2001 : WHAT QUESTIONS HAVE DISAPPEARED?

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Senior Maverick, Wired, Author, Cool Tools; What Technology Wants; "The Three Breakthroughs That Have Finally Unleashed AI on the World" (Wired)
What is the nature of our creator?

This question was once entertained by the educated and non-educated alike, but is now out of fashion among the learned, except in two small corners of intellectual life. One corner is religious theology, which many scientists would hardly consider a legitimate form of inquiry at this time. In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that modern thinking considers this question as fit only for the religious, and that it has no part in the realm of science at all. But even among the religious this question has lost favor because, to be honest, theology hasn't provided very many satisfactory answers for modern sensibilities, and almost no new answers in recent times. It feels like a dead end. A question that cannot be asked merely by musing in a book-lined room.

The other corner where this question is asked — but only indirectly — is in particle physics and cosmology. We get hints of answers here and there mainly as by-products of other more scientifically specific questions, but very few scientists set out to answer this question primarily. The problem here is that because the question of the nature of our creator is dismissed as a religious question, and both of these sciences require some of the most expensive equipment in the world paid by democracies committed to separation of church and state, it won't do to address the question directly.

But there is a third way of thinking emerging that may provide a better way to ask this question. This is the third culture of technology. Instead of asking this question starting from the human mind contemplating the mysteries of God, as humanists and theologists do, or starting from experiment, observation, and testing as scientists do, the third way investigates the nature of our creator by creating creations. This is the approach of nerds and technologists. Technologists are busy creating artificial worlds, virtual realities, artificial life, and eventually perhaps, parallel universes, and in this process they explore the nature of godhood. When we make worlds, what are the various styles of being god? What is the relation to the creator and the created? How does one make laws that unfold creatively? How much of what is created can be created without a god? Where is god essential? Sometimes there are theories (theology) but more often this inquiry is driven by pure pragmatic engineering: "We are as gods and may as well get good at it," to quote Stewart Brand.

While the third way offers a potential for new answers, more than the ways of the humanities or science, the truth is that even here this question — of the nature of our creator — is not asked directly very much. This really is a question that has disappeared from public discourse, although of course, it is asked every day by billions of people silently. 

KEVIN KELLY is a founding editor of Wired magazine. In 1993 and 1996, under his co-authorship, Wired won it's industry's Oscar — The National Magazine Award for General Excellence. Prior to the launch of Wired , Kelly was editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical and cultural news. He is the author of New Rules for the New Economy; andOut of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World.