Jim Gosling, a Canadian computer scientist most famous for being the lead designer of the Java programming language, suggests that we face a choice between the futures of Star Trek and Blade Runner. If you’re a science fiction fan, there are other choices as well. How about Avatar? I find it profoundly ironic that the most expensive and technologically sophisticated motion picture in history is about people who are supremely happy living in trees.
Much as I liked Avatar, I’m not keen on the idea of returning to a stone age society. But I’m not sure I want the technological sterility of Star Trek, either. Utopia, for me, would be a world of many fewer people, living deeply embedded in nature, with technology that is both sophisticated and restrained.
Put a bit more bluntly, science is not about new toys; it’s about understanding the fabulous universe we live in. Many—probably most—of the great scientists of history have been driven by this vision of science—seeking, if you will, to discern the hand of God. It’s really a spiritual quest. Whether we choose to alter creation based on what we’ve learned is an entirely separable issue.
[photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin-Madison, May 2004]