1 - Milbrath, Envisioning A Sustainable Society, ch 12, Science and Technology in a Sustainable Soci

1 - Milbrath, Envisioning A Sustainable Society, ch 12, Science and Technology in a Sustainable Soci

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Unformatted text preview: {nflmwafi 193-. as!“ w. Mslbm+A Science And Technology In A Sustainable Society Chapter 12 We in Asia, I feel, want to have an equilibrium between the spiritual and material life. I noticed that you have tried to separate religion from the techno- logical side of life. Is that not exactly the mistake in the West in developing technology, without ethics, without religion? If that is the case, and we have a chance to develop a new direction, should we not advise the group on technol- ogy to pursue a new kind of technology which has as its base not only the rationality, but also the spiritual aspect? Is this a dream or is this something we cannot avoid? (Speaker from the floor at hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 26, 1985, held by the World Commission on Environment and Develop- ment, p. 111) Science And Technology Cannot Be Separated From Values Science and technology are so interdependent that we often use them as interchangeable words; we forget that humans were using technology long before the scientific mode of inquiry was well-developed. The swift growth of science has spurred an even swifter growth of technology. Even though the two phenomena. are distinguishable, they are so intertwined that I will combine their discussion in the same chapter. Technology is usually developed with some purpose in mind; therefore, technology cannot be value free. Science, however, claims as a matter of doctrine, that it is value free. I argued in Chapter 4 that science cannot be value free. This is such an important point, and runs so counter to our conventional wisdom, that it will be useful to repeat the essence of the argument here. ‘ Before the last two centuries, a large proportion of inquiry was cast in a religious framework that encouraged some kinds of questions and discour- aged others. Furthermore, religious authorities enforced “doctrinarily cor- rect" interpretations of natural phenomena. Scientists fought to be freed from these shackles to pursue their inquiries no matter where they might lead. They were able’to demonstrate that knowledge grew much more swiftly if inquiry could be conducted freely. The slowly acquired freedom of inquiry grew into the maxim that science should be free of value control, that Science And Technology 233 science should be value free. Scientists soon began to declare that all sci- ence is, in fact, value free. We have now had two centuries of experience with science. What has actually happened with science? Who controls it? Is it value free? Can humans, who are beings who hold values, conduct inquiry which is value free? Certainly science has many fewer controls from religion or government than it did two centuries ago. But that does not make it value free. Every expenditure of energy, time, and money in scientific inquiry is an expres- sion of one or more values. A scientist choosing a line of inquiry is expressing a belief in that line of inquiry as being more valuable than others. A scien- tist may recognize his choice of inquiry to be a personal value choice but may still believe that the conduct of science is value free. Institutions employing scientists clearly use values in choosing lines of inquiry. Private firms or government agencies seek new knowledge to solve problems or to make money. Universities expect their research to attract students or grants. The beliefs of governmental officials, business execu- tives, granting agencies, and students as to what'is valuable will affect the choice of line of inquiry by scientists, as well as the amount of support they will receive. President Eisenhower understood this and warned us of it in his “Farewell Address": Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has ' experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curi- osity. For every blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by federal employment, proj- ect allocations,and power of money is ever present—and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific—technological elite. Societies also express their value in the pattern of their support of sci- ence. Both the United States and the Soviet Union have chosen to maximize their power by supporting science that enhances power. Inquiry that does not have much potential for increasing power is deemphasized or neglected altogether. Some people will say, “We do not seek power for power‘s sake but rather for the ability of power to serve other values: survival, freedom, wealth, comfort, etc.” That statement emphasizes my point: the pursuit of science is always directed by values. The popular image of science is that it is a coldly rational deductive process in which meaning flows clearly from observations. That image does 234 Part II not recognize the true nature of science. it is much more accurate to per- ceive science as an evolutionary process in which accepted "truth" is that which survives vigorous conflict about the perceptions of meaning derived from observations of phenomena. Ideas must compete for acceptance. lnter- pretations that do not withstand repeated truth testing are eventually discarded. Human observations, then, probably cannot be completely free of value bias, but it is worthwhile to keep inquiry as free of value biases as possible. Mutual criticism among scientists helps to correct for biases. “The critical attitude may be described as the conscious attempt to make our theories, our conjectures, suffer in our stead in the struggle for the survival of the fittest. it gives us a chance to survive the elimination of an inade- quate hypothesis—when a more dogmatic attitude would eliminate it by eliminating us." (Popper, 1962) Despite the correctives of criticism, scientific inquiry frequently is used in a biased way to serve special values. This bias is dramatically illustrated when each side in a controversy hires scientists to present “facts” in sup- port of its position. An interested organization not liking the “facts” cur— rently presented by scientists on an issue may hire its own scientist(s), or finance its own study, to ensure that scientific “facts” favorable to its point of view are generated. Having witnessed a plethora of such confrontations, i am forced to conclude that the scientific enterprise cannot avoid being embedded in values. Lest the reader misunderstand, i am not antiscience. Scientific knowl- edge has been extremely useful to me as I try to understand my world and j the way it works. I conduct scientific research myself, and I support many lines of scientific inq‘Uiry. Distinguishing facts from values and keeping our inquiries from being biased by values is very useful. But we must not delude ourselves; we should be quite conscious of the way science is shaped by values. Science is not a sacred cow; it does make mistakes; it can lead us into predicaments we would do better to avoid. We had better learn how to control it or it will lead us in directions that have the effect of controlling us. The belief in the myth of a value-free science has many ramifications. Most seriously, it gives scientists the luxury of abdicating responsibility for choosing their line of inquiry or for the consequences flowing from their discoveries. “Science for science’s sake" is a phrase we have all heard. That assertion is equivalent to saying that science is a core value. I reject that assertion because it confuses means and ends. Science, rather, is a means to realize the core value of a better quality of life. if scientific inquiry leads to consequences that diminish rather than enhance quality of life, science, per se, is not to be valued. For scientists to reason deeply about values is difficult because scien- tific specialization encourages tunnel vision. When scientists decide whether Science And Technology 235 to proceed with a line of inquiry, they perceive only a small part of the relevant reality. Many scientists, in fact, report feeling crippled when called on to make value judgments. Their training and work has not given them sufficient experience in thinking about ethics to be able to foresee the value implications of their choices. The typical result is that crucial value ques- tions are ignored. l recognize that these generalizations do not apply to all scientists. Such organizations as The Union of Concerned Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, The Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, and the Atomic Scientists Forum are willing to address value questions and act upon them. The scientists who developed the atomic bomb established a Committee on Social and Political implications that submitted a report to the U. S. War Department one month before the first atomic bomb was exploded in the New Mexico desert in 1945. Their report was kept secret for many years. This subverted their attempt to take some responsibility for their discovery. A quotation from the report is relevant here: in the past scientists could disclaim direct responsibility for the use to which mankind had put their disinterested discoveries. We now feel compelled to take a more active stand because the success we have achieved in the development of nuclear power is fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past. All of us, familiar with the present state of nucleonics, live with the VlSlOIl before our eyes of the sudden destruction visited in our own country, of a Pearl Harbor disaster repeated a thousand-fold magnification in every one of our major cities. (quoted in Cousins, 1987, p. 45) Engineers and other technologists typically are no better than scientists in understanding values and how they influence their work. They, too, tend to believe that their work is value free. They are poorly trained in value analysis or in the ability to forecast the consequences of their projects. They prefer to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The CBS television show 60 Minutes recently ran an episode in which a private arms dealer declared in an interview that his guns were neutral and that he had no responsibility for the motives or values of those who used them. Rifkin has a sharp rejoinder to that way of thinking: V There has never been a neutral technology. All technologies are power. The purpose of every technology is somehow to enhance our well-being. . . . Technologies change the equation of nature by giving human beings a distinct advantage over each other and the other species... . The tools we create are saturated with power because their whole reason for being is to provideus with “an advantage." (Rifkin, 1985. p. 92) 236 Part 11» The myth of a value-free science frequently leads scientists and engi- neers to confuse facts with values. In effect, they are so accustomed to thinking their work is value free that they cannot recognize values and the way they creep into their inquiry. To illustrate: one of the principal speakers at a conference on energy held a few years ago was the leader of a team from a famous “think tank" in Austria; the team had studied energy needs for Europe up to the year 2040. During conference discussion, the major con- clusion of their report was questioned (as it also was in several later reports). He replied, “It is a fact that Europe must have [X amount of energy] by the year 2040 and the only way they can get that is to build the breeder [reactor] ." (emphasis in the original) Had he been trained in value analysis, he would have understood that a perceived need for energy must be a value and not a fact. He was blind to the way his analysis was biased by his values. The notion of a value-free science can also be used as a weapon in political battle, as illustrated by a current controversy in my community. The lawn-care industry has grown swiftly in recent years and increasingly uses chemical pesticides to control weeds and insect pests. Some people are made ill by the ubiquitous use of these chemical poisons. Environmen- talists also are worried about injurious long-run consequences of this prac- tice for the biosphere. The county legislature responded to these concerns and called a “fact-finding" session at which each side turned up to clobber the other with their science. The public officials apparently believed the issue was a matter of fact rather than value. The lawn-care industry spokespersons claimed that it was a purely scientific problem and should not be discussed in a political arena. If they could have this argument accepted, the controversy would be resolved by scientific authorities (read, their authorities). They cannot or will not recognize that the controversy really is about what we should value in our society. ls easy (but expensive) lawn and garden care more important than the health of a few people who have adverse reactions to chemicals? Are jobs and profits more important than the undiminished health of ecosystems? What Are The Long-Run Consequences Of Our Love Afl'air With Science? ' ' The posture of people in modern societies toward science is akin to religious worship. Science is mysterious, exciting, powerful, magical; peo- ple become intoxicated with its power and potential. Little wonder they have a religious-like faith that science can know everything. This adulation of science is even more pronounced in Third-World countries. It is danger- ous for people to put unwarranted faith in science. A problem of value may Science and Technology 237 mistakenly be converted into a problem of fact, or a problem for technol- ogy, thereby delaying or frustrating more meaningful attempts to solve the problem. Instead of looking to their own resources, their own values, their own common sense for solutions, many people look to science for miracu- lous solutions. Scientific successes have been so impressive that people expect more and better in the future. Could science and technology be so successful as to work to our detriment? Most of us do not ask that question, although some of us may feel uneasy about both the question and the possible answer. Perhaps it would be helpful to review some instances where the success of science and technology may work to the detriment of our well-being. Would humanity and the biosphere have been better off if science had failed to unlock the atom? The full story is not in yet, but forty years of experience provide some basis for an answer. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki produced such horror that people have been fearful of nuclear war ever since. Some people say that is good; the fear of mutual destruction has stopped War. Actually, we cannot say that fear of nuclear weapons has prevented war; nor can we say that it has drastically changed the way war is conducted. We still believe we must maintain exceed- ingly expensive conventional forces. What about the peaceful uses of atomic energy? They were prominently highlighted in the early 19505. Electric power, generated by nuclear energy, was projected to be so cheap that it would not be necessary to meter it. Radioactive tracers would help medical scientists to understand better how bodies work; and so forth. Who could tell what additional marvelous uses might be found? The only significant peaceful use turns out to be generating electric power; and it is not cheap. Building nuclear power plants with sufficient safeguards has cost so much energy that the energy derived is barely net positive. A group of university professors and engineers in Lyon, France, the Diogenes Group, studied the French electronuclear program which gen- erates approximately 60 percent of its electricity. They calculated the con- struction and operating costs of the plants, the reprocessing plants, decommissioning costs, and the heavy costs of the distribution network, the new highway network, the fuel, the enrichment plant, research and teaching institutes. They concluded that until the end of the twentieth cen- tury, the program will consume more energy than it will produce. Overall, seven plants under construction consume annually as much energy as can be produced by four plants in full operation. (Gorz, 1980, p. 112) Because of its massive power and capability for damage, nuclear power organizations must be failure-averse and strive for nearly perfect opera- tion. Electronuclear plants in the United States have been plagued by cost 238 Part II overruns and extended periods of “downtime.” The nuclear emergency at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which resulted in a meltdown of the core of the fuel rods, occurred as a result of a string of six errors; if any one of those errors had been averted, the meltdown would not have occurred. The probability of six errors occurring in succession is extremely remote; yet it happened. The plant explosion at Chernobyl also has been traced to operational error. In the early 19605, engineers developed probabilistic nuclear risk assess- ment. They concluded that nuclear core-damaging accidents would occur once every 10,000 reactor years. (A reactor year is one reactor operating for one year; the world’s 1986 complement of 366 power reactors accrued 366 reactor years in 1986). However, after the reactor melt-down at Three Mile Island, a new study raised the risk to once every 4,000 reactor years. Yet, core damaging accidents are occurring at a faster rate—Chernobyl came only 1,900 reactor years after Three Mile Island. If we assume core-damaging accidents every 1,900 reactor years, we can expect three more by the year 2,000. Swedish and West German scientists estimate that there is a 70 percent chance of another accident in the next 5.4 years. (Flavin, 1988). With nuclear power, the costs of errors are greater than the value of the lessons learned; we cannot look to trial and error learning as a mode of policy improvement. The uncertainties of electronuclear plants in the United States are so great that construction has not begun on any new ones since the late 19703. Some partially completed plants were never finished and some completed plants have not been allowed to go into operation. Taxpayers have borne _ the main costs of nuclear power. Government-funded research and devel- opment, promotion, and guarantees of limited liability got the nuclear power program going. In all likelihood, taxpayer money will fund the decommis- sioning of these radioactive plants and the storage of nuclear wastes, which must be safeguarded for hundreds of thousands of years. The uncontrolled radioactive release from the Chernobyl plant in April 1986 not only killed more than thirty people, but will injure the biota, and humans, in Eastern and Northern Europe for many decades. The area sur- rounding the plant still has not been reinhabited as of this writing (more than 3 years). Ironically, the Soviet authorities had announced a few months before the explosion that they planned to greatly expand their nuclear pro- gram, they had no-doubts about its safety because there was only one chance in 10,000 of an accident. Nuclear plants in the cluster at Chernobyl have been reopened, and they are proceeding with their nuclear buildout. The Italians, who experienced frightening fallout, seem to have learned, however; they approved referenda in NOVember 1987 that effectively pre- clude further nuclear construction. Swedes and Austrians had come to a similar decision even before Chernobyl. Science And Technology 23» The Chernobyl explosion illustrates how development of a technology can have unanticipated but devastating consequences. The radioactive clouds spread widely, but high radiation gradually declined to levels the authorities declared “safe” in most areas. At a conference on the effects of Chernobyl, held in the summer of 1987, Professor Batjer of the University of Bremen in West Germany, estimated that only 10 percent of the released radiation that would be absorbed had been absorbed by a year after the accident (Harding, 1987). Thus, whether those exposed to radiation will later develop health problems remains to be seen. Human health problems were in everybody's mind, but no one antici- pated that the accident would totally disrupt the Sami culture. The Sami (often called Lapps) live in mid to northern Scandinavia and have built their culture around herding and utilizing reindeer. The deer feed mainly on lichens which are remarkable “radioactive sponges" because they draw most of their nutrients from the air and thus incorporate airborne contami- nents much more than other vegetation. Radioactive cesium 137, airborne from Chernobyl, built up quickly in the lichens and bioaccumulated in the reindeer. The deer became unfit for human consumption; some were fed to animals being raised for fur but most were simply buried in a “radioactive dump." Since cesium 137 has a half life of thirty years, it will be a very long time before reindeer can safely be grazed on the contaminated land. The Scandinavian countries moved quickly to help their unfortunate Sami citizens, but they could not save their culture. The Sami’s own plaintive words tell the story. Our men care for the deer and know them. When deer are slaughtered, it is done with respect. We women know how to care for the meat, to use every bit, the blood, the head, even the feet in soup. We know how to make thread from sinew and how to prepare the skin and furs for clothing and shoes. The work of our hands puts food on the tables and clothing on our backs. We give our food to our guests and send dried meat to our children when they are away in school. Even if there comes a time when we can eat the deer again, it may be too late to pass the knowledge of how to take and use niestti on to our children. This is not just a matter of economics, but of who we are, how we live, how we are connected to each other. Now we must buy everything. Thread, material, food, shoes are now all different things, when they used to be part of one thing. It seems sometimes that things have become strange and make-believe. You see with your eyes the same mountains and lakes, the same herds, but you know there is something dangerous, something invisible that can harm your children, that you can't see or touch or smell. Your hands keep doing the work, but your head worries about the future. (quoted in Stephens, 1987, p. 68) The destruction of their culture energized the Sami, especially the women, to take political action. Informal networks arose to discuss the effects of 240 » l’art ll Chernobyl not only on the Sami’s reindeer economy and their political Situ- ation, but also on men’s morale, the roles of women, and the health of their children. Some even sought and won political office. Note. once again the tendency for women to take the lead in protesting ecological destruction ' ' rn destro s a wa of life. g . WhlEixril'll}:l the nuchar eraypeople did not worry about'safe disposal of nuclear waste. Now they worry, but a completely operational method for isolating and safeguarding nuclear waste (for hundreds of thousands of years) has yet to be put in place. (Scientists and engineers believe theylare close to having a workable system.) Where should they put the nuc ear waste repository? The U. S. Department of Energy identified some su1tab e sites and held hearings near those areas to gauge Citizen reaction. Fright- ened and angry citizens do not want such a faCility near them. When DeparlS merit of Energy officials were closely questioned about how long they cou guarantee security of such a facility, they said they could not promise $8616 rity beyond 100 years. The waste will be dangerous for more than 100, d years. Could any human institution guarantee that it would be in place an in control for even 100 years? . A new problem now looms on the horizon: What should be done With nuclear plants that have passed their useful lives? (The expected life of sud; a plant is between thirty and forty years.) They must be dismantleddatil: safeguarded for centuries. The materials cannot be used elsewhere an I e sites may be too contaminated for any other use. If we continue to use nuc ear energy, these costs can only escalate. Will the energy we derive be greater than the energy we will put into this monstrously complicated system. When all of these factors are considered, my judgment is thatwe would have been better off if the power in the atom had never been discovered. Many people would agree with that today; but then, none of us were asléed. There is no Way in any modern society for such a question to be asked an n; way that the citizenry could give a meaningful answer had they been aske . Nanotechnologies In Chapter 9 dealing with food supply, I discussed the development of recombinant DNA. This will have the same level of impact on the ability to transform society and the biosphere as did the discovery of fire and later of nuclear power. The relationship of mankind to nature was altered forever with each of these discoveries. The problems of managing the consequences so that they do not destroy us become increasmgly larger With each covery. This'management problem'applies even more impresswely to. .e next breakthrough that scientists envisage as just over the horizon, it is called nanotechnology. Science And Technology 241 As of this writing, few people have even heard of the concept. I drew most of my understanding from an exciting and disturbing 1986 book by K. , Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation. Inquiry into the potentiality and practica- ‘ bility of nanotechnology is proceeding at several universities and think tanks; The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has a nanotechnology study group. Governments and private firms are putting sizeable research funds into developmental work. Whoever wins the race to the breakthrough will win unimaginable gains in power and wealth. Thinkers in the nano mode distinguish bulk technology from molecular technology. Bulk technology handles molecules in bulk. To shape things the bulk way we heat, hammer, saw, fasten and so forth. Learning how to use fire was the breakthrough that enabled us to make tools and do these things. Nanotechnology differs in that it constructs or disassembles things atom by atom. This is the way nature builds its structures. Most of us have heard of microelectronic circuits that can be placed on small microchips; a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter. Molecules are measured in nanometer units—one thousand—times smaller. A current esti- mate is that 100,000 more nanoelectronic‘circuits could be put on a com- puter chip than is now possiblegNanotechnology and molecular technology are interchangeable terms. Imagining how small nanomachines really would be is difficult. An atom is 1/ 10,000 the size of bacteria and bacteria are about 1/10,000 the size of mosquitoes. Yet, there is a lot of space inside an atom—the atomic nucleus is 1/100,000 of the atom itself. An intelligent nanomachine the size of a virus could travel inside our smallest capillary; compared to the machine, the capillary would seem like a ISO-line highway. New materials, constructed the nanoway, would be lighter, stronger, and more durable than anything we know today. Because most of what we think of as nature, and more, could become a human creation, some of the mystery of nature will vanish. Drexler thinks we will still be in awe of the complexity of the whole. Modern day microcomputers are still bulk technology. Researchers are now working to develop molecular computers. Their circuits would be so small and so precise that they would be one million-times faster than pres- ent day computers. With components a few atoms wide, they would be many billions of times more compact than todays microelectronics. Even with a billion bytes of storage, a nanocomputer could fit in a box the size of a bacterium. The plan is to use protein machines to build nanomachines of tougher stuff than proteins. A flexible, programmable protein machine will grasp a large molecule (the workpiece) while bringing a small molecule up against it in just the right place. Like an enzyme, it will then bond the molecules together. By bonding molecule after 242 Part II molecule to the workpiece, the machine will assemble a larger and larger structure while keeping complete control of how its atoms are arranged. This is the key element that chemists have lacked. .. .V These second generation machines—built of more than just proteins—will do all that proteins can do, and more. ln particular, some will serve as improved devices for assembling molecular structures. Able to tolerate acid or vacuum, freezing or baking, depending on design, enzyme-like second generation machines will be able to use as “tools” almost any of the reactive molecules used by chemists-but they will wield them with the precision of programmed machines. They will be able to bond atoms together in virtually any stable pattern, adding a few at a time to the surface of a workpiece until a complex structure is complete. Think of such nanomachines as assemblers. Because assemblers will let us place atoms in almost any reasonable arrange- ment, they will let us build almost anything that the laws of nature allow to exist. In particular, they will let us build almost anything'we can design—including more assemblers. Assemblers will open a world of new technologies. With assemblers we will be able to remake our world or destroy it. (Drexler, 1986, pp. 13-14) These molecular assemblers will be controlled by molecular computers. But where will they get the detailed instructions needed for assembly? Nanocomputers with molecular memory devices will store data generated by a process that is the opposite of assembly— disassemny Nanomachines directed by nanocomputers will disassemble an object, record its atomic or molecular structure and then direct the assembly of a perfect copy. Work- ing at lightning speed, this ability to copy and multiply carries the potential to change everything. Fifty years with this technology could bring more change than humankind has seen since the dawn of civilization. Such an assembler, working at one million atoms per second, could copy itself in about fifteen minutes—about the time a bacterium takes to replicate under good conditions. It could make thirty-six copies in ten hours. In one week, it could make enough copies to fill the volume of a human cell. In a century, it stacks up enough to make a respectable speck. This does not sound very powerful or threatening; what is there to worry about? V But this is linear growth, what happens with exponential growth when each copy builds yet more copies? Two build two more, four build four, eight build eight, and so on. At the end of ten hours, more than 68 billion would exist (and they would weigh a ton). ln fewer than two days, they would outweigh the earth; in another four hours they would exceed the mass of the sun. Obviously, there are limits to growth—this replicator proc- ess would have stopped long before, due to lack of raw material. Bacteria can replicate just as fast; they would go into overshoot and dieback. Just as we muSt be concerned about exponential growth of bacteria or humans, we must be concerned about controlling rapid new nanoreplicators. Science And Technology 243 Drexler (1986, pp. 60-62)-spins a scenario for making a rocket engine. Assemblers controlled by molecular computers would “grow” the engine 1nsrde a vat as chemicals are fed to it via pipes. Obeying instructions from a seed computer, a sort of assembler crystal grows from the chaos of the liquid. The rocket engine is created in less than one day with almost no human attention. It is a seamless thing, very strong—able to withstand stresses that no metal engine built by .bulk technology could withstand— yet weighing less than 10 percent of the mass of a metal engine. In short, replicating assemblers will copy themselves by the ton, and then make other products such as computers, rocket engines, chairs, and so forth. They will make disassemblers able to break down rock to supply raw material. They will make solar collectors to supply energy. Though tiny, they will build big. Teams of nanomachines in nature build whales, and seeds replicate machinery and organize atoms into vast structures of cellulose, building redwood trees. There is nothing too startling about growing a rocket engine in a specially prepared vat. lndeed, fortelstirs given suitable assembler “seeds” could grow spaceships from soil air and sun ig t. ’ Assemblers will be able to make virtually anything from common materials with- out labor, replacing smoking factories with systems as clean as forests. They will transform technology and the economy at their roots, opening a new world of pos- Sibllltles. They will indeed be engines of abundance. (Drexler, 1986, p. 63) Obviously, this creative process operates with vast knowledge that extends to the minutest detail. How could mere humans amass that knowl- edge? Using nanocomputers we will develop artificial intelligence (Al) that Will do most of the research for us. Al will be lightning fast, have a vast and preCISe memory, and may even teach itself to be creative. It will be the ultimate too] because it will help us build all possible tools. Advanced Al systems could maneuver people out of existence, or they could help us build a new and better world. Aggressors could use them for conquest or thoughtful politicians could use them to stabilize peace. They could even help us control Al itself. Drexler’s imagination may sound like science fiction, but his projections are based on solid scientific knowledge. He deliberately exposed his ideas to experts to see if they could survive critical review. I conclude that we must take this possible development very seriously, it is probable and, if true, unstoppable. The power of this technology for good and evil dwarfs anything humans have ever imagined. It could be a realization of the “genie’ imagined in the Tales of the Arabian Nights. Whatever we might ask of a “genie machine," it could produce. This technology would enable people to maintain youthful Vigor and health for many more decades, even centuries. Nanomachines 244 Part ll could have detailed knowledge of the proper structure of each of our cells and could dispatch rescue machines to make direct repairs by rebuilding cells on the spot. This is not magic, these repair processes already operate in nature. “Physicians aim to make tissues healthy, but with drugs and sur- gery they can only encourage tissues to repair themselves. Molecular ' machines will allow more direct repairs, bringing a new era in medicine." (Drexler, 1986, p. 104) . Drexler projects that people will routinely live several centuries. He seri- ously suggests that people in the 1980s should arrange to have their bodies put in biostasis at so-called clinical death in order to preserve their struc- ture. At some future time, when new knowledge has developed cell repair machines, intelligent nanomachines could analyze the cell structure of a body, dispatch cell repair machines, and restore the body active. Drexler would reserve the word death to the state we now know as permanent death. Present-day medicine concentrates on maintaining function, as that is essential for healing. Cell repair machines would change the requirement to preserving structure. Biostasis involves preserving neural structure while deliberately blocking function, otherwise all memory would be lost. He even suggests that scraps of tissue may contain enough DNA information to be able to restore extinct species. Drexler forecasts equally powerful “planet mending” machines. The dan- gerous molecules in toxic wastes are made up of innocuous atoms. lntelli- gent cleaning machines could seek out toxics and render them harmless by rearranging their atoms. As a matter of fact, present-day technology uses selected bacteria to do something very similar. Radioactive isotopes could be isolated from living things by building them into stable rock. Radioac- tive materials also could be sealed in self-repairing, self-sealing containers the size of hills and powered by desert sunlight. Replicating assemblers will make solar power inexpensive enough to eliminate the need for the fossil fuels that presently pollute the biosphere so drastically Replicating assemblers could even remove the excess car- bon dioxide building up in the earth’s atmosphere; as with trees, solar- powered nanomachines will be able to extract carbon dioxide from the air and split off the oxygen. Unlike trees, they could restore the carbon to seams in the earth. Planet mending machines could mend torn landscapes and restore damaged ecosystems. After the cleanup, we will recycle most of the mending machines, keeping only enough to protect the environment. Environmental protection will be easier because we will live in a cleaner civilization based on molecular technology. If life could be significantly prolonged, what will we do with all the peo- ple? Drexler projects that we will use replicating assemblers, directed by advanced Al machines, to build new worlds in space using power from the Science And Technology 245 sun and raw materials from asteroids. These new worlds may be smaller or possibly larger, than Earth and would have gravity, water, atmosphere plant and animal life similar to that on Earth. He estimates that it will take quite a long time to fill up the empty space in our solar system before humans find it necessary to expand into other solar systems. _If assembler-based replicators are able to do all that life can, and more this technology poses an obvious threat to the rich fabric of the biosphere and to humans themselves. As Schmookler portrayed so eloquently in the The Parable of the Tribes (1984), powerful technology forces all of us into a race for power and control. Drexler also foresees the problem: Knowledge can 'bring power and power can brin ' I _ , g knowledge. Dependm on their natures and their goals, advanced Al systems might accumulate enough kngowl- edge and power to displace us, if we don‘t prepare properly. And as with replicators, mere evolutionary “superiority” need not make the vict _ ors better than the vanqmshed by any standard but brute competitive ability. This threat makes one thing perfectly clear‘ we need to find w ' ' . . ' . a s to live With thinking machines, to make them law-abiding citizens. (Drexler, 1986}: p. 173) ‘lfife as we know it could be destroyed in a new kind of germ warfare utilizmg programmable computer-controlled “germs.” Replicating assem- blers could improve on contemporary weapons and replicate them so swiftly that they could becOme abundant in a few days. A single state, or even a terrorist group, possessing such power could enslave or exterminate the rest of humanity at will. States with advanced technology could simply discard people, because they would no longer be needed as workers sol- diers, doctors, administrators, leaders, even scientists. Because of this threat we cannot afford to allow an oppressive state to take the lead in racing toward the breakthrough. A mistake or an accident with such powerful technology also could have devastating consequences not only for humans but for all forms of life. We are, then, caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. Nanotechnology or some other unforeseen but equally powerful technology, could bring unheard of abundance as well as solutions to so many of today’s problems. Yet, that power simultaneously carries the threat of destroying everything we value. Buckminster Fuller made the point some years ago that utopia and oblivion may coincide; I leave the reader to ponder his meaning. Could Mankind Decide Not To Develop A Technology? As we have seen, there are certain technologies that we wish had never been developed and others that we are unsure should be developed. Could 246 Part H we prevent a technology from being developed? Could we halt further devel- opment of a technology just getting underway such as life-prolonging or genetic engineering techologies? Trying to answer these questions carries us into deeper questions: Could society be designed to handle such ques- tions? Would it be willing to do so? Could it be that foresighted and creatively governed? Although this will be a very difficult line of analysis, and the policy proposals deriving from it are likely to be equivocal, just thinking about the problem will help us to face the future better. Focusing on nanotechnology is useful because the technology has not yet been developed, and because it has the potential for such great benefits as well as such great threats. If left to me, 1 would choose not to develop the technology. I am not persuaded that a future life of abundance, power, and control would be better than the life of people today. I am not sure a long life would be better, even if we could remain healthy. Facing the possibility that life, all life, could be snuffed out in a few hours or days detracts a great deal from the enjoyment of a long healthy life. I am not sure that the “nature” humans would devise would be better than the nature we now enjoy. Whether nanotechnologies are developed will not be my choice or that of my country. The competition for knowledge, power, and wealth will con- tinue relentlessly. Scientific inquiry is not centralized; it is carried on in mil— lions of localities and by millions of individuals and teams. Of course, a govern- ' ment could issue an order to halt a given line of research, but would it be obeyed? An order given and obeyed in one nation would not halt research in other nations. Because scientific research confers power, and given the com-_ petition for power between nations, it is extremely unlikely that any nation would try to halt research that is needed to keep abreast in the power race. Suppose we were able to form a world family of nations, a world govern- ment. Could it order a halt to a given line of research? How could it enforce the order? Halting nanotechnology would be possible only if the world government had the capability to reach into every locality to search for violators and the police power to enforce compliance with the order. In effect, only a worldwide police state could halt a line of scientific research. Is it better to live in a planetary police-state with the capability to control the pace and direction of scientific development or is it better to allow science to develop freely, even if dangerously, in a free society? Most of us would choose the free society. In December 1987, then-President Reagan and Soviet Union General Sec- retary Gorbachev signed a treaty to ban short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles. That treaty assumed that nuclear weapons could be banned and their destruction verified. Drexler (1986 p. 193) makes the point that nuclear reactors and weapon systems are large, thus they are definable and visible; and in principle can be banned. Science And Technology 247 However, nanotechnology will be different; dangerous replicators will be microscopic and Al software will be intangible. Modern biochemistry leads in small steps to nanotechnology and modern computer technology leads in small steps to Al. No line defines a natural stopping point. F urther- more, each advance brings benefits that humans would not wish to forego. How could anyone be sure that some laboratory somewhere is not on the verge of a breakthrough? Ordinary verification measures will not work, thus negotiation and enforcement of a worldwide ban would be almost impossible. The promise of technology lures us onward, and the pressure of competition makes stopping virtually impossible. As the technology race quickens new devel- opments sweep toward us faster, and a fatal mistake grows more likely: We need to - strike a better balance between our foresight and our rate of advance. We cannot do much to slow the growth of technology, but we can speed the growth of foresight. And with better foresight we will have a better chance to stee th . u u ' t in safe directions. (Drexler, 1986 p. 203) r e edmo'ogy race Because conventional notions of disarmament will not work for nanotech- nology, Drexler (1986, pp. 187-188, 196-199) proposes the development of active shields." These shields would be purely defensive, in contrast to conventional defenses which also carry the potential for offensive use. They would be active in the same sense that our white blood cells rush to defend against invaders in our bodies. The defenders would be carefully designed and programmed to be fast, selective, and strategically effective. He has not worked out the details of active shields, but he believes that a contingent of intelligent humans using fast nanocomputers and Al could manage to build an active shield system. If we recognize the reality that some controls must be placed on science and technology, how can we make those controls most compatible with our own nature? How can we preserve the greatest amount of freedom? My answer:“Emphasize social learning." Somehow, we must learn to learn faster. Controls that come from within are more acceptable than those from with- out. Controls that make sense in terms of our own recognition that they are essential are more acceptable than those that seem to make no sense Controls that restrict some freedom are better than anarchy or uncontrolled power (for example, terrorism) that leave us with neither freedom nor secu- rity. As we think about these matters, we must constantly keep in mind that there is great danger in the unrestrained development of science and tech- nology which confers great power. If science and technology are given free rein, it means that ordinary people will inadvertently slide under the con- trol of those who control science and technology. 248 Part ll Directing Science And Technology To Serve A Sustainable Society ‘ What kind Of learning do we need to emphasize in order to develop moral controls that work from within? I have repeatedly made the point that the highest value for any society hoping to survive is to maintain the integrity of its ecosystem, its whole biotic community. This deep valuation on all of nature’s creatures can and must be learned on both an intellectual and emotional level. Surely, almost all of us recognize that a developmental thrust resulting in humans crowding out of existence thousands, even mil- lions, of other species would be morally wrong. Our unique capacity to understand the workings of our ecosystem confers on us the responsibility to preserve its integrity. We can learn how the developmental thrust of science will have the consequence of putting humans in an overwhelmingly dominant position in nature, threatening other species with extinction. It is especially important that scientists themselves learn of this connection. As a first step, scientists must recognize the value content of science; that science cannot be value-free. If we want to keep science as free of external controls as possible, we must get scientists to study values and impose their own internal controls. They should take the time to learn how to do value analysis. They should study the value implications of their inquiries. Scientist's tend to accord greatest respect to those whom they perceive as truly understanding science—usually other scientists. The high regard scientists hold for each other needs to be accompanied by a recog- nition that scientific work is embedded in values. In other words, scientists should discontinue disparaging the work of other scientists who have thought through the role of values in their work—they should stop believ- ing that science can be value free. Scientific research should be planned for and supported in a context that takes a careful look at the long-range consequences of a proposed line of development. This thorough examination should include an estimate of its impact on our way of life, on our values, and on the feasibility of controls. We should be persistent in asking Hardin‘s ecolacy question: “And then what?” A thorough analysis of long-range impacts should be conducted by an inter- disciplinary team of scientists, scholars, and policy analysts. They will bring multiple perspectives and can point out aspects that might be overlooked if only a single perspective were to be taken. Another way to ensure multiple perspectives would be to have two or more review teams examine each major developmental question. As these teams write their scenarios, they may well envision several possible modes of scientific/technological development. They should vigorously criticize each others’ projections so that the final product of the inquiry represents the best possible thinking on the subject. Science And Technology 249 Scientists often dispute the meaning of findings, leaving the public and policymakers in a quandary about what to believe. The critical procedures of science eventually resolve most such disputes; but public policy usually must be made long before the disputes are resolved. Dr. Arthur Kantrowitz, a member of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences, advocated (1975) a “Scientific Adversary Procedure," which is based on principles of legal due process. He hoped that this proceeding would establish facts, separate them from values, and accelerate social learning. Various sides in a dispute would present the facts as they see them before a well-informed referee who would seek statements of agreed-upon facts. Where disagreement persists, a tech- nical panel would seek further evidence and write an opinion outlining what seems to be known and what still seems to be uncertain. Every aspect of the proceeding would be public. This proceeding need not be conducted by the government. Kantrowitz’s idea for adversarial proceedings was quickly picked up in both scientific and science policy circles, because a vigorous debate was just getting underway about the possible dangers of recombinant DNA research. The proposed proceeding soon became known popularly as a “Science Court.” President Ford appointed an Advisory Group on Antici- pated Advances in Science and Technology, chaired by Kantrowitz, which delivered a report in the summer of 1976. This report was followed in Sep- tember 1976 by a conference called by scientific and government groups and attended by more than 250 scientists, lawyers, business leaders, and government officials. A consensus was reached that the idea should be tried; a proposed procedure was laid out; and specific steps were planned for getting underway. The experiment was endorsed by several scientific associations; Chief Justice Burger appointed a judicial task force to explore its feasibility, yet, no experimental court was ever convened. By the end of the decade, the idea had virtually disappeared. Cole (1987) suggests that interest waned because institutional changes in government in the 19705 had more adequately come to grips with the dangers of nuclear and recombinant DNA technologies; hence, there was less pressing need for another body. Additionally, as the science court idea was scrutinized more closely, doubts were created about several of its fea- tures. Most troublesome was the doubtful premise that facts could be separated from values in assessing the wisdom of science policies. (Kantrowitz does not assert that the separation can be clean but he main- tains that it would be useful to try to separate values from facts when evaluating facts—and that wiser policies will result from the increased cer- tainty and clarity of the facts.) There was doubt that truly disinterested judges could be found. People were concerned that Science Court judges would issue verdicts that would carry the aura of scientific disinterestedness, 250 Part ll and political officials, not being able to make a similar claim, would be fearful of overriding them. Finally, the court would only hear currently con- troversial issues. It would have no capability for antiCipating problems or for uncovering existing ones. . - Both Kantrowitz and Drexler believe adversarial proceedings can be adapted for use in a nongovernmental context: they avoid using the term science court. Kantrowotiz has conducted adversarial proceedings at vari- ous universities in order to show the feasibility of the idea. I believe-their attempt to separate what is widely agreed to be known from what is still in dispute is useful for social learning. 1 agree with Drexler that we must care- fully distinguish examining facls from making policy. Carefully determining facts can help us choose policies that will serve our values. However, we must take care not to allow scientists to declare a policy perspective to be factual when it really incorporates values, and use it as a club to defeat se who 0 ose the olicy. th‘OOthers hag: come forward with related ideas. Krimsky (1978) proposed a “Citizen Court” based on the experience with a citizen review panel estab- lished in 1976 to examine a proposal made in the City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discontinue recombinant DNA research within the City (which includes Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Tech- nology). A Cambridge Experimental Review Board, appomted the City Manager and comprised of only citizens in order to av01d sc1entific elitism, studied the problem at great length. Six months later they recommended that the research should be allowed to continue, but only under certain , safeguards; this policy was adopted by the City Council (Dutton, 1984). I Krimsky proposed that citizen courts, comprising between. eight to fif- teen lay members, be appointed by local governments to COHSlde-l‘lspeClilC scientific controversies that would come before local communities. The court would try 'to separate facts from values but also would make recom- mendations to steer policy. This instrument is weak in making sc1ence pol- icy for these reasons: 1) facts are not readily separable from values in policymaking; 2) lay people might not understand complex sc1entific issues, 3) there might be little connection between understanding an issue and the ability to persuade others to one’s point of View; 4) havmg different com- munities determine policy on the same scientific issue could lead to confu- sion and dangerous inconsistencies in policy. . I Cole (1983, 1987) has proposed a National SCience Hearings Panel that would have three or four scientists and an equal number of nonsc1entists appointed by the president for five-year terms. If concerns about the safety or wisdom of a science or technology were expressed to it in a conVincing way, it would convene a forum of experts and nonscientists to bepartiCI- pants and observers. The forum would employ adversarial proceedings but Science And Technology 251 it would offer no verdict or decision. The information it generated would be disseminated through professional journals and the mass media. Its pur- pose would be to expose the issue and facilitate social learning. Regular public officials would still make authoritative science policy decisions. This institutional structure would not assume that facts could be separated from values. There would be no claim that science policy issues could be resolved “above” politics. The panel could solicit information and expose antici- pated problems (not simply recommend with respect to current controver- sies). Finally, it would constitute a continuing procedural mechanism; therefore, it could evolve practices that proved workable and that would become systematic and predictable. Cole’s proposal for a science hearings panel has several similarities to a proposal 1 make in Chapter 14 for a Council for Long-Range Societal Guidance ’ that would assess the long-range impacts of all major public policy initiatives. We need similar assessments of the long-range impacts of proposed scientific developments and new technologies. A thorough review of the future conse- quences of a scientific or technological development will help all parties, especially scientists, to become aware of the full context, including value com- ponents, of a possible line of inquiry. It is important to ensure that the findings of these teams of reviewers will be widely circulated and discussed, especially in scientific communities. The results of such studies should develop a growing awareness of appropriate controls for scientific or technological initiatives that would guide public as well as private funding for research. Drexler also worries that our thrust to learn faster would be stymied by an overload of studies and information. Needed information may be avilable but the time and effort required to find and retrieve it frustrates effective utilization. Drexler proposes (1986 pp. 220-230) swift development of a new technology proposed by Nelson (1981) called “hypertext publishing.” When fully developed, this technology not only would retrieve a given text but would show linkages to all other writing that had commented on the text. Using the linkage network embedded in the technology, the text of the com- mentators also would be instantly retrievable. This technology could be put in place with current “bulk” computers. Using hypertext would be greatly eased by nanotechnologies, however. Nanocomputers would be so fast and so small with so much storage that one could retrieve and digest the most up-to-date information on a subject in the space of a few hours without having to leave one’s office or home. Later readers would be able to benefit from the insights and judgments of earlier readers without wasting intellec- tual time on search and retrieval. Morone and Woodhouse (1986) propose a set of decision rules that they call “sophisticated trial-and-error" for cautiously dealing with hazardous technologies. 252 Part ll ‘ 1. Take initial precautions to protect against the worst consequences of errors. ' 2. Err on the side of caution. 3. Actively prepare to learn from error by establishing monitoring mech- anisms to report and interpret negative feedback. 4. Use analysis in support of this strategy, as by advance testing to speed up negative feedback, and by setting priorities so that key uncertain- ties get most attention. 5. Adjust the initial precautions as uncertainties are clarified: reduce them if the threat is less serious than anticipated, or enhance the precautions where warranted. These rules recognize the reality that the greatest latitude of choice exists prior to the very first time a particular technique, instrument, or system is introduced. Once economic investment, material equipment, and social habit are in place, alternatives already have been selected and the original flexibility vanishes. We must come to see that deployment of a technology is not merely an economic or technological action; it also is a social and political action. We need to examine technologies for their social and political elements during the earliest trials of the proposed initiative. We discussed above the difficulty of trying to control science by passing laws that would be enforceable in only a single nation. Scientists, more than almost any other social grouping, easily cross national boundaries as they communicate and think with others in their scientific community. If the scientists within a scientific community, drawn from many nations, come to agreement about a policy for development of their science, that policy is much more likely to be implemented in many nations than if only political authorities were making the decisions. Collaboration among scientists of many nations on these questions also will help lay the foundation for inter- national cooperation in protection of the biosphere. If the integrity of the biosphere is to be protected, deep and broad international cooperation must eventually take place. A recent proposal to launch an International Geosphere-Biosphere Program: A Study of Global Change was quickly approved by several nations after being strongly recommended by the Inter- national Council of Scientific Unions. Although I have placed primary responsibility for the thoughtful control of the development of science on scientists themselves, there also is a role for ordinary citizens. Their stake in the outcome is just as crucial as that of the scientists. We should be wary of the notion that scientists know better than the people themselves what is good for the people. Science policyrnak— Science And Technology 253 ing should be in an open enough 'forum, and be given sufficient time, so that citizens can meaningfully play a role in the development of policy. Conclusion Evaluating science, with a view to controlling it, inevitably leads to some very difficult choices. Science has been so successful that it has delivered great power to those who control its development. Unfortunately, most scientists labor under the delusion that scientific activity is, and can con- tinue to be, value free; this delusion disables the scientific community for the task of policing itself. Political authorities also have difficulty effectively controlling science. Thus, the control of science, and the power it creates, will go to those societal entities that control funding for its development. In a market society, most control will flow to large corporations. Allowing science to develop without constraint would likely lead to a future society (50 to 100 years from now) that would be densely popu- lated, nearly all its resources would be devoted to human purposes, wilder- ness and wildlife would be in sharp decline, and the biosphere would be in great danger. ' Scientists themselves provide the best possibility for preventing that scenario from coming true. They need to realize the consequences of their failure to see where their own scientific development is carrying them. They could learn how to project possible future scenarios of the develop- ment of their science; they could learn how to analyze values; and they could devise systems of control for the development of their work. They should work with citizens in the development of this policy. In essence, we all need to do a lot Of thinking and learning. If we fail to devise adequate controls, science, our greatest achievement, may turn out to be the greatest threat to the biosphere and to the continuation of the human species. “We may fail. Replicating assemblers and AI will bring problems of unprece- dented complexity, and they threaten to arrive with unprecedented abruptness. We cannot wait for a fatal error and then decide what to do about it; we must use these new technologies to build active shields before the threats are loosed." (Drexler 1986 p. 237) Science pervades our lives; we cannot turn back. As we strive to direct the power of science to protect the biosphere and to develop a society that can live harmoniously with nature, our energy should be focused on enhanc- ing and speeding up social learning. A well-developed understanding of our values and our place in the-biosphere will make it easier for us to work together to control the power we are swiftly unleashing. We should expect debate concerning controls on science and technology to become the domi- 254 Part ll nant issue of the twenty-first century. We should be developing our knowl- edge and understanding in anticipation of the debate and be prepared to participate vigorously. ...
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1 - Milbrath, Envisioning A Sustainable Society, ch 12, Science and Technology in a Sustainable Soci

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