On October 19, the fifth session of the 14th Annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club was held, dedicated to the conflict between progress and humanism.
The relevance of this topic is tied to the unprecedented rate of technological development. As one participant pointed out, modern gadgets have more opportunities than the most powerful supercomputers in the early 21st century, or all US computers in the era of the Apollo Moon program. Problems that recently were related to the science fiction are discussed at the legislative level. Making human life more comfortable and safe, the technologies at the same time create new risks.
Virtually all revolutionary technologies are, according to one of the panelists, a "double-edged sword". One example is nuclear technologies. The benefits and risks associated with them are well understood, but, nevertheless, the debate about them is going on for decades and has not stopped. At the same time, we are at the very beginning of discussions about such technologies as artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons systems, unmanned vehicles, human cloning, genetic engineering, in-depth training etc.
Another participant noted, that taking advantage of new technologies it is necessary to remember about minimization of risks and negative consequences for society, including dehumanization of mankind, technological unemployment, etc. According to him, humanity has reached a point, where technology, using the metaphor of an unmanned vehicle, "sits behind the wheel and becomes the driver of human destiny."
An important question is how the human being changes. One of the panelists recalled that people invest, first of all, in what makes them more powerful (new weapons systems), and in technologies that are designed to make them immortal (the way to transhumanism). The key trend of the next decades is, according to him, the blurring of the connection between human capabilities and heredity, which creates new ethical challenges.
At the same time, the emergence of progressive technologies does not mean that old ones die off, one of the participants stressed. An example of this is the request for organic products in conditions of intensification of industrial agriculture and the use of GMOs.
Much attention was paid to the problem of control over the development of new technologies. One expert noted that legal and ethical systems simply do not have time to follow the technological changes and called for developing a fundamentally new framework, that can take into account the changing technological environment. Another expert, referring to Isaac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity, said that to prohibit the risks associated with the development of technology means entering a standstill. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish between situations, when it is necessary to emphasize control and search for alternative technologies.
Moreover, there are natural limitations to the development of technologies. According to one panelist, in the field of information technology such limitations are energy systems: today, data centers are one of the largest consumers of electricity, and at some point the power generating systems will simply not be able to meet the needs of data centers.
Participants agreed, that governments play a key role in regulating the risks associated with new technologies. One of them stressed, that today it is impossible to pursue a policy beyond which the science does not stand, and it is necessary to explain the importance of scientific research to those who make political decisions. Another expert noted, that the main problem of mankind lies in the complete inconsistency of existing forms of state control over technologies and the level of their development. Politicians do not understand science and its impact on social development, while scientists often forget about which political forces will use their technological discoveries. Here is the need for a new techno-political narrative, that would unite an understanding of technologies and the goals of society