Home Engineering The dark side of technology
Have We the Knowledge, Willpower, and Determination to Survive?
Humans are an intelligent and aggressive species that uniquely uses language and writing to pass experience and skills from one generation to the next. This enabled technological advances to develop as we moved from caves to the modern world. Technology is the keystone to our progress, from flint tools to metals, transport, and electronics. It underpins our immense progress in agriculture, biology, and medicine. The positive results are hugely beneficial. For many, we have food, luxuries, and communication on a global scale, and live longer.
All this is wonderful and true progress, but there is a dark side to technology, as the very same knowledge has brought better weapons, warfare, and oppression. We destroy forests, our resources, and other creatures. We ignore their extinctions in our rush forward for personal or corporate gain. Our actions are frequently blinkered and self-centred, even in farming and fishing, which we need for our survival.
If we are to overcome the problems we are causing, we must first identify and recognize them. Progress has relied on transmitting information, but the ways we record and store it are changing so rapidly that past knowledge is lost. Stone carvings last thousands of years, but Internet communications are lost or deleted in minutes. The formats of our hardware and software evolve so quickly they become obsolete within a decade; photographs have survived for two centuries, but electronic images are ephemeral. In agriculture, we put our faith in specialized monoculture crops, and ignore the possibility of new diseases that can eradicate them.
Computer and communication advances are unquestionably beneficial, but they have opened up opportunities for cybercrime, malicious access to electronically stored data, lack of privacy, and a powerful weapon for warfare and terrorism. Damage is simple to implement. There are also downsides for people who cannot cope with such new technologies.
Globalization and communications are marvellous for reaching other cultures and disseminating information or new styles of music, but equally they are destroying ancient languages at an unprecedented rate. Their loss also destroys the culture and knowledge that was within them. Even rapid global transport has a dark side, as not only people but also new pandemics can cross the world in a day.
Reliance on advanced, interconnected, sophisticated technology has made us vulnerable to natural and manufactured events that previously were unimportant. For example, loss of communication systems and electrical supplies would bring prolonged chaos and anarchy, as ‘civilized’ life is now absolutely dependent on them. All the major developed countries are at risk from such natural phenomena.
The book aims to promote a realization of how our lives have been altered and controlled, even in subtle ways, by the advances in science and medicine. Progress has been excellent, and will continue to be so, as long as we capitalize on the positive aspects and avoid the others. For example, food supplies are varied and increasing, but lack of selfcontrol brings obesity and many related diseases, as a direct result of easy availability.
Scientific advances have brought longevity, health, and affluence for many of the advanced nations, plus an exponential growth in population, especially in the underdeveloped ones. We are at a threshold where demands for resources and food are already beyond a sustainable level if we were to raise living conditions across the world to that of the developed, richer nations. This spells trouble, because underdeveloped nations want to better their conditions, and this is a justifiable objective.
Overpopulation and food shortages are insidious, but there are many other disaster scenarios that could occur rapidly and unpredictably. They may even happen in the very near future and, just as for the improvements we are enjoying, they are the result of our reliance on and obsession with technological advance.
We like disaster movies, so in Chapter 2 I will outline a film script to show that natural and frequently occurring events, irrelevant for past generations, have the potential to wipe out technologically advanced societies. We have the knowledge to anticipate such events and can make contingency plans to survive. This is a positive and essential approach that needs to be actively started immediately. I will therefore suggest what actions are needed. Failure to be prepared will not be the end of humanity, but it could easily destroy many advanced nations. World power would then shift to the currently Third World regions.
We can overcome many of these future difficulties if we have sufficient information, data, knowledge, and understanding, but knowledge and data now vanish ever more quickly in new storage formats. Similarly, we need to appreciate that our progress is driven by the young, but their focus on their generation can mean that older people are effectively more isolated than they would be in a non-technological societies.
My hope is that by exposing and discussing the problems generated by technology, we can recognize them and attempt to solve them. Indeed we must.
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