LDS Church Internet Coordinator on Technology for Good
22 August 2007 (updated 12 March 2011)
Ronald Schwendiman is the coordinator for the worldwide Internet activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He presented today at Brigham Young University’s Education Week on the topic of using technology for the good of humanity.
Although I was not able to attend the session, I was impressed by what I read about it in an article in the Deseret Morning News. Ronald spoke of the rapid change in technology, encouraged adoption of new technologies rather than avoidance, and warned of coming challenges.
The article mentions a few appeals that Ronald made to the perspectives of LDS Church ecclesiastical authorities. One quotation included comes from Spencer Kimball, who was President of the LDS Church when I was a child. Here’s the 1974 quote:
… discoveries latent with such potent power, either for the blessing or the destruction of human beings as to make men’s responsibility in controlling them the most gigantic ever placed in human hands … This age is fraught with limitless perils, as well as untold possibilities.
Reading this quote reminded me of thoughts expressed regularly by Transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil, who speaks of the “promise and peril” of technology. As our exponentially advancing information technology further converges with other scientific fields, it will most likely enable revolutions in biotech, nanotech and robotics.
If you expect to see about the same rate of change going forward as we have seen in the past, you are probably wrong. The intuitive view of linear change in technology does not accurately reflect the quantifiable historical trends. Unless the trends change, we will soon experience a period of time when technology advances so quickly and dramatically that, given current limitations, humans will not be able to predict or direct the outcome (futurists call this the Technological Singularity).
However, we should not expect our limitations to remain unchanged. Our relationship with our technology is becoming increasingly intimate. Computers that were once in large warehouses far away are now in our pockets or even embedded in our flesh, saving us from problems humans could never before overcome and enabling us to do what humans never before were capable of doing. Assuming this trend continues, we have reason to believe that, given some wisdom and inspiration, we can navigate the challenges before us, and realize possibilities that perhaps only the ancient visionaries foresaw.
I’m happy to see other Mormons, in increasing numbers, recognizing and pointing out to each other the importance of our involvement in the effort to use technology for good. As Ronald put it in his presentation, “We have to choose whether technology will be to our benefit or to our destruction.” Amen to that.