The Power of Technology

This post starts new series of posts about technology and its impact on humans. Some of the things that sci-fi writers wrote many years ago were indeed invented eventually, like planes, laser surgery, X-ray machines, weapons of mass destruction, etc. Many other inventions are still in works or considered to be totally fictional (time machine, clothes to make us invisible, etc.)

Common belief is that new technological discoveries are good for us and can solve a lot of problems or at least reduce our own limitations (help us live longer, reallocate resources, etc.) The majority of these inventions is to benefit humans, but could also harm us depending on how they are used. We somehow trust our governments to do the job of screening all innovations and deciding what the outcome will be. But do governments really have control over all private labs and research projects in the world? Who stands behind most technological discoveries? Will findings always be used to benefit us?

“With great power, comes great responsibility”. Many governments can’t resolve internal conflicts, never mind international. There is so much controversy about what is right or wrong, true or false, good or bad. There are always cultural nuances in morals interpretations (capital punishment as an example).

Both in literature and cinematography we find examples of how things may go awfully wrong for humans. Just to name a few movies: “I, robot”, “The Island”, “Twelve Monkeys”, “The Matrix”, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, “Minority report”, “Blade runner”, etc.

H. G. Wells wrote “The War of the Worlds” over 100 years ago (published in 1898). From Wikipedia:

“Human Evolution from the War of the worlds:

The novel suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function. The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment.”

Not to talk about extremes, but by means of technology we are changing our behavior and ourselves. We are focusing more on developing our brain instead of our heart. To connect to our hearts, Dalai Lama said, we need to unite and focus on our similarities, not our differences. He joked that it would happen if Martians invaded Earth. There’s a grain of truth in every joke. Why can’t we do it on our own?

Technology that we create creates all kinds of opportunities. We need to make sure that we create not just for the sake of it. Kurt Vonnegut’s wrote about it in his novel “Cat’s Craddle” (1963).

The book came about after Vonnegut interviewed scientists and found that some were indifferent about the ways their discoveries might be used. The University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut his Master’s degree in anthropology for Cat’s Cradle. In this book humans simply die from their own creation called ice nine. Cat’s Craddle is fiction and lets keep it this way.

Kurt Vonnegut and H.G. Wells are not alone, there are other writers who ask similar questions and challenge unlimited power of technological inventions and humans behind them. One of those writers is Sherry Turkle, who spent over 30 years researching the topic of technology. Her latest book “Alone Together” came out in Jan 2011. She warns us that technology does change us and we need to know its effect on us. Tomorrow, Oct 15, 2011, she will be speaking at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. So if you are not ready to read her 300 page book, come and hear what she has to say, and decide whether you agree or disagree… “Either you think, or others have to think for you, and take power from you.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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