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I must admit, this Centen-

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nial Park bombing thing has me worried. Not about the threat of terrorism -- statistically, it's way down there beneath bathroom falls -- but about the threat implied in the main rhetorical themes being sounded in response -- by the press as well as by public officials. Those themes can be summarized more or less as follows:

1. Obviously, we have to tighten up our security procedures, and we know you won't mind if that means you'll lose some civil rights along the way. In the coming weeks and months, look for GOP-led initiatives for more police, more jails, and most importantly, more latitude for law enforcement officials to do their job maintaining "security" -- though there's no evidence that any of this will make us more secure. (And wouldn't it be ironic if the Olympic bomber does turn out to be one of the security crew?)

2. Knowledge is power -- but you have to be careful who has access to it. The government, in the name of security, has a legitimate interest in... well, everything. In an era when voice prints, psychological profiles, home videos, and phone records are among our most valuable investigative tools, it's hard to imagine any sort of information-gathering that could be considered inappropriate.

When it comes to the public, though, access to knowledge becomes dangerous. Within hours of each of the recent bombings, it was duly and somberly noted that information on bomb-making is readily available on the Internet -- as it is, of course, at any good library -- and at least one local TV news team responded to events in Atlanta with a special report on the "Internet-connected" militia movement. (What? Not "Bell-South-connected" or "USPS-connected"?)

So, as you read this issue's cover story, wherein two of the Internet's self-proclaimed "old farts" contemplate what they hath wrought, and the coming "cyborgization" of human intelligence, it seems an apt time to contemplate the relationship between man and the wired society.

Everywhere you look, in fields as diverse as archaeology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and molecular biology, among others, science is literally re-defining what it means to be a human being.

And in the grand evolutionary scheme of things, it seems increasingly inevitable that we homo sapiens, the last and greatest of the wild mammals, are slated to be a critical link in the evolutionary chain of life, as we set about engineering our next great mutation. Natural selection has taken us this far; where the human race evolves from here will almost certainly be a product of our own collective will, and technological savvy. Random mutation, after all, takes eons; the pace of human technology is far faster. We are now, for the first time in the history of life on the planet, in a position to take charge of our own species' evolution.

Can't happen here, you're thinking? The biological urge toward chaos is too strong? Maybe, but ask yourself: When medical science can guarantee every prospective parent a "normal" offspring, or even a custom-designed offspring (let's see, medium height, curly hair, good with numbers, musical...) will people really forego that option? Will they continue to do so, generation after generation, as the technology -- and its marketing -- become more and more pervasive? When violent aggression, for example, can be genetically deselected, easily and with "few side effects," will the society of the future even tolerate "natural" genetic selection?

Will science ever solve the essential mystery at the core of human consciousness? I rather hope not; I hope that there are some things that will remain unknowable. But I think it's indisputable that we're into a new era in terms of collective consciousness. In the dawning of the communications age, we are truly witnessing the awakening of a giant, global brain -- brought to life by the firing of millions of individual synapses (that'd be you and me). And in this new era, the human struggle will remain the same as it has been throughout the history of civilization: to retain a sense of human dignity, a human scale on a global stage -- the rights of the individual in a collective society, as the song goes.

More and more, that struggle will revolve around public access to communications and information technology. Knowledge is power, and we should fight like hell against any suggestion that it should be restricted or licensed. How much information should the public be allowed access to? All of it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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