New Scientist and Greenpeace Science Debates
Science, technology and our future: the big questions
Technology: taking the good without the bad
14th May 2002
Brian Aldiss, Writer
I’m going to try and be a little more cheerful than Ian was, although it’s
true that not all technical advances are advantageous. We all know that feeding food
designed for carnivores to herbivores, in the name of production, is plainly
dangerous. We’ve seen the disasters recently. I think that the annoyances caused
by cell phones far outweigh their real use.
There was a time when the latest in contraception was the IUD, the intrauterine
device, supplanting, I believe, the Dutch cap. I have a lady friend who was fitted with
an IUD once, the very latest thing, and there was a time that it picked up BBC2. She
said, the sound was fine but the vision was a little fuzzy. Decisions about babies…
We all know what difficulties babies have. For instance, the age-old problem humans
have with walking. We have a technical term for something between crawling and
walking. It’s called toddling. It’s a technical term for the difficulties: the riddle of the
sphinx. Well, that was not only a comment about the human race but it was a
reflection on the amount of importance we place on walking. Many of the
technologies, at least the technologies that science fiction has talked about, have
been to do with mobility and improvements on walking – the spaceship being one
example, the time machine being another.
It’s possible that you could inculcate a baby to go through that toddling stage much
more simply, not to fall over, not to blunder into things. Well, we know that
technology brings social change. That’s one of the good things about it. The
computer has changed everyone’s life. Baby, him or herself, is going to need
modernising. Whilst still in-utero he can be prepared for the music and the language
of the exciting world that has become and so healthier and more stable babies
should presumably lead to healthier old people. Alright, our life spans are going to
be extended but is our health going to be extended too? Well, we hope so.
I long ago mooted that the extended leisure of the aged should include at least one
compulsory holiday a year in a third word country, to assist the countries financially
and also to assist the understanding of the former. I mean, a good bet would be
Uruguay where I was recently. A beautiful, peaceful country, it has 450 miles of
continuous beach and is pleasantly warm down there at Christmas, when it’s freezing
in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, compulsory holidays don’t quite have the
attraction that voluntary ones do but that’s something we’ll have to work out.
On the question of sex – I hoped I’d come to that – Viagra and other expedients
prolong sexual life and so we’re seeing marriages with great age differentials. Joan
Collins and her toy boy; there are decades between them. Does this create better
human understanding? Well, possibly it does. Certainly, intermarriage between
races might seem to help, although they were plenty in the old days when Serbs,
Bosnians, Turks and Croatians all intermarried under the banner of the communist
credo. I’m afraid it counted for little when the crunch actually came.
So, is it possible that love itself might be made firmer? Cosmetics can do much but
they’re only skin deep. Maybe an empathy device? We have commercial
applications; so that you were more closely bound to the one that you had, way back
when, loved. Anyone familiar with the arcane art of looking to the future knows
there’s something that can’t be accounted for and this is something that we’re all up
against. Those were well expressed by Harold McMillan when he was Premier. He
was asked what he feared most and he said, “events”. Events can’t be foreseen.
We didn’t foresee 11th September. Nor can we foresee, when we look into the future,
the actual area of time we’re talking about. Some developments that we speak of,
that Ian was speaking of, may come about within the next 5 or 10 years but others
may be more distantly placed. The trouble is there’s no mountain we can climb on
where we can get the perspective of what is near and what is further ahead and so
these phantoms all jostle together in the present.
Well robots are already at work in our factories and consign themselves to Picasso if
you believe the commercials. They have no need to ape our rather ungainly, human
form. One use of human technology attracts many – the interest in androids of
human shape was promoted by the Kubrick-Spielberg movie, AI. I don’t think that
these electronic intelligences are inevitable by any means in them, certainly not if you
think you’re going to get to artificial intelligence simply by speeding up a computer.
That’s not going to work. There has to be a new way; Ian will tell you about that.
Nevertheless, don’t you think an android would be hard to replace, despite all the
pleas of Greenpeace? If you saw one in Harrods window, would you want it as a
sheer curiosity? And yet, wouldn’t you just love to have an android stomping around
the house? The early models at least would give off fumes. They’d be ghastly, like a
smelly old motorcar. They’d, of course, be liable to walk into mirrors. They’d fall over
and be unable to regain their balance. Parts would rust if you left them outside.
They’d be noisy. I clank, therefore I am. They’d need constant recharging unless, of
course, they were nuclear-powered, not a feature to prove a turn-on in the
commercials. But you would be able to talk to them, just as you could talk to your
dog and they would be able to talk back and no conversation, however inane, is
boring. But they could finally destroy family structures. Ancient though the family is,
and often faulty, we’ve as yet nothing better to replace it and with all this talk of
technology we’re going to have to think about what’s going to happen to the family of
the future, which seems to be already under some stress.
You see, I think that evolution would be at work among android species, just as it is
among humans and it’s proved to be among automobiles. When I was a child, the
front doors of cars used to open that way instead of as now, that way. So that if you
timed your walking by, ladies getting out would show a lot of leg. It’s very instructive
when you’re a schoolboy. Well, now of course these things have evolved and I
suppose that the first androids are going to be asexual beings. They will walk and
talk and that will be spellbinding enough but from this early, non-specific sexuality, I
believe that commercial competition will be such that robots will be developed with
female or male features and such developments could spell the final break-up of the
family because familiar groupings might form according to sexual predilections or to
Pharmaceuticals in 50 years’ time will have introduced the extended orgasm,
including the terminal orgasm. The terminal orgasm is the best way to go, as it says
in the commercials. Androids I think will be popular about the apartment just as
pianos were once, in part at least, as status symbols, but the western world is
already in a state of confrontation, or almost, with the world of Islam. Islam decrees
that representations of the human face and body are against religion. Their response
to human-like androids is therefore predictable. Muslims won’t like it, not one bit. So
I don’t imagine for one moment that Greenpeace is going to like androids.
Somehow, there’s a pressure when something can be done, it is done. It’s like the
old saying about Everest. Why did you climb it? Well, because it was there. Why will
people make androids? Well, because it will be possible to do so and we haven’t
quite managed to solve that problem. Why do we make children? Because we can,
no matter how difficult the circumstances in which they are reared.
So the question about the future is, of course, as we all know, not only technological;
Title: Counterstrain manipulation in the treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome: a pilot single-blind randomised controlled trial; the CARL Trial. Peters, T 1, MacDonald, R* 1, Leach, CMJ 2 1 London College of Osteopathic Medicine, Marylebone, London, UK 2 Clinical Research Centre for Health Professions, University of Brighton, UK. CORRESPONDENCE : R S MacDonald, LCOM, 8, Boston Place, NW1
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