We Need To Develop Even The Most Dangerous Technology

"A curious thing happens when you decide to eliminate skepticism as an option, even if only for a few minutes: You give improbabilities an opportunity to transform into possibilities. You give unconventional ideas a chance to bloom a little bit."  Youngme Moon, Different

The quote above is as good a place as any to start this. As always happens throughout human history — though perhaps moreso today — our lives see us constantly exposed to new technological developments. Our perspective on them taints our gut reactions, and it's often easy to forget that all of it is simply part of the iterative design process we as humanity share. Nothing we have today – not cell phones, not cars, not even a can opener – was created in a vacuum. Everything builds on that which came before it, and this is an easy fact to forget — and an important one to remember.

So often these days the first reactions we hear to something new are, "it's bad," or "it'll never succeed," or, "it's dangerous and should be stopped." The first two are mostly harmless so long as the inventors ignore the commentary and keep inventing. The latter, though, is quite dangerous in and of itself. We're all guilty of this to some degree, as it's a natural reaction, especially in today's (understandably) security-conscious world.

Dave QuoteTake Google Glass for example. Sure, you may think it's silly, you may not find any use for it, but in and of itself Glass is not dangerous. Some people (with Google possibly counted amongst them) might use Google Glass for purposes that are dangerous, but it doesn't mean the technology should stop being developed. The tech is cool! Wearing something on your face that records what you see and reacts to what you say? 20 years ago (heck, maybe 10 years ago) this would have been seen as magic. Even today it's might as well be magic.

Yes, Google Glass might have limited use for some, but if nothing else it's a step in our technological ladder. And this is a necessary step for the next things to come along, whatever those might be 5 or 10 or 50 years from now. We certainly don't want to stop iterating and developing.

Can you imagine what it was like when someone started putting airplanes in the sky? I guarantee you there was a vocal group opposing it, saying that planes will fall out of the sky, and people will use them to spy on us, and they should be stopped immediately.

And can you imagine what our world would be like today if we had followed their wishes? What about cars? There was fierce resistance to those, and look how that turned out.

We need to learn to separate social problems from technological development. The latter must be allowed to continue unabated so long as the development itself isn't infringing on people's rights or privacy. If the result might infringe on those rights, that's a social problem, and should be dealt with in a different way.

Cell phones are perhaps the best example we have right now. We still haven't figured out all the social etiquette going along with all of us having cell phones (and computers!) in our pockets. And we need to continue working as a society to figure that out. What happens when we're in a face-to-face conversation with someone and a text message comes in? Do we look? Don't we look? We honestly haven't sorted that out yet, and in certain circumstances the path you choose there could have profound impact. But that doesn't mean the cell phone should never have been invented. And it certainly doesn't mean we should stop inventing more cell phones.

We just need to evolve our etiquette to sort these things out. And if we decide that all of us having cell phones is a bad, unnecessary thing, fine. But at least we have let the tech develop and stand as a foundation for that which will come next.

Feel free to have your gut reactions. We can't stop them, so we might as well accept them! But we can temper them and guide them such that we as a society don't become paralyzed by fear. Remember, security and safety exist on a continuum ranging between living in a brick house and never going outside to putting all your information and cash in a pile on the street while sleeping in a box 50 yards away. Decide where you want to be and live there, but don't let that limit where the next generation can choose to go.

Image made by Bryan Chaffin with help from Shutterstock.