Technology will not save the world — we will

拯救世界的是人,不是科技

I have a copy of a long-forgotten 1987 book by Arthur C Clarke: July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st century. I did not plan on mentioning it until the 50th anniversary of the first moon landings, which its title reflects. But I am breaking my own embargo because re-reading it has given me new insight.

我有一本《2019年7月20日:生活在21世纪》——该书为亚瑟•C•克拉克(Arthur C Clarke)所著,1987年出版,被人遗忘已久。我本打算到登月50周年时再提起这本书,因为书名反映的正是这一纪念日。但我打破了给自己设置的禁令(词汇),因为重读这本书给了我新见解。

Clarke, a science-fiction writer, was alsono slouch as a futurologist. His fictional HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he co-wrote, presages many of today’s fears about artificial intelligence. He was also a real scientist who, in a 1945 article, proposed communications satellites.

克拉克是科幻小说作家,也善于(句型)预言未来。他在与他人合著的《2001:太空漫游》一书中虚构的HAL 9000电脑,预言(词汇)了如今人们对人工智能存在的很多担忧。他也是一位真正的科学家,曾在1945一篇文章里提出了通讯卫星。

Unless things change in the next 23 months, July 20, 2019 is wrong in almost every detail. Clarke suggests, for example, “amplifiers” to make us more intelligent — but makes no mention of the internet, which was in development at the time and was predicted 15 years earlier by Joseph Licklider of MIT, when he was working at the US defence department.

除非接下来23个月里情况发生变化,否则《2019年7月20日》差不多在所有细节上都错了。比如,克拉克认为“放大器”会让我们更聪明,但没有提到当时在开发中的互联网——而麻省理工学院的约瑟夫•利克莱德在该书出版的15年前就预言了互联网,当时利克莱德在美国国防部(词汇)工作。

Being wrong is just one problem I have with Clarke’s book. Like most future-gazing, it sees tomorrow entirely in terms of technology.

预言错误只是我对克拉克这本书的其中一个意见。和大多数未来预言(词汇)一样,该书完全从科技的视角来看待未来。

Today’s version of Clarke’s vision is that of tech as humanity’s saviour. It is overblown, and it is gathering momentum. Indeed, this relentless yapping is like some overheated PR campaign for the arrogant, prematurely moneyed young lords of Silicon Valley. There is a messianic tone that our descendants will laugh at. “[By], say, 2045, we will have multiplied . . . the human biological machine intelligence of our civilisation a billion-fold,” says Google’s Ray Kurzweil.

如果把克拉克的愿景搬到现在,那就相当于宣扬科技是人类的救世主(观点)。这有点过头,当今却在形成势头(句型)。的确,这种喋喋不休(词汇)就像是一些傲慢、过早发迹的硅谷少爷的过火公关宣传。他们带有那种救世主的腔调,我们的后代肯定会嘲笑。“比如说,到2045年,我们将把……我们文明的人类生物机器智能增加10亿倍,”谷歌的雷•库兹韦尔表示。

Technology is marvellous, but it has had little or nothing to do with the best things about the world. And it will play a minor role in casting out humanity’s worst demons: poverty, ignorance and madness. What do I mean by the best things? The outlawing of racism; rights for disabled people; emancipation for women. The primacy of reason; the dwindling of superstition. Democracy, social security, animal rights, greater life expectancy and, yes, capitalism.

科技很了不起。但它与这世界最美好的东西没什么关系。它在赶走人类最糟糕的魔鬼(贫穷、无知和疯狂)上只会发挥次要的作用。我所指的最美好的东西是什么?从法律上禁止(句型)种族主义;残疾人权益;女性解放。理性至上;迷信失势。民主、社会保障、动物权益、延长寿命,没错,还有资本主义。

Sure, hygiene and medicine are technology, but the idea to distribute their benefits to all through innovations such as sewers, socialised medicine and refrigeration could only come from human empathy and creativity.

当然,卫生和医学属于科技的范畴,但是要把它们的果实通过下水管道、社会化医疗和冷藏传播给全人类,就只能依靠人类的同理心(词汇)和创造力了。

Technology, from electric lighting to washing machines to the internet, has aided progress. But it is only part of the future. Machines help solve the “how”, not the “what” nor the “why”.

从电灯到洗衣机、再到互联网,技术推动(词汇)了人类进步。但科技只是未来的一部分而已。机器帮助解决“怎么做”,而不是“什么”和“为什么”。

I love what technology is doing for the developing world, where progress is most needed. I have written recently about ideas such as Ugogo Africa, a proposed online service that wants to enable artisans without bank accounts to sell their products globally. Genius. Even better for the developing world will be universal education, the elimination of corruption, the rule of law, perhaps democracy, although that is on my B-list. Technology will play its part, but it will not be essential.

我喜欢科技对发展中世界的帮助,那里最需要进步。我最近在文章中写到Ugogo Africa(一项在线服务提议,旨在让没有银行账户的手工艺人可以在全球出售他们的作品)等创意。真是天才点子。但对发展中世界来说,更美好的事物将是全民教育、消除腐败、法治,或许还有民主制度,尽管最后这点在我的B清单上科技将发挥自己的作用,但它并非不可或缺。(观点)

Last week, I ran this seditious notion past two big brains. First was Marc Demarest, an Oregon-based digital thinker and author. He agrees that Silicon Valley’s incessant riff is self-serving. “Like the president of the US, no statement is too outrageous, too extreme, too under-nuanced,” he says.

不久前,我向两个有思想的人提出这种煽动性的观点(句型)。第一个是美国俄勒冈州的马克•德马雷斯特,他是一名数字化思想家和作者。他认为,硅谷人士源源不断的说教都是为了私利。他称:“就像对美国总统一样,对这些人来说,没有什么声明是太过分、太极端、太没水平的。”

But he believes technology’s torrent of data(词汇)tells us truths “minus our nasty predisposition to get distracted, to miss the moment, and to bend data to make it mean what we want it to mean”.

但他认为科技的数据洪流告诉我们真相,“减去我们容易分心、错过时代脉搏、以及以我们希望的方式扭曲数据的倾向(词汇)。”

“It is in most respects a better version of us. And [gathering data] is mostly done, one way or another, to improve the human lot.”

“在大多数方面,科技是我们自己的更好版本。(收集数据)从总体上说是以某种方式完善了人类(观点)。”

Making sense of data, however, will remain a human activity, he says. “We are better at judgment than any machine we will be able to make for a very long time to come(观点). Technology is only the agent of our desires. It isn’t the future; we are the future.”

然而,他称,分析数据将仍然是人类活动。“在未来很长一段时期,我们在判断力上都会胜过我们有本事造出的任何机器。科技只是我们的欲望的代理。它不是未来;我们才是未来。”

I then had a drink — several, actually — with a friend who works in product development for a tech company.

随后,我和一位在科技公司研发产品的朋友喝了几杯。

“I shouldn’t say this,” she said after cocktail number three, “but we just make cool s*** people love. You’re right. We’re not progressing humanity or changing the world, are we? “That’s what ideas do, and machines don’t have ideas.”

“我不该这么说,”她在喝下第三杯鸡尾酒之后说道,“但我们只是做人们喜爱的时尚垃圾货。你说得没错。我们没有推动人类进步,也没有改变世界,难道不是吗?那是思想的角色,机器没有思想。”

Funny. Even Clarke stopped short of predicting machines with imaginations.

有意思。就连克拉克都不敢预言(句型)具备想象力的机器。