Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #150                                                 October 7, 2003
                 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.


Quotes and Provocations
   Adrift in the Genome Without Instructions
   DNA and Voting Machines
   Perfecting the Dance, Forgetting the Dancer
   The Internet Society: Reflections on Our Present Discontents


Announcements and Resources
   The New Atlantis

About this newsletter


                         QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS

Adrift in the Genome Without Instructions

Genomic researcher Mark Boguski is participating in a new, $100 million
project to bring human genome data to bear upon brain research.  This, he
tells us, will be difficult.  The Human Genome Project was "like opening a
box filled with parts to build two tables and there are 30,000 parts
[genes] and no instructions".

Well, that's the new story, now widely trumpeted.  The old story -- the
one justifying and glorifying the most expensive scientific venture in
history -- was that the 30,000 genes were themselves the instructions.
They were the code that directed the manufacturing of the human organism,
and we were the decoders.

So we've gone from "Finally, the instructions!" to "Sorry, no instructions
at all.  That'll be three billion dollars please".  If a president were to
lead us down such a path of duplicity or ignorance, there would be a
political uproar and congressional investigation.  For scientists,
apparently, it's okay.

One does nevertheless hope that a few open-minded researchers here and
there will be led to ask, "What is it in our scientific view of things
that led us to such wildly misjudged expectations?"  Error, after all, is
eminently forgiveable if one is willing to acknowledge one's mistakes and
learn from them.  But if a dialogue of acknowledgment and learning is
going on, the public has yet to be let in on it.  Maybe the scientists are
too busy ransacking their box of genomic parts, looking for the
instructions.  ("Drat it all!  They've gotta be in here somewhere!")

DNA and Voting Machines

You may have heard about the efforts to build a kind of computer out of
DNA and various other ingredients.  According to one report,

   Recently the first game-playing biomolecular device was revealed -- an
   enzyme-powered tic-tac-toe machine, which could not be beaten .... In
   February of this year the smallest biological computing device was
   announced -- a microliter of salt solution containing three trillion
   self-contained DNA computing devices.  (, September 22, 2003)

So now we have "biomolecular devices" and "DNA computing devices".  These
phrases suggest that DNA and biomolecules can themselves reasonably be
thought of as computational devices.  But they can't.  The computation is
achieved at a high level of abstraction through an elaborate arrangement
that we, using sophisticated techniques, impose upon the various
materials.  Only when we ignore everything about these materials except
for the role we have assigned them in our carefully designed and
controlled arrangement can we speak of a "device" -- and then the term
refers to a logic of the artificial arrangement in its entirety, the logic
of our own artifice, not to the separate materials we employ.  To refer to
biomolecules themselves as "devices" is a blatant misuse of language.

Here's a close analogy.  Every four years we in the U.S. manage to
orchestrate an elaborate computational process called a "national
election".  It more or less succeeds (if we ignore the law of chad
indeterminacy) in producing a correct tabulation of votes, thereby
indicating who our next president will be.  But the success of this
intricately designed computational process is no ground for reconceiving
the individual human being as an example of such a process.  We are not
voting devices.  Similarly, our ability to employ DNA within a
computational process gives us no justification for thinking of DNA as a
computing device.  But this is exactly what the language we saw will lead

It is necessary for us, in various limited ways, to impose an artificial
calculational logic upon organisms and societies.  We do need to cooperate
in producing clearly defined, numerically accurate election results.
Unfortunately, our ability to do this -- and to analyze the process with
great logical and mathematical sophistication -- tempts us to lose sight
of the living reality beneath the calculational grid we have laid over it.

To see this you need only look at American politics, where the statistical
analysts now drive the process and citizens really do become, for the
politicians, mere voting devices who, it is hoped, will respond
automatically to well-calculated stimuli.  This is why conversation -- the
genuine speaking of one's thoughts, feelings, questions, and uncertainties
to one's fellow citizens -- is no longer a natural part of the process.
Politicians do not address citizens; they try to manipulate biological
voting devices.

There is a lesson in this degeneration of American politics.  One should
never think that focusing sophisticated computational techniques upon new
domains will have no effect upon what those domains become.  And this in
turn makes one wonder:  as the era of DNA "computing devices" gets under
way, will DNA-bearing organisms fare any better than voting citizens?  For
an answer, check the attitude toward the caged animals in your nearest
genetic engineering laboratory.

Perfecting the Dance, Forgetting the Dancer

We use drugs, surgery, mechanical implants, and (experimental) genetic
modification techniques to heal the human body.  Why should we not use the
same techniques to promote human excellence, quite apart from dealing with
illness and injury?  For example, "drugs to improve memory, alertness, and
amiability could greatly relieve the need for exertion to acquire these
powers, leaving time and effort for better things".

That is one of the questions posed by Leon Kass in "Ageless Bodies, Happy
Souls: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Perfection", which appeared in the
spring, 2003 issue of The New Atlantis.  (For more on that publication,
see "Announcements and Resources" below.)  Kass, who is chairman of the
President's Council on Biotechnology, argues that we cannot reject the new
techniques simply because they are artificial or unnatural, since we
accept at least some artificial interventions for healing.  But he does
have a deeper concern:

   Character is not only the source of our deeds, but also their product.
   People whose disruptive behavior is "remedied" by pacifying drugs
   rather than by their own efforts are not learning self-control; if
   anything, they are learning to think it unnecessary.  People who take
   pills to block out from memory the painful or hateful aspects of a new
   experience will not learn how to deal with suffering or sorrow.  A drug
   to induce fearlessness does not produce courage.

Kass grants that some biotechnical interventions "may assist in the
pursuit of excellence without cheapening its attainment", but finds that,
in general "'naturalness' of means matters".  The danger in drugs and
devices is that they may violate or deform the deep structure of human

   In most of our ordinary efforts at self-improvement, either by practice
   or training or study, we sense the relation between our doings and the
   resulting improvement, between the means used and the end sought.
   There is an experiential and intelligible connection between means and
   ends; we can see how confronting fearful things might eventually enable
   us to cope with our fears.  We can see how curbing our appetites
   produces self-command.  Human education ordinarily proceeds by speech
   or symbolic deeds, whose meanings are at least in principle directly
   accessible to those upon whom they work.

By contrast, reliance upon technical means can lead us away from
"'genuine', unmediated, and (in principle) self-transparent human
activity".  I can use a calculator to do arithmetic, but this does not
make me a knower of arithmetic; the mathematical know-how my activity taps
into is neither transparent nor my own.

All this captures, I think, the fundamental truth that we can never
adequately understand a human performance as a product independent of the
performer.  However outwardly focused the performance may be, its
essential meaning includes the self's development through its own
exertions.  We express ourselves not only to achieve something "out
there", but also because something "in here" drives us to it, and in the
expressing we strengthen and deepen our inner powers of expression.  As
Kass puts it, "our genuine happiness requires that there be little gap, if
any, between the dancer and the dance".  And the same principle applies to
our assessment of the achievements of others:  we rightly value every
human expression, from the pianist's recital to the scholar's text to the
quarterback's athletic artistry, not merely as an external product, but as
part of the unfolding revelation of an expressing self.  Therein lies its
ultimate significance.  Conversely, whatever does not arise from the
expressing self is not fundamental.  There are, in the end, no worthwhile
"things" in the world; there are only worthwhile doings.

Kass discusses not only the means by which we achieve things, but also the
ends we pursue.  He asks whether the goal of a "happy soul", sought by so
many through drugs, is a worthy one.  His answer is wonderfully clear:

   There seems to be something misguided about the pursuit of utter
   psychic tranquility, or the attempt to eliminate all shame, guilt, and
   painful memories.  Traumatic memories, shame, and guilt, are, it is
   true, psychic pains.  In extreme doses, they can be crippling.  Yet
   they are also helpful and fitting.  They are appropriate responses to
   horror, disgraceful conduct, and sin, and, as such, help teach us to
   avoid them in the future.  Witnessing a murder should be remembered
   as horrible; doing a beastly deed should trouble one's soul.  Righteous
   indignation at injustice depends on being able to feel injustice's
   sting.  An untroubled soul in a troubling world is a shrunken human
   being.  More fundamentally, to deprive oneself of one's memory --
   including and especially its truthfulness of feeling -- is to deprive
   oneself of one's own life and identity.

Kass goes on to note that our feeling states do not give us the essence of
the achievements we aim at through our goals.  "No music lover would be
satisfied with getting from a pill the pleasure of listening to Mozart
without ever hearing the music.  Most people want both to feel good and to
feel good about themselves, but only as a result of being good and doing


   There is a connection between the possibility of feeling deep
   unhappiness and the prospects for achieving a genuine happiness.  If
   one cannot grieve, one has not loved.  To be capable of aspiration, one
   must know and feel lack .... human fulfillment depends on our being
   creatures of need and finitude and hence of longings and attachment.

The long, concluding paragraph of Kass' article (not quoted here) is
transcendent and luminous.  I can strongly recommend the entire essay.

The Internet: Reflections on Our Present Discontents

There are not many happy campers on the Internet these days -- or, at
least, not many idealistic happy campers.  Malicious worms and viruses,
a rising tide of spam, commercialism in its crassest forms, lawsuits over
Internet filters in libraries, nagging questions about privacy in the
face of governmental and corporate surveillance, the apparent success of
gambling, pornography, and every scam imaginable, monopolistic software
of poor quality, the ubiquitous frustrations of employees dealing with
crotchety tools they have no hope of understanding, nasty battles over
copyright -- none of this is likely to make one feel warmly about the
online experience.

I have long tried to avoid carping about the more obvious dysfunctions of
the digital society.  For one thing, because the dysfunctions are obvious,
they draw plenty of attention from others.  For another, I have a basic
faith that any given dysfunction will sooner or later yield to human
ingenuity.  Most importantly, as I remarked a few years ago, my real
concern in NetFuture is with the effects of technology when it does
exactly what we want it to, without seeming to bite back.  This apparent
harmony conceals the deeper danger, which results from too passive a
willingness to adapt ourselves to the machinery around us.

There is a fine line between healthy adaptation, on the one hand, whereby
a tool is made to serve the highest human purposes, and "going native" --
going machinelike in our own habits -- on the other.  In a healthy
adaptation we always sense a certain resistance from the tool, however
subtle.  This is just to say that the boundary between the tool and
ourselves remains available to our awareness even as we work continually
to transcend the boundary through our own mastery.  Without such a
resistance and awareness, we cannot summon the work necessary in order to
remain masters of the technologies we employ.  Putting it paradoxically:
we have to be aware of the tool's difference from us, its opposition to
us, in order to work effectively at making it "part of us".  When we lose
the awareness, we have no way to direct this work, and we can't know
whether we are using the tool or it is using us.

The glitches, vexations, and failures of technology at least have this
virtue, that they occasionally jolt us out of our mesmerized, lock-step
conformity to the machinery around us and into remembrance of ourselves as
distinct from the machinery.

But it does seem to me, as I deal with the day's hundred spam messages and
read about legislation designed, futilely, to curb Internet gambling or
prevent various Net-based abuses of children, that our present discontents
reflect far more than inconvenient glitches in the grand march toward an
Internet society.  We're going to need more than a little technical
ingenuity.  That's because we're up against some fundamental and
recalcitrant problems for which there simply may be no reasonable answers
-- at least, no answers consistent with our inflated expectations for a
life of technology-assisted ease.

There are countless avenues of critical approach to the Internet society.
The two issues I would like to comment on at the moment are so evident, so
clearly there in front of us, that they can all too easily become
invisible.  One of them has to do with the Internet as a transactional
medium famed for its efficiency.  Many of you will recall that the praises
for this efficiency were from the beginning so extreme, so exhilarated, so
full of revolutionary expectation ("frictionless capitalism"!) -- and, in
their own narrow terms, so undeniably justified -- that we should have
been alarmed.

It is not hard to see that a single-minded drive toward transactional
efficiency always puts the meaning and value of the transactions at risk.
Not that efficiency and meaning are brutely opposed to each other.
Rather, they stand in necessary creative tension with one another.  This
prevents us from making a goal of efficiency.  If we don't have an aim
separate from efficiency, we have no way to tell whether we are going in
the right or wrong direction, and nothing by which to gauge our
efficiency.  So considerations of efficiency must always be linked to our
goals and values.

Anyone who says "efficiency is everything" is saying "there are no goals
and values in this enterprise (and therefore no meaningful efficiency
either)".  And anyone who does have goals and values must recognize that
they necessarily lead away from perfect efficiency.  Perfect efficiency
would reflect the fact that there is no resistance to be overcome, no work
to be done -- and therefore no meaningful goal to be attained.  In sum:
we cannot achieve efficiency by aiming for it, but only by being as
clearly focused on our goals as we can possibly be.  At the same time,
such a focus will always lead us to do things that look inefficient to a
more narrowly calculating mentality.

So trying to be efficient is rather like trying to be happy.  If you aim
for happiness, you will be disappointed.  But if instead you take on some
worthwhile task in the world -- a task that will doubtless require you at
times to assume burdens you are not particularly happy about -- you may be
surprised to discover in your work and sacrifice and achievement a degree
of happiness.  In the same way, efficiency is an elusive, indirect, and
never absolute consequence of keeping your eyes on an intrinsically
meaningful goal that may demand many "inefficiencies" of you.

In more concrete terms:  any two spouses and any two friends can testify
that the drive for mere efficiency is the quickest way to dissolve
a worthwhile human bond.  If you make a goal of efficiency, people will
have the unpleasant habit of distracting you and getting in your way.

This is trite.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone already knew it when the Net
was coming along and being celebrated for its efficiency.  So why were the
praises of efficiency not more effectively counterbalanced by expressions
of concern for the "inefficient" goals and values that might be lost sight
of?  It appears there are some dots we just prefer not to connect.

As for the values that are easily lost sight of amid the transactional
efficiencies of the Net, let me mention just one:  the value of leaving
your neighbor in relative peace.  The spammer could not so easily ply his
trade among the neighbors on his block -- not, at least, without
unpleasant consequences and many jarring impacts upon whatever conscience
he has.  But within the sphere of frictionless capitalism, where neighbors
are replaced by transactions, and marginal costs are near zero, it's a
different matter altogether.

What the psychologist, Adolf Güggenbuhl-Craig, has written of
marriage is true of all human relationships.  Marriage, he says, is

   a special path for discovering the soul.... One of the essential
   features of this soteriological pathway is the absence of avenues for
   escape.  Just as the saintly hermits cannot evade themselves, so the
   married persons cannot avoid their partners.  In this partially
   uplifting, partially tormenting evasionlessness lies the specific
   character of this path.  (Marriage, Dead or Alive.  Zurich: Spring
   Publications, 1971)

More generally, it is in the nature of all of us that we can't avoid or
ignore each other.  It's impossible.  This truth is subtly expressed in
all circumstances, but becomes obvious when you pass someone in an
otherwise empty place:  you can't not respond; ignoring is itself a
vivid, if negative, response.  There's no escape from having to do with
each other, which is our torment and also our only salvation.

Nevertheless, the transactional efficiency of the Net can be seen as
giving us practice in ignoring.  We learn to conduct ourselves as if no
one were there on the other end of the transaction -- no one we needed to
reckon with.  And, in fact, more and more it's a machine on the other end,
or might as well be.  In numerous formerly human contexts we have no
choice but to adapt our responses to the machines we are dealing with; it
would be silly if we did otherwise.

Digital networks continue and dramatically accentuate a longstanding trend
toward depersonalized transactions in modern society.  The trend is
inescapable in an ever more complexly organized world.  But this is not to
say we've managed it healthily.  Everything depends on our ability to find
occasions for more deeply personalized transactions to counter the ever
more pervasive mechanized ones, thereby keeping a grip upon our humanity.
I can imagine three tracks upon which this effort might run:

** I have pointed out in recent issues of NetFuture that all the machinery
of modern life, from printing press and book to a robot such as Kismet,
presents us with human expression.  To learn to recognize this expression
in all its various qualities and through all the intervening layers of
mechanism is a superb training for us.  Even if what we must recognize is
the disturbing effort to recast the human being as a machine, this
attempted reduction is itself a profoundly significant human gesture.  To
apprehend it in all its nuances as an expression of hope, confusion and
pain is to deepen ourselves.

** We can respond to all this mechanically impounded human expression by
seeking to elevate it.  This may at times require us to throw a wrench
into the machinery in order to serve the worthy human intentions behind
it.  Learning when to violate a process, when to step outside it or
somehow transform it in order to serve a higher value demands what is
highest in us.  The machinery around us, with all its limitations,
is in this sense a tutor urging our upward reach.

** We can seize every opportunity to deepen our direct engagement with
persons wherever such engagement is still an option.  This does not
necessarily mean investing huge energies in making our online encounters
as intense and fully dimensioned as possible (although such an exercise
will always bear fruit).  It may make at least as much sense to minimize
online engagements in the interest of those all too intense (and all too
easily neglected) relationships in our immediate environment.  In any
case, the point is to achieve a meeting of persons, as opposed to a kind
of semi-automated engagement with mere words.

Strategies such as these, I believe, offer the most straightforward answer
one can give to the question, "How can we make the Net a healthy part of

All this relates intimately to a second problem:  the radically limited
ability of the digital "landscape" to ground real communities.  As a
medium cultivated for its efficiency, the Net lacks most of the qualities
that give people a place to dwell.  It does not embody the history and
tradition, it does not possess the kind of stability and social structure,
and it does not present the distinctive cultural and natural contexts
within which people can adequately work out their profound destinies among
one another.

Again, this is trite.  No theme has been more thoroughly flogged over the
past decade than "place versus cyberspace".  We know by now, or should
know, that there is nothing in the online world that can stand in for
place.  That's just not what digital networks are for.

When, a few weeks ago, a Florida man was arrested for routing children to
porn sites on a large scale, a U.S. attorney said, "Few of us could
imagine there was someone out there in cyberspace, essentially reaching
out by hand to take children to the seediest corners of the Internet".  On
the contrary, this is exactly what was imagined by every Net commentator
worth his sociology degree in the early 90s -- except that they didn't
frame it in terms of children and seedy corners.  Rather, they kept it at
a clean, safe, abstract level:  "the entire world at your and my
fingertips".  But, of course, that meant children's fingertips, too.  How
reluctant we were to connect the dots!

Yes, the world -- the Internet world, with all its undoubted and now
essential marvels -- is at our fingertips.  But to be a keystroke away
from everywhere amounts to being nowhere in particular, and this means
that making the Internet a healthy place for children is not for the time
being a realistically achievable goal.  There is no "place" to make
healthy, no place where the way people relate to each other, where the
design of houses with their private and common rooms, the layout of
streets, the location of businesses, schools, and parks, the long-evolving
structure of family and community relationships, the rhythms of work,
study, commerce, dining, recreation, and conversation, the grounding
reality of sun, breezes, rain, and mosquitoes -- no place where these and
a thousand other factors can come together to say, "Here you are.  Your
name is written into this place.  You belong here, and you are safe".

Real places become safe and healthy by virtue of an infinite material
complexity of the right sort.  On the Internet, by contrast, we are forced
to protect children through clever technical devices whereby we may indeed
contrive "streets" and "homes" and "parks".  But within this technical
sphere, every clever device functions primarily to call forth a cleverer
device.  Whereas real streets, neighbors, and watchful eyes do not
disappear when a few bits are twiddled, Internet real estate is all
instantly movable facade.

Such is the "world" to which so many have been eager to transfer our
society's workplaces, town halls, schools, and places of recreation.  I
have no doubt that some transfer of function is inescapable and
proper in our day.  But the equivalent of a mad land rush -- in this case,
a government-encouraged, tax-assisted, consumer-tolerated rush to
landlessness -- will be catastrophic, if only due to the two causes I have
cited:  the destructive impact upon human affairs of mechanisms whose
primary recommendation is their efficiency; and the disorientation
resulting from the loss of real place, with its complex grounding and
structuring role in our lives.

Real places with their social institutions allow the embodiment of
endlessly varying values in different contexts -- and do so in a way that
encourages people to take up their position along these "value gradients"
wherever they feel most comfortable.  Yet all these different places can
coexist as part of a larger society -- a coexistence that begins with the
underlying fact that the land itself is, in the end, one land, and that
attempts to compromise this integrity lead to ecological calamity.  Issues
such as deforestation and global warming unite Amazonian Indian and Arctic
Inuit in a single community of interest, even as the different character
of the land also calls forth radically different local cultures.  (I owe a
full appreciation of this fact to conversations with David Abram, author
of The Spell of the Sensuous.)

In a real landscape, friction must be overcome in getting from here to
there.  This helps to explain how "here" can preserve its own character,
different from "there".  Because exchange between the two places requires
work and a certain dissipation of energy, the one place cannot so easily
overwhelm the other.

An historical succession of ever more powerful communication technologies
has progressively disturbed this delicate interweaving of local value and
global diversity.  The Internet promises a nearly perfected culmination of
the historical trend.  When screens are inserted at countless points
within the differentiated cultural pattern, becoming part of the
experience of most members of society, and when every one of these screens
delivers anything and everything with indifferent efficiency, then the
entire ordered, place-based pattern is at risk of chaotic dissolution.

When I referred above to the  "catastrophic" consequences of one-sided
efficiency and landlessness, I did not mean we will necessarily experience
events widely recognized as catastrophic.  Whatever happens will no doubt
be hailed by many as "progress".  The catastrophic elements I refer to are
already there for those willing to see them:  for example, the ongoing
scientific reconceptualization of the world and the human being as some
sort of computational machinery; and the inability of children, by the
time they have grown up, to experience an organic and deeply motivating
connection between themselves and the larger society.

Let me give one other example of what I mean by "catastrophe".  There is a
new world of pay-to-play Internet gaming where players can win (or lose)
cash.  Chris Grove, director of YouPlayGames ( claims
that the novelty of playing for money is attracting many people who were
never interested in video games.  "We're taking gaming into adulthood".
That quote is from a New York Times story, which describes the
games this way:

   The rules are fairly simple:  kill and make money, or be killed and
   lose it.  YouPlayGames awards money (usually less than $1) for each
   kill and charges a similar [but slightly higher] amount for each "life"
   a player buys.  UltimateArena charges entry fees for games or
   tournaments, in which first-place fighters win the largest share of
   money (and prizes like game consoles) from a pool that can be worth as
   much as $1000.

   "Playing on the site can definitely be more exciting once you get over
   the fear of losing a few bucks a match," said Vadim Zingman, 25, of
   Trumbull, Conn., who said he had won about $1800 at Ultimate Arena by
   playing about ten matches a week since the site started up last spring.
   (August 28, 2003)

The gaming sites are designed to keep minors out, but everyone
acknowledges that the barriers to admission for minors are less than

Now, I have no intention of climbing onto a moral high horse to denounce
gambling.  I know full well that gaming activity will appear largely
innocuous to many and will be debated and defended forever, just as the
effects of television upon children are.  The more dramatic, potentially
catastrophic point, for me, is not the gambling as such, but rather the
fact that we will have so easily and casually invited young people around
the world into this new activity -- and no actual community will have done
anything at all of the sort that was once required to create a place, the
conditions, the cultural surroundings, the human context within which the
activity occurs.  The young people will have been lifted out of their
communities and into this new recreation, not because some sort of rooted
and coherent evolution of the communities is taking place, but simply
because a worldless world is now at our fingertips and someone sitting
alone in front of a screen came up with a workable combination of digital
bits.  The levity of it all -- the ease and thoughtlessness and
disconnection and vapidity and grave cultural consequence -- these are
what worry me.  We have gotten ourselves into a situation where a
teenager, with no real sense for what he is doing, can to one degree or
another reprogram every community in our society.

So what am I suggesting?  Only that it is time, finally, to bring certain
long-recognized truths into our social and personal decision-making.
There are always trade-offs in the pursuit of efficiency, and this implies
a tremendous burden of responsibility for those engaged in the pursuit;
and, likewise, every time we dissolve a place into placelessness, we also
dissolve an incalculable amount of materially incarnated social and
cultural capital.

When we take these truths seriously, we will no longer so easily conclude
that "more efficient" or "cheaper" signifies "better".  Nor will we take
it for granted that using investment and tax policy to encourage rapid
adoption of networking technologies is an obvious and unqualified good for
society; we will be more inclined to look for massive hidden costs.  And
we will not stigmatize as "backward" a school that opts out of computer-
based curricula -- especially if this school is focused upon fashioning
vibrant places where kids can belong.

Most of all, we may rediscover within ourselves a new soil in which the
delicate flower of idealism can thrive.  The problem with the rank
idealism of the Net's early days was that it was vested in the redemptive
powers of the technology itself.  This was bound to disappoint.  A true
idealism is voiced in the expression of our own ideals as we find within
ourselves the resources to put them into practice.  And we can put them
into practice, on the Internet as elsewhere.  To the degree we do this, we
may hope to discover a pathway through our present discontents and make
the Internet a worthy, if presumably limited, expression of a healthy
society.  The alternative is to watch society become an unhealthy
expression of the Internet.


Goto table of contents


                       ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES

The New Atlantis

There is an intriguing new quarterly that bills itself as "a journal of
technology and society".  Called The New Atlantis, it is a project
of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Two issues of The New Atlantis have been published so far (spring
and summer, 2003), and judging from the articles in these issues, the
journal will be a cover-to-cover read for many in the NetFuture audience.
Here are some of the article titles:

   Of Embryos and Empire
   The Nanotechnology Revolution
   Has Technology Changed War?
   Eugenics -- Sacred and Profane
   Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls
   Military Technology and American Culture
   Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases
   Does Bioethics Have a Future?
   Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature
   The Rise and Fall of Sociobiology

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a conservative think tank, which
raises a question about the balance of opinion in the journal.  But the
problems posed by the new technologies -- and especially biotechnology,
which is a major focus of The New Atlantis -- tend to split both
the conservative and liberal camps down the middle.  This leaves the
editors relatively free of traditional political agendas.  And when they
do feature politically linked views, they show evidence of a desire for
pluralism.  For example, under the topic, "Optimism, Pessimism, and
Biotechnology", they ran two articles:  "Why Conservatives Worry" and "Why
Everyone Should Relax".

NetFuture reader Adam Keiper is managing editor of The New
Atlantis, working under editor Eric Cohen.  Several members and
staffers of the President's Council on Bioethics (including the chairman,
Leon Kass) are among the contributors to these first two numbers.  All in
all, a publication worth looking into.  Yearly subscriptions are (at the
introductory rate) $20, which should be sent to:  The New Atlantis,
Subscription Services, P.O. Box 3000, Denville, New Jersey 07834-3000.  Or
order by phone:  866-440-6916.  You can check out the publication at


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Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #150 :: October 7, 2003

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