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Technology Is Not A Religion - So Don't Put Faith In It

Updated on May 15, 2012

Futurist Expectations

The Pan Am Space Clipper from 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Pan Am Space Clipper from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke took a serious stab at what our lives ought to be like by the year 2001. He predicted easy transport by space clippers to rotating hotels in space. He imagined substantial colonies on the moon. Clarke foresaw the application of suspended hibernation for long space voyages. He believed artificial intelligence would be (almost) perfected, and that we'd have the technology to enable a manned visit to the outer planets. His follow-up novel, 2010: A Space Odyssey also proved inaccurate. As of 2012, the United States doesn't even possess the means of traveling to the international space station without the expensive taxi service of the Russians.

Almost everything futurists have predicted is only chuckle worthy. Technological advances take much, much longer than most people would surmise (or like). The five factors that interdict there predictions are these:

Overly Optimistic Futurists

A Space Shuttle Lift Off
A Space Shuttle Lift Off

Almost everything futurists have predicted is only chuckle worthy. Technological advances take much, much longer than most people would surmise (or like). The five factors that interdict a futurist's predictions are these: (1) The advancement of technological improvements is extremely expensive. The cost for research and development, prototype modeling, and marketing are enormously costly. Presently the world is in an economic downturn, so running up costs on hypothetical tech advancements is not a big priority. The Space Shuttles have been placed into museums, having more than outlived their service, and now remain as relics of a more prosperous time for America.

Unpredictable Marketing Placement

The Sony Betamax Tap Player
The Sony Betamax Tap Player

(2) The second interdiction is that commercial markets cannot be predicted. A lot of people placed bets on plasma TV screen technology, and now it has practically disappeared. We saw the same thing happen in a competition between Betamax and VHS. While Betamax was the superior product, VHS won the day because of better marketing and the ability to bring their product to market faster and cheaper.

Side Effects

Carpal Syndrome
Carpal Syndrome

(3) The third factor is user acceptance, which is never predictable. A number of technology writers have predicted such things as touch-screen computers and the disappearance of the mouse. Touch screen computers have been around for a number of years, and, basically, no one likes them. Why? Because they are not an advancement. Can you imagine the number of shoulder, arm, wrist injuries that would arise from using a touch-screen computer? Futurists also mention the predominance of WiFi to other broadband forms of Internet communication -- but have you read a single article that portends to know how to make WiFi faster than we now possess?

Massive Failure

Solar Flare
Solar Flare

(4) The fourth drawback I would place under the heading of "massive failure." If corporations and individuals accept such "advances" as cloud computing and something should go wrong -- say an extra large solar flare, and millions of people were left without their trustworthy computers, would such a failure cause people to trust further "advancements" in technology, or just the opposite? Another scenario would be a deliberate attack (either foreign or domestic) on the computer-reliant heart of the US. If systems became nonoperational for 48 hours, people would freak out, and they'd be hunting for IBM Selectric typewriters.

Giant Leaps Backward

Retina-Active Screen Manipulation
Retina-Active Screen Manipulation

(5) Technological advancements are completely dependent on the new solutions being superior to the existing offerings invested by the consumer. When Windows introduced Vista to the world, most of us hunkered down and held onto our XP systems. Vista was not an advancement, it wasn't an actual improvement, and the consumers could easily tell the difference. Windows faces the same situation with the release of its convoluted system 8. Windows 8, like Windows 7, is mostly a cosmetic change -- one that, however, requires a user to re-learn an entire operating system. The push forward via Windows 8 is not meant to curtail the bugs existing in all the previous Windows OS versions -- it simply will look and behave differently, not better. Blunders on this scale can cost technological advancements a decade. It is impossible to know just how many other similar set backs will be pushed out upon the consumer.

People may try Google glasses and even brain implants ... to get the most current weather report, but that doesn't mean they're going to like these innovations. People may buy software without manuals, but that doesn't mean they prefer the stinky on-line help proved to them. People may settle for break-bottom plastic grocery sacks, but they probably preferred the more durable paper sacks. Other people may prefer their re-usable cloth bags, not knowing that bacteria proliferate in these kinds of containers.

Just because something is new doesn't make it better. Everything we introduce to the world has synergestic effects, and exactly what those effects could be might not be known until it is too late -- too late for the environment or even too late for the health of the general public. Plastic bottles were a great invention until you look at the tons of plastic garbage floating in a wide swath between Hawaii and California.

Conclusion

Electronic Garbage
Electronic Garbage

So, in conclusion, I think a conscious reliance upon technology to build a fascinating new world for our children (let alone solve any of today's calamities) is wildly optimistic at best, and pitifully naive on the negative side. As a cop-out we dish over our faith on technology to solve the world's major problems, e.g., global warming, diminishing wildlife divergence, space junk, pollution, slacking energy requirements, inoculations over disease, over-population and under-population, exploration of the cosmos on a shoe-string budget, mass starvation, the depletion of natural resources, new energy sources, the disposal of nuclear waste, etc., etc.

While many of our engineers spend wasteful time trying to make a PC processor faster and faster, some of this talent could be applied toward technological advancements that -- without immediate attention -- may lead toward a crisis that we never even expected.

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    • rjbatty profile image
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      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      I agree with you one hundred percent. The same falibility factor holds true for devices like solid state USB sticks. I'll be happy if our existing tech used for data storage can hold out for thirty years. By that time my own shelf life should have expired. Thanks for the engaging feedback. I've enjoyed it.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Nice description of a 70s era machine room. Working with punched cards was much the same.

      Here's an9other thing to think about regarding modern technology. One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the ability to store information outside the body in the form of the written word. Being able to tap this written knowledge is a driving factor in technology's great strides. Ancient people carved their words on stones leaving a permanent record behind. Even flimsy paper has proven itself to have thousands of years of survival. Today we are hell-bent to store them on fallible computer media.

      Nobody knows how long data stored on a hard drive will last, all we do know is that so far the data haven't disappeared, A big juicy solar flare could wipe all this out in seconds, as could an EMP attack. For backup we "burn" it into CDs and DVDs which have an unknown lifetime, we just hope they'll last at least 30 years - haven't had them long enough to know for sure - but they will fail eventually.

      We store much more information than we ever did before but we willingly store it on media we know won't last a generation. We are flirting with a disaster by courting a rapid and catastrophic loss of critical information.

    • rjbatty profile image
      Author

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      Davesworld: I think we are within the same approximate age bracket. In 1977 I was working for a now defunct bank called Security Pacific National Bank, employed as a "reconciling clerk" on their swing shift. It was the only job I could get after graduating with a BA in English. Each night SPNB processed millions of personal and corporate checks, which were fed through gigantic IBM sorter machines that read the MICR encoding at the bottom. The sorter machines were attached by really thick cables to a set of IBM mainframes that handled the actual processing. As one of an entire floor full of reconcilers, my job was to run a ten-key adding machine by physically looking at each check in a bundle sent to the processing center from all over S. California. My responsibility along with all the others was to ensure that the sorter machine reading and printout matched the sums surveyed by human scrutiny. Frequently, the sorter machines shredded the checks, so the manual process of matching the debits/credits from each branch required a lot of human speed and accuracy. The "computer room" as we called it was always very cold. I recall how other clerks loaded stacks and stacks of checks into these sorters. The sorters sucked them up at an amazing speed then produced a hardy copy report on green and white paper with pin holes at both ends. The reconciler received the branch figure for its credits and debits as well as the totals provided through the sorter machines. If there was a mis-match, we were required to run a manual tabulation and attempt to trace the discrepancy. As someone coming from a background of Shakespeare, Homer, Dickens, and James Joyce, the work was stultifying. But, it was a job. So, yeah, I can appreciate the many technological advancements that have been made in a very short time. As far as the family circle goes, I can only witness that technology has provided more means of entertainment -- from listening to music or audio books on an iPod, to playing sophisticated games, to providing endless choices on television viewing, to downloading movies from NetFlix, Amazon, or many other providers. These varieties of entertainment can segregate a family. Where families once huddled around a radio for the latest adventures of "The Shadow" or "Amos and Andy," today you are more likely to find each individual doing his/her own thing. If nothing else, this transition is substituting social interaction with a solo experience. The end effect may not lead to the total dismemberment of the family unit, but technology is allowing us to drift -- toward a result we can only speculate about. It seems as if for every positive statement we can make about the blessings of technology, there are an equal number of questions about its total impact. My point is that we should never become complacent. I'm sure you are aware of the efforts of various firms that offer "cloud" computing to seize as many participants as possible. The concept sounds wonderful, but the actual practice may end up being something else. With the proliferation of computer hackers, the danger of placing all of our eggs in one basket creates a greater risk. Anti-virus software, firewalls, etc., are like walls that may or may not hold back an attack. General Patton once said that fixed fortifications are a monument to man's stupidity. Sensitive data is protected by fixed fortifications. A sufficiently brilliant hacker will be able to breach these fortifications, and anything and everything is exposed like an open fortress. Technology is great. I like being able to warm up a frozen burrito in five minutes. At the same time, in different areas, technology must be constantly upgraded because we have placed it as the vanguard to our national security -- among other things. Technology is changing the face of our existences. How many people are still able to tune-up their own automobiles? If a hard drive crashes and we've failed to back up the data, the material is lost forever. Technology has advanced under the premise that it provides us with greater utility in performing some function. If technology fails, we rely upon a tech guy to solve the problem. What if technology were to fail on a massive scale. Who do we call then? I am not berating technology, as it is merely an off-shoot of man's ingenuity. My only worry is that to the extent that man is fallible, so much more so for his inventions.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Technology can be used to clean up our lakes, streams and dumping grounds. Technology turned left over crap from the manufacture of artificial rubber into plastic which is a damn useful thing. We may be able to find uses for some of the current crop of left over crap.

      We don't exactly disagree, by the way, I just don't think we are currently at some danger point - not yet.

      There are limits to how far we can get through technology. For instance, batteries are never going to be much better than they are today because there's this pesky little thing called an "electron volt" that keeps getting in the way of improvements. Doggone electron volt keeps messing up solar cells as well. On the other hand, when I first started out as a computer programmer the things used up entire floors of office buildings, needed serious electrical power and year-round air conditioning. Today, the computer you are using to read this is more powerful, has more memory and uses less electricity than the best machine available in the world in 1970 when I graduated from college, and it operates at room temeprature. Giant leaps are possible.

      It is, however, unfair to blame technology for things like the break up of the modern family where indifferent parenting is the more likely culprit. Now I suppose a case can be made that technology, in the form of cable TV, DVDs and game consoles enable indifferent parents to become even worse than they ever could before. That's something that is worthy of scholarly study and way beyond my pay grade, but I don't think there is a single pat answer to the problem.

    • rjbatty profile image
      Author

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      To Davesworld: Technology has done a great deal for mankind, but we cannot expect it to be a panacea for all our present problems or the greater ones just around the bend. Technology has provided us with the hydrogen bomb as well as chemical and biological weapons. It has allowed to over-populate the planet, putting a strain on the ability of humans to harmonize their different cultures and belief systems. Technology has yet to produce an environmentally neutral source of cheap or free energy. None of our existing attempts are cost-effective. Technology hasn't given us a cure for cancer or innumerable other diseases. Technology has contributed to polluting lakes, streams and the oceans. Technology has created social media websites that allow young girls to ask, "Am I ugly?" The same technology has caused some children (and even adults) to commit suicide because they were "un-friended" on Facebook. Technology allows companies to use off-shore employees to act as customer service reps and technical support analysts, depleting jobs from our own country. Technology allows us to create nuclear reactors that sometimes break down and spread radioactive clouds. Technology has created vasts amounts of nuclear waste, and we don't know where to put it for safekeeping. Technology allows us to be entertained by over 100 channels (or much more if you can receive foreign broadcasting) and this has contributed to the disintegration of the family unit. Technology cannot discern whether the planet is warming due to man-made pollution or if this is a natural cycle of the Earth.

      As I said in my Hub, I am not anti-technology. To the contrary I put my best hopes on technology to solve at least some of the setbacks listed above. However, the main point is that technology is dependent on sufficient human resources dedicated to science and engineering. It may be dependent upon time scales that we cannot measure at this point in our evolution. Technology is also extremely dependent on Earth's collective societies, which to date have not been harmonious.

      The rapid development of the atomic bomb in America and our equally rapid ability to place men on the moon demonstrates what can be accomplished with dedicated resources, with a budget to match. With today's world economy, I worry about the political will to solve some very serious problems, which we will probably face within a short time span. None of us should ignore the problems we face as a species because we will always have technology to solve everything that plagues us. Faith requires a leap of reasoning. Science/technology is not a religion. We can place hope that our scientists and engineers are able to solve the hard problems, but hope is different than faith. Hope is more like a wish whereas faith requires a transcendent, unequivocal, unquestioning state of mind in some other thing -- a belief based on the supernatural. Technology cannot, must not become a matter of faith. To the extent that men are fallible, so goes technology.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Technology has bailed us out of several problems in the past. Just for one, we can produce enough food to feed the world. Starvation is not a problem of a lack of food, it's a distribution problem. We live longer and healthier lives due to technological gains of the last century. We live richer lives due to the astounding technological gains of the last few decades - heck, I'm having a nearly instantaneous conversation with someone 1,000 miles away right now.

      So it's not hard to understand why people have come to rely on technology to bail us out of whatever mess we have gotten ourselves into. So far technology has a promising track record. Can this continue for ever? Probably not but the limits still appear to be over the horizon.