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Leviathan
Esther Dyson,
Internet pioneer

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Esther Dyson
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In the future, when you can choose everything, then you always bear the burden of being responsible for what you chose.
 



I would fight to the death for imperfect humans against some kind of fake artificial thing.
 



The splitting of humanity into several species obviously again raises huge ethical questions.
 



What do you want when you have everything? You want the attention of other human beings.
 



There are serious implications to having everything you ever did be available for other people to know. I hope there are going to be strong privacy laws but this information is always going to be available somehow.
 



The real problem with the internet isn't the net. It's the people on it.
 
Q: What is technology is going to be capable of in 2100?

A: Well clearly you're going to know or you're going to be able to know almost everything that is knowable, like the temperature of the swimming pool in the hotel that I'm going to be going to in two days, whether my plane is late or not. I'm going to be able to reach anybody in the world arbitrarily if I know that they exist. I'm going to be able to find somebody according to specifications. I may be going to Tangier next week and I want to find out all the carpet sellers in Tangier and compare their prices. By 2100 I'll probably be able to and they'll still be selling carpets in Tangier no doubt.

Q: What will that do to the way we are, the way we think, the way we live?

A: The technology will change but we'll still be human beings. We'll still be wet, if you like. We'll still be chemical, we'll still get hungry and bad-tempered and probably most of us will still have a susceptibility to alcohol but there may be fewer people with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. There's going to be a lot of ways we can improve "the stock of the human race", and a lot of questions about what improvement really means, whether we really want to use that power because the more power you have, the more responsibility you have for how it's used.

I think you're going to be able to raise your children's intelligence. You're going to be able to figure out easily what sex they are. The question is how much do you want to do that and how much do you want to be responsible for the results? If you have a kid, you know it's your kid, you love him. Now if you have a kid that's not perfect, maybe you didn't spend enough on the genetic engineer when you decided to have your kid and you're responsible for that, and do we really want a world where you're that responsible for everything that happens? Where there's no notion of luck? Where I don't like my nose but you know if I went and had it fixed then I'd be responsible if I didn't have the very best nose in the world, so I'm happy to stick with the nose I have.

But in a world of the future where everything is capable of being changed and engineered and "improved", what does improvement really mean? Do you really want to be responsible for all those consequences?

There's a way in which luck, whether good luck or bad luck, relieves us of responsibility and that's kind of comforting, you know. You're not responsible for everything in the world.

You're responsible for being honest and good and not losing your temper too often but you're not responsible for not becoming president of the US or prime minister of the UK. You've gotten your own life and it just happened to you. And in the future, when you can choose everything, then you always bear the burden of being responsible for what you chose.

Q: Where will that put the human species?

A: Whether it's 2100 or 2200, at some point we're going to be creating beings. I don't want to be a human chauvinist any more than I'm an American chauvinist but - so if these people are better than we are, god bless 'em!

On the other hand if they're totally artificial and they don't have souls, I would fight to the death for imperfect humans against some kind of fake artificial thing that wasn't really alive in the fundamental sense of having the ability to make the choice between good and evil.

Q: What you're talking about is the end of a single human species. Is that right?

A: No I'm not talking about the end of a single human species. I'm talking about the transformation of the human species into a new one. What happens in biology in general is you have a group, a sub-species that becomes more and more different it becomes a new species but the old one doesn't necessarily end.

The splitting of humanity into several species obviously again raises huge ethical questions, but see what's interesting is we see ourselves as separate from animals because we talk and we speak and we think and we reason. We see ourselves of course as superior to them because they are so fundamentally different from us, but if we discovered dolphins really do speak I hope we'd have the sense to treat them as another species neither superior nor inferior.

I'm not sure we're smart enough as human beings to do that and so the question is if there were a new species, would they in fact be better people or would they simply be smarter people? Would they be better-looking or would they be better-behaving? But it takes a fairly long time for a new species really to happen.

Q: What kind of nations and institutions will exist in 2100?

A: We'll probably have a lot of the same countries. Countries are pretty persistent but what they do, their roles in our lives will be very different. They will clearly be running physical space but people will feel much less tied to that physical jurisdiction. There will be cultures but the Spanish culture extends well beyond Spain to for example Latin America. The English culture and so all these internet companies now instead of expanding geographically are expanding across language lines and the world itself will be much more divided by language and culture than by geography.

Q: What will we do? What work?

A: Even as everything gets automated, you can know where anything is happening, you can buy anything you want on the net, I think there's going to be much more value placed on human intention. A lot of us in one form or another are going to be teachers or motivators because you can find out information on the internet but you can't get motivated. You can't be forced to think through the internet without personal attention. Now that personal attention may come to you through a screen from somebody in some other country but so there's going to be a lot of teaching, there's going to be a lot of if you like customer support.

I think there's going to be a huge tourism industry. All the people in the tourism industry, whether they're making beds or tour guides or taking people out fishing or showing them their native villages, that personal touch, far from being devalued by everything becoming automated, is going to be heightened in value. What do you want when you have everything? You want the attention of other human beings.

Q: In the 2100s what will the essential 'can't travel, can't live without' products be?

A: Well the key products when you're travelling - shampoo, maybe a fly swatter. Some things won't change. On the other hand, you're not going to be carrying a cellphone. You may just have a little thing implanted in your ear and a wire-less connection to something very small that's on your belt. You'll probably have a chip somewhere that lets your parents know where you are and there's probably some implications to that. And your luggage will have a chip so that even if the airline loses it, you'll know where they lost it and you can catch up with it. So there's going to be in some sense fewer products that you notice because they'll all be miniaturised and made more convenient.

You may have only two shirts and the shirt itself will be electronic and so you can change the logo on your T-shirt and still have only one T-shirt.

Q: What worries you about the degree to which technology -- what worries you about what is possible?

A: One big issue here obviously is everything is knowable, therefore what should be knowable? What should you be able to know about other people? What should the government or some big business be able to know about you? What should your ex-boyfriend be able to find out about you when you move? In a sense in the past you could leave your past behind. You could move to another village if you really had to. You could find anonymity somewhere. You could screw up and then start over again.

Now with everything known, you can't escape what you did. Maybe it's going to make our society more tolerant of people's youthful indiscretions but it's - it's going to be much harder to re-establish your identity, to interact with people without all the baggage of your past. There are serious implications to having everything you ever did be available for other people to know. I hope there are going to be strong privacy laws but this information is always going to be available somehow. It's going to be a very, very different world.

Q: A lot of what you talk about is extremely scary. It's exciting as an opportunity and a challenge. Do you think in 2100 we'll still think of the future as exciting?

A: I think in 2100 we'll still think the past was more familiar and better and we'll still be nervous about the future, whatever it is. The amazing thing about human beings is they really adjust incredibly well. The stuff that a hundred years ago would seem miraculous or scary now seems normal and I think in the same way a hundred years from now we'll take everything for granted and be worried about all the new developments. So we will be used to being I think far more visible and transparent. I hope we'll be more tolerant of people's imperfections because they'll be much harder to hide and I hope our governments will be much better because they will be much easier to watch and it will be much harder for anybody to abuse anybody.

Q: The 20th century outkilled virtually all the other centuries put together in terms of battles - what do you think about the capacity of technology to produce horror?

A: Everywhere you go you hear about all the dangers on the net, all the bad people are going to use it etc. It's a cesspool of pornography and violence and used by cyber-terrorists and those things are scary. The real problem with the internet isn't the net. It's the people on it and you can't ignore those things. It is scary.

Now there's a danger - bad people can do really bad things with it. They can communicate about setting off bombs, they can sell drugs, they can potentially use the net to create some kind of malfunctions in everything from powerplants to elevators to a government's banking system, and we need to guard very carefully against that happening. The world is a dangerous place but overall I think the net gives more power to individuals and is more likely to help them fight against being abused than it gives power to the abusers, and that's why basically I'm optimistic.



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Leviathan