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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Technological Revolution (1800-2100) - part 3

In my 11 February 2016 blog ("We don't need you") I made a comment in its final lines about the speed of changes in our society especially with respect to science and technology. This speed has been superbly captured in a 3 minute video by BusinessInsider Science. I thoroughly recommend watching this short video. It will give you a new perspective on time and space.

The video shows the Earth's history of some 4.5 billion years (time) by travelling from Los Angeles to New York City which equals nearly 4,000 km or 2,500 miles (space). All the big changes of our Technological Revolution (1800-2100) only happened for the last 21 centimetre (8.2 inch) of that 4,000 kilometre journey. Science and technology are increasingly just happening to us.

Recently, Professor Stephen Hawking made some comments about the dangers of science and technology in his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures. Especially, his comments that "the world should be very careful for the next 100 years" attracted worldwide attention (eg, BBCCBSGuardian, LiveScience, ToIWP). Actually, his full comments (PDF) are even more interesting.

SH: "Most of the threats we face come from the progress we have made in science and technology. We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them. I'm an optimist, and I believe we can". Italic markings are mine.

To some extent, the warnings of Stephen Hawking (eg, 2014-AI, 2016-Science & Tech) feel like the warnings of Robert Oppenheimer, a founding "father of the atomic bomb": The warnings of an insider who was also responsible for developing the threat. Nevertheless, the warnings of an insider should be taken more serious than anyone else's.

Science and Technology used to be for nerds. Today we seem to love such nerds, if only based upon the immense success of TV shows like The Big Bang Theory - 8.4 on IMDb. Even Professor Stephen Hawking has had guest appearances in this comedy show.

In the scientific revolution during the Renaissance (14th-17th century), Science was still stopped by Religion (eg, Galileo Galilei) as Science is usually a threat to Power. Nowadays, Science is absent in countries dominated by Religion unless it was absorbed for the purpose of Power (eg, Iran). Please also see my 30 January 2016 blog on Money, Politics, Power, Religion, and Science.

Today, Western cultures mainly embrace Science and Technology as we only see Good in them. Bad and/or Mad scientists only happen in movies. A (serious) warning will not change this attitude and neither did man-made disasters (eg, BhopalChernobylEnola GayFukushima).

In my view, the reason for this is our attitude towards Risk Management. Also see my 8 February 2015 blog: Environment = Probability x Impact. While the impact of risk is often understood, the danger lies in the probability of a risk. Any probability above zero means that it will certainly happen in the future - either sooner or later. A catastrophic risk that could affect future generations should never be assessed on its "statistically insignificant" Probability but only on its Impact. That is what Professor Hawking implied with recognising and controlling dangers.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Enola Gay (1980) - artists, lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Enola Gay
It shouldn't ever have to end this way

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