This morning Saddam Hussein and his cohorts were sentenced to be hanged. The president is congratulating himself, one assumes, on having burnt down the barn and the whole damned farm and provoked a civil war in order to get rid of a handful of rats. This afternoon the inventor Ray Kurzweil is on C-SPAN talking about nanobots the size of a blood cell and machines that can pass the Turing test for artificial intelligence by the year 2029. As Kurzweil is thinking about medical applications and demonstrating a wonderful translation device that will permit you to talk to almost anyone in the world using your cell phone, someone in the American military is dreaming of robot "soldiers" within a decade.
The great Ingmar Bergman described his life's work as contributing a block or two to the great cathedral of human civilization. Myself, I'm only a grunt in the race between Creation and Destruction, trying to hold the line in my small classroom outpost against xenophobia and violence, earnestly introducing children to Shakespeare and Thomas Paine and the Ishtar Gate. And I'm wondering tonight if we're outnumbered, if the busy little hands building bombs and the wagging tongues spreading hate aren't working faster than we are to bring down that cathedral.
They don't even have to work that hard; it only takes a moment for one person to destroy thousands, to put a bullet in Gandhi or blow up the building in which one year old Baylee Almon went to day care. This is a problem inherent in our race, a killer ape intelligent enough to invent a weapon but not smart enough to use it wisely, as the Roman soldier murdered Archimedes while he was drawing circles in the sand.
I'm for scuffling and shoring up and trying to hold the world together with duct tape. But what do we do about the stupid people who think they're smart enough to decide who lives and who dies? Didn't Hussein see himself as "creating" something when he took over Iraq and committed his murders with Stalin as his role model? Tim McVeigh thought he was sparking the third American Revolution, creating a better world for himself. Somebody trusted George W. Bush with the most powerful military force on earth.
Ray Kurzweil is an optimist, and has charts to show the advance of intelligent machines in spite of two world wars and the Great Depression. He looks forward to extending life expectancy with technology, with little thought as to who will take control of that immortality and use it to abuse the have-nots. A student of history, I worry about the collapse of Rome and the suicide of the Greek democracies. I wake up an optimist and go to bed a pessimist. If we are in a race between the forces of destruction and the forces of preservation and creation, which side is running fastest?