"Accustomed to living with almost routine scientific breakthroughs, we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies - genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR techs) - pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only once - but one bot can become many, and quickly get out of control. Much of my work over the past 25 years has been on computer networking, where the sending and receiving of messages creates the opportunity for out-of-control replication. But while replication in a computer or a computer network can be a nuisance, at worst it disables a machine or takes down a network or network service. Uncontrolled self-replication in these newer technologies runs a much greater risk: a risk of substantial damage in the physical world."
Every now and then I will come back to particular landmark and classic articles from the last 10 years. Why? First, trying to keep it actual in the blogosphere, also for younger readers :-) Second, to investigate the current status of the articles. Third, to spur discussion on overarching views on key topics affecting all of us, privately, commercially and/or collectively. The above quote from the article by Bill Joy on new technologies and their dangers is in my view a reason for concern. This elaborate article touches a broad range of key themes, issues and topics, among others: democratisation of new knowledge and technologies (think open source and WWW); the fragility of human made systems (social and economic systems as well as software), privacy versus collective control/transparency, open source versus restrictions on key GNR knowledge, commercialism versus public good, ethics and politics in scientific progress, human nature related to truth seeking, the evolution of evolution, space exploration, happiness in general (Dalai Lama) and the interactions of values like liberty, equality and fraternity and many many more. With quotes from people like Carl Sagan, Arthur C Clarke, Danny Hillis, Freeman Dyson and others.
What strikes me is that Bill Joys' concerns surrounding the rise of GNR technologies probably have been faded or ignored by mass media due to the landmark WTC event with more traditional technologies. Nuclear, biological and chemical technologies/weapons are in focus right now due to the rise of different terrorist groups around the world. This is unfortunate in my belief as his concerns are still valid and even more so due to the technological advancement in GNR technologies since the year 2000. Pandora's boxes with unintended consequences seem to have enough historic precedents considering the atomic bomb since World War 2. The key here is that we humans might make ourselves obsolete in this century and that self-replication within GNR technologies is a cause for concern.