The Technological Priorities of our Society
I was inspired to write this article by my friend Bruce Naylor of FruglalTech who spoke recently about NASA’s contributions to technological development and how we’ve gotten so many important life improving products from space exploration and scientific advancement.
That’s the important point here, tech companies like to sell us their products by pushing them as life improving products that will help humanity but the truth is many of them aren’t, a lot of them are just incremental improvements over previous versions and the motivations of the companies are based on financial gain.
They make use of glorified slave labour in poor countries in order to make their products as cheaply as possible. However NASA, ESA and other aerospace and scientific institutions are not concerned with profit and exploitation. Their motivations and intentions are pure. The betterment of all mankind and society, the understanding of the universe, exploration, the colonisation of other planets, and the answers to the deeper questions of life. How did life begin? Are we alone in the universe? etc.
Now some people may be cynical about all of this and think that we shouldn’t be bothered with space and scientific study. But I think that’s a small, provincial and jaded consumerist opinion. NASA’s budget is minuscule and what they and other such institutions have given the world is incredible. Many of their technological breakthroughs have enabled businesses to turn their intentions into consumer products in our society, but their original intent was always altruistic and benevolent.
These products included: Light-emitting diodes, Infrared ear thermometers, artificial limbs, anti-icing systems, highway safety grooving, improved radial tires, chemical detection systems, video enhancing and analysis systems, land mine removal, firefighter gear, enriched baby food, portable cordless vacuums, freeze drying technology, solar energy panels, pollution remediation, water purification, better software, powdered lubricants and food safety systems.
So my argument is that when it comes to technology, society should reprioritise what it considers to be truly important. Particularly when the majority of our exposure to technology is from products designed to take our money rather than inspire us.
Where true innovation takes place is in the selflessness of scientific progress, human endeavour and the hope for a better understanding of our world with no expectation of a financial reward. The reward is knowledge itself and along the way, a vast bounty of new life improving technologies are the welcome byproducts of humanities forward march into the unknown.
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