the blessings of the U.S. public, the American theoretician and computer
expert Ray Kurzweil prophesies that within our lifetime, computers will
exceed human brain power. In Germany, hardly anyone knows his name.
This may be partly because his bestseller The Age of Spiritual Machines
appeared in German last year under what could pass for the parody of
an outdated title: "Homo S@piens."
The European intelligentsia is entering the 21st century in silence,
stubbornly or clumsily avoiding the issue. It is easy to imagine one
of these intellectuals, fumbling over a new word-processing package:
the infuriation at this "not coping", the alleged lack of
"technical know-how," the antipathy (often justified) which sets in
at the slightest whiff of leads and sockets. All this also characterizes
prevailing attitudes to the revolutionary paradigm shift itself. The
new age didn't come to us Europeans in a flash of inspiration, it came
as a "retraining program": from typewriter to computer, from
computer to Internet.
This may be why many European intellectuals equate current developments
with previous technological adaptations made after the invention of
the automobile or the refrigerator. In this they are certainly mistaken.
Ray Kurzweil may be wrong when he predicts that over the next 20 years,
bio-, nano- and computer technology will bring greater changes to the
way we live than the entire 20th century. But it is definitely worth
talking about, especially in these times of tech-conscious, "green"
government. But we just keep on fumbling with our leads and plugs and
sockets, while people elsewhere are busy programming our future.
has stopped thinking," proclaims Jaron
Lanier, "but it has supplied the software." In his view, it will
not be long before all the questions Western philosophers asked themselves,
all the questions of being, illusion and consciousness, begin to be
asked by computers. "And when they do, they can use the software written
by Kant and Heidegger."