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The Sustainability Of Material Progress
4 April 2002
George E. Pake Auditorium at PARC
Over the centuries and up to the present the condition of humanity has improved with increased longevity, reduced infant mortality, better nutrition, and more choices in occupation, material goods, and recreation. This improvement includes both advanced and backward countries. Questions have been raised about whether this improvement can continue and whether the backward countries can advance to the level of the present advanced countries to which so many of their citizens migrate. Many phenomena have been suggested as obstacles to further material progress. This lecture deals with several problems that have been raised: energy, minerals, food supply, soil degradation, fresh water supply, pollution, waste disposal, population growth, disease, natural catastrophes, forests, global warming. None of them, except possibly war or social stagnation, is likely to prevent further material progress. Whether optimism or pessimism is warranted by the facts has always been contentious, but who takes which position is often determined by non-rational considerations.
John McCarthy is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Stanford University. His professional work has been in artificial intelligence and other branches of computer science. His work includes Lisp, time-sharing, logical AI, proving programs correct and personal use of computers. He has long studied human progress and starting in 1995 has developed a web site arguing that progress is sustainable. The pages have so far got about one million hits.
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