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Sun Microsystems Co-Founder to Deliver Mechem Fellowship Lecture

Bill Joy, co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, will deliver the Charles S. Mechem, Jr., Fellowship Lecture on the subject "Technology and the Rule of Law," on Friday, November 2, 4:00 p.m., in Room 127 at Yale Law School. The talk is free and open to the public.

"Things are dematerializing in a sense," says Bill Joy. He's describing how advances in technology and science are driving toward a world in which information is more important than physical resources. And he uses an example from current news to clarify his point: "If you give me the information about how to mill anthrax, then the only barrier is [that] I have to get the raw materials," he says.

Joy, himself a programmer and technologist on the cutting edge, wrote about the potential for destructive uses of technology in a "Wired" magazine article last year: "Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them."

As Joy points out, it is not only websites and presentations that can be designed on a computer, but also plans for new drugs or strains of bacteria or even airplanes. "Someone could design a disease on a computer," he says. And with potential advances in physics and nanotechnology, the manufacturing step could become even less of a barrier. In that case, "almost everything becomes a computer model or a computational model."

His speech on Friday will address how to reconcile notions of free speech and unrestricted inquiry with the incredible power of 21st century technology and preserve the rule of law.

This situation requires a careful reexamination of the standards and protections we have as a society, he argues. For example, Joy sees a tension between the "scientist's calculus," which pursues pure knowledge as a good, and the "general good of society."

Indeed, Joy is willing to challenge some of the most fundamental notions of liberty in American society. "The First Amendment is not essential," he maintains. "It's dated." He argues that the idea that all information is speech--and thus a protected class that can be freely disseminated--is simplistic. Some information is as dangerous as hazardous materials, which are regulated. "Why should it have a special exemption because it doesn't weigh anything?" he asks.

However, Joy warns that "we really have to be careful here . . . our notion of freedom is inexorably tied up with . . . the rule of law." He believes that with the advances of technology--the radical dematerialization he mentioned earlier--we have to make some challenging decisions in the attempt to guide the course of events by the light of our own ethics and collective values.

Related Links:
Bill Joy's Articel in "Wired" Magazine