The Beginning of a New History
Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist,
strategist and philospher, is best known as the author of the seminal
post-Cold War book, The End of History and the Last Man.
Jacques Attali, the French futurist and founding president of the European
Bank for Reconstruction and Development, now heads PlaNet Finance in Paris.
NPQ editor Nathan Gardels asked both men to respond to the same set of
questions about Bill Joys thesis.
NPQ | Bill Joy, the chief scientist at Sun Microsystems and one
of the leading technologists of the Internet revolution, has recently
become alarmed that rapid and combined advances in robotics, genetics
and nanotech (micromachines) could end up giving runaway technology the
upper hand over the human species.
Joy questions whether "the future will need us," which seems
similar to the idea of a "post-human history." Are your images
of the future the same as Joys?
Francis Fukuyama | The term "post-human" history for me really
has to do with the question of human nature. In this sense, biotechnology
is in a different category from nanotechnology and robotics. It will mean
more fundamental changes in the way we ourselves are rather than how changes
in our external environment may harm us.
A self-replicating robot will not affect human nature in a way qualitatively
different than the way we are now affected by the threat of nuclear weapons.
In other words, the threats Joy talks about are basically threats to the
bodyviruses, computer or biological, robots that reproduce themselves
and threaten human control. That, of course, is something to take seriously.
But the challenge posed by biotechand by that I mean everything,
including recombinant DNA, that flows out of the human genome projectis
an alteration on the level of the soul. And these changes might be so
subtle that it could be a long time before we know what weve done
to ourselves. Who knows in advance what effect intervening in the complex
interaction among our vast array of genes will produce?
It may help to look at the issue from an historical perspective. The period
from the French Revolution through the end of the Cold War saw the rise
of different doctrines that hoped to overcome the limits of human nature
through the creation of a new kind of human being, one that would not
be subject to the prejudices and limitations of the past.
The collapse of those experiments by the end of the 20th century demonstrated
the limits of social engineering and endorsed, in my view, a liberal,
market-based order grounded in human nature. That is what I meant by "the
end of history" in the Hegelian-Marxist sense of the progressive
evolution of human political and economic institutions.
It could be, though, that the tools of 20th century social engineeringfrom
early childhood socialization to psychoanalysis to agitprop and labor
campswere just too crude to alter the natural substratum of human
In this century, however, the open-ended character of the biotech and
life sciences revolution suggests we now may have the tools to accomplish
what social engineers failed to do in the past. Human nature would thus
be transformed, and we would be embarking on a new kind of history.
The question of "post-human history" is far more fundamental
than the concerns Joy addresses. It has to do with the basic human repertoire
of emotions, cognitive capabilities and even longevity of life. This represents
a vast scaling up of the possibilities of technological manipulation that
humanity has heretofore not encountered.
Jacques Attali | The discovery of new technologies is like the discovery
of new continents: We may one day approach a moment where the new world
will take control of the old one. Bill Joys question about whether
the combined and rapid advances in genetics, robotics and nanotechnology
will lead to their dominance over the human species is thus an appropriate
Queen Christina of Sweden once challenged Descartes proposition
that man is nothing more than a machine by saying: " I never saw
my clock making babies." But, in the not too distant future, we will
indeed witness the cloning of robots as well as the cloning of men. And
both have in common something essential: the bypassing of sexuality.
In the end, it is this artificial replication that unites the new technologies.
Indeed, the hate of sexuality is one of the main engines of technological
progress. The whole point is to obtain everything without human intervention,
by eliminating touch, direct contact, the human interface. Sexuality,
after all, is associated with death as the other name of life. To self-replicate
through cloning in the lab is to conquer death; the self-replicating robot,
many believe, can reach eternity.
Yet, we can not dispense with sexuality if we are also going to transmit
memory and conscience to the person. It is sexuality that makes the individual.
As long as science is unable to get beyond this obstacle, the danger of
self-replicating robots (which may well grow diverse through random mistakes
in programming) dominating the human species will be weak.
NPQ | Controversially, Joy has said we must take seriously the
terrorist Unabombers (Ted Kaczynski) thesis that we are imperceptibly
drifting into a dependence on our machines to the point where they will
control us instead of vice-versa. He also finds merit in the Unabombers
fear that the only alternative scenario is the rise of new "elites"
who will "domesticate" the masses like animals in order to control
the dangerous effects of "knowledge-enabled" technologies available
For Joy, this is the main conundrum: The openness and democracy of our
liberal societies that gave rise to the information revolution in the
first place will empower small groups and extremists to employ "knowledge-enabled"
technologies in undemocratic, destructive ways. Simpler to use than deter,
they favor attack over defense.
Witness the "love bug," or before that the 15-year-old Canadian
boy who disabled CNN-On Line with a self-replicating virus sent from his
bedroom desktop computer. Or the still unknown hacker who shut down the
supersecret US National Security Agency for several days earlier this
How do we cope with this conundrum of the liberal information age?
Fukuyama | There can be no question that we are all really in trouble
when technologies are as easy to use and to own as they are dangerous.
We were lucky that nuclear weapons turned out to be very difficult to
manufacture, something only capable nation states have been able to do
If a nuclear bomb could be whipped up in the attic or basement, some nut
would surely have done it. So, if Joy is right about the dangerous capacities
of "self-replicating," "knowledge-enabled" (and thus
democratic and widely available) technologies, then he is right to be
Certainly, a biologically engineered germ that could wipe out 10,000 people
would cross a threshold far beyond what we have been used to with small
terrorist bomb blasts; so would a computer virus that caused, say, the
Social Security data bank to be erased.
Joys thinking, though, tends to make a straight line prediction
about technology itself. So far, the dastardly use of dangerous technologies
turns out to be limited in some way. People have been speculating about
biological weapons falling into the wrong hands for decades now. In theory,
a lot of damage can be done. In practice, biological agents are very difficult
to handle without contaminating those who want to use them against others.
This has slowed down their use for terrorism significantly. Ultimately,
the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway,
was unsuccessful in doing the damage they intended.
Secondly, Joy abstracts away the political institutions that will necessarily
grow up as countermeasures to anything as dangerous as he projects.
The real question, therefore, is not a technological one, but a political-institutional
one. What is the likely interplay between those who want to control the
likely consequences of technology and those who will try to evade such
Attali | The planetary spread of computer viruses across the Internet
demonstrates the fragilities of networks. We are at the beginning of a
new kind of war between sedentarians and nomads. Sedentarians will use
all means to kill real and virtual travelers, as we saw in Philippines
for kidnapped tourists from Malaysia as well as for the "love bug"
There will be more episodes to come in a gigantic carnival of terrorists,
some who will hide behind the most beautiful ethics or values.
To counter this we need an ethic of the new nomadic age of travel, both
to monitor tourism and to manage the travel of messages across the Net.
But an ethic means nothing without a police to control its implementation.
There will be no Network age without adequate instruments at a world level.
We need a world police, and it cannot be only an American one, to control
rogue states or, mainly, rogue non-state groups and individuals who will
be the pirates along the new routes of the future.
The most surprising consequence of new technologies is the need for a
new, efficient world police. If not, the new technologies will become
the instruments of private police. The real danger is not one Big Brother,
but a host of smaller private big brothers. In short, we have to urgently
face the question of a world government.
NPQ | If the democratic access and use of a technology is so dangerous,
is the only answer for elites to control it?
Fukuyama | If any technology is so dangerous that its possession by one
crackpot can cause massive damage, then there will likely be a democratic
consensus for control.
If not, one can only envision the breakdown of society into a state of
nature where people employ horrible ways to survive and get back at each
other. I dont think we are headed that way yet.
Attali | Yes. The danger otherwise is that the control of technology
is left to the scientific experts or no one.
NPQ | One idea Joy raises is "to relinquish the pursuit of
knowledge and development of those technologies so dangerous that we judge
it better if they are never available." Is that really viable?
Fukuyama | Now that weve gotten on this technological escalator
it is extremely difficult to renounce science, beginning with the scientists
themselves. In my experience, any suggestion to scientists that society
may have broader purposes in wanting to slow down or stop technological
progress is usually met with a wall of incomprehension. Among scientists
there is a general assumption dating back to Francis Bacon that scientific
progress is for the better of all mankind.
Perhaps the time is coming, thanks to arguments by scientists like Bill
Joy, where that assumption can be questioned in a serious way. Certainly,
there is no prima facie reason that more scientific progress is, automatically,
Again, due to the specific character of nuclear weapons, we have managed
to slow down the proliferation processat least keeping it in the
hands of nation statesthrough diplomatic and institutional means
as well as deterrent strategies that were designed for that purpose.
Attali | Nobody will renounce science, but it will be possible
to orient it for the best of mankind. Why not create an equivalent to
the Pugwash Conference convened during the Cold War by scientists and
public figures seeking to avoid nuclear war? Similarly, the new movement
would generate an awareness about the perils and promises of the future
Mankind has now the means to commit species suicide. That deserves some
attention. Yet, my fight against nuclear proliferation has taught me that
people are not in the mood today to be worried by very long term threats.
They are much too focused on survival in the short term.
NPQ | If the motor that drove "History" forward according
to Hegel and Marx was the contradiction between human freedom and necessity,
perhaps the motor of "post-human history" is the conflict between
freedom and those technologies weve created to overcome necessity,
especially biotechnology? It will be the struggle to realize the promise
of the Genome Age, such as regenerative medicine, while preserving dignity,
individuality and freedom.
Fukuyama | Yes, I think so. And the struggle will come in many forms.
For example, in democratic societies we accept a degree of inequality
given to us by nature. Our institutions thus tend to be based on merit
and equality of opportunity, not result, because we have assumed we must
deal with the biological set of cards we are dealt.
In the future, this may no longer be a sound assumption because our biological
makeup can be reengineered. When that becomes a public issue, it will
totally reshape politics because such issues are so central to peoples
moral concerns. Certainly, this set of conflicts presented to us by modern
science will be the stuff of a new history.
Attali | The motor of history will be the contradiction between
selfishness, as embodied in the quest for freedom and equality, and altruism,
as embodied in the quest for brotherhood.
As we enter the age of networks people will have to care for others because
everyones interests and happiness will be linked to that of others.
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