This post was originally intended as a reply to a thread on memestreams about Bill Joy, and in the process of writing it sort of became its own topic of discussion.
I just got finished reading a few articles from Bill Joy including, "why the future doesn't need us" (search memestreams for those threads)...On some key points I agree with Mr. Joy. I agree that we are on the cusp of a potentially catastrophic era in human history. I agree that ethics is not always enough of a guiding principle in the scientific research. And I agree that in the short term limits on the spread of knowledge may be needed to avoid disaster, but I would stress that this can only be a short term solution to the problems ahead; reliance on secrecy as long term defense will be disastrous.
Joy makes a statement that we have not yet reached the point of no return in nano-technology research. This is the primary point at which I disagree with him. I feel that we passed the point of no return in 1959 when Feynman wrote his now famous There's plenty of room at the bottom. The idea was first conceived, and the meme began to spread. It is now to the point where it has taken hold and we can not waste valuable time arguing about whether or not we should continue with our research. I believe the research will continue with or without those of us that feel that ethics must be of supreme consideration in the development of potentially dangerous technologies.
I very much like his idea of a hippocratic oath for technologist, engineers, and scientists; though I don't believe this goes far enough.
If people believe, as I do, that nano-technology is in our future, then we must prepare for its consequences. As I have expressed on a number of occasions, only those in control of the technology can shape its future.
In the 1940's when the United States was the only nuclear power, did policy makers believe simple containment of knowledge for the creation of nuclear weapons would stop nuclear proliferation? If policy makers believed this was an absolute solution then history has clearly shown them wrong.
Restricting the spread of knowledge does not stop others from developing that knowledge independently; this is what policy makers must come to understand.
All that is needed to insure the eventual acquisition of a given knowledge is the continued belief in its utility.
Re-read that last sentence as it is the central point that I am trying to make. The spreading of a meme of this sort is all that is needed to inspire others to attain the knowledge for themselves. Thus other safeguards must be in place to insure the safe and ethical use of this knowledge.
Something needs to be said for keeping such knowledge secret. It does work to slow the spread of knowledge but ultimately can not stop it. That is to say, while there is a continued belief in the utility of such knowledge it will eventually be attained by... [ Read More (0.8k in body) ]