2/14/11

Technology as a Natural Evolution


Author: Daniel Monoogian

There are those (often from previous generations, and many from our current one) who shun humanity’s (okay, the West’s) seemingly unstoppable integration with technology. This thought conjures up mental images of the Borg hive mentality. Perhaps we are not very far off from this reality (although, you aren’t forced to assimilate)! How often have you seen people walking down the street talking animatedly to themselves, where at first we’re perplexed, then notice the small device attached to their ear? Or, how about people who get into car accidents while they are distracted by phone conversations or even texting (the thought makes one shudder)! The important question is: how did we get to this point?

This integration began with the use of prosthetic limbs which are, in fact, technological advancements. The historian Herodotus tells the story of a Hegistratus, a Persian soldier, who cut off his own foot to escape his captors and replaced it with a wooden one. In fact, several early Egyptian mummies were found to have prosthetic appendages. This integration is now at a point where the limb can be connected to tendons in the arm, and hooks can be operated in this fashion. Essentially, people who are missing both arms can still drive, cook and even tie their shoe laces. These are simple machines. Some of the more complex technology-assisted implements would include hearing aids (which can now be hidden in the ear drum) and pace-makers, which use electrical impulses to regulate heartbeats. These devices can be said to improve the quality of life for some, and even extend the lifespan of others. This is only the beginning.

While most would agree that the evolution of technological advances to improve our quality of life are revolutionary and necessary, there are many valid viewpoints which state that the constant need to be connected with technology and communication through email and text message over face-to-face, phone and more personal interactions is actually destroying the social skills and attention span of the technologically-addicted citizen. One could argue that while these communication methods are impersonal, they are still essentially interactions between two or more people.

One may argue that technology is simply an effort to copy the natural processes which we see around us in “nature”. Take computers for example. Looked at in their basic components, they essentially replicate the human brain and nervous system. The “memory” and processing components essentially work the same way as the human brain, responding to external stimuli to retrieve, sort and store information. The computer also requires energy to operate, inasmuch as does the human body. This being said, no computer has yet to be developed which even comes close to the processing power and complexity of the human brain. In fact, one could posit that the development and advancement of technology is one way to begin to unlock some of the brain’s hidden potential.

Walking by a construction site the other day, I was humbled by a giant machine which was pushing around giant boulders as a cat would bat a ball of yarn. It would have taken the strength of 30 or 40 men to move that boulder! If one looks at that machine as an organic being (which it essentially is; made with materials from the earth and given immense power by the energy released in burning fossil fuels) it becomes quite a humbling feat of human innovation. Imagine a man from early civilization whose world was ruled by gods living in the heavens – he would look upon this machine and those who operated it as gods themselves. Is this not what modern man has become? We are able to construct monstrously large structures, travel into space (beyond the realm of the gods of the earth), and even send ambassadors (probes), to other planets in our solar system and beyond. On our more moody days as gods, we have developed devices which have killed many people (atomic/nuclear weapons). We’ve even mastered the molecule.

Those who raise their voice vehemently against this technological takeover of our lives probably take for granted that most of the components of their homes were manufactured with machines, the appliances that keep their food from spoiling and wash their clothes have all been results of technological innovation. As users of technology, how are we to speak out against some branches but not others? It’s historically na├»ve to ignore that technological advances have a snowball effect and that breakthroughs which at the time seemed counter-productive, have led to something much greater. If we trace this back to man’s earliest development of tools, we see a pattern of exponential decreases in the amount of time between discoveries and innovations, as it seems now (the year 2011) that they are occurring every day, and some may say, every minute.

What is the future of this integration? Some have envisioned a future where technology grows out of control and is able to self-replicate with its own autonomous governance (see: The Matrix and even The Terminator series). I envision a future where technology is integrated with nature, where we will be able to harness the limitless energy all around us in a fashion which doesn’t create waste and is self-sustaining. As technology evolves, so does the human machine, however the question remains: do we need to be in constant communication for this advancement to take place?