Planet Ulrich

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The purpose of technology

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Well, these are fundamental questions.  While I think technology can be used in some ways to transcend innate human limitations (generally genetically defined), I don’t think humans (as individuals or a species) can be made perfect, or should be.

You could say, “I don’t hold to” the view that “people can be made better” (not ultimately); just as I think “showing people how to think” is usually a kind of cover for “telling people what to think.”
The attempt to perfect man or create a perfect society has, of course, led to countless horrors.

More than a hundred million casualties in the 20th century alone, depending on how you do the math (strange to reconcile figures like that with the argument that “human violence has been decreasing for millennia,” but that’s a different argument; I suppose it depends on what you mean by “human violence;” I consider war, prison camps and state sponsored famine violent enough, but that’s just me…; “human violence” certainly increased in the United States between 1960 and 1990, in pretty radical ways…  it started dropping again once we began putting the particularly violent people in prison, where they couldn’t hurt anyone but each other; )_ri

I digress.
There are limits to what humans can do.  (These include, in my view, limits on what machines made by humans can do, I don’t share the Singularitarian belief that humans can make, or give rise to, machines that can do anything, have Godlike power).
Further, as referenced by this discussion already, there are other questions, such as
1.  What do we mean by better, and at what cost?  (Does making someone, such as an autistic child, better, come at the cost of losing some aspect [perhaps not understood] of that person’s identity?)
2.  Who decides (what is better or worse)?
3.  Who enforces such a decision?
We seem to be moving toward some kind of nightmare world where technology will be used, not to make people “better” in any sense of the word I would use, but to make them more compliant, to harmonize them with the views of whoever is dictating the latest orthodoxy (first identify, then condition, discipline, and ultimately preemptively restrain, deviation).
Oh, everybody is for “freedom of thought,” these days, just don’t think something they don’t like.  Then you’ll find out how much they “celebrate” that kind of deviation, or how “patriotic” “dissent” is.
I am always very skeptical whenever I come across an argument that One Factor can explain everything.  This article is more of that, and, while I don’t doubt that

Lead is Bad
and that we shouldn’t be adding lead to paint, or gasoline, and should do whatever we can to remove lead in general, I am not convinced that Lead is the sole answer to the question, why did criminal violence explode between 1960 and 1990, then decline?
For one thing, despite the article’s contention, criminal violence did not explode worldwide, everywhere, during that time period; not absolutely, and not as a function of lead use/exposure.
I’d very much like to see the data underlying their assertion that every country on Earth demonstrated the same relationship between lead exposure and (appropriately time lagged) increases in criminality.
I know this did not happen in Japan (though Japan does/did have extremely high population densities and rates of urbanization, and they didn’t phase out leaded gasoline there until 1986).
I suspect this is another one of those magical catch all theories offered to give a simple explanation to everything, which provides its explanation by excluding contradictory evidence and ignoring alternate answers.
Now, I never believed that lead pipes caused the fall of the Roman Empire, either, though I certainly don’t think they helped.
On a more SH topically related note,
“The premise is post singularity perfect engineering, ergo no design flaws (at least no obvious and unacceptable ones). “
If we are to accept this premise, we may as well just stop talking about everything and wait for the Singularity.
How can you just assume,
“Perfect engineering”?
Is that a tautological statement (we are defining the Singularity in part as being the time the machines start thinking at a sufficiently high level to allow them to engineer everything perfectly)?
If you’re wondering why people like Jaron Lanier compare Singularitarianism to the Rapture Cult, well, there you have it.
The God is not in the machine.  I don’t care how much computing power you give rise to, you will never build anything capable of “perfect engineering;”
There is no such thing (all engineering involves cost/benefit tradeoffs, and can only ever be perfect in the sense of optimizing results within resource constraints, with “optimization” being a question of how costs and benefits are defined).
(As for avoiding obvious and avoidable mistakes, such things tend to only be obvious after the fact, in or ways that are dismissed for other reasons at the time of application.  Unless we are defining the Premise of the Singularity as post-Singularity machines become Omniscient, in which case, see above).
Right, and I’m saying that I reject the assumption that engineering will be perfectly optimized, because:

1.  I don’t think we can know what the optimal balance of trade offs is in their entirety
2.  I don’t believe machines or people could achieve the optimal balance of trade offs, even if they were known;
such things have a way of shifting with time and being the product of myriad complex factors whose inter-relationships can never be fully captured or understood.
Having said that, I think we can and do engineer solutions that are quite good, or as good as can be expected, and that such solutions can be improved over time, or adapted as circumstances shift or better information becomes available.
I don’t think “brutishness” is declining over time in a way that is necessarily linear and sustainable, either in response to the discovery and adoption of technology or for any other reason; I think brutishness, like everything, is cyclical, to some extent circumstantial, and to some extent the product of adaptation over time.  So it might decline for a while, then increase.
It declined in some respects within the Empire during the Roman period, then increased quite a bit, for many centuries, and among certain groups seems to be declining now, while arguably rising within others.  The Republican Romans used to talk about the enervating effects of luxury; I don’t think you can really argue that civilization, over time, tends to have the effect (variable depending on the specific population) of decreasing predilections for violence.  (Tends to have, does not necessarily have).  And I suppose such decreased predilections towards violence can, over time, work their way into a given groups genetic makeup (much as dogs can be bred for aggression or for docility; foxes can be bred from wild to tame in 10 years/ three generations, so it stands to reason similar changes can work their way through human populations over generations [living in peace rather than in chaos/warlike conditions, which would better reward physical aggression]).  I don’t think that is all positive…  look at the Gauls…  quite fierce, for centuries, in opposition to Rome, conquered, pacified, by the time the Germans were menacing, in their hordes, in the third and fourth centuries, easily overrun.  (Speaking as the descendant of those German hordes).
So, I’m saying these things ebb and flow, with positive and negative consequences, depending on who’s interpreting and what criteria are being applied.  I certainly do not believe that the discovery and adoption of progressively more sophisticated forms of technology in itself necessarily leads to abundance, prosperity, peace, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, or any of it.
Look, everybody believed that, in earnest, for good apparent reasons, at the end of the 19th Century, a century that had seen more concentrated scientific/technological advances than any in the known history of mankind, and what did they get…  the Great Catastrophe 1914-1945, etc. etc. etc. tens of millions slaughtered, devastation.
I guess that was the product of suboptimal engineering; in the future, engineering will be optimal, so we won’t have anything to worry about.

Written by ulrichthered

March 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

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