Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #151                                                October 30, 2003
                 A Publication of The Nature Institute
           Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

                  On the Web:
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Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk
in submission to its inevitabilities?  NetFuture is a voice for
responsibility.  It depends on the generosity of those who support
its goals.  To make a contribution, click here.


Editor's Note

Quotes and Provocations
   A New Assessment of Computers in the Classroom

The Vanishing World-Machine (Stephen L. Talbott)
   Habits of the Technological Mind #2


Announcements and Resources

About this newsletter


                              EDITOR'S NOTE

The feature article in this issue will not be for all NetFuture readers.
It is part of an attempt on my part to capture, in a slightly more
disciplined and systematic way (so far as the scope of a mere newsletter
allows) some of the basic issues over which Kevin Kelly and I wrangled in
our dialogue concerning mechanisms and organisms.  (See NF #133, 136, and
139.)  The upshot of the current essay is that mechanistic explanations
cannot even explain machines, let alone the natural world.  But, as I also
point out, the argument here connects with a whole range of fundamental
issues in the philosophy of science and technology.

On another note:  Some subscribers are no longer receiving NetFuture
because their spam blockers are either rejecting its "illicit" content, or
rejecting all mail from the St. Johns University listserver that
distributes the newsletter.  (The listserver is strictly administered and
includes only bona fide publications.  But since it handles many lists,
some institution-level blockers decide that it is producing a suspiciously
large amount of email.)

Also, when I send out NetFuture, I receive back more and more automated
requests from spam blockers inviting me to go to some website or other and
verify that NetFuture is a legitimate publication.  I never respond to
these requests.  Apart from the impracticality of the situation (imagine
hundreds or thousands of subscribers employing such blockers) I regard the
requests themselves as spam.  "Please come on over to my website and click
on a button or two" sure sounds like spam to me.

It's a good illustration of a point I frequently make:  the attempt to
automate solutions to human problems all too easily contributes to a
worsening of the problems, which may have arisen in the first place from
the automation of formerly personal transactions.


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