Sunday, October 04, 2009

Where would we be today?

Written some time ago, 22 July 2004, for another blog. It carries the theme of my last post 'False ceilings' nicely. Enjoy.

Fear of the unknown both intrigues and yet holds back the development of mankind. We are at a number of moral intersections with so many new technologies. Going forward has risks. Risks that we don’t fully understand or can even be sure of. We can speculate, but we can’t be sure. So what do we do?

When da Vinci first invented the flying machine to when the Wright brothers first flew one, do you think they considered the profound affects of their work? Do you think they timidly explored their ideas, or do you think they just did it? When the first seed was first sewn, when the first doctor made his first incision, or when the first injection was first administered… do you think any of these happened with a full understanding of their actions? Mankind has developed from taking risks we don’t fully understand, and at every set-back we’ve improved our understanding and moved forward again. Were we creating irreparable damage, were we furthering mankind?

When Babbage set about inventing the first computer, I somehow doubt he was too worried about potential risks. Once the first valve-operated computer was built, the Americans put it to work to predict the trajectory of a bullet: to build a better weapon, to be a better killer. Today’s computers help us to work out from the wound of a slained victim the trajectory of that bullet: to capture their killer, to build a better defence. A double edged sword full of risk and potential yet we still harness the power of the computer and move forward for the benefit of mankind. The same cannot be said about all technologies.

When NASA first set about exploring the moon we faced risks, not fully understanding them, we did it anyway. We landed on the moon. As long as the risks were contained, NASA kept going. Yet at the first ‘visible’ setback, ‘fear’ shot to the forefront of the public’s mind, leaving the progression of mankind in its wake. We now nervously send people in to space. We cautiously step out in to the new frontier. The space programme has in the last 25-years, only now started to regain ‘some’ momentum with the possibility of Mars being a rich resource for mankind. Our own moon, sitting upon our own doorstep, remains a vastly unexplored entity.

We have seen what can be achieved in less than 25 years. Where would we be today if the momentum of the space programme never died down? Imagine if we faced everything with intrigue and not in trepidation? Where would we be today? Dig up the sceptics of da Vinci’s flying machine and take them on a flight to anywhere in the world. Dig up our sceptics in 100-years from now and take them on a flight to the stars. Apply this to genetic science and nanotechnology. Where would we be today? Where would we be in 25 years?

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