I was wondering if e.g. Bostrom's simulation argument, or the Fermi Paradox, could be resolved by saying that ancestral simulations, or intergalactic travel, are just too dangerous for a future civilization to do.

I don't think every technology is intrinsically dangerous in any meaningful sense. But is the use, detonation, of something like the atomic bomb neutral?

If not, what examples, if any, are there of technologies which were not built to harm being intrinsically harmful?

  • 2
    Nice q 👍. And I've no answers. Other than to point out that "science" more correctly scientism, is all about do-gooding humanity (when it comes to fund-begging) and suddenly becomes value neutral (when it comes to atom-bombs). IOW world would be a better place if budding scientists were mandatorily dunked in Plato — the Good higher than the True — as part of their education.
    – Rushi
    Sep 22, 2019 at 4:36
  • Technology, even a bridge, can surely be "intrinsically dangerous" if it is recklessly designed. But how would we know what is or is not dangerous for a civilization with unknown technology and unknown security capabilities living in a world with unknown laws of physics, since they need not be identical to our simulated ones? This seems like an invitation to wild speculations and arguments from ignorance on steroids.
    – Conifold
    Sep 22, 2019 at 7:51
  • @Conifold haha. it's actually an invitation to an amazing answer grounded in the history of technology!
    – user38026
    Sep 22, 2019 at 9:46
  • Then perhaps you should remove from the OP simulations and future civilizations, and ask whether historical technologies were dangerous intrinsically or derivatively (or both).
    – Conifold
    Sep 22, 2019 at 20:19
  • Achieving nuclear fission/fusion is the technology, atomic bombs are an application thereof. An "intrinsically dangerous technology" would have to cause some sort of harm before any application has been contrived for it, as such, as far as I know, any such technology remains to be discovered.
    – christo183
    Sep 23, 2019 at 8:04

5 Answers 5


"Dangerous" is a positive proposition (is). Bombs are dangerous, because bombs are designed to be dangerous. It corresponds to affairs, coheres with other claims, and works in argumentation to say that bombs are dangerous.

"Too dangerous" is normative (ought). Whether or not something is too dangerous is based on values that reflect the opinions, expert or otherwise, of the claimant.

It would be a tough argument to sell a judge that a nuclear explosive is not dangerous. Whether or not you could convince the same judge whether it is too dangerous to build would depend on the judge's much broader notion of good and bad forms of danger.

Ultimately, the dividing line between fact and opinion largely revolves around one's views on the metaphysics of intersubjectivity.


Are some technologies intrinsically dangerous, or is it all neutral?

Depends on the technology and the context of its use; if danger is defined as "the possibility of suffering harm or injury", then all technology is dangerous, and the question is to what degree? It becomes a question of probability. Water can kill (and often does), but is less dangerous than the flu based on frequency.

Is there a test to determine if a technology is dangerous before implementation? No, because technology defined by Pacey has three components: techne, psychological, and sociological. People and societies are renowned for the unpredictability. To determine a standard to evaluate a technology borders on science fiction such as those of the psychohistorians in the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and is at best a thought-experiment.

  • that's a fair comment about detonation.
    – user38026
    Sep 23, 2019 at 18:57
  • 1
    "Too dangerous" can also mean, and does in this context, too dangerous to make use of, or to trust or be trustworthy, or being "high-risk". It still is relative, but surely not dependent on subjective claims. I also think you're focusing on the wrong aspect of the question here.
    – Joachim
    Sep 23, 2019 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Joachim Thanks. I addressed the question more fully.
    – J D
    Sep 23, 2019 at 19:13

The idea behind technology always being neutral is of course that one shouldn't blame the technology for when things go wrong, but the humans using that technology. This is partly behind the 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people' trope.

And there is something to be said for this given that technology has no good or bad intentions, whereas humans do. Technology has no mind, but humans do.

That said, I would have a hard time considering some kind of hypothetical 'doomsday' device, whose only function is to destroy the world when you push the button, a neutral piece of technology ... I would say that is inherently bad. It has, by itself, no mind, and hence no bad intentions, but I would still call it inherently bad.

Also consider that certain instances of Artificial Intelligence may give rise to a mind ... and hence you can have technology with a mind, and thus something that can be inherently good or bad. Think: killer robots.

And finally, note that humans become more and more entwined with their technology ... we are gradually becoming cyborgs (some would argue we are already). Our mind, then, might well be a product of our biology and our technology ... and thus I think that one can argue that certain technologies can make us better or worse, without us having much choice in the matter. That is, once we lose contol of the use of the technology, it is no longer a neuttral tool, but it becomes part of the 'package' to which credit or blame can be assigned.


The atom bomb's purpose is to explode (or implode): it is therefore intrinsically dangerous (to human life).

Taking that further; theoretically, a line could be drawn between two types of purposes: one that is explicitly harmful to humankind, and one that is not. However, I guess that would be extremely blurry territory: knives have been designed to cut, which is intrinsically dangerous, whether or not its purpose is "to cut humans".

That's in my opinion also where the problem with the United States' second amendment lies: firearms are intrinsically dangerous, whether the owner's intentions are harmless or not. They are pieces of technology created with that one specific goal, which is to kill, and are therefore by their very nature dangerous.

As for the Fermi Paradox: a high probability of intergalactic travel from other planets precludes a high probability of having achieved the necessary technology. It could, of course, in theory be possible that once any civilization is capable of intergalactic travel, they will discover it is somehow impossible. That is a point we have not yet reached in our technological advancement, but this is not necessarily related to the harmfulness of (any kind of) technology.

  • Thousands of nuclear bombs have been detonated to date, with the vast majority resulting in zero casualties. Is it the bomb itself that's dangerous, or its wielder's willingness to drop it on people? Sep 23, 2019 at 18:50
  • The bomb. With willingness alone you won't hurt anyone. It's the combination that usually is lethal, but it is the very nature of a bomb to explode and cause damage.
    – Joachim
    Sep 23, 2019 at 19:01
  • "It could, of course, in theory be possible that once any civilization is capable of intergalactic travel, they will discover it is somehow impossible." If intergalactic travel turns out to be impossible, then how could any civilization be capable of it?
    – D. Halsey
    Oct 23, 2019 at 23:56
  • @D.Halsey Be capable of it "in theory", but not practically.
    – Joachim
    Oct 27, 2019 at 9:47

"I don't think every technology is intrinsically dangerous in any meaningful sense. But is something like the atomic bomb neutral? And, if not, can we know what technologies will be good or bad before we have invented them?"

Bomb is a neutral device. According to the dictionary meaning of the term bomb:

any similar missile or explosive device used as a weapon, to disperse crowds, etc.:
a time bomb; a smoke bomb.


Bomb is mostly used as weapon. It was specifically invented for the purpose of destruction. Bombs can also be used to prevent disasters. Russian engineers used the destructive power of atom bomb to seal off the broken oil well. IMHO, all technologies are intrinsically neutral.

That means you can never say that your choice is limited by some X technology or device that can only be bad. No, you still are and will be responsible for your bad actions. Responsibility is absolute and no reason will ever be found to justify any bad action.

Another good question is, "Can there be a just war? Can one fight in war withut commiting sinful actions?"


The atom bomb is intrinsically neutral because it’s effect can be either beneficial or detrimental to a society based only on the intent of the user. An atom bomb used to deflect an asteroid which is on a collision course with Earth is put to good use. The intent is to save the planet, and if the bomb had never been designed and built, humanity would have ended.

Thus in constructing the atom bomb, the designers may have had either good or bad intent; however it is known that the designers did not have perfect knowledge. As such, by building the technology, the Earth was saved because a new use was found for the technology.

This is universally true. Any technology being considered is being built with imperfect knowledge. Applications for the technology can be either good or bad, however there will always and forever be applications which were not previously considered (due to limited knowledge).

Dangerous This conversation mostly considered morality, however that same rationale applies to danger. Danger is the possibility of causing harm, injury, unpleasantness, or discomfort. Each of these are directly related to a moral argument. E.g., “Injury” dérives from the Latin word injuria which literally means “a wrong.”

Thus a thing is dangerous to the extent that it can effect “a wrong” (or injure someone). Neither a bomb, an artificial virus, a gun, a sexual movie, or a hangman’s noose can commit “a wrong.” Any person can use these tools to commit a wrong, however.

To be dangerous simply means being capable of causing “a wrong.” In that definition, cupcakes are dangerous if deliberately fed to a diabetic. A love letter is dangerous when sent to a mistress and shown to the clinically depressed wife.

More or less dangerous And so we arrive at a scale of danger. Is an atom bomb intrinsically more or less dangerous than a cupcake?

No. The atom bomb placed in orbit to defend the planet is less dangerous than the cupcake placed in the crib of a diabetic baby.

Ultimately, the danger of any thing is determined entirely by the intent of the user. Intrinsically, nothing at all is dangerous unless it has a will. Only by knowing the will of the user can you know in advance if the technology is “likely to be” dangerous.

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