Do you know people who post pictures of themselves almost every day? Snap! Look at my new watch. Snap! Westlake in spring. Snap! Here’s me middle of a speech competition. From streets to campuses, people are obsessed with taking photos of themselves. But when photography was first introduced to China in the 19th century, it traumatized a generation. With the drawtube shaped like a cannon, the dazzling firework at exposure, like that, and most horrifying of all, the bizarre feeling of your own face staring back at yourself in a piece of paper. “Witchcraft,” They say. “An evil ritual taking away our spirits!”
As the development of technology moves the wheel of history forward, it was always accompanied by fear. Judging in retrospect from an era of selfie craze, of course we would want to tell those benighted people of the past: Fear not! Your souls won’t be sucked into a camera! This, is exactly what I would like to tell people of the present: Fear not! Because when technology revolutionizes our lives, humanity frames our action.
Look at our world now, the debate between scientists and humanists never seem to set our minds at rest. When scientists are bragging about generalizing 5G6G, the humanists say, you are providing easier ways to infringe on personal privacy; When scientists brag AI as human’s ultimate assistant, the sci-fi writers say, beware that they develop consciousness of their own! Once I, a self-proclaimed physicist, talked to my pals from the school of humanities about teleportation, I said, “Theoretically we can transport anything from here to there instantly by breaking up the stuff here and reconstructing an identical one there.” But I was instantly bombarded with: “Oh, soon you will be transporting people in this way, won’t you? But will one be the same person after teleport? Will my consciousness be instantly terminated upon disintegration here, leaving only a duplicate of me to be reconstructed there?” So innocent bystanders, upon hearing these fantastic debates, panic. Oh no! The geeks are going to read our mails! Robots are going to take over the earth! Teleportation is going to destroy thousands of people every day, leaving a world full of clones!
But none of this is actually going to happen, because humanists are not alarmists and scientists are not geeks. Humanists point out pertinent ethical issues with the hope of correcting them and scientists listen to suggestions rationally to make adjustments as well as amendments. Just like the first pioneer who modified the camera to make it less scary, we can always improve technology with humanitarian and care. We can enhance the security of networks by introducing quantum cryptography. We can put restrictions on AI to prevent rogue elements. As for teleportation, maybe it’s too risky to transport humans, but it can still relieve a considerable burden off Beijing traffic by taking care of the delivery system!
So, taking a glimpse into the future, what exactly do I see? Not the AI-reigned Dystopia where humans are reduced to slaves, not the post-apocalypse desert after a science breakdown, but a future where humanity thrive with technology as instrument of progress, and technology thrive with humanity as its code of conduct. Just like how we mock at the 19th century people for being fearful in front of a camera, our future generations will also be wondering why we had feared some of their daily routines in the first place, as they reach ever higher dimensions and roam across the stars.