Saturday, June 03, 2006

Whiz warns of high-tech dangers

Computer titan and visionary Bill Joy came to Polytechnic University last week to warn that the limitless possibilities of the high-tech culture he helped create carry their own dangers.

"We really have an incredible opportunity to use this information to create new wealth and solve new problems," said the 45-yearold co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, a multibillion-dollar computer concern.

"But there's also a danger, and the danger is if you give so much power, then you can do anything. And not all things you can do are good," he told a crowd of 350 people Thursday at Poly's MetroTech campus in downtown Brooklyn.

Joy is a high-tech hero on a par with Microsoft's Bill Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs. Indeed, he is sometimes called "the other Bill" in computer industry circles.

He invented the Berkeley UNIX system while still in graduate school. He co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and developed the revolutionary computer language Java.

"He certainly is a giant in the field," said Polytechnic President David Chang. "He helped create one of the most high-tech companies in the world."

Joy began making waves in the industry last spring when he published a doom-predicting manifesto titled "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" in the April issue of Wired magazine. In his article, as in his Polytechnic talk, Joy warned that if left unchecked, innovations in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics could lead to irreversible damage and mass destruction.

"For him to raise issues like that is very important," said Chang. "It's a very big issue. The cultural aspects really need to catch up if we want to make full use of technology", Joy was invited to Poly to give the third annual Lynford Lecture on the strength of both his high-tech innovations and his provocative recent questioning, Chang said.

"We like to put the technology in a broader context for the students," he said. "Our students really need to know the practical impact and hear about different views."

Polytechnic students who heard Joy's talk, called "Welcome to the Information Age: The Promise and Challenge of Technology in the 21st Century," seemed to appreciate both sides of his work.

"I learned a lot," said 20-year-old Rahadul Kabir, a junior from Ocean Parkway. "It made me really interested to take a class in Java."

Freshman Ilya Bishinkevich said he liked the context Joy's remarks provided for his classes.

"I think those are very valid concerns," said the 18-year-old from Fair Lawn, N.J. "This University is interested to train students in technology. It's only right that they should know how it would affect the world."

Joy also received an achievement from Poly's Institute for Mathematics Advanced Supercomputing.

"He epitomizes the best and most responsible science," said the institute's Chudnovsky, who presented the award.