Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Need to Control Information

Science is a process. Scientific advancement is also a process. Each discovery and new idea leads to another. Building blocks are put together and new technologies and scientific understanding are the result. What if that process was subverted? What if the information came to us in a torrent? There would be no process of advancement. We would rapidly find ourselves adrift in a sea of ideas and perhaps drowning in those ideas. Paradigm after paradigm would be overturned.

This seems a likely scenario if we were given unfettered access to the science and technology of an alien civilization. Would we even understand their thought process? Where would we start to unravel this complex ball of alien science?

The sciences rely on a careful set of guidelines, journals and organizations that help regulate what they do. This part of the process allows scientists to work together and share information and ideas. This network would be important in helping to decide how information from an alien civilization should be tackled. It’s like a water faucet. You can turn it on full and splash water everywhere, but it’s perhaps advisable to start the tap with the trickle at first.

The other issue is the world economy. Science and technology are closely tied to commerce. Even relatively minor breakthroughs in technology can have a big impact on the economy. This comes from Lynn Browne, Executive Vice President and Economic Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, in the July 2003 publication “Technology Explosion”

“The pace of economic growth was very rapid in the years around the turn of the 20th century. Rapid technological change and high rates of investment in physical capital fueled the growth. Technological advances in different areas were combined to produce new products and new systems that had profound consequences for the ways in which people lived. Although individual initiative and luck continued to play important roles, the pursuit of technological advances became more formalized in universities and businesses. This was the age of mass production; where possible, tasks were finely divided and production runs were very long. Costs fell sharply, bringing more and more products within the reach of more and more people.”

“People had more leisure and more varied leisure activities. New forms of lighting lengthened the day. However, the movement from farm to factory left workers vulnerable to employment disruptions. New institutions emerged to address workers’ problems. The landscape was transformed by industrialization and later by suburbanization.”

This was the result of technological innovations in a controlled setting here on Earth. What if corporations had access to the technology of a more advanced civilization? What would result? How would we even handle such a thing? How would patents be established? Would there even be a need for patents anymore? Who would profit from alien technology? The new technology of the early 20th century made life better for many. New technology from extra terrestrial civilizations could do the same, but it could also throw us into chaos.

The other problem with advancement without process is that it could leave us intellectually weak. It’s one thing to work hard to discover something, it’s quite another to have it handed to you. Would such developments make us lazy? Would they destroy our natural abilities for discovery?

There is always a chance that an extra terrestrial civilization won’t want to share its technological know- how. After all, if we have a world economy wouldn’t it be likely that there would be some sort of a universal economy? Perhaps they would rather not compete with us, but merely sell us the information for natural resources or some other type of payment. They might also be scared of what we might do with advanced technology. We are a rather violent people at times. What would stop us from building armed space craft and marauding around the universe? If I had examined human history over the last 100 years I would certainly be worried.

We must consider every ramification before introducing new science into our realm of knowledge. To do that information from an extra terrestrial civilization will need to be tightly controlled. There will be many in our society calling for open access. Others will have a problem with the United Nations and science organizations controlling the information flow. Criticism is inevitable. What is clear is that disaster could easily follow a sudden explosion in technology. The human race will need to decide what is most important: freedom of information or the preservation of society.

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