Contrasting Visions of Future Empowerment

Opinions differ as to whether technology will empower or enslave us. Whichever, it won't be long now.

The Revitalisation of Socio-Political Intitutions

A large proportion of the electorate of mature democracies now feel disillusioned and disenfranchised by the democratic process. Their vote in the electoral processes seems ineffective, and direct action in association with like minded people through single interest pressure groups is seen to be more effective than participation in the formal democratic process.

The shift away from physical or skilled labour toward intellectual and creative occupations (supported by rising educational levels) makes dissatisfaction with the electoral process more acute as people expect more control over their lives and become more easy to placate by simple minded political formulae.

Im this context many now see the internet as a way back to the idyllic (and perhaps mythical) participatory democracy of ancient Greece, where individuals were able to participate directly in the decision making process, rather than through elected representatives.

Teledemocracy Action News + Network provides information on the wide diversity of initiatives in progress aiming to enhance, evolve or replace our present democratic institutions.

An optimistic view of the potential of information technology anticipates the dissolution of apathy and the empowerment of the citizen, enabling us together to take a grip on our future and to steer our world where we want it to go.

The Singularity

"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

Thus began a recent talk by Vernor Vinge mathematician at San Diego State University and science fiction author, who has revived and popularised the idea of The Singularity.

Previously, I.J.Good had written: Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.

To this Vinge adds the dystopian postscript: Any intelligent machine of the sort he describes would not be humankind's "tool" -- any more than humans are the tools of rabbits or robins or chimpanzees.

Forecasts of when the singularity will hit us are often based on extrapolation of present day growth rates in aritificial computational power to the point at which the brute computational power overtakes that found in human brains. Vinge's own forecast is sometime between 2005 and 2030.

The Choice
The choice we are presented with by these contrasting views of the future is that between:
making a choice
about what kind of world we want to live in, and devoting our efforts to realising that vision, or else
accepting our impotence
and suffering whatever fate throws at us, which probably won't be very nice.

up home © RBJ created 1997/8/12 modified 1997/8/16