No Joy in Mr. Joy
It is Easter in the early afternoon and I am waiting here in front of the computer for my last load of laundry to finish as Wuss sleeps out on the balcony under the sun. I say Easter. It doesn't feel like Easter. There are no foil wrapped chocolate farm animals in the apartment. There are, to my knowledge, no safe non controversial movies playing on television about the life of Christ. I believe one of the major broadcast channels ran The Ten Commandments last week, but I can only watch so much Charlton Heston without coming up for air. Not that I would have watched anyway, all that weird early 50's color and all those old post World War II actors and, well, I know the plot. For a story that's supposed to be an affirmation of life after death it's pretty depressing.
I watched an interview with Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, on a public television
"technology is wonderful" program last night that got me to fretting. This is a "fretting" entry. Essentially, Joy was saying that he's become convinced that Moore's law (the proposition that the power of the personal computer will double every 18 months) will hold through the year 2030 (through molecular level nano-technology, evidently, whatever that is), which means computing power will increase by a factor of one million, which means we're fucked. Not possibly fucked, not probably fucked, but predictably bet the rent on it really fucked. The bottom line is with that much computing power, the ability to create something really horrendous, such as a plague virus, for example (dna manipulation being essentially equivalent to the manipulation of data), will essentially sit on the desk of anyone with the price of a WebTV set. People like the Unibomber. Or Captain Dangerous, age fourteen, computer nerd, never been laid and he's pissed.
I'm realizing this might not be intuitive, but these thoughts started with another program (on
public television again, maybe they're subversive) that talked about how money was really nothing more than data, how it can be moved over the Internet without leaving an audit trail for the IRS or anyone else to follow. Or know about. Or tax. What that will mean for the tax system. How this might well change the world (our world, not just the world of low rent banana republics and semi-reformed Communists). Money as information, available and manipulatable by individuals when up until recently it was only manipulatable by countries. Countries will have to adjust, if this business about digital money and taxes is true, really adjust in short term ways that might be frightening. Now Joy is talking about technologies (again the example was used of creating a desktop dna designer virus) that will sit on everybody's desktop with the power to, say, wipe out the world.
I remember my father saying once when I was young that the real fear people had after learning about Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that an atomic bomb might be something you could build in your kitchen with a few tools and some garden supplies if you had the manual. Fortunately building atomic bombs was limited to nation states with billions of dollars and even then we probably came close to using them. Look at India and Pakistan. Is Bill Joy right? Don't know. Hard to say. How many gloom and doom predictions have been made over time and how many of those have come true? The thought that stuck was its seeming inevitability. And the thoughts about the kind of world that would be created in order to contain it. A hundred times more than Orwell's 1984.
Why did I start this? Are these my Easter thoughts? The sun is shining. The day is nice. Lighten up. I'll be dead in 2030. What's to worry about?