Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #159                                                December 7, 2004
                 A Publication of The Nature Institute
           Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

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Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk
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Editor's Note

Quotes and Provocations
   Pianists and Video Game Players

Invisible Tools, Emotionally Supportive Pals, Or ... ? (Stephen L. Talbott)
   On putting machines into their place


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                              EDITOR'S NOTE

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                         QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS

Pianists and Video Game Players

Raj Reddy, a Carnegie Mellon professor, is working on a low-cost,
wireless, all-in-one PC/television/DVD player/videophone for users in
developing countries.  One person who seems to like the idea is University
of California (Berkeley) administrator, Tom Kalil.  "Entertainment is the
killer app[lication]", he says, "and that will smuggle something that is a
lot more sophisticated into the home".

You might well hesitate over the logic of this sentiment.  If the more
worthwhile and sophisticated things have so little apparent value that
they must be smuggled into people's lives under the cover of other stuff,
and if this other stuff is what possesses the killer appeal ... well, we
at least ought to wonder whether this is rather like handing someone a
plateful of chocolates with a stalk of broccoli on the side and then
saying, "Here, eat what you'd like.  (Ha ha.  We sure pulled a fast one on
him, didn't we?)"

Smuggling the good under cover of the questionable or, in some cases, the
downright despicable, has become one of the clichés of high-tech culture.
It is an extremely useful cliché, since there is scarcely any human
activity in which you cannot find (or invent) some redeeming value.  Just
the other day I saw a news item about a video game called "JFK: Reloaded",
which allows players to recreate and participate in the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy.  Faced with criticism, the company pro