The Terror of Tomorrow
A Response to Bill Joy
[This is a short excerpt from Ken Wilber's forthcoming book, A Theory of Everything--An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality.]
One of the greatest problems and constant dangers faced by humanity is simply this: the Right-Hand quadrants are all material, and once a material entity has been produced, it can be used by individuals who are at virtually any
level of interior development. For example, the atomic bomb is the product of
formal-operational thinking (orange), but once it exists, it can be used by
individuals at lower levels of development, even though those levels could not
themselves produce the bomb. Nobody at a worldcentric level of moral
consciousness would happily unleash the atomic bomb, but somebody at a
preconventional, red-meme, egocentric level would quite cheerily bomb the hell
of pretty much anybody who got in its way.
Stated in more general terms, one of humanity's constant nightmares has been that
technological growth in the Right-Hand quadrants has always run ahead of the
Left-Hand growth in wisdom, care, and compassionate use of that technology. In
other words, exterior development has run ahead of interior development (only
because, again, once a material artifact has been produced, it can be used by
any interior level; and thus one genius operating at a high cognitive
level--James Watt, for example--can conceive and produce a
technology--in this case, the steam engine--that can then be used by
individuals at any level of development, the vast majority of which could never
themselves invent such technology).
Until the modern era, this problem was limited in its means because the technologies themselves were quite limited. You can only inflict so much damage on the
biosphere, and on other human beings, with a bow and arrow. But with the
emergence of modernity and the orange meme and its sweeping scientific
capacities, humanity began producing orange-level technology when most of
humanity was still at red or blue levels of moral consciousness. Exterior
development, now incredibly powerful, was not met with an equal amount of interior development, and as Right-Hand technology ran ahead of Left-Hand wisdom, global catastrophes, for the first time in history, became possible and even likely. From atomic holocaust to ecological suicide, humanity began facing on a massive scale its single most fundamental problem: lack of integral development.
Today, with the rise of powerful second-tier technologies--from quantum-level
energy production to artificial intelligence (robotics) to systematic genetic
engineering to nanotechnology unleashed on a global scale--humanity is once
again faced with its most primordial nightmare: an explosive growth in
Right-Hand technologies has not been met with an equivalent growth in interior
consciousness and wisdom. But this time, the lack of integral growth might
signal the end of humanity itself.
Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, writing in Wired magazine ("Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," April, 2000), caused a sensation with his estimate that within 50 years, technological advances in genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology might mean the end of the human species: genetics, in that we might intentionally or accidentally create a White Plague; robotics, in that we will be able to download human consciousness into machines, thus ending humanity as we know it21;
nanotechnology, in that a "gray goo" (a nanomachine equivalent of the
White Plague) could turn the biosphere into dust in a matter of days.
Scientists he quoted put the odds at 30 to 50 percent that humanity will not
survive the century.
This is obviously an enormously complicated topic, but a few things might be said. First, there are basically only two ways to "control" this
technology: external legal enforcement (e.g., banning certain types of
research), or internal moral constraint (e.g., an interior growth in collective
wisdom that seeks and implements wise use of technology). I believe that
eventually some degree of both forms will be necessary, but clearly, we cannot
even begin to discuss the interior growth of wisdom and consciousness if we
continue to ignore the interiors altogether. We will devise integral
solutions to these global nightmares or we will very likely perish.
Bill Joy recommends a combination of exterior and interior control. He is in favor of attempting to ban or relinquish some types of research; but he also realizes
that even if that were fully possible (which is unlikely, given that knowledge
slips around boundaries), it would not really address the fundamental problem,
which is the need for a growth in collective wisdom. "Where can we look
for a new ethical basis to set our course?," he therefore asks. "I have found the ideas in the book Ethics for the New Millennium, by the Dalai Lama, to be very helpful. As is perhaps well known but little heeded, the Dalai Lama argues that the most important thing is for us to conduct our lives with love and compassion for others, and that our societies need to develop a stronger notion of universal responsibility and of our interdependency." Any number of other spiritual leaders, from Christianity to Judaism to Hinduism, might echo those worthy sentiments.
But let us immediately note: we cannot simply recommend love and compassion per se, for those unfold from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric, and do we
really want an increase in ethnocentric love? Isn't that exactly the cause of
much of these problems? The Nazis loved their families, their race, their
extended tribe. This is why most religions, centered on the blue meme, have
caused wars, not prevented them. Not only have religions caused more wars than any other force in history, they did so in the name of an intense love of God and
country. Their love was ethnocentric, dispensed freely to true believers and
the chosen people, and death to all the others in the name of that love and
Surely, by "love and compassion," the Dalai Lama and other leaders are
actually calling for postconventional, worldcentric, universal love and
compassion. But that is a stage of development reached by less than 30 percent
of the world's population, whereas virtually 100 percent of the world's
population might soon have access to globally destructive technologies....
Clearly, the interior quadrants have some catching up to do. What good is it to
continue to focus on the exterior technological wonders before us--from
indefinite life extension to computer/mind interlinks to unlimited zero-point
energy to worm-hole intergalactic space travel--if all we carry with us is
an egocentric or ethnocentric consciousness? Do we really want to colonize
space with red-meme Nazis and the KKK? Do we really want Jack the Ripper
living 400 years, zipping around the country in his hypercar, unleashing
misogynistic nanorobots? Exterior developments are clearly a concern; how much
more so are interior developments--or lack thereof....
Edwin Firmage, a recognized authority on constitutional and international law, who has worked for several decades on the control of nuclear weapons, has written
that "Law [exterior legal control] can help, but it leaves you hopelessly
short of where we must be. Even if by law you could eliminate all nuclear
weapons from the earth by fiat, you don't lobotomize a generation of
physicists. You could begin the whole process of arms racing again. How do
you change the souls of human beings? You have to go where law can't get
you...."22 You have to go, that is, to the interior quadrants and the growth of the soul, the growth of wisdom, the growth of consciousness, an interior growth in the Left-Hand quadrants that will keep pace with the growth in Right-Hand technologies. 23 And it simply does not matter that this is an impossibly difficult task; the alternative is painfully clear.
Whatever the solutions to these problems, the discussion must surely shift to an
integral platform, because anything less than that leaves out fundamental
dimensions of the crisis, which will then more likely speed out of control on
its merry way to a destiny with death.
21. The problem with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics is that most of its advocates are naive psychologists with an astonishingly impoverished view of
consciousness, what it is and how it develops. If you look at the UL quadrant
in figure 4-4, you can trace the history (and the constitutive holons) of human
consciousness: the prehension of atoms and molecules is taken up and into the
irritability of cells, which is taken up and into the sensations of neuronal
organisms, which are taken up and into the perceptions of animals with neural
cords, which are taken up and into the impulses of animals with reptilian brain
stems, which are taken up and into the emotions and feelings of animals with
limbic systems, which are taken up and into the symbols and concepts of animals
with a neocortex, at which point the complex neocortex, in certain human
brains, can produce formal operational thinking or logic. But each and every
one of those holons, enfolded into its successors, is a crucial part of the net
result, human consciousness.
Yet computer programmers tend to focus on the type of consciousness that they know best--namely, logical and mathematical--and they "skim off"
this thin, outer film of consciousness and program some of its rules and
algorithms into a computer, and they imagine that this superficial,
disembodied, abstract, dissociated, artificial intelligence is actually the
same thing as human consciousness. And they naturally think that, given
another decade or two, "human consciousness" will be able to be
downloaded into silicon chips and thus achieve an eternal life, whereas all
that is being downloaded is their own thin, abstract, dissociated consciousness.
In order to produce an artificial intelligence that is truly human-like, AI
engineers would have to be able to recreate the consciousness of each and every
holon making up the superholon of human consciousness. They would have to be
able to create and animate everything from cell irritability to reptilian
instincts to limbic-system emotions to neocortex rationality and connectivity
(a neocortex that has more neuronal connections than there are stars in the
known universe). AI is not even close to being able to recreate organic cell
irritability, so we can, for the foreseeable future, ignore its other grandiose
claims. Robotics through the next century will be confined to behaviors that
can be programmed according to certain specific algorithms, logical-digital
rules, some types of fuzzy logic, and neural learning networks that still
replicate only the most surface forms of consciousness.
There is another major difficulty: consciousness is a four-quadrant affair. AI is trying to program merely UR-quadrant behavioral rules and learning mechanisms,
and that will never produce the four-quadrant thing we call real consciousness.
A subset of this argument is John Searle's, which in effect says that UR
behavior will never be the same thing as UL intentionality. He is quite right;
but UR behavior will never produce intersubjective cultural values, either
Finally, there is the argument from deep-spirituality itself: consciousness is not the product of anything, whether that be human brains or robots. Pure
consciousness is instead the Source and Ground of all manifestation, and if you
think you can put that into a computer.... The computer is a manifestation of consciousness, not vice versa, and all that you can get into (or out of) a computer is, again, nothing but a thin, partial, superficial slice of the incredible Kosmic Pie. Besides, this whole notion that consciousness can be downloaded into microchips comes
mostly from geeky adolescent males who can't get laid and stay up all hours of
the night staring into a computer screen, dissociating, abstracting, dissolved
in disembodied thinking. I'm a geek myself, so don't get me wrong, but
please.... There are more holons in human consciousness than are dreamt of in AI.
22. Edwin Firmage, Leaving the Fold, J. Ure (ed.), p. 229.
23. In the main text I suggested that a combination of both exterior/legal
constraints and interior/moral wisdom--or, more generally, an integral
approach--will be necessary to face these challenges. This is basically
the same as saying that second-tier governance systems will necessarily be
involved (since only at second tier do truly integral solutions become
available). The likely fact is that, for the foreseeable future, the bulk of
humanity will be at pre-worldcentric waves (egocentric and ethnocentric), and
thus a second-tier world governance meshwork will have to be implemented in
order to meet these challenges. This is analogous to the U.S. Constitution,
which, as we noted, was a moral-stage 5 document that governed a people where
less than 10 percent of its population was actually at stage 5. Just so, a
second-tier world governance meshwork will have to facilitate integration of a
world where less than 10 percent of its population is actually at second tier
. Exactly how this will happen, we cannot say at this moment, because an
integral politics is just beginning to emerge, and all complex emergences are
inherently unpredictable in final form. That it will happen is virtually
certain (if we survive that long); how and when and where: these will surprise
us to some degree (if we are not surprised, it is not a true emergent). Still,
many of its general features can be outlined, and many of the facilitating
factors that will make its emergence more likely can now be identified. The
Institute of Integral Politics has this as one of its foremost policy issues.
Joe Firmage (cofounder of USWeb/CKS, Intend Change, and Project Voyager, and a
strong supporter and member of Integral Institute), points out that there are
two general sides to this governance issue--which he calls
"coercive" and "noncoercive"--again, external legal
control backed by force and internal moral wisdom providing
self-guidance--and the question is, what is the right and proper balance of
these two forms of constraint for the coming nightmares that a lack of integral
development has caused? On the one hand are forms of "decentralized and
integrated" governance systems, being explored by several members of
Integral Institute; in Firmage's version: "New feasibilities in
ideotechnomics can enable new holistic individual priorities, which can enable
the evolution of governance into a smaller, less controlling, but more
consistent and service-oriented role." And on the other hand, we must
also look to a renewed attention to interior development, including
full-spectrum education, engaged public awareness, integral political
leadership, and deep spirituality. In Firmage's view, "From my vantage
point, nothing less than an integral spiritual revolution will suffice, since
no form of exterior control mechanism could completely work, and any that would
come close would make life unlivable."
This balanced integration of exterior development with interior development is, of course, simply another version of integral politics, and it now seems certain that only with integral political approaches can these problems even be framed in an intelligent fashion. (See notes 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10.) But one inviolate conclusion now stands forth: The coercive aspects required by world governance will rise in direct proportion to the lack of interior development.