Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Seth Lloyd on democratizing science

[Continuing coverage of the 2010 H+ Summit at Harvard.]
M.I.T. professor Seth Lloyd (bio) takes the stage, to discuss the implications of science for democracy and the implications of democracy for science. Scientific knowledge, he says, can be defined as information that can be verified or tested by anybody. "Rats could do experiments." (Hmm...) He clarifies that anybody can verify scientific knowledge, and so knowledge conducted in secret by governments and not made public shouldn't properly count as part of the public scientific enterprise. He urges the audience to write our congressmen and insist that scientific knowledge not be kept secret.

Lloyd, whose presentation is fast and freewheeling, asks if anybody has questions. I ask him: What about making public such information as how to build a nuclear bomb? Good question, he says, but the point is that it shouldn't be scientists who make decisions about secrecy. They should be decided democratically. (And, in fact, in many cases, such decisions already are made democratically.) Lloyd is devoted to democracy, quite the opposite of Ron Bailey, the libertarian science writer, whose presentation this morning argued that democracy is a threat to transhumanism.

Before leaving the subject of democracy, Lloyd makes a final point about how the government needs to go back to emphasizing basic research, and leave applied research to private companies, who will find their own funding if applications are profitable.

He then launches into a frenzied chalkboard illustration of a lot of stuff about time travel and quantum mechanics. I have absolutely no idea what he was talking about (and not entirely due to ignorance on those subjects), but loved his presentation nonetheless. Nothing quite like watching a mad scientist jumping for joy over science.

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