Skip to content

“The Storm of Progress: Climate Change, AI, and the Roots of our Dangerous Ethical Myopia” by Wade Rowland

The Storm of Progress by Wade Rowland
“The Storm of Progress: Climate Change, AI, and the Roots of our Dangerous Ethical Myopia” by Wade Rowland

Author: Wade Rowland
Date: Spring 2024

Format: Trade paper

Size: 9 x 6 in.

Pages: 240

In a time of existential threats from climate change, computer-based superintelligences, AI-accelerated nuclear and biological warfare and more, we can no longer avoid some profound questions about what’s going on. We need to ask: what kind of ‘progress’ leads to the destruction of humanity’s basic habitat, even its basic identity?

Publisher and Ordering Information:

REVIEW of The Storm of Progress – review by the Literary Review of Canada

“Wade Rowland — prolific commentator, educator, congenital worrier — has a lot of questions for us. They are about technology, society, and the way we live today. But many of them come down to one big question: Can the innovators, experimenters, and purveyors of science and technology proceed responsibly without considering the moral elements of their work?

The implications of this question and of the ones that follow from it are vast. They intrude on almost every aspect of our daily lives. They lead us — or should lead us — to ask whether genetic manipulation is a good thing and whether civilization really needs artificial intelligence. They prompt us to consider whether humankind is now in the thrall of a bunch of Frankensteins: promoters of a science run horribly amok. Rowland asks questions in The Storm of Progress that cause us to contemplate whether science and morality can converge — or whether they are careening off in different directions, never to intersect for the redemption of the broader society.

Rowland has several principal worries. He’s concerned about a future in which computers design other computers that are ever more complex and ever more capable: machines spiralling out of control. He wonders “if the unintended consequences of technical progress — which is supposed to provide our salvation — will destroy us long before any sustainable stasis is reached.” He’s troubled that our political systems have not accommodated themselves to the new technology and the fading of the Enlightenment consensus. These systems, he explains, “fail to deliver on the promise of a morally justifiable level of comfort and happiness for all.” And he believes that we have lost the ability to communicate with one another and to examine life’s big problems. In order to recover it, he writes, “we will need to be fluent in the half-forgotten vocabulary of ethics and pay attention to the neglected processes of making moral judgements that will stand the test of time. We will need to understand the interconnectedness between science, the technology it produces, and the human values that we all agree are worth pursuing.”

Rowland puts into words what is clear to the naked eye: science and technology rule the world, with the previous rulers — religion and morality — having faded in significance and impact. That’s the problem with modernity; it’s unrooted, and our values have been uprooted. And this loss helps to explain an enormous amount: “No fact in the modern scientific consensus on the nature of physical reality is more than about 450 years old, while consensus on moral issues such as truth, justice, equity, and human dignity often stretches back to the beginnings of recorded history.” In short, the worship of the (relatively) new has replaced the reverence of the (much derided and oft-discarded) old. We might reread that passage and wonder whether the old —“truth, justice, equity, and human dignity”— might ever make a roaring comeback, on campuses and in the national conversation, in part as a reaction to what Rowland observes.

Indeed, The Storm of Progress is a compilation of provocative notions that will remain with readers and shape their passage through a swiftly changing and often perplexing reality. Rowland asks whether moral questions are even relevant in our everyday choices or whether, for example, we have even a morsel of “moral reflection, or even curiosity, when we buy a pair of shoes made in some South Asian sweatshop, or a gallon of gasoline produced from Alberta tar sands or Niger delta offshore crude, or, for that matter, a chicken breast or pork chop carved from an animal grown in inhumane industrial conditions.” He adds, mordantly, “If it satisfies desires, it’s all good. ”Good — but hardly a social good. Rowland takes aim at the satisfaction of financial and personal desires, the driving elements of our consumption society, but not without providing guidance to the perplexed: “Good fortune, or happiness, is dependent not just on getting what you want. It depends on both getting what you want and wanting the right things. Wanting the wrong things and getting them is not a recipe for happiness.” Whole books have been written on this subject, with similar admonitions but without the succinctness or power. In fact, The Storm of Progress can be understood with serious contemplation on those thirty-nine words.”

Read full review at: