Your half empty glass, or half full

Our blind believe in technology and the myth that human intelligence can master the forces of nature.

I wonder whether you have ever noticed a certain type of tunnel vision in waiters and waitresses, which kicks in as you desperately try to draw their attention to your half empty glass, or half full if you wish to see things more positively. Well, theres a solution. Researchers at the Mitsubishi Electronic Laboratories in the US have developed a "smart glass". A microchip and a transmitter in the glass signal to the waiter that your glass needs a refill and what you expect to be supplied with, i.e., wine, beer or juice. The applications derived from this simple technique are endless, and no doubt scientists are already working on the next innovative steps.

But there is also a dangerous side to allowing technology to take over all human processes, let alone our existential problems. It is now more than 90 years ago that the Titanic sank. Despite warnings and foregoing good seamanship, she hit an iceberg at high speed, bringing the world the sad confirmation that this great majestic unsinkable ship was indeed, sinkable. Down with her went our blind believe in technology and the myth that human intelligence can master the forces of nature.

This "wake up call" came with a high price attached, the lives of 1495 passengers and crewmembers. If only there had been bigger and more lifeboats, another 400 might have been saved, but safety regulations were well out of date. And with regards to human error and ignorance, were still in the same position today. Some 80 years after the Titanic, the world was shocked by the loss of the Estonia, this time with 900 lives lost, again, a combination of failing technology, inadequate manual maintenance, and human error. And still Im not sure whether any lessons were learned from events such as these.

Hopes to beat illness and starvation are being pinned on human manipulation through genetic modification. And of course, communications technology and biotechnology are here to stay, since they have already made an enormous impact on our daily lives and businesses. But I would argue that we still need to remember to respect the forces of nature, and combine them sensibly with human education and wisdom. Getting this mix right is probably the most challenging issue for years to come, since history proves that technology has a tendency to run ahead of our own human development.

But when it comes to keeping my glass of wine topped up, Im prepared to put all my trust in technology.

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Lasse Larsson

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Publicerad: 19 sep 2003 09:10


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