I’m currently reading a book on A.I. One questions that lingers in the back of my mind involves the reasons we would want to build A.I.–and more broadly, the reasons we strive for newer and better technology. Improving our lives–more specifically, improving our material existence–is the obvious answer–i.e., curing diseases, making tasks that requires physical and cognitive resources easier and more efficient, etc. Clearly, improving technology is very important way to improve the lives of human beings.
However, my sense is that many people act as if this is the most important way to improve the lives of individuals and society overall, and I think this position is flawed. For example, I tend to believe the source of humanity’s biggest problems are moral and even social in nature. Improvements on the former can improve the latter, which, in turn, would have the most dramatic impact on most of our social ills. At least, this is my current position.
To test whether humanity’s problem are rooted in material or more moral/spiritual matters, I want to offer the following thought experiment: Suppose we could fulfill all the ambitions of technophiles (excluding technology that would dramatically change human nature–e.g., genetic engineer humans that are more selfless and compassionate), what would those technologies be, and what impact would we expect on individual and societies? Would we expect a significant reduction or elimination of the biggest problems we face?
One thought on “Thought Experiment: If We Could Fulfill Everything on Our Technological Wish-List, Would Humanity Eliminate Most of Its Biggest Problems?”
In terms of technologies that would appear on my wish list, here are the first two that come to mind:
1. A device that can cheaply create food, water, clothes, and maybe even homes and other basic needs.
2. A device that can produce clean energy in a safe, sustainable, and inexpensive way.
3. Tools or technology that can eliminate or greatly reduce suffering causes by illness or physical injuries (e.g., cure for cancer, etc.).
Would most of the world’s major problems disappear or be greatly reduced? Off the top of my head, most of the biggest problems stem from a lack of resources. These devices would basically solve this issue. Therefore, we would be correct in expecting an elimination or serious reduction in these problems.
However, I think we need to answer some other questions:
First, would the technologies be accessible to everyone–rich and poor, lower and upper classes, etc.?
Second, would the technologies all produce the same quality of outputs. For example, would some devices produces better tasting food, etc.?
In other words, if the technologies are not equally distributed and equally effective, inequalities will likely exist, and I suspect we won’t get away from haves and have-nots groups. That is, we won’t really get away from some main sources of our conflicts/problems.
(Am I overlooking other sources of conflict?)
But let’s suppose the technologies are equally distributed and equally effective–everyone basically has the same technology. Would that eliminate the major problems in our world?
Here’s a possible reason it may not: Humans would find some other way to create status and influence–and some people would be better at it then others, and this would lead to inequalities that lead to conflict. Additionally, human beings may also find other resources or desirable goods that can’t be equally distributed. And people will fight over these things.
I want to jump to another question–relating to the device that can reduce suffering. Is there any downside with eliminating all illnesses? I need to think about this more, but I’m interested in hearing what others have to say.