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EoC 2000: Most important changes since 1986?

from the trying-to-figure-out-what's-going-on dept.
BryanBruns writes "In connection with the Engines of Creation 2000 project, it would be interesting to discuss what seem to be the most important changes to consider for revising Engines of Creation, and more generally for formulating scenarios and strategies to "prepare society for advanced technologies." Below is a short list, which might stimulate discussion about the most important changes to consider, and their implications:
End of the cold war: democratization, capitalist globalization, China joining WTO…
Weak and poorly deliberated policies for science and technology: OTA abolished. No science courts. Media focus on risks frames discussion of environment, nuclear, biotech and other technologies.
Silicon Valley rules: network economy, web, internet time, open source, etc.
No big breakthroughs yet in AI: IT industry investing heavily in nanoscale technologies to follow Moore's law, biotech advancing rapidly, suggesting nanotech likely before artificial intelligence".
Read More for implications.

"End of the cold war: democratization, capitalist globalization, China joining WTO…

Increased likelihood of peacefully forging international agreements to help deal with technological advance (especially if we can avoid being entrapped by cold war-type memes of containment, zero-sum power struggles, clash of civilizations, etc. and instead leverage interdependence and emerging international civil society).

Weak and poorly deliberated policies for science and technology: OTA abolished. No science courts. Media focus on risks frames discussion of environment, nuclear, biotech and other technologies.

Public discussion of advanced technologies likely to be dominated by fears and conservative memes (sustainability, precautionary principle) rather than opportunities.

Silicon Valley rules: network economy, web, internet time, open source, etc.

Nanotech likelier to be developed openly in dynamic commercial markets, rather than military-industrial secrecy.

No big breakthroughs yet in AI: IT industry investing heavily in nanoscale technologies to follow Moore's law, biotech advancing rapidly, suggesting nanotech likely before artificial intelligence.

Strengthens likelihood that nanotech will evolve gradually, subject to ordinary engineering learning processes (as argued by Ted Kaehler, in Crandall's Nanotechnology), rather than a "two-week revolution," or hard takeoff to singularity (Vinge). Therefore more time and opportunity to prepare society and achieve futures "with room enough for our dreams."

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10 Responses to “EoC 2000: Most important changes since 1986?”

  1. Kvan Says:

    Media on technology == politicians on technology.

    Even more important than the public's interpretation of media messages, politicians in democratic nations are becoming increasingly populistic. This means that the media are much, much closer to the decision-making process. It also means that the lawmaking environment is no longer conducive to advanced technology. This is very, very important: From a government-sponsored pursuit, advanced science is becoming an uphill battle against legislators taking their cues from a scaremongering press.

    Another thing worth considering is that multinational corporations are increasingly involved in decisionmaking, and have generally become even more rich and powerful. They will have a very profound effect on the utilization of the technologies we develop.

  2. Johnny X Says:

    Re:Media on technology == politicians on technolog

    Dear Kvan,
    Politicians have always been populist. The media has always influenced the decision process, at least at those points where science and law overlap, which seem to be many. Too many IMHO.

    Money and/or power has always influenced decision making. If it didn't why bother to work to acquire it? What's your point?

    Yours truly,
    Mr. X

  3. EddieWehri Says:

    response to cold war etc..

    >End of the cold war: democratization, capitalist >globalization, China joining WTO… Whereas I am hopeful that these trends will continue and worldwide conversion towards capitalism might continue I do not think that is where the real danger lies. If nanotech remains in the hands of the major civilized nations I think everything will be fine, at the very least there will be a mutually assured destruction scenario to keep everyone in place like the nuclear threat. The problem lies in the possibility of warring nations like the middle east getting access to the technology and using it without real thoughts of the consequences. Also never forget the rouge nations and rouge leaders. I think near term low-tech nanoweapons could be devastating and almost impossible to detect, with an "active shield" type of technology not coming around for some time. >"Weak and poorly deliberated policies for science and technology: OTA abolished. No science courts. Media focus on risks frames discussion of environment, nuclear, biotech and other technologies." As someone mentioned before I believe the scaremongering press will be one of the major choke points to nanotech. Already they have whiped up wide-scale panic about GM foods even though they have been scientifically proven safe and people have been eating it for years already with no ill effects. I also believe there will probably be a rather strong neo-Luddite movement popping up really soon, it might even become a political platform. I don't beleive this will stop the techonology from evolving just slow it down, but the real damage will be the extreme negative spotlight that will ne then pointed at the new industy. "Silicon Valley rules: network economy, web, internet time, open source, etc." Obviously the world-wide interconnectively will create the possiblity of world-wide collaboration and discussion, like with nanodot, which speeds things up a lot. Also the tremendous potential for making money in nanotech will create a great push towards developing the technology quickly. Unfortuneately revelent discussions of safety and society concerns will probably become lost in the whirlwind frenzy of technological lust that probably evolve. "No big breakthroughs yet in AI: IT industry investing heavily in nanoscale technologies to follow Moore's law, biotech advancing rapidly, suggesting nanotech likely before artificial intelligence". It all depends on how you define it I guess. The term AI is constantly being re-defined. First it was only things that can compute, then intelligence was being able to beat a world champion chess player, then it was more intuitive processes like music, painting and poetry(well computers now can do all those things and autonomously). Same thing with nanotech. Do we define it when we have nanoscale medical technolgy(well we have that right now). Maybe when we have self-replicating machinery, or will it have to be it AI nanomachinery. I think the approach to singualrity will be a constantly evolving process of incremental advances in AI and nano. They only momumental changes will come about when computers become conscious, and we attain the holy grail of fully programmable self-replicating autonomous nanomachines. As to which one of those comes first that is a toss up.

  4. MarkGubrud Says:

    Well, yes, and then again…

    Bryan's generalizations are reasonable and plausible, but as often with such generalizations, in some cases so are their antitheses.

    "End of the cold war: democratization, capitalist globalization, China joining WTO…Increased likelihood of peacefully forging international agreements to help deal with technological advance

    You can argue that the absence of fundamental ideological conflict and intense military confrontation may make international agreements easier to achieve, but it is not clear that commercial competition will be less effective than military competition in disrupting efforts to implement regimes of restraint. Democratization is certainly a hopeful trend, but I don't see how you can mention China in the same sentence without noting that it is far from a completed process, and the pace, if not the ultimate outcome, remains in doubt.

    Most significantly, in the arms control arena, the end of the Cold War has had some perverse effects. By calming the public's immediate fears of a nuclear apocalypse, it has all but eliminated the political constituency for arms control progress, while on the other side, the defense industry, its employees, and the military itself remain powerful and well-organized constituencies.

    At a deeper level, the appearance of "victory" in the Cold War, combined with the spectacular rout of Iraq in the Kuwait war, has fueled an arrogant belief in America's ability to defend its interests and maintain hegemony in the world through unilateral action and technological military supremacy. This "lone superpower" arrogance is reflected in US rejection of the antipersonnel landmines treaty, the International Court of Justice, deeper reductions in nuclear forces, and a space weapons ban, and in its delusional pursuit of a ballistic missile shield and its apparent willingness to abandon the ABM Treaty and throw wide the gates to a renewed strategic arms race.

    The result has been an almost total lack of progress in major arms control negotiations during the Clinton years, as compared with very dramatic initiatives that were undertaken in the latter part of the Reagan-Bush-Gorbachev era. Despite the general absence of intense confrontation, the willingness and eagerness of Russia, China, and US allies to move forward on the arms control agenda, and a US administration ideologically favored toward this agenda, on the most important fronts (nuclear reductions, space weapons and missile defense) we have been stalled or lost ground since 1992. The only major arms control regime that has been implemented in this period with the US as a participant is the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that had been negotiated under previous administrations. The only important initiative undertaken by the Clinton administration was the nuclear test ban, and despite its widespread endorsement by credible authorites and established institutions, that was sacrificed to partisan politics by the Republican Senate–further evidence of how low in priority arms control has fallen on the public agenda.

    You might argue that there is a difference between international agreements that might be undertaken to ensure adequate safety precautions in using molecular nanotechnology, and those concerning the restriction of military uses. In practice, I think there is likely to be a strong linkage, with each side of the equation needing the other in order to be successful.

    Public discussion of advanced technologies likely to be dominated by fears and conservative memes (sustainability, precautionary principle) rather than opportunities.

    Certainly public concerns, not always scientifically well-justified, about nuclear, chemical, and more recently, genetic technologies, have been very influential in recent years, and from this one might expect perhaps unreasonably strong prejudices against MNT. The other side, however, is the public's seemingly unbounded enthusiasm for the gush of computer, internet, other electronic, and medical technologies. How the public reacts to MNT may be determined in part by perceptions of which of these categories it fits into.

    Silicon Valley rules: Nanotech likelier to be developed openly in dynamic commercial markets, rather than military-industrial secrecy.

    While it is certainly true that the leading edge of computer, information and communication technologies is to be found in the commercial sector, it remains the case that about half of all basic S&T research in the United States is military-funded, even if much of it is carried out under minimal or nonexistent security, with most findings published in the open literature. This is particularly true of research in the area of nanotechnology. It is also the case that, the closer a technology is to practical realization, the more secrecy is applied in the research. I would not agree that, as of this point in time, MNT is more likely to be first developed in the commercial sector than in government-funded and military labs. Certainly, Zyvex and IMM have the most forward outlook and are seeking the most direct route to assembler development, but that goal is still a long way off and it is too early to dismiss the likelihood that the government will jump in with $Billions of very targeted research once the goal comes within reach of a plannable program.

    No big breakthroughs yet in AI: IT industry investing heavily in nanoscale technologies to follow Moore's law, biotech advancing rapidly, suggesting nanotech likely before artificial intelligence.

    Gee, I guess there haven't been any big breakthroughs in self-replicating molecular assemblers, either. On the other hand, we saw a computer beat the world's chess champion, we have seen personal computers grow powerful enough to run "AI" software, including continuous speech recognition, we have seen the development of powerful search engines that function very much like associative memories in being able to dredge up tons of information for us in milliseconds. I would say the development of AI is still very much on schedule, and with computers due to hit human equivalence in raw throughput within the next very few decades, it is still an open question which will arrive first, assemblers or artificial engineers. I have always agreed with Kaehler about the implausibility of a "two-week revolution," but a twenty-year revolution could be harrowing enough, and there is reason to fear its snowballing into something very much like Vinge's Singularity, at the end.

  5. EddieWehri Says:

    Whoops forgot HTML format..Cold war response.

    End of the cold war: democratization, capitalist globalization, China joining WTO…

    Whereas I am hopeful that these trends will continue and worldwide conversion towards capitalism might continue I do not think that is where the real danger lies. If nanotech remains in the hands of the major civilized nations I think everything will be fine, at the very least there will be a mutually assured destruction scenario to keep everyone in place like the nuclear threat. The problem lies in the possibility of warring nations like the middle east getting access to the technology and using it without real thoughts of the consequences. Also never forget the rouge nations and rouge leaders. I think near term low-tech nanoweapons could be devastating and almost impossible to detect, with an "active shield" type of technology not coming around for some time.

    Weak and poorly deliberated policies for science and technology: OTA abolished. No science courts. Media focus on risks frames discussion of environment, nuclear, biotech and other technologies.

    As someone mentioned before I believe the scaremongering press will be one of the major choke points to nanotech. Already they have whiped up wide-scale panic about GM foods even though they have been scientifically proven safe and people have been eating it for years already with no ill effects. I also believe there will probably be a rather strong neo-Luddite movement popping up really soon, it might even become a political platform. I don't beleive this will stop the techonology from evolving just slow it down, but the real damage will be the extreme negative spotlight that will then be pointed at the new industy.

    Silicon Valley rules: network economy, web, internet time, open source, etc.

    Obviously the world-wide interconnectively will create the possiblity of world-wide collaboration and discussion, like with nanodot, which speeds things up a lot. Also the tremendous potential for making money in nanotech will create a great push towards developing the technology quickly. Unfortuneately revelent discussions of safety and societal concerns will probably become lost in the whirlwind frenzy of technological lust that will probably evolve.

    No big breakthroughs yet in AI: IT industry investing heavily in nanoscale technologies to follow Moore's law, biotech advancing rapidly, suggesting nanotech likely before artificial intelligence.

    It all depends on how you define it I guess. The term AI is constantly being re-defined. First it was only things that can compute, then intelligence was being able to beat a world champion chess player, then it was more intuitive processes like music, painting and poetry(well computers now can do all those things and autonomously). Same thing with nanotech. Do we define it when we have nanoscale medical technolgy(well we have that right now). Maybe when we have self-replicating machinery, or will it have to be it AI nanomachinery. I think the approach to singualrity will be a constantly evolving process of incremental advances in AI and nano. They only momumental changes will come about when computers become conscious, and we attain the holy grail of fully programmable self-replicating autonomous nanomachines. As too which one of those comes first that is a toss up.
  6. WillWare Says:

    Off-topic: science, math tutorials

    Something I'd really like to see as an addendum to the EoC2K project would be a collection of basic tutorials in physics, chemistry, math, computer science, materials science, and the other topics that the average person needs in order to reason about nanotech.

    In a perfect world, this would be a miracle of CDROM education, sufficient to get a marginally-motivated high schooler to the point of following the arguments in Nanosystems. As impossible as that sounds, I think it is actually a worthwhile long-term goal, though any near-term effort would obviously be much less ambitious.

    If the educational miracle could some day be accomplished, it would go a long way to prepare the general public to have intelligent discussions on the many complex issues that will come up as nanotech approaches reality.

    Initially the thing could start out as a list of URLs for existing resources, such as are linked to from http://www.dmoz.org for physics and chemistry. Gradually, where available materials were deemed wanting, better ones could be written, or more thoroughly nanotech-related versions might replace otherwise good materials.

  7. Matthew_Gream Says:

    How about material to draw from ?

    Before putting forward specific categories, how about listing important works to read and distill as part of the process?

    For instance, Manuel Castell's trilogy on 'The Information Age' has been considered an important sociological analysis of the world. In the past week, I also read 'The Olive Tree and the Lexus' which is another view on the changing nature of the world.

    The multiple perspectives may help to synthesise key points – Manuel Castells has as excellent book on technopolises (Silicon Valley, Boston, Cambridge, Germany … etc), even.

    Matthew.
    Parma, Italy

  8. Kvan Says:

    Re:Media on technology == politicians on technolog

    Politicians have always been populist, yes, but their willingness to act based on a single case has (at least in Europe) accelerated in the 1990s. In this way, media influence has grown significantly (again, at least over here).

    Similarly, while there's nothing new in money and power influencing things, this influence has historically been much more localized than it is today, where Monsanto can have exclusive world-wide control of an organism.

    In short, I'm not saying that this is anything new at all–just that these types of influence have been increasing in power since 1986 (and earlier, of course), and it would be good if the book reflected that.

  9. BryanBruns Says:

    We could try posting brief book reviews

    Good idea.

    One approach might be to write brief reviews, summarizing the key ideas and their implications for "preparing society for advanced technology." Slashdot has a separate listing for reviews, and if we get enough reviews. something like that might be worth doing on Nanodot.

    I'm trying to work my way through Castell's trilogy (after reading the volume summaries first). I'd be interested in what you see as the most relevant points and implications.

  10. Matthew_Gream Says:

    Re:We could try posting brief book reviews

    I would like to contribute a review of works at some stage, but I am not sure that my critical analysis skills are honed enough yet. I am hoping that Amazon is always a good place to pick up reviews on books, even if they may sometimes be generated by the plebicite, and if I could post book reviews on anything, it would be my first place (insert comments about the meta nature of information structuring as it will play itself out in the digital economy … meta entities should reference something like amazon … maybe).

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