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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #92      A Publication of The Nature Institute         July 21, 1999
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NETFUTURE is a reader-supported publication.
    Can Technology Make the Handicapped Whole? (Stephen L. Talbott)
       Toward a fuller understanding of human potentials
    The Living and the Dead (Jacques Lusseyran)
       `Many were dying, quite simply, of fear'
    About this newsletter
                                Stephen L. Talbott
    If, along our passage to a tolerable, technology-permeated future, there
    lies a single stretch where we will have to sweat drops of blood in order
    to stay the course, surely it will be that stretch peopled by "the
    handicapped".  Here is where, no matter how radical or uncertain or
    dangerous a technology promises to be for society at large, we will be
    overwhelmingly tempted by our own generous impulses to grant exceptions
    for the disabled.  And, from retinal or cochlear implants to machine-
    harnessed brain waves to wholesale fiddling with the nervous system, this
    is probably enough of a beachhead to bring the technology into general
    use.  Who could deny any possible technical assist to the tragic victims
    of a major functional deficit?
    In The Age of Spiritual Machines Ray Kurzweil makes the argument as
    explicit as possible.  Repeatedly reminding his readers that we are on a
    "slippery slope", he plunges into the downhill slide with resigned
    abandon.  Eventually, he assures us, we will replace the entire human body
    and its intelligence with vastly more capable digital technologies.
    To combine the metaphors a bit awkwardly:  the narrow passage is our only
    alternative to the slippery slope.  This article is my attempt, not to
    traverse the passage, but at least to point it out.  I may not have
    sweated drops of blood while writing these words, but I don't think I have
    ever written a piece under a more compelling sense of urgency, or with a
    greater awareness of my own inadequacy.
    The article takes the form of commentary on a book, the book having been
    written in 1953 without any mention of computers.  Nevertheless, I do not
    know any work more germane to the matter at hand.  And I count the book
    among the handful of the most significant productions of this century.
    You may find the initial unfolding of the story strange, and wonder about
    its relevance to the theme of technology and the disabled.  Please stick
    with it and read on.
    Notes concerning And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran, 2nd edition
    (New York: Parabola Books, 1998).  Paperback, 328 pages, $14.95.