EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a message from Purdue University President Mitch Daniels inviting TechPoint members and followers and the tech community at large to attend Dawn or Doom at Purdue on October 3 and 4. The event includes some of the world’s leading futurists and tech thinkers discussing the risks and rewards of the new technology explosion.
So far, history has shown that doom always sells, but dawn always wins. From Thomas Malthus’s prediction in the 18th century that population growth would soon outpace agricultural production, to more recent examples, including Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb in the 1960s, which predicted worldwide starvation in the 1970s; the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, which predicted the same in the 1970s; and Jeremy Rifkin’s prediction in the 1990s of global collapse of the labor markets, not to mention those predicting the apocalypse of Y2K in 1999 and recent vaccine panics, there has always been a large audience for prophets of doom. The only thing they’ve proven is that you can apparently live a lifetime of unbroken error without any personal or professional embarrassment.
But to be a little less flippant, history is not destiny. In fact, it’s a series of discontinuities with no guarantee that just because previous discontinuities have resulted in the ascent of humankind, all future ones will. I think there is every reason to wonder whether the nature and speed and the scale of today’s breakthrough technologies might not lead to a very different outcome. Certainly the speed and the nature of these scientific improvements commands us to view them with caution and open-mindedness.
That is the purpose of Purdue University’s annual Dawn or Doom conference, which this year will be held October 3–4. We all benefit from having a discussion about these rapidly emerging technologies and their inherent risks and benefits.
Purdue University is a natural home for such a conversation. Researchers on our campus are giving birth to many of the very technologies that will transform our lives—life-saving, life-enhancing technologies of all kinds.
On our campus, we are manipulating matter at a level we couldn’t even detect not that long ago. Scientists are editing the basic code of life, even with synthetic DNA, in order to produce miraculous new organisms such as field crops that may produce plastics or pharmaceutical products. Advances in computing and artificial intelligence may help us resolve some of the planet’s most difficult problems, but they also bring with them concerns about technology so advanced that we might not be able to control it.
But at Purdue also we have a reverence for truth—a willingness to question our own convictions, as well as those of others, and a preference for facts over dogma. So as we produce these new technologies, we have a responsibility to have open and honest discussions about the risks and rewards.
I hope that soon you join us on the campus of Purdue for Dawn or Doom on October 3rd or 4th to explore for yourself what our future holds.
Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. became the 12th president of Purdue University in January 2013, at the conclusion of his second term as Governor of the State of Indiana. Read more about his vision and commitment to Purdue University here.