Computer Science and Concern for Our Planet

This message comes from my heart, from my spirit. Please consider with me some challenging questions for which I have no clear answers but which provide a source of creativity and inspiration in my professional and personal life:
  • What kind of world are we creating with computers?
  • What kind of world do you want to live in?
  • How can you use computers, amongst other things, to create that world?
  • Are you doing those things now? Or, at least, is your work consistent with your desired worldview?
  • Whatever you are doing with computers, you are changing our world. Is it for the better?*

Computers provide an enormous power on our planet. Moment by moment their power affects and influences you, me, nations, the world economy. Their power and influence will continue to grow enormously. Like all potent powers, computers can be used in many ways. As computer scientists, we play a key role in directing the future use of that power.

Computer scientists often accept jobs or funding to achieve tasks without considering whether these jobs or tasks are in keeping with their desired worldview. At least, it is difficult for me to imagine that they want their children to live in the world that could result from their work. Such inattention to values and goals leads to monsters, waste of minds, waste of money, or just plain poor computer systems.
There are also computer scientists and detractors of computer science whose worldviews exclude many or even all applications of computers. Such myopia can prevent the positive deployment of the amazing power of computers. Computer scientists with this positive attitude may be unable to obtain funding for creative, positive applications of computers.
Where do you fall in this spectrum of concern for the effects of your work? What kind of world are you creating? Do you feel good about your work?
Over the past few years I have grown a great deal professionally and personally–in part, by considering these issues. My goal is to align my intellectual, spiritual, and physical beings. I want everything I do, without exception, to contribute to a world that I want to live in. Such a vision has provided me clear direction concerning what I want to do with computers and what I refuse to do with computers. A major consequence of the process is dramatic freedom of thought, inspiration, and creativity. I am more creative now than I have ever been before in my life. I’m having a blast!
I simply want to encourage you to align your mind, spirit, and body–to consider vigilantly how your work contributes to improving the world for all beings, to find the strength to refuse tasks that do not contribute to your worldview, and to delight in the creativity that will come from this alignment. Each of us is capable of these things and much more! Our work in computer science is as important in its way as that of Mother Teresa. Let us strive to make our work worthy of such a comparison.
* Posing these questions to 2,500 computer scientists at the 1988 AAAI Conference resulting in a standing ovation.