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Standard Line Emerging?

Glenn Reynolds seems surprised by the enthusiastic tone of NYT's review of The Singularity is Near, noting that Janet Maslin comes across as being less skeptical than Glenn himnself in his Wall Street Journal review.

A while back, in comments to a post that Stephen had published concerning the (then) upcoming book, I raised the following question:

Political discourse (on blogs or elsewhere) consists of about 10% actual ideas and 90% trying to make one's own side come out on top at the expense of the opponent. On the blogs that currently deal with Singularity and related topics, that ratio is reversed. The idea is what's important, not "winning."

If the blogosphere in general gets ahold of the Singularity, you can expect it to become a highly contentious issue. But I can't help but wonder -- who will be "for it" and who will be "against it?"

A time of accelerating change, indeed. Look how shortsighted I was just six weeks ago. The question isn't just what the blogosphere is going to do with news of the Singularity, a more important question is what the mainstream media will do with it.

It may be too early to say, but one throwaway line from Maslin's review caught my attention. She writes:

In the last part of the book, he engages in one-sided batting practice with his critics. He introduces each complaint only to swat it into oblivion. By and large he is a blinkered optimist, disinclined to contemplate the dangers of what he imagines. The Manhattan Project model of pure science without ethical constraints still looms over the Singularity and its would-be miracles.

(emphasis added)

Uh oh. I wonder if we're going to see a lot more of this sort of thing? Wait, let me rephrase that. You can bet your sweet knee of the curve that we're going to see a lot more of this sort of thing. Count on it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see this become the official MSM (anti-science lefty) line on the Singularity.

Not to say that ethical (and safety!) constraints aren't hugely important -- they are -- but the assumption that this is all going on in an atmosphere of giddy optimism is wrong. One of our favorite organizations has been at the forefront of defining what these constraints might be for more than 15 years. Other groups are devoted full-time just to issues of safety and ethical viability, both for nanotechnology and for artificial intelligence.

If Maslin's assumption turns out to be the standard line on the Singularity taken by the MSM, and if this line is then adopted by politicians (of any stripe) we run the risk of facing public policy moves that won't stop the Singularity -- it's questionable whether anything short of a major asteroid impact could do that -- but that might see to it that the Singularity occurs elsewhere.

As I wrote in a recent entry on that subject, doing what we can to ensure that the Singularity starts in the US (or at least in the West) is not a matter of national pride. It's a matter of making sure that it takes off in an atmosphere where the ethical and safety guidelines are a huge priority. The "we're not ready for it; it's too dangerous" line could turn out to be the nastiest self-fulfilling prophecy in human history.

Comments

You linked to Virginia Postrell's excellent column about the anti-science left that exists in Canada.

Many techno-enthusiasts in this country would be surprised that such a thing exists. Techno-enthusiasts have guarded the right flank and have forgotten the left.

But there is an anti-science left (the ridiculous anti-GM Food activists are a good example) and it has the potential to be much more damaging to science than the religious right's concerns about human embryos.

Whatever dangers the future holds, we simply can't ignore it. If we outlaw genetic engineering fearing an engineered superbug, we eliminate our ability to defend against an engineered superbug. The good guys have to be the best genetic engineers, AI developers, nanotechnicians, etc.

There's a book out now about Bush's war on science.

I saw a review in Sci Am, but it seemed strange, or maybe typical, that the author was a writer for Washington Monthly and some other lib mags. It seems that science is being politicized, but how depends on the issue. Some of it comes from scientists who become activists, especially against war and pro-environmental stuff. Some from people who worry that we're playing God or blundering into things we don't understand. That's always been a fear about science. Those fears haven't always been unjustified. I just hope we're smart enough to know the difference.

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