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French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard discussed the state of “knowledge” in post-industrial societies saturated with media, high-speed communication technologies, and open access to information via Internet and Worldwide Web in his 1979 seminal work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Though his discourse was oftentimes abstruse, his major point was nonetheless clear: in our highly technologized world where things and ideas are fluid and transient, one single form of legitimatizing any form of knowledge, whether it is scientific or philosophical, will not hold; there should be plural ways to validate “truth” narratives. He writes in the introduction to his entire discourse: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.” (By metanarratives he meant narratives that legitimate knowledge/ smaller narratives.) In our post-industrial societies where technological innovations and inventions abound, then, the narratives, including legal ones, should be annotated and adjusted as the physical conditions of the societies change.

So I found interesting a short essay in the Review section of 4/18-19 edition of WSJ “New Threats Need New Laws: A social contract for an era of killer robots and bioterror” written by Gabriella Blum and Benjamin Wittes. They write: “The technological platforms associated with robotics, genetics and synthetic biology are enriching every facet of our society… these new technologies create a world in which every individual, company, group and state can pose a threat to every other individual, company, group and state anywhere around the glove.” Indeed, reading or hearing the news headlines these days occasionally makes us feel as if we were living in a new form of the Wild West. Then, how could we retain the sense of living in the liberal state based on a social contract between the state and its citizens? The authors answer (which I certainly agree with) is clear: “we must ensure this increased unilateralism (of big and small states) is checked by greater international cooperation: better governance for fragile states, more information-sharing among states and more effective means of enforcing laws where jurisdictions are unclear.” But, the question is perennial “How?”.

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