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Bill Joy's "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us": The Pessimistic View


This essay delivers the brief analysis of Bill Joy’s article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, its evaluation, and opinion of the author. It considers reasoning provided in order to take and justify the pessimistic or optimistic view on the raised issue. Conducting the critical reading and exploring possible effects of NGR technologies, I concentrated on such a key factor as its self-replication ability. This crucial feature results in an extreme danger for human existence as genetically modified creatures or robots will easily dominate over people. The possible solution to this problem presented in the article has been critically evaluated and admitted unsatisfactory. The paper concludes that the nanotechnologies, genetics and robotics are a significant threat to the future of humanity. Therefore, there should be researches conducted to suggest effective prevention of human extinction other than ethic rules.

Keywords: Bill Joy, NGR technologies, a new Luddite.

Bill Joy’s “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”: The Pessimistic View

The development of new technologies has been facing objection since its incipience as the opportunities it suggests usually have dualistic nature and a potential both to improve and endanger human’s current existence. It is easy to understand and justify a primordial fear of the future to come and the unknown, which is common for people facing changes. As the industrial progress of the 19th and 20th centuries showed, it was groundless. However, the 21st century has designated the beginning of a new era in many senses, including tendencies in the technologies' development. Whereas preceding trends have indicated that scientific inventions can be used for destructive purposes and have shown that it is strongly recommended to be cautious and responsible while using them, the new technologies pose a danger of human extinction and raise a question whether or not they should be pursued. Bill Joy, being a scientist and a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, expresses a strong pessimism regarding this issue. In his article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, he concerns the ethical dimension of scientific progress (Joy, 2009, p.286) providing a reader with proves of its danger and offering a possible solution to this problem.

Bill Joy has good reasons to worry. While dealing with moral dilemmas regarding technologies’ influence on people in the 21st century, it is essential to realize their nature. Current scientific researches substantially focus on nanotechnologies, genetics, and robotics (NGR). This field of studies differs from the previous objective of scientific surveys in a dangerous way. Nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) technologies enabled the invention of weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, Joy refers to them as to the least evil (2009, p.289). The key feature, which empowers NGR technologies with its enormous destructive force, is self-replication (Joy, 2009, p.289). Being able to replicate itself, the product of nanotechnology, genetics or robotics becomes an independent entity; therefore, the humanity loses control over it. This organism or system becomes free in terms of spreading, mutation, and interaction with other species. This can lead to the physical damage and total extermination of any living entity. Bill Joy uses the “gray goo” threat to demonstrate how uncontrolled masses of replicators can occupy the entire planet (2009, p.293). As the main objective of genetics and robotics is the creation of improved species, humanity faces the danger of annihilation in case of their success. It is a primary evolutional law that superior species survive, whereas less perfect die in confrontation to them (Joy, 2009, p.288). Working on the generation of perfect machines and organisms, people are pursuing an extremely dangerous dream of being a creator of life. However, they create something that can destroy them if it gets out of control.

Joy gives two discouraging scenarios of what might happen in regards to overtaking the control. According to them, relying on machines infallibility will eventually make people so “dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide” (Joy, 2009, p.286). In case people retain control over the situation, there will emerge the privileged group, which will destroy the freedom of common people by controlling their lives with the help of new technologies. Obviously, none of these scenarios is desirable for the future. Nevertheless, they seem realistic, therefore, very disturbing. It is crucial to point out that provided forecasts belong to Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. Even though Bill Joy condemns him as a criminal and does not justify or forgive his acts, he accepts his concerns (2009, p.287). The fact that the author examines different ideas on the issue without giving the moral evaluation to its creators proves his credibility. The confessional manner in which the article is written also confirms his impartiality. Joy tells a reader the story of his career to make a statement regarding his beliefs: “From all this, I trust it is clear that I am not a Luddite” (2009, p.290).

Nevertheless, he suggests changing an accepted attitude towards NGR technologies. While Hillis accepts the idea of creating robots in order to provide the eternal life, Bill Joy feels uncomfortable about that (2009, p.288). He does not support Moravec’s idea of legislative regulations of superior robotic forms of life either (Joy, 2009, p.288). He believes that the only possible way to prevent the nightmarish scenarios coming to life is to reconsider the choice of utopia and set a new moral basis (Joy, 2009, p.299). Joy supports Dalai Lama’s ideas of happiness, which exclude the material progress and power of knowledge (2009, p.299). Bill Joy suggests finding another way to express people’s creative powers, thus make a pause in developing genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. He uses the precedent of the biological weapon relinquishment and the nuclear arm race history to demonstrate how what treat relating to this new danger humanity is facing.

Apparently, he has reasons to be optimistic in terms of the new ethics establishment. When the threat of extinction is undeniable, the survival instinct and common sense should prevail. Nevertheless, as the previous experience showed, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to be destroyed so that people realized the destructive power of nuclear weapon. Even a single case of using NGR technologies as a weapon might be fatal.

Bill Joy’s article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” provides an extensive analysis of the new technologies’ development in terms of their ethical dimensions. Examining the nature of NGR technologies, the author defines their destructive power as self-replication, which complicates or even makes impossible keeping them under control. This power creates the weapon of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), which is dangerous enough to assume the extinction of humanity in the coming years. Joy suggests the new ethics establishment as the possible prevention of this threat. However, his belief in this is not convincing. As NGR technologies have mostly commercial uses (Joy, 2009, p.294), they would be developed with lucrative purposes even if the scientific community accepts the common ethical rules regarding these researches. Their extreme destructive power makes me rather pessimistic regarding the future of the Earth.