Why is technology still stuck in the Stone Age?

Posted: December 2, 2015 in science
Tags: ,

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We’ve come so far—I mean, we have, haven’t we? I consider myself to be fairly in touch with technological progress. I read Scientific American and Wired and tech-related articles on the interweb. For example, all the semi-recent media treatment of Steve Jobs and how he changed the world. I even believed that for a while until I considered what he’d done. He built a better music player. Yes, I grant you the iPod changed how we consume music; but fundamentally, it was just a much-improved version of the phonograph invented in 1877. Going through the modern technology we use today, it’s difficult to come up with anything that isn’t just the latest endpoint on a curve of incremental improvements. The wheel—invented in the Stone Age, probably just a round stone used to move a larger object, then affixed to an axle, then motorized, and on and on until we have today’s Tesla. Smoke signals became the telegraph that became the telephone that begat the iPhone and its Android clones. Incremental. Kites copied birds, became gliders, became fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft begat the Osprey and scramjets and ramjets and Spaceship One. Caves became castles then skyscrapers. Torches evolved into lanterns, light bulbs, and LEDs. These are all impressive developments, the rewards of much ingenuity and countless hours of hard work, but none of these are (in my opinion at least) fundamental, world-changing technologies. They’re just extreme refinement of the original breakthroughs when we harnessed the wheel, light, electricity, magnetism. Perhaps it has something to do with my predilection for consuming and writing science fiction, but I’m waiting for a new breakthrough. Something that radically changes how we live, how things are done, something that takes us to a new level. Re-sets the paradigm. What would that be, you ask? Here’s where I start to sound like a dreamer or a sci-fi kook, or someone who has no appreciation for how difficult science and engineering are. But here I go: fusion might be a start, if it could help us move towards a clean, free energy society. Gravity. I’d like to see us able to manipulate gravity in some semblance of our ability to manipulate light. I’m not expecting castles in the sky or hoverboards, but perhaps easier access to orbit. Subatomic particles—manipulated with more subtlety than simply smashing them apart. Transportation—radical new transportation, the holy grail of science fantasy—faster than light travel. Can the deeper aspects of reality, which some now speculate to be non-spatial, be accessed to get us to all those places we can see but never get to with our current physics? Now we’re in the territory of dreams—or are we? A hundred years from now, or a thousand, or maybe in just a few decades, when our next Einstein(s) reveal her/himself, who knows? We might finally transcend the Stone age.

 

image credit: Stone Wheel via free images (license)

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