Prince Charles gets nervous, neo-Luddite meme gathering steam

Jeff Bone jbone at
Mon Apr 28 11:43:19 PDT 2003


Now, for completeness, argue the other side.


On Monday, Apr 28, 2003, at 10:36 US/Central, Russell Turpin wrote:

> Jeff Bone:
>> We need to get our arguments in order, folks.  With the likes of 
>> Francis Fukuyama, Prince Charles, Martin Rees, Bill Joy, and others 
>> lining up against the kinds of technology and scientific research 
>> that will get us to transhumanity, we've got more and bigger 
>> challenges ahead of us than just the tech.
> Yeah. Somehow we have to convince the neo-luddites
> that the technical safeguards to protect us from grey
> goo -- or even just from an engineered virus -- will
> work better than the technical safeguards that protect
> us from hackers, spam, computer viruses, OS crashes,
> etc. If I were to argue the neo-luddite case ..
> Well, let's see. Where did I put my certificate for
> representing the Devil? Here it is. I'll state the
> case in six claims..
> (1) The private sector usually leads government in
> applying innovation. This isn't true for pure research.
> But when it comes to bending science and technology
> to practical purpose while decreasing cost and
> difficulty, capitalism is an accelerator that no one
> has yet beat.
> (2) Wackos, fundamentalists, criminals, and terrorists
> are quick to pick up applied technology that furthers
> their cause. There were fundamentalist bulletin boards
> back in the days when a 300 bps was a fast modem.
> (3) Dangerous technology falling into the wrong hands
> is an external cost. The customer who buys a DNA
> fabricator has an individual interest in knowing that
> it will function as intended, and that it has
> safeguards against misuse. But he doesn't have any
> individual interest that the underlying technology,
> back at the lab, is kept out of the wrong hands. That
> interest he shares with the rest of the world, and is
> unlikely to surface as part of his purchase decision.
> (4) Absent regulation, businesses will exploit
> external costs for profits. That is an economic law
> as certain as any other. Even if one business
> exercises ethical constraints in such matters, that
> simply highlights the opportunity for others to do
> differently. This happens in every field, in every
> domain. Polluting processes are moved to regions
> where their pollution is not regulated. Risky
> processes are moved to regions where occupational
> safety has a low priority. Spam thrives because it
> converts an external cost to internal profit.
> (5) Corporations generally are sheep when it comes
> to systemic security and reliability. This is a
> consequence of (3) and (4). Their first choice is
> simply to disown liability. A good example of that
> is software, whose producers typically are free of
> consequential liability. I bet dozens of Microsoft
> lawyers were verifying that and safeguarding its
> statement in their EULA decades before it became
> a technical priority for them to lessen the
> frequency of BSOD. If businesses can't disown
> liability completely, they will try to disown it
> partially, by hoping that significant problem hits
> their competitors first, who then bear the cost of
> paving the way. "We're adhering to current,
> industry standard practices." That sounds like a
> good defense, even when industry standard practices
> suck. Start-ups are the worst, because they see it
> as a problem that they can face down the road. If
> they don't get to IPO or acquisition, then it
> doesn't matter. They'll worry about that, once
> they do, which is to say, after the current round
> of founders and investors achieve some liquidity,
> letting subsequent investors inherit the concern.
> Now yeah, I know there are exceptions to all of
> this. Usually, it is where the cost of lapse is
> largely internal, i.e., borne by customers and
> factored into the purchasing decision.
> (6) An evolutionary arms race between abusers of
> technology and people trying to defend against the
> abuse will make victims of most people. Geeks use
> throw-away email addresses to register at sites,
> run Spam Assassin on their computer, and have the
> savvy not to get taken by even sophisticated spam.
> Meanwhile, the less geeky are swamped in spam,
> their computer is infested with ad-ware, and they
> occassionally get taken by a sophisticated spammer,
> for example, selling pirated anti-virus software.
> Geeks know to back up their data. Businesses pay to
> have it done. The less geeky and more careless lose
> important data when they get infected by a virus.
> In a futuristic arms race between those who
> apply various kinds of grey goo "for the cause,"
> and those who purchase nano-tech defenses against
> it, the losers will be the mass of humanity who
> fall into neither camp.
> OK. It's your turn at moot court. Fire away.
> _________________________________________________________________
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