1. write a one paragraph summary statement about the article characterizing the main message of the article?

Three technologies which emerged during the end of the last century will attain a threshold of maturity within the next few decades. They are: robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering. These technologies are qualitatively different from any previous human inventions: they are self-replicating, just as living things are self-replicating. That difference endows those technologies with a transformative potential that is almost impossible to overestimate. They will change our world radically. The nature of that change is a matter for speculation; optimists see a future of unlimited potential, pessimists see the end of our species, and both possibilities are credible and worthy of serious consideration. We must begin talking and acting now in order to conrol the development of these technologies and direct their transformative power in ways that align with our values.

2. Who is Bill Joy?

He’s a cofounder of Sun, architect of Berkeley UNIX (among other accomplishments in software engineering), subject of an interview in the current issue of Wired, and the author of this quote, for which I admire him (even more so because he set it up by quoting Woody Allen):

“Each of us has our precious things, and as we care for them we locate the essence of our humanity. In the end, it is because of our great capacity for caring that I remain optimistic we will confront the dangerous issues now before us.”

3. what did you find

3.1. interesting about the article?

All of it, but especially the identification of those three technologies and their common quality: self-replication.

3.2. not find interesting about the article?


4. with which arguments (focused on predicting future developments) do you

4.1. agree

I believe that a planetary crisis (in the systems theory sense, ie. a bifurcation point) is coming in our lifetimes. I think it’s very difficult if not impossible from our perspective to predict what the world will look like afterwards, but that the extinction of our species, or its reduction to a state where extinction is inevitible, is a real possibility (let’s say fifty-fifty). My reasons for believing that have more to do with current social and environmental trends than with the technologies Joy (or Kaczynski or Moravec) talks about, but we agree it’s possible.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I read two of Ray Kurzweil’s books a couple years ago and at the time I remember I found his predictions pretty convincing too. If we mangage not to kill ourselves who knows what wonderful things might be in store for humanity.

4.2. disagree

I don’t believe that relinquishment is practicable or that a hippocratic oath for scientists would be effective. I think we might be able to affect the outcome of the crisis by going into it differently prepared, but I don’t think it’s possible to avert it altogether.

5. does the article relate to

5.1. other topics / themes you have studied at CU?


5.2. to your personal interests and life?

Yes, certainly. I have read a couple of the authors Joy refers to and others are on my list.

6. how should we react to this article

6.1. on an individual basis?

Invest in robotics.

6.2. on a societal basis?

I don’t know what it means for a society to “act” or “react.”
(I know you mean in terms of policy changes, but I’m ducking this question because it is too difficult.)

7. which concepts /names mentioned in the article did you not understand?

8. would you consider yourself

8.1. a techno-utopist (“glorifying the future”)

8.2. a techno-pessimist (“glorifying the past”)

8.3. or how would you characterize your own position?

I don’t like either label. I guess I think that in the present we can see some glorious things disappearing from the world, so maybe I glorify the past. But I also have high hopes for the future, and I think if we ever do approach some kind of utopian ideal technology will be have been a big part of our getting there.

9. how well have futurists succeeded or failed to predict the disappearance in the digital age of

9.1. paper

9.2. books

9.3. physical libraries

9.4. distances between people

I don’t know which futurists predicted what, but paper, books, and libraries are still with us, obviously. I hope they always will be. Distances between people really have grown small though. I have friends and family on 4 continents who I’m in touch with regularly. Tomorrow my cousin is coming from Australia for a few days. I see my friends who live in New York almost as often as I see my friends in Denver. Distance hasn’t disappeared, but it has shrunk and diminished in importance.