Monday, June 02, 2003

The “wonders” of technology

Heard the story about how NASA spent millions to design a pen that can write upside down in zero gravity? Well, the Russians gave their astronauts pencils.

Moral of the story? Technology should be a means to an end, not the other way round.

Before World War II, naval power was often the deciding factor in an armed conflict. The Greeks, for instance, could not have fought the Trojans without a navy to transport them.

Then along came airplanes, radios, satellites, and the entire panoply of modern combat technology. Think “precision bombing” and you’re in the right direction.

The technology of modern warfare received high praise in the aftermath of the successful first Gulf War, with ordinary folks awe-struck by vivid accounts of “magic” missiles (rivalling the “magic bullet” in the movie, JFK) that not only hit targeted military buildings, but zoomed right through the roof and wreaked havoc to the chemical lab at one end of the seventh floor.

While the extreme accuracy being claimed for today’s smart bombs may hold some water in isolated experiments, in truth, aerial bombardment of urban areas using powerful munitions (no matter how high-tech) is inherently undiscriminating.

During the recent Iraq invasion, we again heard countless details about how new military technology can minimise casualties and collateral damage. Amidst the dazzling, often video-illustrated descriptions of the wonderful precision of these so-called Weapons of Targeted Destruction, we risk losing sight of what really is going on.

If this were a soccer match, the scoreboard would read: Technology 1, Humanity 0

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