武夷山分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/Wuyishan 中国科学技术发展战略研究院研究员;南京大学信息管理系博导

博文

冯.诺依曼发表于1955年的一篇好文章

已有 1037 次阅读 2022-12-4 11:22 |个人分类:阅读笔记|系统分类:观点评述

冯.诺依曼发表于1955年的一篇好文章

武夷山

 

约翰.冯.诺依曼(1903-1957)是匈牙利裔美国数学家、计算机科学家和物理学家,被后人称为“现代计算机之父”和“博弈论之父”。我曾写过对译著《天才的拓荒者:冯.诺伊曼传》的评论,见https://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1557-225291.html

 

英国物理学家弗里曼.戴森在“漫步在冯·诺依曼的花园”一文(https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1660756937168332061&wfr=spider&for=pc)的最后写道:

 

我这趟园中漫步的最后一朵花,是以一般大众为对象、刊登在《财富》(Fortune)杂志上的文章,刊登日期是 1955 年 6 月,也就是他被诊断出罹患绝症之前两个月。文章标题是《我们能否在科技下存活?》(Can we survive technology?)。约翰现在关切的不再是数学的知性问题,而是全人类的问题,诸如战争与和平、核武与核能、全球暖化与气候控制、以及因电脑而正在改变的政经规则。在人生的最后七年,当他进入华盛顿的权力中枢,开始与将领和政客往来,他了解到社会最迫切的问题是人性问题,而不是技术问题。

他对人类天性的看法是悲观的。“抱怨人们自私狡诈,就和抱怨除非电场有旋度,不然磁场不会增强一样愚蠢。两者都是自然定律。”【译注:冯·诺依曼的这句话出自威格纳为冯·诺依曼写的悼文,见 E. Wigner, John von Neumann, Year Book of the American Philosophical Society: Biographical Memoirs(1957), pp. 149--153】他对未来的看法同样悲观。“现在发生核子战争的恐怖可能性,将来可能会被更恐怖的其他可能性取代。当人们能够控制全球气候之时,或许我们现在所有的纷争相较之下都变成小事。我们不该自欺欺人。一旦这些可能性成真,它们就会被利用。很确定的事实是,这样的困难主要是因为演变即使有用且具建设性,但也是危险的。我们能否以必要的速度完成所需的调整?最乐观的答案是,人类这个物种先前曾面临过类似的考验,而且似乎具有度过难关的先天本领,尽管得经历不同程度的磨难。想要事先开出完整的对策良方是不可能的,我们仅能指出所需的人格特质:耐心、弹性与智慧。”约翰自己便具备了这些特质。当我们迈入他所创造的世界,这些仍是我们想要拥有最佳生存机会时,不可或缺的人格特质。

 

本博主认为,诺依曼发表于1955年的这篇文章是至今也不过时的一篇好文章,值得咀嚼。原文见附件:

CAN we survive technology-von_Neumann_1955.pdf


Fortune杂志网站提供免费阅读的只是该文开头几页的部分内容,如下:

“The great globe itself” is in a rapidly maturing crisis—a crisis attributable to the fact that the environment in which technological progress must occur has become both undersized and underorganized. To define the crisis with any accuracy, and to explore possibilities of dealing with it, we must not only look at relevant facts, but also engage in some speculation. The process will illuminate some potential technological developments of the next quarter-century.

In the first half of this century the accelerating industrial revolution encountered an absolute limitation–not on technological progress as such but on an essential safety factor. This safety factor, which had permitted the industrial revolution to roll on from the mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth century, was essentially a matter of geographical and political Lebensraum: an ever broader geographical scope for technological activities, combined with an ever broader political integration of the world. Within this expanding framework it was possible to accommodate the major tensions created by technological progress.

Now this safety mechanism is being sharply inhibited; literally and figuratively, we are running out of room. At long last, we begin to feel the effects of the finite, actual size of the earth in a critical way.

Thus the crisis does not arise from accidental events or human errors. It is inherent in technology’s relation to geography on the one hand and to political organization on the other. The crisis was developing visibly in the 1940’s, and some phases can be traced back to 1914. In the years between now and 1980 the crisis will probably develop far beyond all earlier patterns. When or how it will end-or to what state of affairs it will yield-nobody can say.

Dangers—present and coming

In all its stages the industrial revolution consisted of making available more and cheaper energy, more and easier controls of human actions and reactions, and more and faster communications. Each development increased the effectiveness of the other two. All three factors increased the speed of performing large-scale operations–industrial, mercantile, political, and migratory. But throughout the development, increased speed did not so much shorten time requirements of processes as extend the areas of the earth affected by them. The reason is clear. Since most time scales are fixed by human reaction times, habits, and other physiological and psychological factors, the effect of the increased speed of technological processes was to enlarge the size of units–political, organizational, economic, and cultural—affected by technological operations. That is, instead of performing the same operations as before in less time, now larger-scale operations were performed in the same time. This important evolution has a natural limit, that of the earth’s actual size. The limit is now being reached, or at least closely approached.

Indications of this appeared early and with dramatic force in the military sphere. By 1940 even the larger countries of continental Western Europe were inadequate as military units. Only Russia could sustain a major military reverse without collapsing. Since 1945, improved aeronautics and communications alone might have sufficed to make any geographical unit, including Russia, inadequate in a future war. The advent of nuclear weapons merely climaxes the development. Now the effectiveness of offensive weapons is such as to stultify all plausible defensive time scales. As early as World War I, it was observed that the admiral commanding the battle fleet could “lose the British Empire in one afternoon.” Yet navies of that epoch were relatively stable entities, tolerably safe against technological surprises. Today there is every reason to fear that even minor inventions and feints in the field of nuclear weapons can be decisive in less time than would be required to devise specific countermeasures. Soon existing nations will be as unstable in war as a nation the size of Manhattan Island would have been in a contest fought with the weapons of 1900.

Such military instability has already found its political expression. Two superpowers, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., represent such enormous destructive potentials as to afford little chance of a purely passive equilibrium. Other countries, including possible “neutrals,” are militarily defenseless in the ordinary sense. At best they will acquire destructive capabilities of their own, as Britain is now doing. Consequently, the “concert of powers”–or its equivalent international organization–rests on a basis much more fragile than ever before. The situation is further embroiled by the newly achieved political effectiveness of non-European nationalisms.

These factors would “normally”–that is, in any recent century–have led to war. Will they lead to war before 1980? Or soon thereafter? It would be presumptuous to try to answer such a question firmly. In any case, the present and the near future are both dangerous. While the immediate problem is to cope with the actual danger, it is also essential to envisage how the problem is going to evolve in the 1955-80 period, even assuming that all will go reasonably well for the moment. This does not mean belittling immediate problems of weaponry, of U.S.-U.S.S.R. tensions, of the evolution and revolutions of Asia. These first things must come first. But we must be ready for the follow-up, lest possible immediate successes prove futile. We must think beyond the present forms of problems to those of later decades.

When reactors grow up

Technological evolution is still accelerating. Technologies are always constructive and beneficial, directly or indirectly. Yet their consequences tend to increase instability–a point that will get closer attention after we have had a look at certain aspects of continuing technological evolution.

First of all, there is a rapidly expanding supply of energy. It is generally agreed that even conventional, chemical fuel–coal or oil–will be available in increased quantity in the next two decades. Increasing demand tends to keep fuel prices high, yet improvements in methods of generation seem to bring the price of power down. There is little doubt that the most significant event affecting energy is the advent of nuclear power. Its only available controlled source today is the nuclear-fission reactor. Reactor techniques appear to be approaching a condition in which they will be competitive with conventional (chemical) power sources within the U.S.; however, because of generally higher fuel prices abroad, they could already be more than competitive in many important foreign areas. Yet reactor technology is but a decade and a half old, during most of which period effort has been directed primarily not toward power but toward plutonium production. Given a decade of really large-scale industrial effort, the economic characteristics of reactors will undoubtedly surpass those of the present by far.

Moreover, it is not a law of nature that all controlled release of nuclear energy should be tied to fission reactions as it has been thus far. It is true that nuclear energy appears to be the primary source of practically all energy now visible in nature. Furthermore, it is not surprising that the first break into the intranuclear domain occurred at the unstable “high end” of the system of nuclei (that is, by fission). Yet fission is not nature’s normal way of releasing nuclear energy. In the long run, systematic industrial exploitation of nuclear energy may shift reliance onto other and still more abundant modes. Again, reactors have been bound thus far to the traditional heat-steam-generator-electricity cycle, just as automobiles were at first constructed to look like buggies. It is likely that we shall gradually develop procedures more naturally and effectively adjust……

 

 




https://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1557-1366475.html

上一篇:美国加州一名音响工程师的哲思(135)
下一篇:听金观涛、刘青峰报告——日记摘抄951
收藏 IP: 1.202.114.*| 热度|

2 杨正瓴 魏瑞斌

该博文允许注册用户评论 请点击登录 评论 (6 个评论)

数据加载中...

Archiver|手机版|科学网 ( 京ICP备07017567号-12 )

GMT+8, 2023-2-2 02:12

Powered by ScienceNet.cn

Copyright © 2007- 中国科学报社

返回顶部