The History of Technical Advancement Is Littered With Naysayers
As people stare into the future and technical advancement and see computers being implanted in humans with direct links to the brain, machine learning figuring out all the if-then variables in daily life and investments, and driverless cars displacing the number one source of employment in the US, the future is brighter than it seems, says a Bernstein report. Technical advancement has a history of being fought.
Technical advancement, machine learning, the Internet of Things, cannot be stopped
The questioning of technological advancement has been a consistent feature of society, Bernstein’s Michael Parker and Kelman Li note in a May 19 research report. Consider the steam engine, for instance. The pace of technical advancement for the British innovation was slower than a glacier.
The first steam engine, designed in 1715, wasn’t perfected until 1775, just prior to the American revolution. It didn’t start running practical applications until 1802, and early version didn’t carry an economic justification. For instance, the Holborn-to-Paddington “London Steam Carriage” was more expensive and less comfortable than a horse carriage ride across the city.
Parker and Li, noting the slow progression of steam engine technology into society, observe four categories who were initially opposed: the poor, the wealthy, those living in cities and those living in the country. In 1800’s England, that was just about everyone. What occurred, of course, was the force of technical advancement could not be stopped.
“The Future may be inevitable, but it is rarely popular,” they wrote, pointing to social and economic forces that lose when technology is shunned.
There is a pattern to technological evolution and those fighting it. The forces of advancement and history cannot be changed, but sometimes they can be nudged off course a bit, the report points out.
Beneficial technology creates “collective amnesia”
Technology creates a “collective amnesia” that puts history in perspective relative to the convenience the technology brings. The early steam engines, for instance, were not as clean as the name would imply. Rather than being powered by innocuous steam, there was a significant coal component that generated ugly amounts of pollution as well as a sweatshop labor aspect that people in hindsight tend to forget.
There comes a point in history where the technology becomes so ubiquitous, people in society simply cannot imagine life without it. “This specific lack of imagination morphs into a general inability to imagine that anyone would have ever resisted those technologies when they were introduced or questioned them,” the report noted.
One day, as a computer chip is planted alongside our head and monitors thoughts – actual technological advancement themes currently being worked on – we might say to those around us: “How could we have functioned without a computer attached to our brain to help with memory, calculations or deep informational recall?”
Such technologies are a logical outcropping of examination of probability paths, much like the ability of hackers to break into the “Internet of Things” and destroy lives that have become utterly dependent on technology.
New technology typically triggers manias, the report noted. Consider how the cell phone sparked numerous absurd fads that came and went. Remember people trying to catch imaginary treasure hunt items last summer? That fad faded fast. The mania for tulips in 1630s Netherlands is a well-documented bubble that was compared to the Internet craze and Pets.com mania from 20 years ago. Often such manias are used to discredit technology and the advancements they brought to the world, a point in the technical path of progress.
New technology is also discredited based on initial failure. Most technologies fail at first or otherwise don’t live up to the promotional hype, the report noted. The issue is moving past the early adopter stage to the point that technology offers serious benefit.
Remember, that among the multitude of Pets.com and other failed technological developments, there is Apple Computer, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and others that succeed against all odds.
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