Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #160                                                January 25, 2005
                 A Publication of The Nature Institute
          Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

                  On the Web:
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Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk
in submission to its inevitabilities?  NetFuture is a voice for
responsibility.  It depends on the generosity of those who support
its goals.  To make a contribution, click here.


Editor's Note

Logic, DNA, and Poetry (Stephen L. Talbott)
   What if geneticists took their words seriously?


About this newsletter


                              EDITOR'S NOTE

My deepest thanks go out to that select group of you who responded to
the December fund appeal.  Your generosity of spirit always humbles me.
NetFuture continues only on the strength of your support.

Also, a new article on The Nature Institute's website may hold interest
for many of you.  It's a broad survey of the ecological, agricultural, and
social issues surrounding the question, "Will Biotechnology Feed the
World?" by my colleague, Craig Holdrege.  He places the claims for
biotechnology within their larger context -- a service rarely or never
offered by those who make the claims, for reasons of self-interest that
will become clear when you read the piece.  You'll find the essay at:


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                          LOGIC, DNA, AND POETRY

                            Stephen L. Talbott

In January, 1956, Herbert Simon, who would later win the Nobel prize in
economics, walked into his classroom at Carnegie Institute of Technology
and announced, "Over Christmas Allen Newell and I invented a thinking
machine".  His invention was the "Logic Theorist", a computer program
designed to work through and prove logical theorems.  Simon's casual
announcement -- which, had it been true, would surely have rivaled in
importance the Promethean discovery of fire -- galvanized researchers in
the discipline that would soon become known as artificial intelligence
(AI).  The following year Simon spoke of the discipline's promise this

   It is not my aim to surprise or shock you .... But the simplest way I
   can summarize is to say that there are now in the world machines that
   think, that learn and that create.  Moreover, their ability to do these
   things is going to increase rapidly until -- in a visible future -- the
   range of problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to
   which the human mind has been applied.  (Simon and Newell 1958)

There was good reason for the mention of su