Why Technological Progress Won’t Solve Everything
Technological progress can be terrifying. Nuclear bombs can kill millions. Rogue AI could kill us all. Less dramatically, automation take our jobs.
New technology opens new ethical questions. How should we treat a child that has cancer and little hope to live? Do we try everything and torture their little body with needles and devices shoved down their throat, and face pain and circumstance they don’t understand?
There are more mundane questions too: is it wrong to let our kids play games on the phone for a couple hours to take a break?
Technology shifts our values, creating tension between the generations. The man who memorized Homer may resent writing, the lace weaver the loom, and the horse-rider the car. I value writing, and AI chat bots are likely to devalue good writing because, for many uses, AI writes good enough. Just as, for most uses, machine-woven dress is good enough. There are new skills to master and value.
One may wonder, how far will it all go? With enough time, could technology progress to the point where, someday, a machine control our thoughts? Will we all have our own spaceship like the people in Star Wars?
Technological progress may continue to be impressive, but it in certain ways it will always be limited. In this article, I’ll discuss some of these ways.
A scientific law is a statement, based on repeated experiments or observations, that describe or predict a range of natural phenomena.
Scientific laws summarize the results of experiments or observations, usually within a certain range of application. In general, the accuracy of a law does not change when a new theory of the relevant phenomenon is worked out, but rather the scope of the law's application, since the mathematics or statement representing the law does not change. As with other kinds of scientific knowledge, scientific laws do not express absolute certainty, as mathematical theorems or identities do. A scientific law may be contradicted, restricted, or extended by future observations.
Scientific law constrains technology. No technology, for example, can violate the conservation of mass or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Many systems exhibit chaotic behavior. This means that small differences in initial conditions, such as those caused by measurement errors or rounding errors in numerical computation, can lead to widely diverging outcomes. As a result, long-term prediction of their behavior is impossible.
There exists a class of problems known as "undecidable problems" that cannot be solved by any possible program. Any program designed to solve these problems would sometimes give incorrect answers or run indefinitely without providing an answer.
There are also many problems that require an effectively infinite amount of computation. The “NP-Hard” problems are an example.
Despite technological progress, there will always be problems that cannot be solved, either in theory or in practice.