Friday, January 12, 2007

Will Technology Destroy Itself?

Another question I have been asked by the handful of people who have read my books is: Do I really believe that technology can become so ruinous to humankind, humans might opt to destroy technology itself before it destroys them? (For those who don't know, and that would be most of you, in my novels, a secret society called the Yukons create electro-magnetic pulse weapons which interrupt electrical current all over the world.)
I fear my answer has to be that maybe that it is possibility, and I am hardly the first sci-fi writer to suggest the possibility. From the very beginning of the genre, there have been authors uneasy about the course upon which science is leading us. Mary Shelley (and, yes, I would call her Frankenstein a sci-fi novel in addition to being a Gothic one) warns that tinkering with man will only create monsters. Jules Verne, usually an optimist regarding the future, in his Paris in the Twentieth Century, foretells of a France in which the rush, the consumerism, the impersonal mileau of society has made life worthless. Between our time and those first sci-fi authors there have been countless tales of nuclear destruction, of artificial intelligence gone astray, of deadly viruses hatched in research laboratories, of enviromental destruction, etc., etc.
Man made wretched by his own creations is a tale told so many times it has passed from warning status to tired cliche to being a no longer amusing joke, although telling and retelling the story does not make it untrue.
Alvin Toffler, in his now quite dated Future Shock, states that the fate of technology should not be decided by luddites or other extremists who wish to put limits on human knowledge. What Mr. Toffler did not get was that while such groups contribute nothing to the advancement of technology, technology itself does eventually pass into their hands. A young Winston Churchill wrote the only innovation modern science offered the warrior tribes of Afganistan that they really enjoyed was the long-range rifle, which allowed them to shoot their neighbors without leaving home. Perhaps within the next two decades and certainly within the next hundred years, similar Afgan tribesmen will have small nuclear weapons. A time will also come when Peruvian narco-terroists will have viruses for which there are no cures, and domestic terrorists in the deepest Ozarks and street gangs in the public housing projects will possess pulse weapons. When that time comes, we can be assured such groups will use their new tools with the casual malevolence Sir Winston observed during his younger days on the Northwest Frontier. Haters of the modern world will not be able to destoy civilization--civilization is much more than the advance or the applications of science--but they can create a new Dark Age, just as other groups, who had become as well-armed as their civilized rivals, have created Dark Ages in the past. And that, I fear, is one story that will be retold again and again until the sun explodes and we are once more star dust.

1 comment:

R. C. A. O'Neal said...

In the Uk we have a simple solution for the problems posed by roving street gangs carrying fire-arms: out-law fire-arms. Sceptics may say that this shall not prevent criminals from obtaining weapons illegally, and this in certainly the case, but prohibition has actually been quite effective.