Freeman Dyson

Mike Kranzler: Technology’s Limits

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Keeping Technology in Balance

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Freeman Dyson

For human society as a whole, an individual machine

or an individual program poses no threat, wrote Freeman Dyson

in an essay published in "The Sun, the Genome, and the

Internet,"

(Oxford University Press, 1999). In the essay Dyson, professor

emeritus

of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, assaults the

assumption

that more technology is always better:

"The threat to the dignity of humans and to the autonomy of our

institutions comes from the proliferation of little machines in our

homes and offices, joined together by inscrutable networks made of

telephone cable and optical fiber. The little machines are turning

our five-year-old grandchildren into computer addicts and turning

our business managers into computer interfaces. The Internet and the

World Wide Web are permeating our society and changing the way we

live. The average citizen of the world, who lacks specialized training

and knowledge, can neither escape nor control the rampant growth of

the networks. The network packet-switching protocols, which were

originally

designed to operate a command-and-control system robust enough to

survive in the chaos of thermonuclear war, are admirably suited to

thrive in the chaos of modern mass communications. The networks of

today are embryonic forms, destined to grow into mature structures

whose shape and power we cannot yet imagine.

"Evolution has always been driven by a shifting balance between

competition and symbiosis. It is our task as humans to keep the

balance

in equilibrium. The balance today is out of control and tilting

sharply.

"The networks are driving us into a world of cutthroat competition

that many of us find destructive. The networks impose cultural and

economic constraints that we feel powerless to resist. The networks

mostly serve the rich and are inaccessible to the poor and uneducated,

thereby increasing the barriers and inequalities between rich and

poor. To this injury they add insult, threatening to reduce humans

to the status of cells in a multicellular organism that is indifferent

to our needs and desires. But we have the power to make our needs

and desires heard. As creators of the machines and protocols by which

the networks live, we have the power to understand them and to

influence

their functioning. We have the responsibility for making the networks

serve the interests of social justice and human freedom."

What is Dyson’s advice for 2000? "While we are celebrating our

economic prosperity and technological progress, let us not forget

that it is the churches and temples that provide most of the glue

to hold our society together, even in a place as prosperous and

privileged

as Princeton."

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Mike Kranzler: Technology’s Limits

Mike Kranzler, the former CEO of Base Ten, says he is

not sure that the spate of innovation so loudly heralded in the media

is any greater now than at any other part of the century. "After

all, Thomas Mann, Einstein, Mahler, Proust, Cezanne, and others

produced

lasting work before 1920. Innovation today, however, is brought to

our attention by the accompaniment of great riches in magnitudes

beyond

the most fertile imagination but does not seem to have advanced the

quality of life."

"I have lived through an era of innovation which began with the

invention of the transistor and saw the conquering of space and the

development of modern medicine. None of these advances brought the

kind of wealth to their creators that we see today. Were they

motivated

by something other than money? I wonder if the future is to be

deprived

of important creativity in favor of more convenient ways of buying

books?"

Kranzler now has a consulting firm, Bootstrap Partners LLC (E-mail:

bootstrp@bellatlantic.net).


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