One of the great things about being into science and technology journalism is, unlike so many other areas of human endeavour, I don’t feel like I’m consistently dealing with the negative side effects of the latest online app or swarms of killer nanobots overwhelming humanity in a binge of function creep gone completely mad. No, science and technology journalism is exciting stuff and genuinely hopeful, positive material. I’ve always been into technology’s ability to connect people and communities, but more to the point, I’m a big believer in that idea that the next steps in human evolution will be dictated largely by how we respond to the ever-growing challenges poised by the culture of digital. There are some who argue that the next stages in human evolution will be about the transhumanist movement and the conflict some people will have with such a radical change in the human condition.
And, of course, there are many who argue that any steps we take in taking control of our evolution must be done in accordance with the laws of nature: don’t speed up things nature never intended to go fast without considering every potential outcome, the law of unintended consequences grows ever more at odds with the intended result of self-directed change depending how “big” a change it is to an organism(s), and any changes made to the human species can’t fulfill cultural/ideological/class/ethnic/sex stereotyping in order to serve a political or economic end. In other words, any major evolutionary changes to ourselves have to be very well-thought out. They must have established international protocols that defy socio-political-militaristic alliances or conflicts. Finally, human changes must be done in a way that doesn’t violate bioethical standards that we must establish before we proceed, not on the fly when one rogue scientist decides to create a weapon for a terrorist group that happens to go off in a major city somewhere and kills millions because we didn’t realize what kinds of unintended consequences would result from a new technology. Don’t laugh or think this is sci-fi; nanotechnology, for example, is very real and will likely be ready for mass medical deployment and infrastructure-based use within the next 15 years. The Super Soldier idea – the kind of soldier with multitasking interfaces and heightened sensory inputs and outputs – is closer than you think. There’s a lot of very new technology coming and if we don’t start considering laws and protocols for them now, we may regret it.
Al Gore makes a very interesting remark in his new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Old technologies plus old habits equals consequences. New technologies plus old habits equals dramatic new consequences. It’s a very simple idea, really. Our old habits have to start changing and fast. I’m concerned, as many of you must be, that this is all utopia – people being people, some folks will always look for advantages and ways to exploit others to that advantage. Hell, the most alarming technology of the 20th century – atomic weapons – is still in the disarmament stage among developed nations, but as we all know, up-and-coming powers like India and China would love to get their hands on an arsenal of those weapons and we don’t need a history lesson on why North Korea or Iran wouldn’t exactly turn down an offer for nuclear technology either. Even these technologies – long thought the veritable razor’s edge of human existence, the tipping point technology that has pushed our moral instincts to their very limits – are still considered the Pandora’s Box that no nation would ever, truly, dare use again.
There are several things that human beings clearly need to do to make us count and function in the new era of digital technology (not only for quality of life purposes, but just so we survive this century).
Are human beings capable of acting non-selfishly? Of course we are. For the many evil acts humans do everyday on this planet, we’re capable of great generosity, kindness and compassion.
Can and should technology help us move towards a more compassionate, evolved future? Perhaps. One can also make the argument that any uses of technology to “change us” suits a very clear ideological purpose no matter what the intended goals are; changing us to be less selfish and more evolved (say, removing or reshaping certain aspects of human limbic system to be less motivated by emotion and more towards long-term memory) may make things better for many of us in terms of conflict resolution, but who’s purpose would that serve? Would that serve elites who could enjoy a much more docile populace who’d remember the horrors of crime, violence and war much more readily but would be willing to sacrifice freedom for peace?
These are very complex questions, I admit. I certainly don’t have any answers. All I know is we have to face these issues sooner or later and it’s vital we start dialogues on what we are, where we’re going and we can all make this work together before we reach the point of no return.
WEB 3.0: Web 2.0 is so last year. Bring on Web 3.0 – an incarnation of the web that will start delivering on that all-important aspect of online activity: Semantic Searching, or the Semantic Web.
It’s a common annoyance when it comes to search online; you look up something and you need something specifically-related to your topic. You punch in the search terms and you get a ginormous number of hits that may or may not have a relationship to your search terms.
Web 3.0 will really start to deliver on specific needs online, which could be a boon for search engines. This article, while dense, is very much worth a read.
Personally, I’m also of mind that Web 3.0 will not only be about a more “intelligent” Semantic web, but also about the rise of the mobile web into everyday life. Today, we’ve got loads of devices – BlackBerry, cellphones, wireless internet on laptops – that use the web without wires, no big deal anymore. But what about the web on fridges? Microwaves? Washing machines? Cars? Daily appliances that could be activated from work? This is an important area of Web 3.0 – the next logical step of the web into the public sphere.
VEGETARIANISM: As I’ve mentioned, I’m going on a two-month experiment of vegetarianism. It’s part of a set of personal goals with the intent of small goals reaching into bigger ones. If all goes well, I’m cutting red meat and chicken out of diet forever (I may, rarely, eat fish for the essential fatty acids human bodies need, as fish are loaded with healthy goodness, minus the mercury poisoning).