The Issues: How Will Technology Impact
Perhaps the most fundamental
and direct impact that technology has on the everyday life of most people is
economic in nature. The issue of jobs and unemployment is one that strikes a
chord of concern in just about every person. While competition between
machinery and human labor has long existed in the realm of physical tasks, it
has only recently been introduced into the domain of mental work. Much as
heavy machinery has eliminated the need for physical exertion on the part of
humans, so too does modern technology, in the form of microchips and
computers, bring with it the potential to eliminate mental drudgery. Does
this mean, however, that humans will no longer have any purpose to serve in
To gain some perspective
on the issue, we can take a look at the past. At the beginning of the 20th
century in the United States, jobs in factories and agriculture were
disappearing at a rapid rate. But with the loss of those jobs came the
potential for millions of new jobs and economic development in new
industries. Indeed the macroeconomic trend of the past century has been
overwhelmingly positive. Jobs have grown 10-fold in the United States (from
12 million in 1870 to 116 million in 1985) and the percentage of people
employed has grown from 21 percent to 48 percent. Per-capita gross national
product, as well as the average earning power of jobs, has increased 600
percent in constant dollars during the same period. Today, new manufacturing
technologies are rapidly reducing the number of production jobs. The advent
of new technology is projected to rapidly decrease the demand for clerical
workers and other such semiskilled and unskilled workers.
How will the development
of more advanced software affect our economy? Is technology bound to provide
for economic growth? Is it possible for computers and technology to truly
Computers, which have
revolutionized the workplace, are similarly infiltrating society. They have
brought about innumerable advances in education and personal communication.
Slowly but surely,
computers have begun to infiltrate the classroom. Though not yet optimized
for education, the personal computer has much potential in this arena.
Wireless networks can allow for the easy sharing of courseware, submissions
by students of papers, exams, courseware responses, and other creations. The
networking of information can provide students with instant access to vast
amounts of information and knowledge.
The realm of
communications has likewise seen immense change. We are provided with new
ways to communicate with each other, such as email and instant messaging.
Documents placed on the internet are sources of information for the rest of
the world. Vast databases allow for the easy storage of information. Global
positioning satellites allow us to track our exact location and find our way
to various destinations.
But what social problems
will arise with such progress? Will we become increasingly dependent on our
computers to the point of social breakdown? As Theodore Kaczynski wrote,
"technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for
freedom, …while technological progress AS A WHOLE continually narrows our
sphere of freedom, each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to
be desirable." Will technology be so ingrained in society as to destroy
it and imprison humanity?
The potential applications
of technology to warfare are well known. But is this application positive or
One might argue that the
military application of science is undoubtedly negative in that it has led to
the creation of the atomic bomb and other such weapons of mass destruction.
Technology has made the complete destruction of humanity possible. That
capacity continues to grow, as more nations develop nuclear technology and
the proliferation of nuclear warheads continues.
On the other hand, it is
also possible to argue that science has made it possible for the more
accurate destruction of enemy targets and, in doing so, has lessened
unintended damage to civilian populations. Smart bombs and cruise missiles
have lessened the human component of war at least to some degree.
But what will the effect
of future technology be? Will it lessen the amount of destruction and death?
Or will it be our ultimate undoing?