Sam Harris: The Web is among world's most 'destructive' technologies

From CNN SciTech Blog

In the face of constant news about how the Internet connects people and empowers them, Sam Harris provided an interesting and contrarian perspective here at the brainy TED Conference in Long Beach, California.

The eternal skeptic and author of "The End of Faith" responded in this way when I asked him what the most destructive technology on the planet is:

"Increasingly the Internet itself, given our reliance on it, is a source of destructive technology. I think we really have to worry about cyber terrorism and cyber crime increasingly. But there's obviously nuclear proliferation and bio-weapons and chemical weapons."

But the Web isn't completely bad, he said:

"I think it's had two diametrically opposed effects. One effect has been really good. It's created transformation and empowered people and allowed us to debunk bad ideas in a very ... decisive way. It's almost created a cognitive immune system for the planet."

He continued: "It's also empowered pranks and pseudoscience and bad information because every person on the Internet can sort of find the people like them and everyone can find an audience so there are certain forms of ignorance that would more or less be unthinkable without the Internet. Global jihad has been massively empowered by the Internet. Even things like the 911 truth conspiracy. That, to my mind, is an Internet phenomenon. No one would publish those books. This is something that is born of Web sites and Internet commentary."

It's yet to be seen whether technology's overall effect on humanity has been good or bad, he said.

"The final chapter is not written on that. It's made it much better and yet it's given us the power to make it worse. It's conceivable that if we fail to build a truly viable global civilization we could use technology to immiserate ourselves more deeply than we would have had we not invented the technology."

Posted by: John D. Sutter -- writer/producer February 12, 2010

First, I find the article's headline to be a little sensational; while Harris does discuss the internet's inherent potential for danger, he also clearly recognizes the positive effects of a global network of information. But more to the point, I have to wonder if pseudoscience really has been empowered by the vast proliferation of misinformation more so than empiricism has been empowered by increased access to information. In the end, I think he does make a really good point about the need to responsibly integrate cybertechnologies into our civilization.

Views: 148

Comment by Shine on February 13, 2010 at 1:40pm
Adriana, I do notice that more often than not, Sam Harris is portrayed talking about terrorism in some context or other. I wonder if these the only soundbites that make it to the media, or if the bulk of his content really is terrorism. (I'm not trying to contradict you, just looking to see another explanation. I admit that I still haven't had time to read his books, so I'm only basing this on watching brief lectures and reading articles.)

Jean Marie, lol! Tea Party signs are so funny that they almost excuse the entire movement. I really cannot believe how adamant people can be in their ignorance. I mean, don't they have any thought of looking something up in a dictionary to check the spelling, or maybe do a little fact-checking? But if you insult their misspellings, you just get labeled a "liberal academic elitist." Right, because suggesting the books and resources at the local library is totally elitist...

Anyways, more Tea Party signs! (I have to return the laugh that those "morans" gave me, lol!)

Comment by Shine on February 14, 2010 at 1:12pm
But one thing I'll concede: he's a good looking dude! :-) (just kiddin')

Lol! I totally picked that picture off of a Google Image search because I loved his expression; it seems like he should be holding a pipe and saying something cryptic and British. (I think that it was a still taken from a video of a debate; the camera was right behind his debate partner.)
Comment by Fancy Nancy on March 20, 2010 at 6:27am
Hello there ... I stumbled into this thread by accident ... I know what 'cryptic' means I think Shine but hmmm as a Brit myself ... what does saying 'something British' mean ? Should I be offended???? ;)
Comment by Fancy Nancy on March 20, 2010 at 6:28am
... just cos all the baddies in Hollywood films are Brits doesn't mean we all are (although we have some real ones too)
Comment by Shine on March 20, 2010 at 9:38am
Nancy, I'm starting to think that you look for offense. What about my statement could possibly be derogatory towards British people? How is the image of someone holding a pipe and saying something cryptic automatically associated with a "baddie?" You made that association and are projecting negativity onto something that is not. This was a positive post on Sam Harris, which should have been evident from the last line:

In the end, I think he does make a really good point about the need to responsibly integrate cybertechnologies into our civilization.

Why would a statement describing someone who I think made "a really good point" be negative? It doesn't make any sense. The image of someone holding a pipe and saying something "cryptic" evokes old Hollywood or Vincent Price. What is so offensive or bad?

There are so many instances of genuine bigotry and offense in the world. Why do you waste time and energy on making ones up?
Comment by Fancy Nancy on March 20, 2010 at 12:44pm
hmmm well I just said what I thought! So anyway what's saying something British actually mean?? Just wondering ...
Comment by Fancy Nancy on March 20, 2010 at 12:45pm
... you mean like Sherlock Holmes? Ok I get that if that's what you meant ...???? 'I'm starting to think you look for offense .... Why do you waste time and energy' hmmm peace to you too!!!
Comment by Fancy Nancy on March 20, 2010 at 12:46pm
And who was it who said we were 2 people separated by a language?!


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