Of course, any good technologist can expect to be asked: won’t science get us out of the mess we’re in? No, probably not, but it can help. It seems likely that we’ll eventually have machines that are smarter than we are, at least in some respects. I’m not sure whether it will happen in my lifetime, but it may. And maybe those machines will help us figure out some things, like the inner workings of biology, that will be really useful in a sustainable world. Wouldn’t it be handy, for instance, to be able to design a microorganism that snacks on spare atoms of tantalum and neodymium, and then migrates to the recycling bin to die?
Of course, the same technology that would allow us to do that could also be used for all sorts of incredibly destructive activities as well. The more power we have to alter biology, the greater the chances of completely messing up the biosphere.
I’m no Luddite. I like penicillin, and indoor plumbing, and computers. The challenge for engineering and public policy is to channel scientific advances into appropriate technology, and to use it carefully and wisely.