Ironic, isn’t it?
Photo: US Army. Source: National Archives. Public Domain.
The same technology that ended the range wars of the Old West – conflicts over property rights stemming from free-ranging animals – was soon put to use by military minds to create defensive positions. During World War I, barbed wire was a crucial part of trench warfare, protecting key emplacements from charging soldiers. And it was used to keep people enclosed, too. Herding and controlling them when they are prisoners.
The same thing that ended one set of conflicts became a crucial part of expanding another: the Great War that took tens of millions of lives.
Source: Maxpixel. CC0.
It’s like this with most technologies. Something originally designed as a commercial or agricultural or artistic innovation becomes useful in a way never intended by the inventor. Barbed wire invented to control livestock ends up treating people like animals. Data science intended to help us classify information is used to categorize people and influence them. Behavioral science that allows psychologists to treat mental illness can also facilitate manipulation and deceipt.
The same principle works in reverse, of course. Mustard gas used in World War I was later found to have therapeutic properties for treating cancer. Medical oncology, controlling cancer through chemotherapy, originated in preparations for potential gas warfare in World War II. Trauma surgery techniques developed in battlefield hospitals are now used in modern hospital emergency rooms.
Technology is neutral. It’s the application that matters. As we consider regulating the data giants and their data collection and management and manipulation, we need to remember this. It’s not the technology; it’s the application.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”