Is technology making us safer?

Is technology making us safer?

Summary: "Is Technology Making Us Safer" was the most entertaining and bleak panel at the AO2005 Summit.

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TOPICS: Malware
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"Is Technology Making Us Safer" was the most entertaining and bleak panel at the AO2005 Summit. Paul Saffo, Director and Roy Amara Fellow at the Institute for the Future, moderated the event, refereeing exchanges among the curmongeonly George Gilder, author and editor of the Gilder Technology Report; a rather joyless Bill Joy, Sun cofounder, author of "Why Technology Doesn't Need Us," and now a VC at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; and the lucid Jaron Lanier, computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author.


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From left: George Gilder, Bill Joy and Jaron Lanier

Joy started out by exposing his greatest technology fear--the increasing power of an individual to do catastrophic harm whether via a virus that runs through the Net causing economic damage or a manufactured or engineeered biological agent with the potential to kill millions. "We have to find a way through public policy to deal with the assymetric capability of a single actor to use the power of exponential to create an epidemic," Joy said.

George Gilder, the fire breathing, libertarian dragon, followed Joy's remarks, saying how amazed he was by the "damage to Bill's brain inflicted by one biological encounter in Aspen with Amory Lovins," calling Joy "one of most valuable minds in world," but a "menace to society and freedoms" because of his stance on restricting technology, such as bioengineering data, such as the gene sequence of pathogens. "Free societies are safer when technology moves faster," Gilder said. In a later interview that will air on the Gillmor Gang, Gilder said that putting massive scientific energy into preventing pathogens, compared the infinitesimal number of people who want to unleash pathogens, mandates that technology be open, which will drive more rapid technological advances.

Gilder's AO2005 rant went on: "The greatest wisdom expressed on the subject is by Edward teller--the inventor of the hydrogen bomb--who observed that after World War II, the U.S. could not even compete with the Soviet Union in nuclear and rocket technology which we classified and rendered  secret. The reason the Soviet Union didn't dominate the world is because the U.S. didn't control computer technology, so people like Joy and Lanier could contrive fabulous computer technology that made the U.S. the dominant economy and military force in the world. It thrived because it was open. If you try to control and regulate it, then fewer people will know about it and fewer remedies can be contrived, and it's harder to identify threats. Everything is worse by following Bill's saftey-first program that left the world with suppressing air travel and the wheel and every major advance of technology."

In concert with bashing Joy's views, Gilder called global warming as an imbecilic phobia prevailing around the Stanford campus. He said that what worries him are the people like Bill Joy who are worried about global warming. "These are real phobias that distract our attention," Gilder said. "The best remedy for Bill's threat is very fast advances in bioengineering and pharmacology, and an array of scientific advances could help." Joy countered that his take on global warming wasn't based on "faith" but on consensus among the scientific community.

Rasta-haired, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier followed up Gilder's blasts, and surmised that even George might not want to publish the killer virus spec the moment it came into existence. "I don't have a fear about a sudden exponential onslaught of things...I share both your optimism and fear, and agree that new technology is the only path forward for people. Any anti-tech stance is death to us because we must engage with it. At the same time, the way we talk about technolgy as becoming autonomous is scaring the hell out of rest of the world...I'm concerned about driving an anti-tech trend in U.S. I'm not so much scared by a terrorist or lone hacker, but society as a whole is losing faith in technology and science." He cited the retreat from federal funding for long term science projects as evidence of a growing problem.

All very entertaining, but a serious discussion. You can watch a streaming Webcast of the panel here.  

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43 comments
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  • since we're exploring

    I heard no mention of the alien threat. (you know, little green men)
    pesky_z
  • What consensus? Scientist are overwhelmingly against Kyoto

    "Joy countered that his take on global warming wasn't based on "faith" but on consensus among the scientific community."

    There is no consensus. In fact, most scientists disagree with the global warming alarmists.

    There are 17,000 scientists that have signed the Petition Project: http://www.sitewave.net/PPROJECT/

    "It is a petition signed by nearly 17,000 US scientists, half of whom are trained in the fields of physics, geophysics, climate science, meteorology, oceanography, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry. The statement was circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine along with an eight-page abstract of the latest research on climate change. The abstract - written for scientists but comprehensible by laymen - concludes that there is no basis for believing (1) that atmospheric CO2 is causing a dangerous climb in global temperatures, (2) that greater concentrations of CO2 would be harmful, or (3) that human activity leads to global warming in the first place."

    This is more than four times the number of scientists in support of the Kyoto treaty that the Media calls a "consensus" among the science community.
    george_ou
    • one hesitates ...

      ...but this is garbage.

      Where do you get [i]This is more than four times the number of scientists in support of the Kyoto treaty that the Media calls a "consensus" among the science community.[/i]

      If you think science is a democracy show the poll results.

      Maybe have a look [url=http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf]here[/url]
      Dave F_z
      • Where is the consensus?

        Garbage? Here are thousands of PhDs in the relevant fields of science who say the science on global warming is not there. Are you calling all those people idiots?

        In the link you provide, I see maybe 10 signatures. The fact is, there is no consensus and the data is not there to conclude anything. You're talking about 1/2 of 1 degrees warming in the last 100 years. You do realize that climate change is a natural part of the earth. Ever heard of the ice age? About 15 thousand years ago most of North America was covered in ice.

        Questioning what the main stream media reports is not garbage, but a duty. There was a petition that was in favor of Kyoto, but it is dwarfed by the petition project.
        george_ou
        • Numbers

          Nice things numbers - they can be spun is just about any manner you like. The only problem is that Nature cares not one whit for either number manipulation nor "consensus".

          It is most certainly not affected by petitions or ideology (as GWB was forced to confront when for the first time he had to admit that "human activity has an effect on global climate" - check the G8 communiques for confirmation).

          Those 11 signatures are representative of the National Science Academies of each of those nations. You can wave (outdated) petitions around until a cow floats by your bedroom window, the fact of the matter is that mainstream scientific thought in 11 of the most developed and/or populous countries in the world is represented in those signatures.

          This is not about the Kyoto Agreement (birthed in haste and destroyed by avarice) but about the scientific reality of the effects of human behavious on the global climate and the likely reamifications of it proceeding unchecked.

          To claim that 17000 signature petitions are evidence of scientific study is indeed .... garbage.
          Dave F_z
          • The 17,000 signatures are real, not a claim

            There are many good scientists that say there is no certainty in the science of global warming. To say for certain one way or another is scientific garbage.

            Many of the same people that are espousing global warming now were claiming global cooling and a new ice age 20 years ago. There is a lot of hysteria, a lot of bad science, and a lot of budgetary motives (NASA) behind environmental studies.

            The names on the Petition Project are real. They are real PHD and real scientists.
            george_ou
          • Intelligent Design and Christian Scientists

            Yes its true that some things that are passed off as science are NOT. Yes its true that Kyoto was a compromise, and thus imperfect. Yes its true that global temperatures have risen less than 1 degree (C) in the last 100 years. But its also true that CO2 percentage in the atmosphere has DOUBLED in the last 100 years. Geologists have also proven that the CO2 level was high during the reign of the dinosaurs. If you can't see the SIMPLE equation that more CO2 = higher temperatures - you really aren't looking very hard. Even with this "small" change in global temperatures, its effect is not even. That one (average) degree change is a fraction at the equator, while its 2-3 degrees in the arctic. The arctic ice is melting - there is less ice coverage every year - and the arctic sea should be navagable during the summer very soon.

            My degree in Geology was good for at least SOMETHING - I can see this global warming manifesting itself and I don't know which will hurt the human race worse in the future - the ballooning national debt or global warming. George, go talk with your ID buddies and talk shop with the CS, but when it comes to REAL science - leave the talking to those with NATURAL science degrees - not computer science.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Roger, you know the earth warms and cools.

            And we were due for a warming period even without industrialization. The problem is distinguishing human effects, if any, from what would have happened anyway.

            It's a real debate.
            Anton Philidor
          • Use all of Geology

            "But its also true that CO2 percentage in the atmosphere has DOUBLED in the last 100 years."

            As a Geologist, you should already be aware that far more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere every year by volcanic eruptions than by humans. Plus, as Anton mentions elsewhere, the Earth constantly goes through warming and cooling cycles, and was doing so long before humans even walked the Earth. While it can't be denied that CO2 levels are rising, there is absolutely no definitive proof that any of the rise is due to human activity. That's what those who question Global Warming alarmists are arguing.

            To claim that only human activity is increasing CO2 levels is to ignore a large part of Geology.

            Carl Rapson
            rapson
          • Kyoto is useless

            Kyoto will do nothing.

            The problem is not the amount of CO2 but the ability to filter CO2.

            Kyoto is like saying the body is working so lets breath less as we remove more and more of the lung. Stupid!

            The problem is cutting down forests on mass. Natural resource exploitation is the problem. As the Rain forest, the earths lungs, gets get cut down more and more any reduction in CO2 output we put in today will be moot tommorow.

            I think instead of forcing fossil fuel companies to reduce CO2 emission have them fund Brazilian farms to be shepards of the forest. That makes more sense.

            PS: The arctic has always been passable in the summer. Problem is thier summer is about 1 month long. Ever hear of the Noth West Passage? That was the one shipping route used to get ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific back before the Panama Canal.
            voska
          • More Geology

            Human activity in raising CO2 levels is MORE than just pumping out pollution from cars and electric plants. Its cutting down rainforests, and draining marshlands, and blacktop everywhere!

            Yes the equation is very complex. The ocean is still a wild card - it sucks in CO2, but how much? Plants grow faster with more CO2, but what's the limits?

            A couple of months ago in Scientific American, a scientist proposed that man has been global warming for 12000 years! He shows that ice ages up to then, were cyclic with a certain periodicity. Since then, the cycle has changed. He suggests that certain activities of man - irrigation of rice fields being one, have contributed to the buildup of greenhouse gasses. Really an interesting read for those Kyoto poo-pooers.

            Volcanos do spew large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere - but their timings are random, and over time they average out. Man has saturated the oceans with CO2, and NOW those volcanic eruptions have no where to be absorbed - so yes, today they contribute to global warming.

            There are two arguements here - IS there global warming, and IS it caused by man. The people that hate Kyoto come from both camps, and their combined numbers are probably more than the opposition. I believe its a slam dunk that man is causing global warming - but even if its not true, it STILL makes sense to limit greenhouse gasses anyway. Averages don't tell the whole picture, as you can average Kansas skies with LA's and then say that pollution isn't a problem.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Please frame the argument correctly.

            It's possible to agree:
            - that the average temperature measured at certain locations is rising
            - that CO 2 levels are rising
            - that certain human activities produce CO 2
            and still not agree about the conclusions from these facts.

            The discussion isn't about events, it's about causes and conclusions (including predictions) to be drawn from the identified causes.

            So, when you write:
            There are two arguements here - IS there global warming, and IS it caused by man. The people that hate Kyoto come from both camps, and their combined numbers are probably more than the opposition.

            If you allow that human actions could be a contributor, maybe a very minor one, as opposed to "caused by", then you haven't identified grounds for dispute at all.

            The real argument is about the degree of human influence on climate change and the types and impact of attempts to meliorate that influence.
            Anton Philidor
          • Not neccessarily

            [If you allow that human actions could be a contributor, maybe a very minor one, as opposed to "caused by", then you haven't identified grounds for dispute at all.

            The real argument is about the degree of human influence on climate change and the types and impact of attempts to meliorate that influence]

            If there IS global warming (and I think there is no way to dispute it), and man is insignificant in his contributions, shouldn't we be doing SOMETHING to arrest the problem? Even if man accounts for 10% of the total, that's 10% that we CAN do something about. If its not going to make a difference (impossible to say until you try) on a worldwide scale, then it COULD make a difference on a local scale. If you replaced all vehicles with fuel-cell cars, then overall the polution would be the same - but if you replaced all the vehicles in LA - you would make a HUGE impact there.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Subject to debate.

            It's a statement of fact to say Average temperatures have trended higher at certain locations. It's nearly a political statement to jump from there to global warming exists.

            But it's also not irrational. So let's say global warming exists. Then, how much human influence is there?
            You speculated at 10%. I could speculate at 1% or 0.1%. Or 0.01%. Point is, we're speculating.

            If human activities cannot be identified as a substantial cause, why contort human development in order to make a change near-certain to be ineffective? Unless, of course, your purpose is not to answer a threat but to obtain control.

            And you can see from your own post how tempting that is. You decide to reduce the threat by... taking over the design of automobiles. Is that the most important thing to do? Maybe, maybe not. But you really want to change the cars people drive.

            Could be a good reason to make that change. But I'd rather see the change come from rational judgement than the joy of implementing one's ideas or getting people into herds by inducing panic.

            You wrote:
            If its not going to make a difference (impossible to say until you try) on a worldwide scale, then it COULD make a difference on a local scale. If you replaced all vehicles with fuel-cell cars, then overall the polution would be the same - but if you replaced all the vehicles in LA - you would make a HUGE impact there.

            You have to doubt your motives as well as the evidence.
            Anton Philidor
          • hotter? cooler? no, dumber!

            The global warming crowd has conveniently forgotten about the fact that the Earth has long experienced periods of cooler (and hotter) weather far more dramatic than anything that is now going on. The most recent ICE AGE occured a relatively short time ago (so say all those learned Geologists) - some 20,000 years back give or take. Obviously, mankind during the dawn of pre-history had NOTHING to do with this rather significant weather event, nor has its driving force yet been fully identified or explained.

            You can also look at just the last 500 years and find that there were brief periods of unusual weather (like years with little or no summer) that never could have been initiated or influenced by mankind's activities. Volcanic eruptions and solar fares are often cited as the prime movers, but absolute proof is elusive.

            Yet today we have legions of individuals going ballistic because a glacer is melting in Greenland or a mountaintop someplace is loosing its snowcap. Yet the only "suspect" brought to the table is CO2 emissions from all those "evil" industrialized nations.

            A more reasonable discourse might take place if only the global warming advocates would devote some real time and energy toward understanding the true weather dynamnic that most certainly remains operative and must eventually OVERWHELM whatever a few puny humans do (or don't do) in the meantime.

            So go vegian or gas up your SUV. The universe does not care. Really.
            dmennie
          • Clarifying

            The real issue here is technological advances. Global warming is being urged as a way to produce enough panic to give control to those who know best how to run society. In their view. They want to a government of like-minded experts to restrict how well people can live.

            Think of it as a globalized anti-sprawl campaign.

            You wrote:
            Many of the same people that are espousing global warming now were claiming global cooling and a new ice age 20 years ago. There is a lot of hysteria, a lot of bad science, and a lot of budgetary motives (NASA) behind environmental studies.

            You're right, but the motive is a lot grander. Imagine a committee given control of the energy use in the world, in charge of which technologies are implemented, if they are to be permitted at all.

            In their view, people trying to improve their lives are only messing up the world, creating problems from overpopulation on. A simple world with fewer people, who are only a regrettable excrescence on untrammelled nature. Limited technologies and isolation in small enclaves.

            When you see a nature documentary in which humans are treated as the enemies of Earth, you're seeing the ideology of our wannabe rulers.
            Anton Philidor
          • That's the funny part

            Global warming will produce an ice age. I'm no expert here but I do have friend who is a eviromental engineer. I agrued with him about global warming and asked why we have colder winters and colder summers today as compared to when I was kid.

            His explanation as I understood it was as the earth gets warmer causes the polar ice caps to melt. This dilutes the salt content of the ocean which stops the warm currents from going north and south. The equatorial regions heat up and more evaporation of the oceans occur and that is carried north and south by the winds. We should see and increase in winds but he didn't get into why, something to do with increased moisture I think.

            So with no polar ice caps and massive evaporation the oceans will recede exposing more land mass. The moisture will then get dumped on the polar regions where it is cold and dry due to receding oceans. Now just talking about the arctic that exposed land there will be cold and the moiture will freeze forming massive amounts of ICE. The ICE will move south as there will be no heat coming north forming an ICE age.

            Now I've just gone off memory so it's something like that. I do remember him saying this would take a long time to occur. Not that something like that will happen over night like that movie, "The Day After tommorow". It would take a very long time.
            voska
          • Day after tommorrow

            Nice movie - good special effects. It was a very exaggerated view of the future for sure.

            (Prevaling) Winds only cross the equator twice a year, all the rest of the time the equator acts as a barrier to winds.

            Yes, the warming of the planet can create ice ages - and the movie did a decent job of explaining that - less ice, less salt, no movement of heat from equator to the north, and we all see weather like Siberia. I CAN stand the cold (being from Siberia USA - Detroit), but I have to wonder about those billions of people that will need to live in 140 degree heat on the equator . . .
            Roger Ramjet
          • Inducing panic.

            Frightened people can be controlled by offering them an escape from what's frightening them. That's among the most primitive uses of propaganda. It is also the basic concept behind terrorism.

            Consider that very stupid movie a primitive effort in a primitive form of propaganda.


            For reference, if you want to see a more subtle, successful effort along the same lines, consider "strontium-90 in the milk" and its impact on banning the testing of nuclear weapons.
            Anton Philidor
          • Panic in Detroit!

            [Frightened people can be controlled by offering them an escape from what's frightening them. That's among the most primitive uses of propaganda. It is also the basic concept behind terrorism.

            Consider that very stupid movie a primitive effort in a primitive form of propaganda.


            For reference, if you want to see a more subtle, successful effort along the same lines, consider "strontium-90 in the milk" and its impact on banning the testing of nuclear weapons.]

            Pure scientific data is not itself propagandistic - its the use of said data that can be dangerous. Somehow I can see EITHER side of this debate used for propaganda and control. Don't condemn the theory because people want to use it for nefarious purposes.
            Roger Ramjet