An enlightening exercise: glance back at publications (popular and technical) of bygone decades and think about what didn't happen --- and why.

Check out the predictions of nuclear energy ("power too cheap to meter") and computer science ("superhuman machine intelligence"). Read the articles foreseeing interplanetary space travel and personal aircraft for commuters. Analyze the alternative forecasts of economic collapse and ever-accelerating prosperity, of triumphant totalitarianism and inevitable anarchy.

Why did all these dreams go awry? In most cases, the problem wasn't in what they looked at. Magnetic bubbles are really neat, and they still work. Catastrophe theory and fuzzy logic still follow the same valid equations that they always did. The laws of physics are well-enough understood for most practical (and many impractical) purposes. Even in the areas of economics and sociology enough factors are clear to make many sensible statements.

The hang-ups, perhaps, were in the larger contexts of these splendid visions. Some things turned out to be far trickier to implement than anybody could have guessed. Some things cost just a little too much compared to their competition. Some things were beloved by gadget freaks, but ordinary folks simply didn't see a need or want to bother with them. Some things came with risks or externalities that were too high for society to bear.

OK? Now try Exercise Two: read today's press coverage of biotech, nanotech, and all the other nouveaux-technologies. Where are they likeliest to run aground?

TopicScience - TopicSociety - 2001-10-16

Technologies may run aground with overkill if what is designed and manufactured is so similar to existing technology that miniscule improvement or alteration is not worth the consumer's money. On the other hand, perfectly good cars are traded every few years at huge cost to the consumer, but that is all about status and the dominance hierarchy. (In my school we actually had a parent request that their son be moved to another 8th grade team because the friends that he was hanging around with "did not even have their own cell phones.") Technology without real social benefit must be married to advertising. - Judy Decker -

P.S. I've been trying to get the - right but have utterly failed.

Hi Judy! --- I think if you just put a line of four or more dashes by themselves, you get the horizontal rule that you're seeking. - ^z -

(correlates: GrayGreenGap, DarkGlory, EmersonianTechnoOptimism, ...)