We have reached an increasingly dangerous time in history. Incredibly complex and powerful technology is now available to assist us in almost every task we face and to do these tasks better, faster, safer and in many cases without any human intervention. And this technology gets even better and faster every day.
There is a perceived danger of the technology “taking over” as portrayed in movies like The Terminator and many others. If that’s even a possibility, it’s a long way off. But we don’t have to wait for that distant future for technology to present a “clear and present danger” to our civilization. It’s happening right now, and we humans are the perpetrators of the dangerous activity, not the technology itself.
What is it about us that makes us dangerously misuse the wonderful intelligence we possess? It’s not a new problem. As Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang express so well in their excellent book Accessory to War, technology and warfare have always gone hand-in-hand. But now we truly do have the capability to destroy ourselves and our world, and we appear intent on doing so. And it’s not just physical destruction we’re facing.
Facebook, that marvelous, reviled, technology-based phenomenon has done more to connect human beings than almost anything else in human history. But how is it and other such technology-based facilities increasingly being used? To spread lies and innuendoes about those we don’t agree with, from personal insults among families and individuals to civilization-changing activities through manipulation of data that impacts and changes election results in our largest democracies.
Just look at the worldwide tension today generated by unthinking tweets from “you know who” zipping around the world at light speed, encouraging despots everywhere to increase their dictatorial powers. We may end up destroying ourselves by the excessive misuse of these social networks and other technological marvels much faster than climate change.
Don’t misunderstand me. I was “in” technology my whole career, and I loved and respected it. I believed then, and still do, that science and technology, used wisely, could eventually provide a “heaven on Earth” for all humankind.
Instead, sadly, it is increasingly being used to divide and conquer, disrupt and manipulate, and of course, to make our weapons of destruction even more destructive. Add autonomy to technology and our likely future seems short and bloody. When the planet-wide earthquakes, storms, tidal waves and forest fires generated by climate change arrive, we may not be here to welcome them.
Will we ever learn how to use all this fabulous technology to improve the human lot on Earth rather than using it to hasten our own destruction? I believe the jury is sadly out on this question.
This is not a call to reject science and technology. I emphatically am not a 21st-century Luddite. No, this is a desperate cry to use all this wonderful technology for the benefit of humanity, not its destruction and subjugation.
In order to do this, we who are still allowed to actually elect our leaders must elect those who will utilize technology effectively and humanely. In a simple example, we have the technology to mitigate or even reverse climate change by limiting or eliminating the use of fossil-based fuels. But instead we are, through the use of ever-more advanced and effective mining technologies, continuing to enhance and intensify worldwide the very industries that are causing most of the damage. I increasingly feel like the boy in the fable about the emperor’s new clothes. I’m crying out — “But he’s naked!” And the crowd replies, “Oh, but he’s so magnificently dressed.”
David King is a former small plane instrument-rated pilot, a retired IT executive and has lived in Santa Fe
since 2005, where he broadcasts local news on Santa Fe Public Radio on Wednesdays, drives once a week for Kitchen Angels and enjoys playing golf and tennis and also skiing when the Santa Fe snowpack is adequate.