Field of Science

Fearing the Terminator

I heard one of the guys behind Games With A Purpose speaking on Future Tense a few days ago (sadly, their names are not listed on the website, and I don't recall who it was). He pointed out that many people are concerned about his project of "making computers smarter." A good example is a recent commenter on this blog.

This researcher's response to such concerns is, essentially, "Computers have already taken over the world, and they are stupid. Wouldn't it be better if they were smarter?"

That's one argument, though I'm not sure how well it speaks to those who worry about the Terminator. Another argument would be that, sure, smart computers are scary. But the world is already pretty scary, and smart computers would make it a little less so. The question is whether the advantages outweigh the risks.

In the past, it has. Whatever side-effects technology has had -- and I'm including global warming, here -- so far it's made life unimaginably better (for one thing, without modern technology, not only could you not read this post, but many if not most people reading this post would have died before reaching their present age).

This is the essence of Dan Savage's retort to a writer who worried about the harmful effects of chlorine in water: (approximately) "I'd rather have a little bit of chlorine than a whole lot of cholera."

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