The Conundrum of World Improvement Suppose today, your deity spoke to you and said:
“From this day forward, your job shall be to contemplate problems of world. I will give you immortality for as long as you need to think and come up with a solution. During this time, you will live comfortably and be able to dedicate yourself to this quest. At end of your planning, you will return to exactly this day with infinite powers for a finite period to implement your solution. After this period, your solution will be ‘turned off’ and world will only have memory of that experience.”
Attempt 1 -- Turn All Weapons into Bananas This solution will turn all weapons into bananas. That’s right all of them. You’ll have Magnum banana’s right down to nuclear bananistic submarines. After all, how much can you hurt someone with a banana? If you try to use appendages (hands, feet, etc), they too will temporarily be turned into a banana (small mushy ones, not big firm ones). No weapon will be left on this earth that isn’t turned into a banana. After a certain period, people will learn to resolve their differences other ways.
Comedic Connundrum This will immediately lead to an oversupply of bananas, leading to a life imitating art situation where “Planet of Apes” ensues, with your mission failed.
The Real Connundrum – What is a weapon? The real problem is: What is a weapon? Sure a gun is clearly a weapon and so too is a bow and arrow, but what about a knife? What about your common garden stone? Remember that historically, stones were used as a form of execution. So what is a weapon after all? A weapon is a technology or object married to intention of user.
From one of first parables of use of technology, we learn that technology is never problem; it’s our use of technology. The stone that was used to slay Abel could easily have also been a stone used to build a house for his brother.
Attempt 2 -- Turn All devices used as a weapon into a Banana Great well, now we’ve solved it. If someone picks up a stone and uses it to try and attack another person, artificially intelligent software that monitors all objects in real time will detect imminent attack and turn device into a banana moments before attack occurs. This way we can still have rock gardens without having to worry about being stoned anymore, unless we smoke herbs from rock garden.
Possible enhancement: Change objects into random food items If we change objects used in a violent attack into random food items, we solve two world problems with one stroke: violence and hunger. It is said, “man will not rebel on a full stomach”. Now, should man grow hungry, angry and rebellious and take objects into hand with which to rebel, objects will be turned into food items in that second and quell rebellion instantaneously.
Problem: Are all weapons physical items? With our revised banana scheme, we can eliminate physical violence in this world; That is, at least, open direct combat. However, this presupposes that all violence is physical.
Stalking In hands of a stalker, a telephone can be a weapon. What algorithm shall we now use? If one person calls another more than 3 times with that person hanging up on them, phone shall then turn into a banana? This algorithm becomes increasingly complex very quickly.
Demographic War What about a demographic war? When people realize that they can’t defeat their enemies with weapons, they may realize that they can outbreed them. By out breeding them, they may maintain a majority on planet whereby they can wield political, and numerical supremacy. What do we propose to turn into bananas here? I shudder, as a man, to answer.
Political Battles What about political battles whereby one party seeks to destroy life or career of another person? What of slander? We can’t turn press nor words into bananas.
The real problem – It’s not just use of technology, it’s intention The real problem with all proposed solutions is that they look at material solutions to problem. The problem isn’t with objects problem is to do with intention. Objects are just one of many methods we use to actualize our intentions. If fault lies in our intentions, then we must research ways in which our intentions can be prevented from getting best of us.
Attempt 3 -- The Intention Buster Recall that we are given an unlimited amount of time to solve this problem. Thus we can devise very sophisticated systems to use in our solutions. What if we research and develop a device which interfaces with human mind and detects negative intentions?
Take for example a child who plays with a magnifying glass, and discovers that sun focused on a banana peel (there are a mysteriously large number of them about, for some unknown reason), causes peel to burn. The child has been burnt before and realizes this is an unpleasant sensation. Suddenly an ant passes by and child is curious to see what would happen to ant, realizing that it might be unpleasant for ant, but not completely sure of exactly what will happen. Suddenly, his/her hand will be prevented from moving just as sun is about to be focused fatally on ant. The ant will crawl away safely, but will our future?
How do we learn about intentions and effects of our intentions? The problem with this solution is that when we turn off our solution, child who was unable to fry ant, hasn’t gained any insight as to why this is a wrong action. The child never got to see ant turn into smoke and imagine what that may feel like. S/He never had opportunity to complete this action and possibly feel remorse. The child never had experience to develop empathy and only knew that s/he was prevented from taking this action. Thus when this solution is turned off, child, perhaps an adult by now, never had a chance to learn about consequences of intentions because those intentions were prevented externally. So when this solution is turned off, we return to a world in state it was at best, however, likely much worse than it was.