[extropy-chat] Recipe for Destruction - Joy/Kurzweil NYTimes Op-Ed

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Tue Oct 18 13:47:55 UTC 2005

On 10/18/05, Samantha Atkins <sjatkins at mac.com> wrote:
> Not really. With advancing tech the genome of all kinds of nasty things
> will be pretty easy to get. For potentially deadly bugs it could be argued
> that publishing the genome potentially increases the speed of anti-viral
> work.

I'm not proposing that it be buried in a secret government warehouse and
never see the light of day, just that some sort of control be exercised over
who gets hold of it. Look, biochemistry isn't software, we're not going to
see a cure for influenza created by a 15 year old in his bedroom. Biotech
research is cheap only compared to nuclear and aerospace; it's still the
province of organizations, not individuals. All the original authors needed
to do to avoid this kerfuffle was to say, we'll make it available but only
to people affiliated with an academic or corporate research outfit. That's
no barrier to antiviral work.

There's a bigger point here, and I'm not really the one to make it; I'm a
guy who sits in a basement and writes code, charisma, tact, charm and
salesmanship are, as I've remarked before, very definitely not my strong
points, so you're getting these things preached at you (plural, not just
Samantha) by someone who doesn't possess them himself, which probably goes
some way to explaining my lack of success thus far; but someone has to try.

Most of us here are, or at least try to be, rationalists, right? We try to
deal with the world the way it is in reality, not the way we imagine it to
be in our fantasies. If someone comes up with a design for a car that runs
on water we don't believe it, no matter how nice it would be if it were

Political reality can be just as important as physical reality in
determining whether our wishes come true. It's not much good someone
inventing a Santa Claus nanofactory or a cure for death if you can't
actually get them because they're against the law. Do you agree that we
should apply rationality rather than fantasy to this, just as to other
aspects of reality?

As I've said, I think calling humans "monkeys" indicates an immature
attitude and publishing the genomes of deadly diseases on the Internet is
irresponsible behavior, but leave that aside and let's suppose the ideal
were a world where people were free to say and do anything they felt like
with no repercussions. Do you acknowledge that we do not, in fact, live in
such a world? That the public will not, in fact, indefinitely tolerate this
sort of thing, no matter how much you wish they would?

Given the choice between voluntary agreement by scientists to behave in what
the public considers a responsible manner (even if you don't), versus
bringing in the thud and blunder of legal regulation, which would you

Finally, I notice that in Patricia Manney, this list has someone who, unlike
me, _is_ charming and tactful, and is willing and able to come up with
positive suggestions for things like less offensive terminology. If you
won't listen to me then for the sake of everything you hold dear, please
listen to her.

- Russell
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20051018/68989ebc/attachment.html>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list