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Scientific American's Fred Guterl Explores the Threats Posed By Technology 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-your-head-down dept.
Lasrick writes "Fred Guterl is the executive editor of Scientific American, and in this piece he explores various threats posed by the technology that modern civilization relies on. He discusses West African and Indian monsoons, infectious diseases, and computer hacking. Here's a quote: 'Today the technologies that pose some of the biggest problems are not so much military as commercial. They come from biology, energy production, and the information sciences — and are the very technologies that have fueled our prodigious growth as a species. They are far more seductive than nuclear weapons, and more difficult to extricate ourselves from. The technologies we worry about today form the basis of our global civilization and are essential to our survival.'"
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Scientific American's Fred Guterl Explores the Threats Posed By Technology

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  • What do Monsoons have to do with technology?
    They've been happening annually since the Pleistocene, and nobody has any records that prove any technology link.

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @09:06PM (#42125267)
    Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c0lo (1497653)

      Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

      Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org].

      • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @09:43PM (#42125567)

        Which is why you should pay me for unicorn insurance.

        Just because you haven't heard of any attacks, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. With their pointy, pointy horns.

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Which is why you should pay me for unicorn insurance.

          Where did I say anything about unicorns?

          Just because you haven't heard of any attacks, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. With their pointy, pointy horns.

          That's true. And will continue to be so until someone will come with a positive proof about the impossibility of unicorns or the impossibility of unicorns to harm anyone.
          With the note this is an argument neither for nor against unicorn insurances.

          • by Toonol (1057698)
            The impossibility of unicorns is next to irrelevant. What matters is the unlikelihood of unicorns, just like the unlikelihood of murderous hackers is the issue at hand.

            And lack of evidence can very easily establish unlikelihood.
            • by c0lo (1497653)

              The impossibility of unicorns is next to irrelevant. What matters is the unlikelihood of unicorns, just like the unlikelihood of murderous hackers is the issue at hand.

              In what context?
              * If it's in the context of "unicorn insurance", I almost agree (my reserve: one can't properly assess the risk without knowing enough details of the situation, and what's enough varies from case to case. Or... do you think it's possible for a building/construction project manager to manage a software development proj without knowing anything about SoftEng?)
              * If it's in the context of "impossible to kill someone by hacking", then it's relevant.

              The OP didn't fix the context well enough.

          • Insurance, like anything else that matters, is not about possibility, it is about probability.

        • by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:35PM (#42126343) Homepage Journal

          Unicorns? You just drop a teapot on them. From orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

          • by khallow (566160)
            The menace of the unicorns lethal with grace
            We seek finality, an end to this terrible race
            Only weapons terrible and potent
            Shall crush this feared menace

            Shall it be a hail of bullets?
            Or poisoned, sweet millet?
            Rainbows sparkle showers?
            Or a rain of nuclear power?

            The unicorn's horn is proof against those things of Earth,
            The locale of its supernatural birth

            The mightiest weapons of our lands are impure
            no better than firing peas from a pod

            That is why to be sure
            One must send teapots from God.
      • Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

        True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

          True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

          Apropos your reply and your signature: home prices never go down, right? 'Cause it was > 0.97 certain before 2008.

          • ? Clearly your search wasn't very thorough.
            • by c0lo (1497653)

              ? Clearly your search wasn't very thorough.

              True. But that's my point - one trap of the "thorough search" and "statistical/risk assessment" approach (vs "actual evidence of the absence") as a base to one's decision: when is the thorough search thorough enough?

              Other than this... ummm... my search?

              • Good question, and you have to be careful, but it still doesn't invalidate the technique.
                • by c0lo (1497653)

                  Good question, and you have to be careful, but it still doesn't invalidate the technique.

                  Invalidate, no. Set the limits into evidence and prove that the statement "the technique is always valid" is false: yes... (unless you want to discuss the "True Scotsman" fallacy as well).

                  • In any case, if no one on slashdot can think of any case where someone died from hacking (I haven't been able to remember one myself), that's a good indication that such events are rare.
                    • by Genda (560240)

                      Which isn't to say that with our country weaponizing hacking the face of other nations and organization weaponizing hacking that something bad won't eventually, in fact probably happen. Its time to being looking at our information infrastructure as a psuedoliving entity and build it an immune system predicated on protecting human beings and the assets first and then network resources second. Such an immune system should include a way of marking intruders such that cyber antibodies can hunt them down and wra

                    • Its time to being looking at our information infrastructure as a psuedoliving entity and build it an immune system predicated on protecting human beings and the assets first and then network resources second.

                      Just so you know, this is a metaphor, and doesn't actually mean anything concrete at all.

      • by fyi101 (2715891)

        Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org]

        A phrase often ritually quoted by people whithout thinking about it first. I believe it was here in Slashdot that I read a comment to the effect of: "YES, YES IT IS. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence, but it certainly is EVIDENCE of it". I can't help but to concur, although I think this can stem from the ambiguousness of the word "evidence" (evidence as proof, or evidence as something that increases the probability of truth for a prediction). Failing to detect something can mean simply that the in

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org]

          A phrase often ritually quoted by people whithout thinking about it first. I believe it was here in Slashdot that I read a comment to the effect of: "YES, YES IT IS. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence, but it certainly is EVIDENCE of it"

          Cool. Thanks for being precise.

      • You're misapplying that. The "argument from ignorance" fallacy tell you that just because you haven't seen something, you can't conclude that it doesn't exist. That's because you may not have looked or may not have had a chance to observe it. But police and media are looking for such cases, are capable of identifying them, and would be reporting them publicly. If you look for something that could happen to millions of people and you don't observe it, it is reasonable to conclude that it's rare.

        • by c0lo (1497653)
          As another poster insightfully pointed out [slashdot.org], the correct statement is "the absence of evidence is not the proof of absence".

          That's because you may not have looked or may not have had a chance to observe it.

          Even if you searching long enough, not finding something is still not a proof of impossibility.
          Here's an example: "based on my numerous attempts, I must conclude that is impossible for me to win the lottery. Yes, I know, almost every week somebody wins it, but it's not me." - is this a true statement?

      • by Nyder (754090)

        Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

        Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org].

        Ya, but it serves people policies by pretending it's an issue when it's not.

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

          Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org].

          Ya, but it serves people policies by pretending it's an issue when it's unlikely to be one.

          FTFY.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Simple - the media magnate and politicians are generally older people, who don't understand much technology at all. Not only that, every time they open their mouths ("I invented the internet","the internet is a series of tubes","we'll pass a law banning (X) on the internet", etc.) they look stupider and stupider.

      The only things more fearsome than ignorance to a politician are those that they cannot control, and that which diminishes their power. The "internets" are both.

      • "are generally older people, who don't understand much technology at all"

        Thus, since you seem to say older people do not understand much technology at all, they couldn't have built the technology that led directly to what we have now.

        So, light emitting diodes and such are all just figments of Nick Holonyak's imagination since an old person like him couldn't have understood them, and he's fooled us into thinking they glow for all these years.

        Thanks for clearing that up, youngling. I think you need to change

  • Why "threats posed by technology"? Why not benefits provided by technology? There's been billions - with a b - fed by GM crops, for a start. Vaccinations, robust engineering, surgery ....
    • by Kelbear (870538)

      Because many of the benefits of technology are plain to see, and continue to be heavily explored by many. Technology solves problems, sometimes problems we didn't even know we had at the time.

      In fact, this is so widely known and obvious that the author took a moment to consider the other side, and explore negative impacts of technology, because there is a greater likelihood of finding interesting or insightful points to discuss on the road less traveled.

      It's hardly a foolish thing to look at threats from te

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Another BS from the "Concerned" pseudo scientists. In XIX century steam engine was supposed to destroy us.

    JAM

  • not convincing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @09:30PM (#42125475) Journal
    It's fairly clear that a nuclear armageddon would have been bad for the majority of earth, if not destroying civilization completely.

    Let's look at the other scenarios he describes (not all necessarily related to technology):

    Emerging diseases. Yes, if H1N1 were as bad as the 1918 influenza, millions would have died. Not worth comparing to nuclear winter.
    Global Warming. I'll let you decide if it's as bad as a nuclear armageddon.
    Computer Hacking. In theory, it could cut power to a lot of people, as the article mentions, but so could some well-placed sticks of dynamite.

    At least he didn't mention the terminator [slashdot.org].
  • by xtronics (259660) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @09:43PM (#42125569) Homepage

    I used to read SA cover to cover when I was in high-school in the early '70s - it was great! The magazine was looking at using technology to improve our future - a lot of which happened.

    Now, it is a bunch of nay-sayers and nervous ninny's which will prevent the future instead of embracing it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tokolosh (1256448)

      Absolutely. SA is staffed by a bunch of luddites. Most articles are about impending environmental catastrophe, which can only be averted by moving back to caves. And if we don't move back to caves, then our hubris will result in us having to move to caves. They have lost the plot.

    • by geekpowa (916089)

      Not just limited to SA. Seems like most science journalism and popularization is focused on Malthusian pessimism.

      Something more relevant to slashdot that makes my blood boil is every time Michio Kaku opens his mouth bangs on about how the end of Moore's law is imminent and this is going to have destructive repercussions for civilization. Give. It. A. Rest.

      These folk are utterly unimaginative. Completely underestimate our combined ingenuity and overestimate the hurdles infront of us. Fortunately there a

      • by Genda (560240)

        I am a HUGE FAN of wonder and optimism. I've seen more than one person accomplish the utterly impossible by setting out guns a blazing, and the universe just seemed to line up in front of them as though by dent of will the universe wouldn't dare to deny such great intent. So I am clear that the dreamers and inventors may in fact be the only hope our species has because we are only a few paces in front of the stupid messes we made to get here, and it will honestly take greater technology than any we happen t

      • by Genda (560240)

        Dude... Moore's law is coming to an end... you just can't look at Moore's law in a bubble. Its part of a much larger sweep, starting with the evolution of life, an asymptotic curve going back about 4 billion years. Then primates going back about 12 million years, then Genus Homo, then society, then the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, electronics, solid state and Moore's Law. Each is an asymptotic curve inside a larger asymptotic curve. What comes next? Photonics, Nanotechnology and Self Assembly? Pr

        • by geekpowa (916089)

          You seem to be arguing more-so about Accelerating change [wikipedia.org] than Moore's law.

          Back to Moore's law: I am not arguing against limits of Moore's law. I take issue with Michio Kaku's interpretation what it means when the limits of Moore's law begin to realise itself. In his rhetoric, a collapse in Moore's law will precipitate a collapse in society.

          Maybe I've been watching a different Michio Kaku than you. Your's sounds like an optimistic futurist. The one I've watched peddles end-of-times by clinging to an nar

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It'd be great if all the people cheerleading technology would see what the impacts of those advancements are. Old satellites? Space junk to the point where it's hard to avoid debris in some parts of space. Networked cameras and cellphones? Constant surveillance. Data mining? Models of a person's lifestyle and background, whether they wanted that information public and purchaseable or not.

      Although I'm probably the troll for pointing this out, because all these cheerleaders think that this tech wasn't develop

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What ever happened to SA. They now seem to be more of an anti-science based publication. Every time I look in an issue there are articles about how evil or dangerous science is. The articles have become totally superficial. Can someone find the real SA.

  • It amounts to not much more than chicken little running around saying 'the sky is falling'.

  • People not properly understanding its consequences, or plain killers using them are the ones that kills people. With technology is more or less the same. The threat is people.

    Regaring climate or diseases, could be attributed to people how damaging (or costly in lives) they could become.

  • ... by people looking for money.

    Let's be realistic, there are easy ways to deal with "hackers" on the internet = add more capacity then any hacker can hope to DDOS you with. The others deal with patching security issues in software/making hacking expensive (i.e. make it more trouble then it is worth). The whole idea of cyber war is idiotic to begin with. If you don't want anything made public don't put it on a public network.

    The fact that we have people looking for $ who want to make an "industry" out of

  • I've held a theory for a very long time, that I fear advanced civilizations snuff themselves out with science all the time. I fear, that it's almost inevitable that it happens, and that it's not nuclear war or global warming that does them in. Dangerous things that we see coming... But the sudden surprise discovery that does it. Lets say we invent some marvelous device... like the microwave... and it seems innocuous enough and eventually everyone has one in their homes... and then lets say we invent a new o

  • Frankly I think all of this can be summed up in one word: 'globalization.' Unfortunately it doesn't consider the alternatives. The more connected the world is the faster things like disease spread and the more some deleterious event in one place can effect the rest of the world. Hacking isnt a threat, basing your civilization on systems that can break is, that has been true forever and always will be. The alternative is to live under a rock and have high mortality rates to keep the population down so we nev

    • where the real weak points are in our current civilization.

      What would you consider to be the real weak points of our current civilization then? Resource exhaustion? Climate change?

      • What would you consider to be the real weak points of our current civilization then? Resource exhaustion? Climate change?

        Same as always: nationalism, xenophobia, totalitarianism. If you keep a lid on those, humanity can cope with anything.

  • Disease, weather, and lack of energy have plagued humanity since we all crawled from the slime, or peeked from the cave, or evolved however we did. I think we can deal with it.
  • James Burke was talking about this more than 30 years ago in Connections. The final episode is something every modern luddite should watch and learn from.

  • Seriously? This is not even a comprehensive list... He didn't even give an honorable mention to solar flare. And yes turbines fail, but probably not because of a computer virus. And if we had to rig something up here we do have the manufacturing capabilities.

  • You can't do anything about it. Your elected representative's real constituency are his corporate "campaign contributors". You get your electricity off the grid, and your Frankenburgers and Slave Labour Shoes from the Buy-N-Large. Very few of us can afford to effect change through purchasing decisions, certainly not enough to be significant.

    So why worry? What are you achieving, other than to raise your blood pressure? Massive protests didn't stop the War on Eastasia, nor did Occupy bring down the 1%.

Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.

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