Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Guess This World Needs Its Dreamers

Elevators into space! Invisibility cloaks! Teleporters! Not science fiction, but fact, or as Michio Kaku assures us in 'Visions of the Future' on BBC4, 'in twenty years' it will be. Last week's programme was on advances in biotechnology, while this week Kaku concentrated on his specialty, physics. The show had the same strengths and weaknesses of the previous episode, though perhaps made more acute through enthusiasm. Showing one wonderful development after another, it made token mention of the ensuing moral questions before pushing on to the next toy. Kaku's eyes lit up like bonfires as he pushed around atoms or tested a flakey elevator. 'I feel like God,' he crowed as he manipulated some magnetised bacteria, and this of course gave us a scary insight into the real scientific mind. For all his pious talk of now being the time for debate, he showed no wish to deal with the questions he raised, passed everything off with an optimistic, 'I believe seeing the world from a space station will give us a planetary perspective,' or, 'I believe we cheap power will solve all environmental problems.' Where all this naivete came to a head was in his discussion of nanotechnology. Using potentially molecular sized robots, nanotechnology offers the possibility of Star Trek style replicators (Kaku soberly dampening the party with "some say within twenty years, I say by mid to late 21st century"). With a 'microwave oven sized' replicator we will be able to make practically anything out of practically nothing. The gap between rich and poor, cried the inventor Kurzweil, will finally disappear.
Such blind optimism was truly scary, not to mention a little funny. Let me tell you why. Earlier on Channel 4 there was a report on thir world medicines. Apparently the likes of Glaxo are currently negotiating a deal whereby they will mark down essential medicines for the Third World by 90%! They will still make a profit. Let me just repeat that: Victor aged 2 dies in Africa while Alex aged 2 in Britain lives, and the drug companies still make a profit. Sure, the companies have to survive. Sure, they have to make a profit. But when they make so much from the West, do they still have to make any kind of a profit from Africa when people are actually dying. Would any child in the West die because a medicine is too expensive. Now what has that to do with Kaku. I'll tell you what; humanity stinks.

Well let me qualify that; if I were an extreme cynic I might say that Humanity is effluent floating on the stagnant lake of Chance. But then as you well know at this stage, I'm no extreme cynic. Am I? Regardless of my personal misanthropy, Humanity will always try for the upper hand, whether it be with regard to profit or something else, because the key factor is power. Those who have it will not relinquish it, those who don't have a fight on their hands to get it. Greed is just one manifestation of power, and as long as the desire for power is part of 'human nature', replicators will never level the playing field. Don't get me wrong; I'm a nurture not nature guy, but it's going to take a long time of bitter ideological wars before we make 'human nature' any way clean. In the long meantime humanity will always find a way to deprive portions of itself of what is deserved. Replicators or no replicators, humanity will never tolerate equality, well, not for a long while yet.
And I'll continue the argument. One of the interviewed scientists, a military guy, said 'You know those surgeon nanobots, you know, the ones that go into the bloodstream and repair holes in the vessel walls. Well, now think of nanobots that punch those holes!' Who owns these nanobots? What will they do with those nanobots? What of those who disagree with the owners of said nanobots?
To be fair to Kaku, he did mention the possibility of a world of chaos. Given an extreme scenario, humanity dies in the worst way possible. Personally I don't see things that grim. Human mediocrity, the same thing that held off nuclear war, will save us from annihilation. But save the world! Take away the gap between rich and poor, the powerful and the ineffectual! In the words of Paddy McAloon in 'Cars and Girls', 'I guess this world needs its dreamers, may they never wake up!....Alright!'


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