Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Can technology Save us? A wrap up

In my last three posts I've asked the question if technology can save us from many of our own problems. I've discussed several technologies for each topic, water, energy and food. These technologies are not all of the ones out there by any stretch of the imagination. These are the technologies I'm aware of at this point. I wouldn't say I've done an exhaustive search for technologies either. I hope to have made it obvious that technology alone cannot save us. We need to make a concerted effort to change the status quo and that won't be easy to do.

We have some major problems adopting new technologies. First, we have incumbents interests that have no desire to see the current energy regime change. We have problems of ownership of technical problems. Why should the US invent new ways to extract water when Mexico is the country that will suffer? How do we know that a given technology is going to be the best, or even good enough for our needs? What happens if all our best efforts turn out to actually make things worse?

These aren't easy questions to answer. We have to make a choice as a society to decide what constitutes a good investment for research. In one Urban Time article I posit that the EU can over take the US in terms of scientific research in the upcoming decades. This should terrify people. This is what has driven the US economy since the 40's and to some extent earlier. The shifts in capitalism have driven our company goals toward shorter and shorter returns on investments and less visionary goals. The ability to experiment in companies and use government funds to experiment with deploying new energy systems has floundered.

This should be cause for concern. We've seen the result of poorly managed technology in the past few years. Simple things like a software glitch that caused Toyota's to accelerate out of control, flash crashes on the stock markets from high frequency traders and other complex systems like Fukashima. We don't always have proper controls designed into our technologies to protect us from it.

Personally, I'm optimistic about the future of technology and what it can do for us. However, there are plenty of Sci-fi authors out there that are very pessimistic. I love reading the dystopian future and post-apocalyptic books as much (or more) than anyone and we need to realize that without requiring proper controls on our technology and production of our material goods these results could happen.

Technology alone cannot save us from ourselves. We may be able to use technology as a tool to fix problems we've created, but we have to do the dirty work. Technology doesn't design and make itself (yet).

1 comment:

  1. Nice wrap up. I agree that the role of technology will never be of a savior. It will be always a tool that facilitates some kind of task, but thinking that it could fix our problems by itself will never lead to the expected outcomes. We should always be careful, specially in the choices and actions we take on the way we use the resources and the tools we have. It will never be enough to automatize the use of scare resources, in order to maximize the profit. There are plenty of dillemas. For instance, in the case of using it for automatizing processes, we can fall in the trap of overconfidence on technology. Technology might solve a lot problems, structurally speaking, just like providing better ways to control our resources. But at the end, we should be aware that we are responsible on the way we use those resources, say water, food, energy, and I think that having technology that saves energy or collects water or supports us on food production, will never solve their attached problems, like starvation, global warming, or water scarcity.
    Another interesting approach for the use of technology as an aiding tool could be using it to make us aware of the problems and reminding us about the consequences of the problems, or providing recommendations about some possible actions, or helping us in the decision process making.At the end, I think that the only possibility we have to save our future is ourselves, and not technology.