From an interview with William Gibson in The Paris Review:
For someone who so often writes about the future of technology, you seem to have a real romance for artifacts of earlier eras.
It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted.
So true. When we think about technological change, we always think forward. But what was it like to have no electricity, no automobiles, no indoor plumbing, no air conditioning, no telephones, no recorded music, no movies, no TV, no radio? It was just a few generations ago – no time at all, really – and yet it’s gone, “unknowable,” as Gibson says. Weird.
From an interview with George Dyson in The European:
We used to have only human intelligence, and now that has been supplemented by computational intelligence. So we would expect the potential for innovation to become supplemented as well.
Yes and no. The danger is not that machines are advancing. The danger is that we are losing our intelligence if we rely on computers instead of our own minds. On a fundamental level, we have to ask ourselves: Do we need human intelligence? And what happens if we fail to exercise it?
The question becomes: What progress is good progress?
Right. How do we maintain our diversity? It would be a great shame to lose something like human intelligence that was developed at such costs over such a long period of time. I spent a lot of my life living in the wilderness and building kayaks. I believe that we need to protect our self-reliant individual intelligence—what you would need to survive in a hostile environment. Few of us are still living self-reliant lives. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should be cautious not to surrender into dependency on other forms of intelligence.
But, although we think we’re in control, driving the car, it’s rare that we’re cautious about such things. As Gibson observes, looking backward, “Nobody paid any attention.” Is it any different now? If what we take for granted is invisible to us, how can we possibly know what it will mean to lose it – or, having lost it, what it was worth?