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Computer scientist Bill Joy warns of dangers posed by
genetic engineering, nanotechnolgoy, and robotics

Genetic Crossroads
April 16th, 2000

A widely noted essay by Bill Joy in Wired magazine (April 2000)

raises pressing political and ethical questions about developments
in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics. In "Why the
future doesn't need us," Joy warns that "enormous computing power…combined with the manipulative advances of the physical sciences
and the new, deep understandings in genetics…open up the
opportunity to completely redesign the world, for better or worse."
(See <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html>.)

Joy is co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, and a
well-known figure in the world of computing. Writing about human
genetic technologies, he notes that "If…we were to reengineer
ourselves into several separate and unequal species using the
power of genetic engineering, then we would threaten the notion
of equality that is the very cornerstone of our democracy."

The main focus of Joy's concern about genetic technology, however,
is the possibility of a genetically engineered "White Plague,"
released either "militarily, accidentally, or in a deliberate
terrorist act."

Joy's prediction that the emerging technologies are likely
to profoundly alter humanity, society, and even life on earth
is widely shared among those working in computer and genetic
engineering fields. His concerns, however, are far from
universal. At a forum titled "Will Spiritual Robots Replace
Humanity by 2100?," held on April 1 at Stanford University, an
overflow audience respectfully applauded Joy's remarks. But the
crowd seemed at least equally enthusiastic about the far more
sanguine views of Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual
Machines, and Hans Moravec, often described as a "robotics guru."

Very much like the advocates of human germline manipulation,
Kurzweil and Moravec celebrate the far-reaching changes that genetic
engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics will bring. They argue
that restrictions on these fast-developing technologies, or choices
among them, are not feasible. Moravec was quoted in a Wired news
article saying, "We will turn into robots. It's both inevitable and
desireable." (See <http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,35424,00.html>.)


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