Playing chicken with technology

A father named Polonius in the play Hamlet offers his son, Laertes, some advice as Laertes prepares to return to school in France. He offers several gems to his son but “Give thy thoughts no tongue” is the one that stands out in my mind. When I taught teenagers, occasionally one would impulsively blurt out something hurtful aimed at me or another classmate. In those instances, I would give the peacebreaker “the look” and then paraphrase Polonius saying, “Just because a thought occurs between your ears does not mean it needs to be verbalized!”

When interesting notions come to us, it is normal and human to want to explore that with others. On June 22, 2022, Tucker Carlson interviewed a Google scientist named Blake Lemoine. As I listened to Lemoine talk with Carlson, the question “Do we really want to create robots who can think?” popped into my mind. Like many of you, I saw 2001 A Space Odyssey. I recall how HAL (the robot) killed one astronaut and was trying to kill another named Dave.

The most interesting exchange between Carlson and Lemoine revealed that even though the bosses of Google want to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI), they have not thought a lot about the possible outcomes. I found that chilling.

I served in the military and I am as much of a gee-whiz tech nerd as any other guy, but just because we can think of something does not mean we need to make it. Has the development of nuclear weapons made the world a safer place? Has “gain of function” research in biological warfare made the world a safer place? Has cloning technology made the world a safer place?

Image: Exciting comics, 1940. Public domain.

In 1862 as he witnessed the industrial revolution in America, Henry Adams wrote

I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world.

As I listened to Carlson and Lemoine talk about AI, Henry Adam’s warning from the mid-19th Century started flashing red in my mind. Google is developing AI but has not explored the implications. Really? Google has more money than brains and that worries me. If we keep “playing chicken” with science and technology, something wicked and unwelcome will surely come our way. Maybe it already has?

Ned Cosby’s new novel is OUTCRY, exposing the refusal of Christian leaders to discipline clergy who sexually abuse our young people. This work of fiction addresses crimes that are all too real. He has also written RECOLLECTIONS FROM MY FATHER’S HOUSE, tracing his own odyssey from 1954 to the present. For more info, visit

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