Fifteen Eighty Four

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David Friedman in the SF Chronicle

A San Francisco Chronicle reporter recently met with Future Imperfect author David Friedman, to speak about the book. The interview appears in today’s Chronicle. Aside from discussing the usual doomsday scenarios, they enter a larger debate about the role of government in private life.

Technology as lens to ponder imperfect future

‘In a century-old former farmhouse in San Jose, David Friedman is a living paradox who writes about the promise and perils of futuristic technologies even as he collects medieval weapons and other artifacts from the past.

‘The 63-year-old Friedman, who earned a doctorate in physics but teaches law at Santa Clara University, is the author of a new book, “Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World.”

‘As the son of the late economist Milton Friedman, he takes a laissez-faire approach to technological advances, arguing that they could lead to a range of outcomes from the beneficial extension of human life spans to the possible extinction of the species.

‘Rather than try to predict outcomes, he paints the future as a series of coin tosses that will depend on countless private decisions beyond human comprehension or government control.

‘Speaking recently at an authors’ panel at the Mountain View headquarters of Google, Friedman likened technology to an unstoppable train…

‘”There are no brakes available. … If it can be done, it will be done,” he said at an event that was recorded and posted on YouTube. “So the interesting thing to me is not what should you stop but how do you adapt.”

‘Later, during a 90-minute interview at his home in San Jose, Friedman challenged the conventional wisdom about which worries merit public debate and elaborated on his preference for private rather than governmental preparation for the future.

‘Seated in a room decorated with samurai spears, Friedman characterized global warming as “a pretty wimpy catastrophe … a real nuisance if you live in Bangladesh or a couple of other places.”

‘Far more dangerous, in his view, are some potential technological catastrophes – such as might occur from a runaway bioengineered virus, a self-replicating nanotech swarm or a malevolent artificial intelligence that finds a way to pull the plug on Homo sapiens.

‘”I’ve got three different technologies that could wipe out the species,” said Friedman, a self-professed libertarian who is certain that neither politics nor central planning will avert a possible bad technological outcome.’

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