It was just a year ago that I posted about the recent development of insect-sized robots. Today I watched a remarkable TED Talk about swarms of flying robots that do remarkable tasks I wouldn't have possibly imagined last year. The lecture ends with a cute video of flying robots playing music, which is very touching. But if you think millions of hours of expensive research is dedicated to robot music I have a terrific partial guitar for sale.
We know that any amazing technology that reaches public ears is already super-old news to the military. These autonomous flybots can certainly be used for humanitarian purposes, but only will be when they go on clearance sale at the Army Surplus Store! Meanwhile we can be sure that if we know about them, the CIA is already using them to secretly hunt and kill human beings.
I hate that I have become so cynical, but I think this is the absolute truth. This is the sort of technology that turns some few people into superhumans. The question is who? And how can humanity prevent such technology from simply being bought up by the most powerful to use against the least powerful? The state of human moral ecology is such that as soon as such super-human powers become commercially available, only international law with real teeth can keep the few superhumans (read: anyone who can afford the machines, i.e., the 1%) from exploiting the rest of us. What are the chances that the speed of developing amazing new weapons will be matched by developing the morality necessary to control them?
My alarm is not over technology but rather the increasing gulf between what is available to everyman and what is available to that 1%.
The world is always full of good people who would never use technology to abuse people, and thugs for whom that never comes into question. In movies about superheros the villains are almost always the latter: humans made superhuman by technology, who are then taken down by superheros. But in a world where only the people without moral brakes have the superpowers, where is our salvation?
The new cold war will not be between nations but between the superhuman and the individual. I keep returning to the same haunting question that instigated my idea for a Democratic Globe: how can human beings retain control of a future increasingly governed by forces of mechanized exploitation that always outpace human cooperative institutions? (Which reminds me of another junior high fantasy, but that's another story).