Report sparks technology utopia dialog

from the staking-out-the-future dept.
What utopia can technology deliver?, a Tech Update article by Dan Farber, August 9, 2002 continues the dialog sparked by the NSF/DOC report Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. While recommending the report as an important document for considering what future technologies will bring, Farber finds some of the report's suggestions "hard to buy."

Although very much intrigued by the report, Farber has more trouble with its more extreme suggestions:

Solving all the world's problems through this convergence of science and technology requires a large stretch of the imagination, as do many of the concepts in the report. While I am fascinated by the science, the notion that "humanity would become like a single, transcendent nervous system, an interconnected 'brain' based in new core pathways of society," as suggested by the report's primary authors, is hard to buy.

Farber quotes one of the report's authors, Dr. James Canton:

"This is an optimal view of the future, not necessarily a Realpolitik of the future," Canton said. "We are trying to envision what we want to design for the future world of the next 20 years. If we don't put a stake in the ground and take innovation leadership, we can't work toward it. If we have a vision, we have the ability to transform large social systems. We are at the beginning of the process, but we want to give people a heads-up with the report and invite them to come along for the ride."

In wrapping up his take on the report, Farber echoes Foresight's theme on the importance of informed debate in preparing for future technologies:

It appears the goal of the report is to create an international initiative and funding to exploit the concepts in the report. It might be hyperbolic to say, as the report does, that nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake. But if you look at the potential that technology has to improve our lives, establishing a focus and framework for dialog is an essential step. Numerous complex ethical, legal, and policy issues will need to be resolved. The more those issues are anticipated and debated, the better chance for a successful resolution.

Attached to the article is a TalkBack forum where more than a dozen readers have given their views on the report. The Converging Technologies report was the subject of Nanodot posts on July 9, 2002, July 13, July 25, and August 7.

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