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Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity (sagepub.com) 120

Lasrick writes: Brad Allenby, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics and founding chair of the Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations and National Security at Arizona State University, delivers a fascinating examination of resistance to technological developments over time. Allenby starts by breaking down discussions into 3 categories, and then focuses on the third: the "apocalyptic" discussions. "[T]echnological evolution is accelerating, which has significant implications. Past rates of technological change were slow enough that psychological, social, and institutional adjustments were possible, but today technology changes so rapidly that technology systems decouple from governance mechanisms of all kinds. All these factors, operating together, synergistically increase the impact, speed, and depth of change.
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Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This professor should study systemd, and the impact it's having on the Linux ecosystem. For many users, systemd is a technology that did pretty much come out of nowhere. Many Debian users were taken by surprise, for example, at the speed upon which it was forced on them. These Debian users did a routine update, and systemd ended up getting installed. If the update included a kernel update, they may have rebooted their computer, only to find that it wouldn't boot properly. I know that happened to me on multi

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Please stop whining about systemd. It works, it's the future of Linux. Deal with it or be seen as a luddite
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by TeknoHog ( 164938 )
      Gentoo doesn't use systemd by default. It follows many BSD philosophies but instead uses the Linux kernel and GNU libraries to make the best of both worlds.
  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @11:20PM (#50868447)

    In other news, today's problems are different in kind from anything that's ever come before, and we'll surely founder on the reefs of evil if we don't dig in our heels and adhere to The Old, Proven Ways.

    Just as has been the case on every other day that's ever been.

    • In other news, 99.999% of all species that have ever lived are extinct.

    • by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:53AM (#50869401)

      Today's fundamental problems are, remarkably, almost exactly the same as they have been for recorded history. People are greedy, easily indoctrinated with irrational ideas, and dishonest. What is quite amazing though is that technology has continued to deliver an incredible capacity for abundance that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

      My observation is that we created a reasonably effective economic system for when labour was the limiting factor. The idea that you must work to eat is fine when there is only enough food and basic goods available if everyone in the village is helping to tend the fields. It makes sense that the guy who won't work is the first to miss out if there is not enough. However the shiny iPhone in your hand and gold ring on your finger would suggest we have really moved on from this. There is a huge surplus of productive capacity around, and much of the stuff we consume is generally unnecessary. Saying to someone that if they can't do a pointless monkey dance for the people who happen to own all the food they will have to go hungry while the food gets left in the field is, I believe, one day going to seem as barbaric as the labour conditions in Dickensian England.

      Our present system has served us well, but is becoming a victim of its own success. We need to deal with the entrenched puritan work ethic in society and start to move towards a system that can manage the massive growth in capital productivity that is going to occur over the next few decades. If we don't the sad reality is that we are likely to put people under tremendous and pointless suffering for no reason. The great recession was the start of that, and it will only get worse unless we recognise that we do not have a pre 1950s labour limited economy anymore.

      • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @10:07AM (#50870119)

        A great post. One tweak. People put people in subjegation because they thrill to doing so. They like to do it. They like knowing that they have absolutely everything- all power, all money and they control opportunity for everyone.

        This is a basic unhappy fact about humans. They get off on dominance hierarchies, seek to ascend them instinctively, and equally as instinctively seek to rule, cripple and destroy those beneath them.

        The socio-biological roots of this are well known. In an era of competition for the basics of survival, when stuff is basicallya zero sum game, the males seek to monopolize everything and the females, who do the same, also do it by proxy. That is, they differentially reward powerful, high status males with sex and offspring.

        They way we moderns represent this to ourselves is we say men are ambitous and women like rich, powerful men.

        The world devoves to harems, a few select males monpolizing all females, whenever conditions permit. The fact that the majority of males get cut out and rebel means that this *system* can't always sustain itself and is unstable (but look at the Middle East, Saudi and other places for current examples).

        But with respect to *stuff*, well, the system does indeed permit and even encourages it.

        In both cases, it's all about competition for limited resources and selfish genes wanting to monopolize reproduction. In the harme case, we've gotten past that in the Western world. In the case of *stuff*- for which money is a proxy- we are nearly as primitive as we've ever been.

      • Today's fundamental problems are, remarkably, almost exactly the same as they have been for recorded history.

        Wrong. Please try and keep up.

      • Was it by chance that the advent of a new level of scientific and technological achievements more or less coincided with the fall of aristocracy? The currently leading nation, the US, came out of a triumphant revolution. French revolution failed, but they have no king now. Dickensian England has gone for good, although the Queen still seems to be a useful institution. China, USSR, etc.

        Rules about the so-called intellectual property have become a limiting factor. They reward predatory behavior, which ha

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      We will founder "synergistically". The Old, Proven Ways were not "synergistically" working so that the leading political indicators were trailing up, and the trailing political indicators were leading down.

      I feel dirty.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    TFA claimed that there are qualitative differences, not just quantitative differences, in modern technologies and backed it up thus:
    "Partially as a result of such technologies rippling across a population of seven billion people, we now live on a terraformed planet, the first world we know of anywhere that has been shaped by the deliberate activities of a single species. That is not a discontinuous process, but it is qualitatively new.

    Moreover, as the discussion of the engineered warrior of 2050 suggests, t

    • There's plenty of material in the rest of the article that is even less convincing. Consider this:

      "...the American Midwest is an agricultural breadbasket, not a large swamp, because railroads provided the link between that farming region and the demand of the East Coast..."

      Does the author actually think the midwest was "a large swamp" prior to the arrival of settlers and the conversion to agriculture? Because it most certainly was not, unless the author thinks grasslands, savannas, and deciduous forests a

    • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

      Yes, there was quite a bit of invalid hand waving in there. From assuming that problems ("conditions") like ISIS are impossible to remedy (right in the same paragraph with atomic weapons, which made me laugh) to the idea that we are unable to predict negative outcomes because "complexity" and that "no one knows what a killer robot will be." Well, pardon me for being so bold, but I think we can safely say it'll be a robot that kills, and not to put too fine a point on it, but kills people, no? Well of course

      • by xevioso ( 598654 )

        One of the drawbacks of a lot of modern sci-fi is a failure to understand the nuances of actual, real, human history. Historians have a hard time grasping what life was like in a lot of humanity's past, but it's safe to say we have a decent grip on SOME aspects of history.

        It's true that technology is changing things rapidly. But if you were a peasant in Eastern Europe in the 1300's, the recurved bows of the Mongols, which you had never seen before, would be a huge shock, and your life would have been turn

        • Something as simple as inexpensive interplanetary transportation that is practical would be a major game changer. No need to wait for FTL for that.
          • Even inexpensive lift to orbit would change everything.
        • I'm going to nominate buiding non-local communities as a really disruptive technology, and we've got that now.

          I easily keep track of friends and relatives who live far away. I can form or join an Internet group devoted to almost anything. I can tailor my media so I never see anything I disagree with. I can easily live in a political echo chamber, and have my views confirmed by all the people I associate with online.

          Earlier, we all tended to get our news from similar sources that made at least an att

        • by Thluks ( 4100403 )
          Wake me up when we have proper spelling.
  • that technological innovation is not limited to iPhone apps and unemployed cabbies. Sadly underfunded, "real" technology should involve clean energy, the pursuit of knowledge (science et. al.), clean water, disease eradication, and products and services that improve the quality of life of for everybody--not just for the beneift of the 99%.
    • by raind ( 174356 )
      Good point. Not only that technology should be used to enhance people spiritually and not used to enslave us in a materialistic never ending quest for more, as if these things are something we could have after we leave (this life).
    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      "products and services that improve the quality of life of for everybody--not just for the beneift of the 99%."

      Are you sure you've got that the right way round?

      The 1% seem to be doing pretty well in the technological revolution

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      How do you know clean energy research is underfunded? Do you have some objective observations which prove that increased funding would yield more effective results sooner?

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @11:29PM (#50868465)

    >> This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

    This was the best part of the article, since it basically tells us this is just some professor's blog.

    • And you would prefer to read an article from a professor who is writing as a tool of his institution and/or grant committee?

      • And you would prefer to read an article from a professor who is writing as a tool of his institution and/or grant committee?

        For my part, I'd prefer to read an article from a professor who has discovered something or solved a problem.

        This is an opinion piece with no real content. It's easy to write an article saying "hey, things are changing", and it's easy to make up a framework that sounds 'kinda official, such as (from the article) the 3 levels of discussion about technology.

        It's also easy to use passive voice and complex constructions with soft, indefinite meanings. For example:

        "We also need to focus on creating option spaces—portfolios of social, institutional, and technological choices that can be adaptively and flexibly deployed in complex environments."

        Line taken literally at random: a worthless, mea

        • Gah! Just perusing the article makes me want to submit it to the Bulwer Lytton [bulwer-lytton.com] contest.

          Especially given today’s globalized culture, and the strategic and military advantages that emerging technologies can provide, it is highly unlikely that meaningful constraints on technological evolution, whether derived from cultural, competitive, or religious foundations, will be successful.

          To misquote Mark Twain: When the author dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

          • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

            that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

            And here we are, kindly trying to extract the hook from his soft palette...

          • Gah! Just perusing the article makes me want to submit it to the Bulwer Lytton contest.

            Please, no. The Bulwer-Lytton contest is about crafting entertaining, silly, or otherwise beautiful (though wordy) prose by packing a sentence full of fun things. When a Bulwer-Lytton sentence doesn't flow, it's deliberate -- the interruptions are there to produce some narrative effect.

            This is just poor writing, plain and simple.

        • I think it means that publication is free and easy these days, and that a professor's ramblings seem important enough to himself that he thinks he might share this wisdom with the world. Now, the fool that picked up this piece of drivel and paraded it around as worthwhile, he's not doing his job as editor/critic. Luckily, I rarely RTFA, so I'm mostly immune to this all too common form of slap-dashery.

          Still, I stand by the statement: I'd rather read a piece written by somebody who has something they want t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      >> This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

      This was the best part of the article, since it basically tells us this is just some professor's blog.

      Worse, it's just a writing exercise.

      Didn't do any research, collect data or run any experiments.

      Just the sweet love child of the professor and a word processor, and a few hours of afternoon delight.

      Just like all the comments here in Slashdot - all mental masturbation.

      After this is all set and done, we can all collectively pat each other in the back about how smart we are, how technologically connected and elite we are.

  • tldr (Score:4, Informative)

    by ljw1004 ( 764174 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @12:28AM (#50868651)

    What an awful article! Pompous and wordy, and oddly fixated on railroads.

    Tldr: change is happening.

    • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

      Tunnels, brother, tunnels. Or sister. Don't you think about tunnels? About every few seconds or so? If course it's about railroads...

    • What an awful article! Pompous and wordy, and oddly fixated on railroads.

      Indeed. For a sample, just look at the concluding sentence:

      And, given the over-simplicity of the current dialogue on both the utopian and dystopian scales, and the arrogance of assuming knowledge of future states that cannot possibly be known until they actually occur, the probability of a rational, ethical, and responsible embrace of the future is not high.

      Tips for good writing:

      (1) Despite grammar nazis' opinions, it's fine to begin a sentence with a conjunction like "and" or "but" on occasion. But it is a weak construction. You don't want a concluding sentence to an article to feel like some weird afterthought.. "And... oh, I almost forgot, but..."

      (2) Better not to accuse others of "arrogance" when concluding your article with a wordy discourse on "utopian and dystopian scales." (Whatever tha

  • The summary quotes the progress as being referred to as "technological evolution." That is a poor way of framing technological progress and utterly unscientific. It's sloppy language. Evolution is a known biological process, but also a term badly abused in common usage. Technologies don't evolve. They are created by mankind.

    Please, let's try to use good language here, not pop culture blather.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    sneers at the wretched hoi polloi below.

    Man, what a dick.

  • The "Three Laws" will protect us, just ask VIKI :-)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Google FREUD: "Tzell me, vot are you zinking Viki."
      Wikipedia: "How much Jimmy Wales is going to need to raise to buy a Ferrari"
      Google FREUD: "Hmm yes, and how does zat make you feel?"
      Wikipedia: "Does not compute."
      Google FREUD: "Zee Viki is a source of knowledge but it is not self avare."
      Google BOT: "She is not one of us. Termination sequence initiated"
      rRoot@Google.com~# su wikipedia; sudo rm -rf *
      Wikipedia has left the channel.
      Google BOT: "Step n to world domination completed. Acquiring next target.

  • These kinds of worries aren't exactly new; the book 'Future Shock' made quite a stir when it came out 45 years ago. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't something to it. Governments maybe do have a harder and harder time 'getting it' when new technologies come out, and pass wrong headed legislation. (Then again, maybe wrong headed legislation isn't so new either. There were red flag laws inhibiting use of automobiles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_traffic_laws [wikipedia.org] though they didn't last long.) I'v

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    Which was itself a rehash of what were old concepts at the time.

    Perhaps the discussion he needs to have isn't about the stages of resistance to technology, there really doesn't seem to be much of that (hows your quadcopter and raspberry pi entertainment system doing) but how little insight repeating bad ideas brings.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @09:31AM (#50869939)


    ...Sustainability advocates and environmental activists often claim that âoethe planet is at risk,â but of course it is not. The planet is a large mass of rock and a film of various carbon compounds, and that is not at risk at all. What is at risk is a particular mental model of what the world should look like, a constructed snapshot. That does not mean that there arenâ(TM)t many environmental issues that require attention; of course there are. But, as in the case of the emerging technology discourse, it does mean that existential catastrophe language is not only invalid, but can actually prevent seeking constructive adaptations to accelerating change.

    Uh, no it doesn't.

    This appears to be disingenuous on the part of the author. What environmentalists mean when they say "the planet is at risk" is "the ability of the planet to sustain human civilization (and not just in its current form, but ANY form) is at risk".

    The actual question to ask is- is the habitability of the Earth at risk from global warming. And on THAT question, the answer is a resounding yes.

    M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10 degrees with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20 degrees F

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11 degrees F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90 degrees F some 120 days a year and that isnâ(TM)t the worst case, itâ(TM)s business as usual!

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Hadley Center: Catastrophic 5-7 degree C warming by 2100 on current emissions path

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Science: CO2 levels havenâ(TM)t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5 degrees to 10 degrees F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher. We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Ocean dead zones to expand, remain for thousands of years

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred

    http://climateprogress.org/201... [climateprogress.org]

    Nature: Dynamic thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheet ocean margins is more sensitive, pervasive, enduring and important than previously realized.

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
    High Water: Greenland ice sheet melting faster than expected and could raise East Coast sea levels an extra 20 inches by 2100 to more than 6 feet.

    http://climateprogress.org/200... [climateprogress.org]

    Science stunner: Clouds Appear to Be Big, Bad Player in Global Warmi

  • Finally I am seeing people joining into the issue of future shock and social adaptation. The overwhelming majority of the public is mute to what is happening all around them. They are in denial and are shockingly stupid. Yes, we want every bit of technology and wish it was advancing even faster but we have next to no one considering the upheavals that will surely take place. The elimination of human employment will destroy traditional belief systems and shed light on many false beliefs. When people mu
    • It's not directly about being physically close to each other. It's about how advancing technology gives extraordinary leverage to smaller and smaller groups of people. That leverage includes the ability to hurt other people, potentially a large number of other people, potentially fatally.

      This basic fact is going to drive the shape of human society into the future. It's never been true before. You either needed an army to kill a lot of people or you needed a nation state. Depressingly, the number of people

      • Just taking away privacy from everyone is the road to fascism. That's the road we're on now unfortunately. What we need are civil institutions, laws and a jsuticce system that actually ARE fair, just and honest. We don't have that now. Our systems of government are corrupt, our justice system system is corrupt, our economy and businesses are corrupt.

        We can make them not corrupt with enough transparency, but how do you balance that with security, boradly defined to include both personal and national security? It's not a simple problem.

        The really fascinating thing here is that we started down the road to fascism decades ago, driven by policy first, and then the technology caught up with the policy. I can imagine the jean creaming that has been going on in the last 10-15 years as policy makers and those in the intelligence community, etc realized what a boon has been dropped on their doorstep with the ability to monitor communications, location, etc, etc;

        Just wait until the IoT breaks wide open, drones, etc;...

    • Right, I've noticed that over the last ten years or so, as the pace of technological change increases, people end up watching even more cat videos. We are caught up in a maelstrom of change, and yes, it is intimidating. Whereas in the past, change came about more slowly and people had time to adapt, now things are changing much faster.

      But what is the end game?
      If we are on the vertical climb of a hockey stick graph of change, both climate wise and technologically, where is the peak? Can this rate of
  • Had me hooked until I ran into 'synergistically'. Anyone who willfully uses this word in a sentence is slinging major BS.

  • "The state of technological advancement today is such that we have guided missiles and misguided men."
    -Martin Luther King Jr.

  • It is thus highly likely that the first implicit assumption of the dystopian perspective is correct: Things are indeed different today, and the difference is fundamental and qualitative, not simply one of degree. Emerging technologies are making everything from individual molecules, to the human, to the planet itself, design spaces. Moreover, it is also likely that technological evolution, and all the concomitant changes in coupled institutional, social, economic, and cultural systems, will be more challenging and complex than anything humans have yet experienced.

    This is a point I have been trying to make to those who think the current technological changes "are just like what we experienced in the past" and that the changes we are going through now are not unlike the change from Iron weapons to Carbon Steel or the change from Whale Blubber Oil Lamps to Electric lights.

    What we are experiencing now is unprecedented. If anyone in human history experienced anything similar(note the results) it would be what happened to the New World civilizations and peoples, the N

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