3 Things To Know About The Unabomber: Prophetic Warnings About Technology

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Written by Dana Sanchez
The Unabomber killed three people and injured 23. Here are 3 things to know about his prophetic warnings about technology. Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, is led by federal agents to the federal courthouse in Helena, Mont, April 4. 1996. (AP Photo/John Youngbear, File)

A Harvard-educated math genius, Ted Kaczynski became one of the FBI’s most wanted for planting 16 bombs between 1978 and 1995 targeting people involved with technology. Known as the Unabomber, he killed three people and injured 23 more in his desperation for attention.

Few people under the age of 60 would have known about the Unabomber if it hadn’t been for the 2017 Netflix series “Manhunt: Unabomber,” The National reported.

Hiding out in a Montana cabin off the grid, the Unabomber was caught in 1996 after the New York Times and Washington Post agreed to publish his 35,000-word manifesto — “Industrial Society and its Future.” His brother recognized the ideas in the Sept. 19, 1995 publications and turned the Unabomber in.

Forty years later, “it could be argued that the Unabomber was a visionary to whom we should all now be paying very close attention,” Jonathan Gornall wrote in a February 2018 opinion piece in The National.

He feared tech would control human behavior

In his manifesto, Kaczynski wrote that he feared “the technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless ride” and that technology “will eventually acquire something approaching complete control over human behavior”. He was especially worried about artificial intelligence – a concern shared by the late Stephen Hawking.

“A super-intelligent AI,” Professor Hawking warned, “will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble.”

Twenty years earlier, Kaczynski predicted that computer scientists would develop intelligent machines “that can do all things better than human beings. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them”.

Eventually “the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently”, at which stage “the machines will be in effective control”. People won’t be able to turn off the machines “because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide”.

Since then, Google, Facebook and Twitter have entered our digital lives, tracking and harvesting every facet of us. We willingly bring Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home into our living spaces, which listen, watch and learn about our preferences and habits.

He thought tech was sold as optional, only to become indispensable

Technology may be initially introduced as optional, but it changes society in such a way that it becomes impossible to function without using that technology, Kaczynski said. When you consider the United Nations’ assertion that access to the internet is a human right, up there with food, shelter and education, Kaczynski may be right.

Some technologists are starting to wonder if scale of tech intrusion in our lives is so extensive and complex that it’s getting out of hand. In the process, they are beginning to sound like Kaczynski, Gornall wrote.

Kaczynski cited cars, which gave everyone freedom to travel farther until they became a necessity, requiring more money, regulations and roads. Cities were designed for the convenience of drivers, not pedestrians, the Unabomber wrote. For many people, driving is no longer an option.

The iPhone X shows that the Unabomber had a point, Steve Chapman wrote in a 2017 Chicago Tribune report. When cellphones first appeared, they offered one more way of connecting that could be accepted or rejected. Now we all panic when we leave home without a cell phone. “We went from ‘you can have a portable communication device’ to ‘you must have a portable communication device’ practically overnight,” Chapman wrote.

A domestic terrorist, Kaczynski was imprisoned for life, however, his ideas cannot be dismissed and are increasingly important, according to a 2013 Fox News opinion piece. 

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Kaczynski wrote that increasing reliance on technology would end up short-circuiting the ability of humans to think for themselves and act on their own ideas and abilities.

He blamed the political ‘left’ for embracing technology to control people

The Unabomber saw the political “left” as particular villains in embracing these technologies, “because they were in keeping with the ‘leftist’ ideology that centralized power was the way to govern men,” according to the Fox News opinion piece:

“He saw these ‘leftists’ as psychologically disordered—seeking to compensate for deep feelings of personal disempowerment by banding together and seeking extraordinary means of control in society,” Fox opined. “Well, Kaczynski, while reprehensible for murdering and maiming people, was precisely correct in many of his ideas.

“Having seen Barack Obama elected, in part, by mastering the use of the Internet as a campaign tool, then watching his administration preside over eavesdropping on the American public, monitoring their emails and tapping their phones, denying them their due process and privacy, and making a play to disarm them, Kaczynski, must wonder what it will take for Americans to wake up to the fact that their individuality and autonomy—indeed, what constitutes the core of a human life—is under siege (by the very forces he predicted—technology and leftist political leaders).”

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