Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #125                                               November 15, 2001
                 A Publication of The Nature Institute
           Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

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The Deceiving Virtues of Technology (Stephen L. Talbott)
   From the cave of the Cyclops to Silicon Valley

About this newsletter



                            Stephen L. Talbott

(Following is the text of an invited address I gave at the Cognitive
Technology 2001 conference at the University of Warwick in England, held
August 6 - 9.)

This morning I would like to take a long view of technology.  A very long
view.  It begins with Odysseus and his beleaguered companions penned up in
the cave of Polyphemus, the great, one-eyed, Cyclopean giant, offspring of
Poseidon.  Polyphemus had already twice brained a couple of the men by
smashing their heads against the earth, then devouring them whole for a
day's meal.

Odysseus, of course, was desperate and, as he later told the story, "I was
left there, devising evil in the deep of my heart, if in any way I might
take vengeance on him, and Athena grant me glory".  So he hit upon a plan.
Finding a huge beam in the cave, he and his companions sharpened it,
hardened the point in the fire, and hid it beneath one of the dung heaps
littering the place.  When Polyphemus returned from pasturing his flocks,
and after he had dined on a third pair of the companions, Odysseus offered
him a wondrously potent wine the Greeks had brought with them.  The
Cyclops drank without reserve, draining three bowls and then falling into
a drunken stupor.  But before passing out, he asked Odysseus for his name,
and the warrior answered, "Nobody is my name, Nobody do they call me".

As the giant then lay senseless, dribbling wine and bits of human flesh
from his gullet, Odysseus and his comrades heated the end of the beam in
the coals of the fire and then, throwing all their weight onto it, thrust
it into the eye of Polyphemus.  Roaring mightily, the blinded Cyclops
extracted the beam from his bloodied eye, groped to remove the huge stone
blocking the mouth of the cave, and bellowed his outrage to the other
Cyclopes living nearby.  But when they came and asked who was causing his
distress, his answer that "Nobody" was the culprit left them perplexed.
"If nobody is tormenting you, then y