be when humanity reaches its full potential, the ability to control and determine its own destiny. In order for technology to be beneficial to humanity, humanity has to be responsible for what may come of it. Pursuing technology without caution is reckless and can lead to disaster.

    @karlcook
    The nuclear weapon analogy is good, but somewhat flawed. Regardless of which side would develop it, atomic weapons were developed. In fact, the energy applications of atomic weapons were skipped and immediately weaponized. You can’t pursue only some technologies and not others. In order for maximum technological benefit to be obtained for humanity, technology and humanity have to be responsible and ready for what happens when “pandora’s box” is opened. Many technologies which are not militarized may become militarized in the future. Before WW2, very few people believed Mechanized Warfare was feasible, if even possible.

    My point is that technological progression is inevitable. Kurzweil is saying that we have to act responsibly when the “singularity” does come, otherwise humanity will fail.

  3. jzarate says:

    Kurzwell is correct when he mentions at the end of the video that, “there will always be a solution for each problem,” and he also elaborates that technology is going to be so advance and upgraded that probably we are going to be able to send a toaster or toast through and e-mail. I really agree with him for the fact that there are many technologies whch are upgrading. We have the cassette player, which upgraded to a CD walkmen, then and MP3, then an IPod, then and IPod touch and foremost we have the nano-ipod with the camera. It is also really interesting how before, technology was really big; the computer was as big as the wall. And now we have laptops that can fit in a handbag. By the way things are going, meaning that many people are depending on technology for their jobs or duties, probably in the future we are going to be dominated by technologies. We are going to be dominated by them in the sense that we are going to drastically depend on them, rather then using our brains to solve a math problem, do shores etc. We have to take a stand/affirmative action and dominate the technology rather then the technology dominating us.

  4. lcamayo says:

    Nanotechnology has already started producing. What I feel that Kurweil is trying to say is that we have already started the era of nanotechnology coming to our defense. Which means if we don’t act responsibly and take control of the situation we as the people will fail and technology will dominate us. I feel that is the case already in 2009. For example, many people can not live with out their cell phones, is so important to their daily life. A cell phone know can do so many things that I never thought it would happen. We could know go on the internet and be able to check our e-mail or send pictures or even search the web and get the information in about 4 seconds. So what exactly is going to happen if we don’t control the situation? I believe that it has already started because people are know talking back to a computer screen thinking that the screen will reply back by doing what humans are telling them to do, people rely so much on the computer that they don’t understand that a computer is a sequence of following orders, but yet we tell the screen computer “stupid computer, hurry up” but they are just their to follow rules and guidelines. In fact if don’t take action right know , we will never take action at all and we as the people will just have technology dominate us.

  5. RMWells says:

    As Kurzweil and previous posts have stated, technological innovation is inevitable. I especially thought it was interesting that he said that the future is not set and there is no destiny. People have the ability to change and alter how technology develops/what it is used for.

    I have always been interested in the idea presented in movies like the Terminator and Matrix series, where technology overpowers the human race and we are pitted against machines in an epic struggle for survival. Though these portrayals of the future are exaggerated and may not be entirely realistic, it serves as a warning to those who wish to advance technology so quickly that it will change society. Technology should be monitored and controlled so as not to become one with society, but rather to enhance and improve what already exists. My cellphone makes my life easier, yet it is not actually a part of me. It is when the line between technology and machines as tools to make life easier for society becomes blurred with the idea that technology IS society is when there is a problem. It does not have to be this way, but technology must be curtailed and monitored so that is does not engulf society.

  6. acperez1 says:

    Nanotechnology does seem like something out of a science-fiction novel. Didn’t the Internet seem like so years ago? Or the telephone? Yet, we still keep thinking that THIS IS IT; this is the technology that will forever change who we are and how we function. The author presents and idea of technological imperative by suggesting that this new technology is unstoppable. It is also mentioned that once society is introduced to a certain technology it will never go back into being unused. On one hand, I believe that once we take the first bite of technology we are amazed and captured by it, therefore, we will always want to make that technology better and newer. However, I place more importance in people than in technology. I believe that it is we who create technology and it is we who decide if a technology is implemented and further developed or not. I would like to think that autonomy is a characteristic of human beings and not of technologies. It might be unrealistic and I might be biased, but I choose not to believe otherwise for now.

  7. Calliopi Hadjipateras says:

    Essentially, the question at hand here is: Is technology going to take over the world? Are human beings going to be replaced by machines? Let us look at the effects of electricity on democracy; perhaps the patterns in the past can give us insight into how the future will unfold in terms of technological advancements. According to Marvin, electricians believed that with the more general application of electricity through society, the world could change only to their advantage. Electricity had the vitality of a natural force; they had charge of its control and direction. Electrical professionals were confidently and proudly prophesying utopian accomplishments through the proper exercise of electrical knowledge, especially at the most abstract levels of discussion about the future of civilization. Electrical promise essentially suggests a systematic, integrated, and sensible model of the world.
    Now, let’s look at what electricity has done for our society from a modern perspective. While it has certainly dictated a range of lifestyle choices, from talking on the phone to going to the movies to sending e-mails and browsing the Web, it has also threatened our democratic values in several ways. While they were improving lifestyles at home, they were also changing them. If expansion meant progress in the introduction of electricity, it also threatened a delicately balanced order of private secrets and public knowledge, in particular that boundary between what was to be kept privileged and what could be shared between oneself and society, oneself and one’s family, parents, servants, spouse, or sweetheart. For example, electrical communication made families, courtships, class identities, and other arenas of interaction suddenly strange and different. Electrical threat essentially suggests a fragmented, unsystematic, exceptional model of the world.
    I believe that artificial intelligence is a technology we should be careful and apprehensive in pursuing. I believe the main moral and ethical implication of artificial intelligences is obvious; there are already too many of us living in poverty without work there is little or no reason to create mechanical laborers (that can think independently). And that we certainly should not create machines that can argue with us about such issues. Humans should remain, above all, the most powerful force in society. Not machines.

  8. Joshua Dunn says:

    What Ray Kurzweil is essentially saying is that in order for us to maintain an ethical standard for the future of technology, we must be willing to discuss and evaluate the ethical implications of advances in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology before they become a part of mainstream society. While many of these “future technologies” seem far off in their development (and many of them are), we must remember how quickly new technologies can pose new ethical problems, i.e. the Manhattan Project.

    Kurzweil believes that within the next fifty years, man and machine will come together in something he calls “The Singularity.” This will be a time in which humans and machines have become so fluid with each other that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the two. While this scenario connotes something dire, I must say that I am personally exhilarated by such a possibility.

    I’m excited not so much by my belief that modern technology will make life easier for us, but more for it’s sheer possibility to do so. If this “Singularity” does occur, I’ll be lucky enough to say that I was part of a unique generation of human history. Now, I’m not at all trying to make a pompous statement about our generation in relation to all previous generations; I’m only pointing out that (assuming this “Singularity” does occur), our generation will be the first to possess our future in a way that no other has. Unlike past generations, who faced challenges through material, natural, or political deficiencies, this generation will face ethical challenges that previously never existed – one’s relating directly to technology.

    That being said, I think we should never avoid certain technologies because of their future ethical implications. It’s unreasonable to think that the world will coalesce around a single idea of technological “containment,” as it’s impossible for our country to regulate the advancement of technologies in other parts of the world, just as it’s impossible for them to do the same to us. If we avoid the technologies that pose difficult moral questions, we’ll never know the true character of what it means to be human, or for that matter what our overall capabilities are.

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