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Technology is NOT Enough!

technology-is-not-enoughI am tired of hearing that science and technology will save the world.

It is almost the same as saying “Jesus will save you!”

It evokes the very same passive quasi-religious hope that something or someone out there will magically solve all our problems, bring abundance in our lives, help us live forever and bring back the dead.

I am sorry to break this to you but science and technology will not save the world. Never have.

For example, we have all the science and technology to provide water, food, shelter and sanitation – the mere basic necessities, to every hungry and homeless person on our planet. And yet 800 million people are starving. 800 million lack access to clean and safe drinking water and another 2 1/2 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. An estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide and as many as 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing.

Global warming is another obvious example: we know the science – it is pretty uncontroversial and conclusive.  And we do have all the technology to move beyond both fossil fuels and meat consumption – the two most damaging factors not only to our environment but also to our own health. And yet we are not taking action. Hoping that the science will turn out to be wrong. That someone else will give up driving an SUV or eating meat three times per day. And that artificial intelligence will come and solve all of our problems.

Our civilization is like an alcoholic with a failing liver – we hope we can 3d bio-print a new one just in time, while failing to acknowledge our self-destructive habits and our own responsibility, thereby failing to address the actual problem, rather than the symptom.

It’s like hoping to win the lottery – it’s not totally impossible, but it is almost certain we won’t. [And even if we do, then what? It will only provide more time, not necessarily a solution.] And so we sit, and wait, and hope for science and technology to come save the world. And we are getting both fat and lazy as we are eating and driving ourselves to death. Both personally and collectively.

We are destroying ourselves and our planet and we put our hopes and fears in things like God, science and technology:

Our techno-deity aka “science and technology” will save us. [sic]

Or the wrath of God-like super-intelligent AI will destroy us.

And we keep telling ourselves that convenient story. That lie. So that we can keep avoiding an inconvenient truth:

That humanity is the greatest threat and hope for humanity. Not some omni-present, all-knowing, almighty force residing outside of us.

No.

It is us who are the greatest force on our planet – the real destroyers and creators. It is us who ought to take the blame for where we are today and the problems we have. It is us who are driving the train towards the trainwreck. And, it is only us, who can move our own foot off the gas pedal and hit the brakes to save ourselves.

So what would Socrates say?

Technology is NOT enough!

And neither is science.

P.S. Many thanks to my friend Sven Mastbooms for the original cartoon he made specially for this article.

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  • hasatum

    Science is something you do. Technology is something you use. Jesus is someone you follow. You’e correct to say that passive existence is not enough.

  • Very well put my friend, very well indeed: succinct and to the heart of my argument 😉

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  • Dan Vasii

    Well, the point is clear, but what is the cause of this indifference? I cannot understand. This is like that experiment with the frog slowly boiling. It cannot realise the danger because the threat is too gradual, not something sudden.

  • I’m sorry Dan, I don’t quite understand your point: what indifference are you referring to? How is the frog story relevant here?!

  • James Webster (Gam30ver)

    Firstly science and technology doesn’t need to “save the world”, but I assume you just mean humans? If we make the earth uninhabitable, it’s not destroying the world just ourselves. Who’s to say in a few hundred thousand millennia another sentient race couldn’t evolve on earth, once we are long gone (I’m not even massively opposed to that, when I look at society).

    With regards to humans, science and technology within the confines of a very capitalistic society is the reason we cannot feed and clothe the world (we could feed the world but our greed means we choose not to). Therefore greed is one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome as a race. That said I think it’s pertinent to point out that with all the technological advances of the last 150 years we are already “saving ourselves”. Projecting that forward we will continue to “save ourselves” with the rich being saved first of course ;).

    I’m not sure about AI yet, I hear a lot of fear mongering where that’s concerned. It’s hard to know how far off we are from even creating a credible AI, that is actually capable of increasing it’s own intelligence. I see the biggest issue with any of the advancements we make right now, is that they are being created in a very politically unstable capitalist world.

    Can science / technology save us? Well I’d have to say YES, provided we understand there are caveats to that, and people have very different definitions of being “saved”.

  • Vastmandana

    “We are destroying ourselves and our planet and we put our hopes and fears in things like God, science and technology” I feel that lumping them all in the same basket is wrong. God is a bullshit distraction/diversion… Just one of many… Like txting… Our species is caught up in.

    Science provides insight and data. Technology is a tool. Population/breeding like a virus is the fundamental problem along with our brains propensity to deflect dealing with uncomfortable information.

    Science and appropriate tech are crucial… Our unfolding understanding of systems and their interplay provide the basis for paradigm shifts but so many are locked in absurdities I often find myself screaming inside, “this has GOT to be a simulation… It is too insane to be real!”

    As an avid thinker and info maniac sublime pathways forward are ALL around us, unveiled by science and extrapolation. But as a flawed species, most of us stumble forward with out a deaper thought than the addictive reaction of checking our phones 40 times a minute. Religion is but one of a zillion distractions our flawed species wagonloads as we careen over the cliff

    Can I wake up now?

  • Dan Vasii

    Most people see an eventual SIngularity as improbable; most of them are indifferent to the changes that are needed, They perceive small changes taking place, but considering them as normal, with no relevance – maybe the global warming is object of more awareness.

  • Solur8

    Fun post.

    I think you can wake up. We all can! We just have to do a hot reboot over the system piece by piece with strategies to put science ahead of pure hedonistic economic “output”. Hot Reboots aren’t always easy, but they turn out to move the story ahead. History has all kinds of rapid achievement periods that totally change the game. However, they can’t be predicted as well as would like to be known and their exact outcomes are prone to bring unexpected surprises (good and bad – alike).

    So, what’s the plan? Do your best and lead by example. Let others know why texting is mostly only good for brief data sharing and not idle distractive chat or gossip.

  • Dan Vasii
  • OK, I understand this but in your first comment it was not clear if you are referring to my indifference or our collective indifference or what…

  • Dan Vasii

    Ha ha ha, not the ones concerned with the changes either occuring or needed, I was reffering to the careless ones.

  • John Terrence

    It’s simple. For many decades we had technology to feed and house everybody. It didn’t happen. Maybe it’s realistic(sadly) not to excpect humans to make it happen ?

    On the other hand – yes, technology didn’t solve all of our problems. But it has improved many things in the last 200 years. It has worked, and relatively(to other stuff) reliably. No wonder we want more of it.

    The other thing is of course politics, and sure it had created great value and helped solve many problems, but in the recent years, accross the world, it generally doesn’t seem like an affective tool. Buit sure we should use it and we do, for example the paris climate talks.

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  • Great article! I find myself frequently making high micromort decisions that will shorten my life such as over-eating. And it’s so illogical, so why do I do it? I suspect deep down I might believe I’m somehow immortal or this life is a simulation and dieing isn’t really dieing, or that the technical singularity will occur within my lifetime and cure death. This article really hits home my folly. I need to get back to optimising my decisions for longevity.

    FYI: There’s a small typo: “That humanity is the greatest treat and hope for humanity.” (assuming you meant “threat”, although humanity is a treat too 😉

  • Reading “careen over the cliff” made me think of the new moby video: https://youtu.be/VASywEuqFd8

    (just don’t watch this video on your phone, as you’ll feel especially depressed)

  • Thanks for finding the spelling error – I fixed it now thanks to you 😉

    P.S. I used to overeat on a regular basis too and my solutions were: Cycling – which burns a lot of energy. And veganism – which is low density in terms of calories so things like broccoli, for example, take a lot of space but don’t give out too many calories…

  • This video was pure genius – thank you for sharing it!

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  • Marius Catalin

    Someone tell this to Peter Diamandis please. He sees disrunptions everywhere except our socio-economic system. No changes that he can envision. Capitalism is here to stay with venture capitalist selling products maintainning economic growth for ever

  • I couldn’t have said it better my friend 😉

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  • Why STEM is NOT Enough: Earl Lewis: Why the Smartest Scientists Work with Humanists http://bigthink.com/videos/earl-lewis-on-stem-and-why-scientists-need-humanists

  • billy lee

    given that there’s enough ruckus, technology can help shape and revolutionize human conceptions as well as infrastructure around it through content creation. it sounds like you want us to know what you know so far. you should try asking questions instead. capitalism is not a fault but part of our evolution. greed is not the problem/focus but our inability to respond to our surroundings and challenges as our world becomes more connected.

  • If ever there was a time to watch Charlie Chaplin’s classic evergreen speech from “The Great Dictator” it is now https://youtu.be/V1fMvLbE85E

  • T Joan

    I’ve thought about this subject for years and agree technology is neither an ideal nor an accurate reflection of what we are capable of, because we humans are quantum creatures, and the quantum world is full of unpredictability and error.
    What if what we see as “stupidity” is actually our own quantum disposition to create what we call flaws and mistakes, for an unknown purpose? The current technological paradigm is still, at its foundation, a rigid binary-code, and humans are NOT binary. We are way more complex than a 01 system.
    Humans are amazing and our imperfections are what make us whole and distinguishable from technology. I’m tired of the subconscious push that we need to somehow squash our innate differences and pursue perfection, when it is our imperfections that give us creativity to free ourselves from the ideals of certainty and allow our spontaneous nature to grow.

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