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"The Future does not Compute"
I am reading "the Future does not Compute" by Stephen L. Talbott.
I wonder if anyone else has gotten into this. Its a fairly interesting
read that is some of the typical trendy reactionism against the
utopianism of various visionaires promoting cyberspace and
the bit revolution. Talbott however seems to be awfully vague in his criticisms.
They seem to amount to, "I'm not sure what the net is missing,
but it lacks something crucial that is the essence of our humanity".
It reminds me of the various criticisms against AI by Penrose
and Searle, "the technology fundamentally lacks, and will continue
to lack, that inexpressible something that makes us human which
is impossible to define or characterize."
One quote drew my attention. He quoted an anonymous participant
on an "irvc-l" discussion list:
While I'm not forecasting Utopia, I think networks of the future
will be the most incredibly egalitarian technology ever invented.
It will transform our entire societies. Imagine that homeless people
or single parent children can "interconnect" with anybody who
is willing to talk to them in the *world*. The possibilities are rather
dazzling. Sure, there might be even cyberspatial outcasts, but the point
is that we will be doing *at least* as well as we are now, which is not
something to "write home" about.
The writing seems vaguely familiar, yet I can't quit pin it down. I
think I might have been on that list in the time period, and I am trying
to figure out the authorship. (And am a bit annoyed at Talbott for not giving
proper credit.) Surely one of the visionaires like Gilmore, Barlow,
Rotenberg, or somesuch. Its an interesting theme; I think it may have been
the same author who said, quoted by Talbott, "the net is fundamentally
democratizing and leveling." If anyone recognizes that quote, maybe
drop me a line. Talbott uses this theme of whether "the Net is
inherently democratizing and leveling" as a counterpoint thought
to the chapter, even at times the whole book.
I am inclined to agree with Talbott in general, by the way, and I think
the quotes are overstated. In my opinion networks are like all other
technologies: they bring out the best and worst in human beings,
beyond what was known previously. In this way technology is like
a magnifying glass on our virtues and vices. We may find the
things that work about our society magnified, but at the same
time our failings become expanded and exacerbated as well.
That is what I like about great technology. It is not necessarily
an ends in itself, but a way of learning about the essence of our human
psychology. It forces us to confront what we find uplifting
and what we find despicable, and removes the possibility of
It seems to me that networks are inherently democratic in
a society that craves democracy, but I don't really believe
that there is fundamentally something egalitarian or democratic
about certain kinds of technology. Actually, I think that
is true in general if *everyone* is given access to the techology,
but the problem is that some governments can use the technology
for themselves as a powerful instrument of control by the elites
over the downtrodden.
To me Talbott has a very good point, that we should be thoughtful
in the creation of new technology, and examine our axioms as
to whether we can even achieve what we are attempting to
derive from it in the long run.
The Thoreauian quote, "men have become the tools
of their tools" comes to mind repeatedly when I read Talbott.
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