Impossible Dreams

Are there limits to technology?

Photo: NASA. Source: Wikipedia

Ever since we began to use simple tools, people have been fascinated with technology. But technology also represents a danger. The same tools that lift us from the mud can destroy our fortunes. A hoe can uproot as well as plant. The Ancient Greeks described this ambivalence in the story of Prometheus, who brings fire to humanity in defiance of Zeus and is punished for his act.

People have always been both captivated and challenged by technology. Like many, I grew up watching Star Trek on television, thrilling as Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise explored “strange new worlds.” Science fiction is a way for us to imagine the potential gifts of new knowledge: faster-than-light travel, teleportation, food-synthesis. The possibilities seem endless.

But there are always problems. Fire burns. Klingons go to war with humans. There’s trouble with tribbles. In the late 19th century, displaced workers smashed the power looms that did their jobs. In our day, we give up our privacy to access new smart-phone apps; self-driving cars may put taxi-drivers out of work

Luddites attack a Jacquard loom. Source: Wikipedia

Today these fears often focus on the possibility of a “singularity,” the point where computers may become self-aware and super-intelligent, radically changing civilization. There’s even a “Singularity Summit” every year to discuss the implications. Some think a singularity is possible in as little as five years.

Technology’s problems are humanity’s problems. Weapons that help us gather food can also be used to hurt others. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards,” the book of Job says. But there will always be something new. The human mind is virtually infinite in its capacity to imagine. These ideas must be tempered, though, by our core human values: freedom, justice, and respect.


Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Phone: 603-224-1350
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