Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Theodore John Kaczynski

Few people associate genius mathematician turned terrorist Theodore John Kacynski with issues of Science, Technology, and Society, but that's exactly what made him snap. Kacynski excelled academically at a young age, interring Harvard as a freshmen at the age of 16 and graduating with a PHD from University of Michigan in Mathematics eight years later. For two years, Kacynski was on the faculty of UC Berkley as an associate professor but promptly left in search of a simpler existence.
Kacynski moved into this small cabin without water or electricity in Lincoln Montana as an attempt to connect with nature and promptly started reading political theory and writing commentaries on his dislike of technology and its negative effects on society. Urban sprawl and lack of self sufficient specifically agitated Kacynski and prompted him to dedicate his life to raising awareness and enacting change, with terrorism. He argues,
"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering—even in "advanced" countries."
In his paper, Industrial Society and its Future. He also recognizes our societies reliance on this technology and the potential downfall of this addiction, "
If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later."

Unfortunately, Kacynski's blind acts of terrorism eclipse his academic analysis of technology's effect on society, forever tarnishing his legacy. However, many key people in the technology community acknowledge the validity of some of his points. Bill Joy, the founder of Sun Micro Systems, once said that Kacynski, was "murderous, and, in my view, criminally insane", but, "as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge, I saw some merit in the (his) reasoning..."

Here are some more links,
Theodore Kacynski (Wikipedia),
Industrial Society and Its Future (Kacynski's paper/manifesto).

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