Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #165                                                October 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

Where We Have Come To (Part 1) (Stephen L. Talbott)
   On Kevin Kelly's "We Are the Web"


About this newsletter


                              EDITOR'S NOTE

A publisher considering the reprint of my 1995 book, The Future Does Not
Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, has suggested I write a
new introduction looking at developments of the past decade.  As it
happens, Kevin Kelly has already written an essay doing just that, and his
remarks provide a convenient foil for my own, very different assessment.
In the first half of my proposed introduction, below, I offer a counter to
Kelly's excessively utopian view.  In doing so, I draw upon various things
I have written in NetFuture over the course of this decade.

In Part 2, planned for the next issue, I will seek the ground for a more
hopeful and positive understanding of the Internet Age.


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                      WHERE WE HAVE COME TO (PART 1)
                    On Kevin Kelly's "We Are the Web"

                            Stephen L. Talbott

During 1994-1995 I wrote a book1 suggesting that the emerging culture of
the Internet was infected by a massive and potentially disastrous
confusion between our full human capacities and the technical capabilities
of the new digital machinery.  It's not that the technical capabilities
had nothing to do with us.  Quite the opposite.  The point was that
they lived first of all within us: we had to conceive the computer
and be capable of thinking like a computer before we could build one.
And that's exactly where the danger lay.  This thinking and the machine
it spawned were extremely one-sided expressions of ourselves.  If we
continued investing our energies in such one-sidedness, allowing the
rapid spread of digital machinery continually to reinforce our own
imbalance, then (so I argued) we would eventually descend to the level
of our machines without even realizing it.  And we would mistake our
own descent for a glorious a