A Few More Ideas For The 21st Century

There is an obvious answer to Idea 16 in "21 Ideas for the 21st Century" (Cover Story, Aug. 23-30). One solution to the birth dearth and impending labor shortages that result from a shrinking workforce is to draw on the talent pool of retired workers.

While people are living longer and in better health, it is an anomaly that around 70% of Social Security beneficiaries start to receive benefits before reaching 65. There are almost 41.6 million Americans between the ages of 55 and 75, many of whom are retired workers who would like to continue working on a part-time basis. Why not draw on this rich talent pool of people with experience, expertise, seasoned judgment, and proven performance?

William K. Zinke

Boulder, Colo.

As I read the predictions of exponential growth in the power of electronic systems, offering a technological utopia of science-fiction proportions, I couldn't help but think of a quote from a popular TV sci-fi series: "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Paul Grunert

Benicia, Calif.

Your story should be required reading for every elected official in the nation. I found your ideas about cities and the effort to combat urban sprawl and the commentary about direct democracy very interesting. In the town of Greenburgh, N.Y., we passed a referendum two years ago authorizing the establishment of an open-space fund. A few weeks ago we acquired a new, 123-acre park. We have agreed to acquire another large parcel of open space.

Our town also has been on the cutting edge of direct democracy. Over five years ago, we invited residents to watch our town board meetings on TV and to call in live during our legislative sessions without being pre-screened. Dial Democracy has helped us in our efforts to be more accountable to our residents. Residents appreciate the fact that they can participate in their government from the comfort of their living rooms.

Paul Feiner

Greenburgh, N.Y.

I find some of your ideas quite trivial, others a bit more interesting and germane. However, in no place is there an allusion to what may be the most important problem of all facing the world in the 21st century, namely, global warming. The scientific evidence keeps accumulating that this effect is real, accelerating, and is likely to have dramatic effects on our environment.

Perhaps one of your expert seers should have proposed some ways in which these problems might be reduced by initiating measures now, before they get beyond our control. Greater use of nuclear energy, solar energy farms, fuel cells, and any other energy systems that do not involve the wholesale burning of fossil fuels should be considered. But perhaps this is too sensitive an issue politically and economically to touch upon.

Robert Lindsay

Wethersfield, Conn.

Your special double issue is outstanding for its open-mindedness, and its admission that there are no certainties when we look to the 21st century.

In curious contrast, in the same issue, there is an advertising feature on Mozambique, an impressive African country but as yet too dependent on World Bank patronage.

A 22nd door to the future could have been a vision of new ways to raise human development of the poorest countries of the world. During the next century, the greatest challenge may well be the need for more socially and economically balanced conditions for the whole of humanity. May we hope that the Internet will serve to spawn audacious movements to that end?

Frederico Monteiro Da Silva

Cascais, Portugal

Your article will go down as a classic with its revelations of technological progress, especially as over the next few years many of these technologies and developments become manifest. Idea 12 on Artificial Intelligence: "Machines will be smarter than we are," was especially provocative. However, I would like to challenge the researchers who figure that intelligent machines are not a potential threat to humanity because "such beings would be too wise not to respect life in all its myriad forms" and because such beings would not be malevolent because they will be sexless, undying machines that wouldn't compete for territory and mates.

Before anything else, with a daunting, perilous issue such as man vs. machine, it is best to be a pessimist and take precautions that ensure humanity's safety. It is not comforting to read that the genius creators and researchers of such machines are themselves haunted by the possibilities of their creations.

I align myself with the researchers who fear the worst. I believe that these intelligent machines will be capable of subjugating or exterminating humanity. They can be programmed, taught, or learn to be malevolent. I would be shocked if these machines--each with the intelligence of billions of human brains--would not be able to act against humans. We can hope that their wisdom would put them above such acts, but I am not willing to rest our fate on hope.

Furthermore, these hybrids may have many of the same needs as full-fledged human beings. It is plausible that these intelligent machines will covet power, intelligence, territory, mates, and so forth--and to dismiss that possibility is myopic. The advent of these intelligent machines is looming. We need to heed the trepidations of some creators and researchers and advance with extreme caution.

Krystof R. Mis

Latham, N.Y.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.