Recently some fishermen caught a 300 pound, 8-foot mako shark off the Jersey shore, but when they got it on board their small boat the shark began chewing their poles, lines and radio equipment. The two men cowered expecting to be the next item on the menu. Finally the shark exhausted itself. Leaving Tom Rostron of Newark to later ask: “Did we catch the monster or did he catch us??”
Whenever our species catches some powerful new force, the same question applies. Consider such examples as: fire…the alphabet…the crossbow…the sailing ship…the printing press…the gun…the automobile…the telegraph….radio…television….atomic energy….computers….space travel. We have this unique capacity and desire to create new technological tools which all too often race ahead of our ability to think through their moral and unexpected consequences.
There are those gifted minds among us who equate technology with progress, and by a very narrow definition it is. However, such progress comes with a price too few today have the ethical patience to evaluate. And so it is, for example, that computer processing power is now doubling on its own every 18 months. Is this a shark we’ve caught or been caught by…?
With quantum computers on the way, digital technology is hurtling forward at mind-bending speed, making it impossible to foresee how all this power will be adapted by us. And how we will soon be compelled to adapt to it. To express concern is frequently dismissed as rigidity and fear of change.
“If the world thought like that, we’d still be living in caves and hunting dinos!” Not likely, but I do suspect some healthy hesitation along the way might have meant a world today with less drugs in the streets, slaughter on the highways, guns in the hands of gangs, and weaponry in the arms of terrorists.
Technology has changed the course of human history. And yet, it is naive to think it’s a shark we can tame even if we wanted to. Technology is a force unto itself expanding exponentially. [One quick visit to any Radio Shack will give you an idea!] But here’s the thing. Technology like that Jersey shark is raw, judgment-free power on the loose. It can’t think for us…
….so we better think for it.
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