> One way of looking at human creativity is as a process of pulling balls out of a giant urn. The balls represent possible ideas, discoveries, technological inventions. Over the course of history, we have extracted a great many balls—mostly white (beneficial) but also various shades of grey (moderately harmful ones and mixed blessings). The cumulative effect on the human condition has so far been overwhelmingly positive, and may be much better still in the future. The global population has grown about three orders of magnitude over the last ten thousand years, and in the last two centuries per capita income, standards of living, and life expectancy have also risen.

> What we haven’t extracted, so far, is a black ball—a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it. The reason is not that we have been particularly careful or wise in our technology policy. We have just been lucky.

> It does not appear that any human civilization has been destroyed—as opposed to transformed—by its own inventions. We do have examples of civilizations being destroyed by inventions made elsewhere. For example, the European inventions that enabled transoceanic travel and force projection could be regarded as a black-ball event for the indigenous populations of the Americas, Australia, Tasmania, and some other places. The extinction of archaic hominid populations, such as the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, was probably facilitated by the technological superiority of Homo Sapiens. But thus far, it seems, we have seen no sufficiently auto-destructive invention to count as a black ball for humanity.

> What if there is a black ball in the urn? If scientific and technological research continues, we will eventually reach it and pull it out. Our civilization has a considerable ability to pick up balls, but no ability to put them back into the urn. We can invent but we cannot un-invent. Our strategy is to hope that there is no black ball.

Shared publiclyView activity