Wow, Ray Kurzweil together with Bill Joy have written a commentary in the New York Times: Recipe for Destruction. (Check out the excellent graphic on their site too.)
One of the triggers for my renewed interest in the Future was Bill Joy's April 2000 Wired article: Why the Future doesn't need us. Bill wrote it after a chance conversation with Ray at Lake Tahoe earlier that year.
Ray and Bill were then often put on the same panel to discuss their outlook, Ray more rosy, Bill a bit gray. It was always interesting to realize how much they actually agree on where it is going.
One of these things was that it is stupid to put the DNA sequence of a virus online. No wonder that they are writing a joined article Recipe for Destruction now that it has been done:
United States Department of Health and Human Services published the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet in the GenBank database
Just to put it into perspective:
... release of the virus would be far worse than an atomic bomb. Analyses have shown that the detonation of an atomic bomb in an American city could kill as many as one million people. Release of a highly communicable and deadly biological virus could kill tens of millions, with some estimates in the hundreds of millions.
The Spanish Flu killed between 25-50 Million people in 1918. That is about the death toll of the Second World War. Back then there was no civil aviation like ours that has the potential to bring a virus to all corners of the world within a very short period of time.
It's not only the government, it is the editors of Science that are shortsighted:
A Science staff writer, Jocelyn Kaiser, said, "Both the authors and Science's editors acknowledge concerns that terrorists could, in theory, use the information to reconstruct the 1918 flu virus." And yet the journal required that the full genome sequence be made available on the GenBank database as a condition for publishing the paper.
Ray and Bill are pointing in two directions to solve this problem: International agreements by scientific organizations to limit publications and a new Manhattan Project to work on promising new technologies:
like RNA interference, that could be harnessed. We need to put more stones on the defensive side of the scale.
Reason to be concerned? Yes. Adding fire to the new Age of Anxiety? Absolutely. Want to discuss how to best deal with it? Come to the Future Salon this Friday for:
A Brand New Age of Anxiety: Implications and Opportunities.
Presenter is Sanjay Khanna a Canadian writer, researcher and consultant for U.S. and European high-tech companies.
Details: Future Salon A Brand New Age of Anxiety Friday October 21st 2005
Future Salon has the following structure: 6-7 networking with light refreshments proudly sponsored by SAP. From 7-9+pm presentation and discussion. SAP Labs North America, Building D, Room Southern Cross, 3410 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304 [map] As always free and open to the public. Improve your commute by sharing it with a fellow Futurist. Check the Ride Board for opportunities. Free and open to the public. Please RSVP, so we can get enough food and drinks.
The event will be Webcasted check the Age of Anxiety Wiki for the details and we will have an IRC chat too: Server: irc.freenode.net Channel: #futuresalon