Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Want to bet? Pascal versus Kirk

I have been reading "Who Owns the Future", a book on technological change by Jaron Lanier.

In it, Jaron proposes a secular take on Pascal's wager, that technology will create a future which is better than our past. Jason calls this Kirk's wager.

Jaron explores the advances which technology has brought about for the human race thus far, and our feelings around technology, unmasking some of our irrational ideas on the way, such as that of technology makes our lives somehow 'inauthentic'.

As Jaron says, our lives as we evolved were often hard, brutal and short. Many, many of us died for the human race to have reached our present point: and those who have gone before us died in childbirth, illness, starvation, accident, genetic disorder, madness, wars and natural disasters. Without pain killers, without anaesthetic.

We have consistently adopted new technology: from shelter, to clothing, to farming. Those changes have moved from simple technology to growing and inter-dependent complexity. Each new wave of change then changes our 'rules': and that this change is normal. We get seduced by our own stories of a rose-tinted past, where we dream that lives were somehow bucolic, and were not hard, brutal and short.

Jaron points out that trying to go backward is an unlikely solution: but that humankind's pattern is to instead create new and inventive solutions to problems as they arise (or as we create them!). He thinks it is what we do. It is part of being human.

This is a very interesting book, and I firmly recommend it.


  • Reference: Lanier, Jaron (2013). Who Owns the Future. USA: Simon & Schuster
For those of you unfamiliar with Pascal's original idea, it was that we should all believe in God, because if God exists, it is obviously the right thing to do: and if not, there is little harm in our belief.

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