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Benjamin Franklin described humans as the “tool-making animal.” Thus we are able to alter radically our environment not merely by adapting to it but by creating new devices for shaping and manipulating things according to our will. For this reason human life is unique on Earth. We are able to transfer these tools from one person to another and from one generation to another directly through conscious communication and education. In this way we have extended evolution beyond the long process of genetic change and the passing on of traits and instincts through natural selection of survival and sex. However, the progression is somewhat precarious because if our technology were ever destroyed and the great connection of communication and education were broken, the human species would fall back to a primitive culture similar to the prehistoric times of more than ten thousand years ago. In fact some clairvoyants have indicated that Atlantis was a technologically advanced civilization tens of thousands of years ago, and through the misuse of that technology they did destroy their own culture. If so, to a society that is teetering on the brink of a nuclear war and ecological disasters, which scientists say could destroy the human species, then this can serve as a great warning to us.
Though few would want to renounce all our technological development, we must keep in mind that it is a double-edged sword. This very image indicates the human penchant for taking a useful tool like a knife and turning it into a destructive weapon against his own brother. Because we have developed such powerful technology, humans now face perhaps the greatest challenge in the history of our evolution—whether we can learn to live together in peace, justice, and unity and thus renounce the destructive abuse of technology and use it only for the good of all. These are political and social questions, although there are some who believe that technological solutions are adequate for solving political conflicts. The proponents of the strategic defense initiative (known as “star wars”) think that technological weapons can substitute for harmonious and just relations between nations.
Technology is a direct extension of the human mind and physical abilities, and we are responsible for all devices that we create and use. In just a few centuries technology has transformed the style and behavior of human life, and the future is likely to bring continued innovation. What are the principles of technology and how can we best apply them for the good of all? Let us examine efficiency, safety, and invention.
The main purpose of technical development is to make our work and other activities more efficient in terms of what we can accomplish, how well, how fast, with how much energy, material and human resources, and with what beneficial effects and negative side effects. Through scientific research and development we can develop new methods of accomplishing many things, but we must always evaluate the consequences of those processes. Too often in business the financial profit is the dominating concern, and the public welfare is secondary. We must constantly educate ourselves on these issues through neutral investigators and observers, and if necessary impose government regulation on those industries that have been proven to be lacking in ethical consideration and social responsibility. In evaluating efficiency we need to take a holistic and long-term view, for cleaning up a mess made by short-term and selfish motivations can prove to be very inefficient.
For the most part technology is a great boon for humanity, and overall it is greatly improving the material quality of life by making all kinds of work and activities easier and more convenient. Since we can accomplish more now with less time and effort, we have more leisure for spiritual and cultural pursuits. However, at the same time greater material abundance and pleasures have distracted us, such that many people still work just as hard or long in order to maintain an increasing number of things. Nevertheless whatever goals or values we choose to pursue, technical advances seem to make our progress toward them more efficient. Perhaps the dilemma is that the more material the value is the more technology can assist us in achieving it.
As technology rapidly advances toward automation of all mechanical work, many workers are afraid of losing their jobs. I do not believe that it is efficient for a society as a whole to allow the financial benefits of new technology to be concentrated in fewer hands while a growing lower class of people are left unemployed and under-employed. The benefits of technology must be shared fairly, or social problems will increase. However, I also believe that it is better to have machines do mechanical work, which is dehumanizing anyway, and let people do intelligent supervising and human services. One answer is to shorten the work week so that the economic benefits of technology can be distributed more widely. Another answer is to shift many workers into more human endeavors such as education and the cultural arts, for these fields have no limits on how far they can be developed and thus can always use more people productively.
To maintain and improve the quality of life the basic ethic of not hurting people must be given primary consideration. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which dehumanized and injured many workers, great gains have been made in labor conditions and occupational safety. Working hours have decreased; machines have been made safer; and the health of the general population has been improved by medical advances and more sanitary conditions.
However, with the increase in population and the emphasis on an economy that must continually grow, new problems have arisen to threaten us. If we take the long view, we can see that we are using many of our natural resources rather rapidly and dumping most of the waste products back into the environment indiscriminately. Pollution of land, water, and air is becoming an increasing problem that affects the health and welfare of everyone. Fossil fuels which took millions of years to develop are being used up at a rate where they will only last for a few short generations; plus they add to the pollution which is radically changing the Earth’s climate. Fossil fuels need to be replaced by clean energies of the sun, wind, water, and geothermal which can be utilized in ways that harmonize human life with the life of the whole Earth and maintain the healthy balances of nature. Nuclear energy, although practically inexhaustible, is extremely dangerous to public safety, and major accidents could destroy environments for many generations to come. Nuclear power is also directly connected to the production of nuclear weapons and could be abused by blackmailing terrorists. I believe that humanity will be much better off and safer when we eliminate all nuclear weapons and power and replace them with more reasonable and safer methods of conflict resolution and energy production.
We need to become more responsible with the materials we use and more careful with the waste products. Through recycling useful materials and by using biodegradable materials that return to the natural environment we can create a sustainable material culture of perpetual value.
Technical improvements result from innovation. Thus creativity and invention are the sparks that are brought to successful fruition by research and development. Looking for better, more efficient, safer ways of doing things is what spurs technological progress on to greater achievements.
Ultimately these achievements are to be shared with all of humanity. Any effort to withhold or hide a new technique for selfish reasons must eventually be exposed to the public view and benefit. With increasing democracy and widespread education, no longer can an elite monopolize a class of life-style that is not available to others. People now demand their right to participate in the benefits of a technologically proficient society. As work becomes more complex and specialized, we are becoming more interdependent on each other for our well-being. As these interrelationships grow, the need for cooperation increases, while competition decreases. The lack of competition, which many fear, is only dangerous in a competitive environment where one organization tries to take advantage of others. In a cooperative spirit ways are found to share and work together rather than against each other.
As we become more prosperous because of our technological advances, people will not feel the desperate motivation that comes from the fear of scarcity. Trust and charity will grow as teamwork and inclusiveness lessen ruthless competition and exclusiveness. Friendly competition and the pursuit of excellence can still motivate people.
Technical progress is moving so rapidly that it is difficult to imagine very far into the future. Assuming that the social, political, and economic problems are solved as already discussed, here is one vision of what the technological future might look like:
Food, mostly vegetarian, is organically grown in every part of the world so that no one has to struggle to get enough to eat. Good health care is worldwide, and most contagious diseases have been virtually eradicated. Education is universal, and most people pursue various studies and cultural activities during their extensive leisure time throughout their lives. Every home that wants it has two-way television for communication with anyone else on Earth and also direct access to computer banks for any information not deemed private. Transportation in cities is almost exclusively underground, and the system is rapid, comprehensive, and convenient. High-speed trains connect cities and towns. This leaves the surface of the Earth a beautiful garden with commercial, cultural, industrial, agricultural, and recreational areas and ample natural preserves. Since all the people have everything they need or even want at any given time, there is no psychological need to try to accumulate or store up more than one needs or really wants.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual