PBS NewsHour Highlights Clash of Techno-Utopians, Techno-Pessimists

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 27 2012 3:14 PM

PBS NewsHour Highlights Clash of Techno-Utopians, Techno-Pessimists

As part of the series “Making Sense,” a guide to financial news, PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman has recently filed two reports from Singularity University, the playground for extreme futurism founded by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil. The two segments—one aired April 20, the other April 26—highlight the divide between the techno-utopians and the techno-pessimists.

In the April 20 segment, Diamandis enthuses, “We have the potential during our lifetime, in the next 10 to 30 years, to slay water, energy shortage, hunger, health care, educational issues, where we can create a world of abundance, where we can meet the basic needs of every man, woman and child on this planet.” The report highlights germinating technologies that could change the world for the better, like artificial meat that both tastes good and provides superior nutrition, filtering technology to make toxic water potable, “printed” human organs for transplant—even sex robots to provide companionship to widowers.

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But in the April 26 segment, Solman focuses on the dark side of innovation. What if teenage hackers break into personal medical devices like insulin pumps? Could 3-D printers create deadly weapons on demand?

In discussing any new technology, it’s important to weigh pros and cons, to consider the ethical and societal implications. But as important as it is to have serious discussions about game-changing research, focusing just on the best- and worst-case scenarios can give the public the wrong impression before the technology even becomes viable.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. Follow her on Twitter.