Wholesome Degeneracy Through Nanotech

astounding.jpgA common argument of futurists is that many of the predictions, such as the Astronomer Royal calling the prospect of space travel “utter bilge” in 1956 show how wrong people can be. An issue of Time Magazine from 1966 popped up on my radar earlier this year just illustrates how completely wrong most predictions can be, and how close others can be such as

As for shopping, the housewife should be able to switch on to the local supermarket on the video phone, examine grapefruit and price them, all without stirring from her living room. But among the futurists, fortunately, are skeptics, and they are sure that remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop—because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.

What is most striking is that how any of the predictions are the same as those touted for nanotechnology a few years ago, cures for cancer, life extension, interplanetary travel and perhaps desktop nanofactories.

By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy. With Government benefits, even nonworking families will have, by one estimate, an annual income of $30,000-$40,000 (in 1966 dollars). How to use leisure meaningfully will be a major problem, and Herman Kahn foresees a pleasure-oriented society full of “wholesome degeneracy.”

Perhaps one of the growing band of philosophers and social scientists circling nanotech could study whether the hopes (and fears) of any new technology are related to the technology itself, or whether it follows a standard pattern, air travel, robotics or biotechnology may be good examples, of fulfilling a basic human desire for the technology to do almost all the work, but still to remain under some kind of control – or at least have an off switch.

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