Professionalism/Bill Joy and Technological Risks

In 1982 Bill Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems with several other Berkeley graduates. While at Sun, he further established himself as a leader in computer software design, where he produced the Java Platform and the Network File System (NFS), which allows users to access files through a network. While at Sun, Joy was exposed to the rapid development of technology and was shocked by how fast things were changing. In April 2000, he wrote "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" for Wired Magazine. In it, he expresses his concerns for the direction technological advancements are headed and the rate at which they are getting there. He discusses his fear for self-replicating robots and how the spread of knowledge in the 21st Century is facilitating the advancements of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR).

Bill Joy

Personal HistoryEdit

From an early age Joy showed promising signs as a mathematician[1], excelling in high school and took advanced courses at the University of Michigan, where he received at B.S in Electrical Engineering [2] and first discovered computers. He was enthralled with the idea of a machine that could solve problems and had a clear notion of correct and incorrect [3]. Joy continued in his education at the University of California at Berkeley where he received a M.S. in Computer Engineering [4]. While at Berkeley, Joy worked with the Computer Systems Research Group where he is accredited with the development of BSD Unix, which is the software that Apples eventually based it's Mac OS X operating system on. Joy is also attributed with developing the text editor vi, which is still used today, and csh while at Berkeley. Currently, Joy is a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers which focuses on IT, biotech, and green technologies [5].

Why the Future Doesn't Need UsEdit

Introduction of Ideas & MisgivingsEdit

Joy opens the article by recalling when his concerns for new technologies first emerged. It was in conversation with John Searle and Ray Kurzweil that Joy began to take seriously the threat of independent technologies that could have a stronger hold on human society. He tells how Kurzweil said "that the rate of improvement of technology was going to accelerate and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots or something like that." [6]

Joy talks about how these fears that at one time seemed outlandish suddenly seemed realistic coming from two professionals he highly respected. During this conversation Kurzweil had a copy of his then forthcoming novel The Age of Spiritual Machines. Joy read an excerpt and was even further disturbed by a quotation from Ted Kacynski. In it Kacynski suggests and reasons, "that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. [7]

Search of KnowledgeEdit

Joy sees the issues emerging from advancing technology rooted in a relentless search for knowledge. He recognizes that knowledge is good and the desire to know is part of human nature, but he questions the necessity of knowledge, especially at the cost of human race. He claims the only way to protect ourselves is too limit or relinquish our pursuit of knowledge. He sites Nietzsche who calls the "'will to truth,' or 'truth at any price'" [8] as dangerous. Joy thinks that unlimited access to knowledge could lead to mankind's demise.

NBC vs GNREdit

Joys misgivings regarding the pursuit of truth at any cost ties directly to his fears regarding the advancement of technology in the advancements in 21st Century technologies genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR).

In "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" Joy draws a parallel between GNRs and 20th Century nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) technologies. He claims that pursuit for truth and knowledge led to humanity bringing itself to the brink of its own destruction. Joy discusses how the advancement of the atomic bomb continued for the sake continued advancement and if it hadn't been stopped it would have led to the end of mankind.

Joy raises the question if humanity is headed in the same direction with the spread of GNR technologies and what it will take to stop the spread of knowledge. What scares him more is not that we are doing the same thing with different technologies, but instead how much easier GNRs can be spread over NBCs. NBC technologies require incredible resources in time, space and money. With GNRs since the resources required to advance and implement these technologies are so much less the knowledge with how to use them is enough to actually use them. Compound this fact with the increased spread of knowledge in today's society and Joy fears for our future.

Media ExamplesEdit

Though Joy's fears seem far-fetched and crazy it's obvious that these fears are shared by many. A simple look at today's media and it's easy to see how his fears are a common thread in many movies, television shows, and other pop culture sources.

The Matrix, The Terminator, and The Day the Earth Stood Still are prime examples.

Joy's EthicsEdit

While Joy mainly offers a bleak view of the future without adequate action by the scientific community, he is less explicit on the actions that engineers and scientists need to take to avoid this development. Specifically, he does not give a code or guide that will help fellow coworkers, or shed light on what Joy believes is a true professional engineer. However, he does reference some principles or phrases that he believe are important for people to keep in their minds during scientific endeavors. From these statements as well as other ideas he outlines, an extrapolated "guide" can be created that partially encompass Joy's attitude towards professional ethics. The following list is by no means Bill Joy's work or views, but is simply an extrapolated assumption made by the authors. It is meant to guide the engineer away from actions or tendency that could potentially cause technological developments or scientific breakthroughs that are detrimental to human society, and thus avoid Joy's apocalyptic prophecies.

Understand and respect the order of nature and natural selection.

Repeatedly, Joy references the idea that if we create something that is more evolutionary fit than us, then by natural selection they will inevitably overtake us and eventually condemn us to extinction. This point is meant to convey the idea that the chaotic natural order shows no preference to us or any other species, and we are subject to its rules. Furthermore, natural ecosystems in general have a specific order to them as well, and creation of a technological or biological organism that could throw off this balance and wreck havoc on local or the global ecosystem.

Humility in the pursuit of technological advancement

Joy believes that often during scientific discovery, we are overly arrogant of our own abilities. Essentially, the scientific community must restrain from hubris considering there are forces that we do not know, or have not researched completely, and those that are still out of our control. Similar to nuclear technology, we are often teetering upon on edge between sustained control of a system and complete failure or destruction.

Understand the fragility and inefficiencies of human-made systems.

Similar to the previous point, however this is more aimed at the fragility of our society, not that of our creations. From his work on computers, Joy came to realize that even his most powerful computational creations were still susceptible to complete failure with a single aspect that goes awry. He uses this metaphor to describe society, and how despite our views of social flexibility and survivability, an unforeseen factor that attacks a key aspect of our lives could bring the entire social structure down with it. For example, our reliance on electric power makes us susceptible to danger if the power grid were to be suddenly ineffective or under the control of a malevolent artificial intelligence.

Reject the idea of truth at all cost.

This is relatively simple: the ends do not always justify the means. In Joy's view, the means can feasibly create a scenario where the opposite to the original end is created. For example, research into a nanotechnological cure for cancer could inadvertently lead to a self-replicating protein inhibitor that retards normal cell development in humans. Instead of viewing science as a realm of knowledge where all must be known, the scientist or engineer must use caution in the act of discovery and see it as a potential hazard to life. He is not saying that all development must be viewed with fear and skepticism, but that certain technologies have obvious dangers and their full potentials in all ways, both beneficial and damaging, should be treated with care.

Knowledge is no excuse for inaction.

One of Joy's most common criticisms of the modern scientific community is that although many eminent and normal members alike agree that an out-of-control technology is highly possible, he sees no sign that they are doing anything about it. Therefore, although you understand a problem or possible future, you have a responsibility to respond to that problem. This also closely aligns with Joy's view of whistle-blowers, we he alludes are essentially in the process of technological development.

Be aware of the consequences of your actions, both direct and indirect.

This principle is common among all the others, and defines the safest approach to a detrimental situation. Essentially what is entails is that during the act of scientific creation or engineering creation, the creator must be aware of possible ways that this technology could be abused, uncontrollable, directly dangerous, or manipulated if in the wrong hands. However, one must also try to envision how the technology could be developed further, or incorporated into other technology, that could make it potentially harmful. The principle is simple, but it is easier said than done.

Finally, Joy advises that "to verify compliance, require engineers and scientists to adopt a strict code of ethical conduct, resembling the Hippocratic Oath, and that they have the courage to whistleblow if necessary." '"[9]