(Submitted March 23, 1997)
I am doing
research into technology and humans as part of a course on the Art of
Human Computer Interface Design.
If you could find the time I would appreciate your response to the
Is Technology advancing at too rapidly to be safe and what can we do to
I can only give you my personal opinion on this matter --- what follows
below does not necessarily reflect the official positions of NASA.
No, I don't think that technology is advancing too rapidly to be safe.
For one thing, there is the clear-cut benefit of technology,
that it protects us against natural disasters such as storms,
famines, and diseases.
For another, one benefit of science and technology is that we can
see any dangers more clearly, and those dangers that we notice can
be publicized far more widely than ever before. I'm no expert on
the field of risk assessment, but all the articles I've seen
(in newspapers, and "Scientific American" type magazines) agree
that the public are often misinformed about the comparative risks
of various natural and man-made disasters. This is at least partly a
psychological effect --- an airplane crash that kills 150 people
is more likely to leave an impression than the daily tolls of
car accidents, even though, statistically speaking, driving is
much more dangerous than flying.
However, it is true that technology makes us powerful, and that any
misuse (intentional or by mistake) has the potential to harm us
to an ever increasing degree. Nevertheless, I remain cautiously
optimistic. The reason for this is that the vast majority of
scientists and engineers want to make the world safer, and
they are becoming more and more aware of potential pitfalls of
a technologically advanced civilization. So I don't complain
when people attempt to assess the dangers of technology ---
the more people think about risks, the safer we are. In fact,
I myself often have questions about the safety of specific
applications of technology; overall, though, I consider the
advances in technology to have been, and will likely be, very
I would argue that a good index of the safety of the technological
civilization is the life expectancy. Despite some real dangers from
technology gone wrong (e.g., air pollution), the life expectancy in
all first world countries has been rising steadily. As long as this
trend continues, I would argue that the technology is advancing
at the right rate.
Dr. Koji Mukai,
An astrophysicist and a contributing member of Imagine the Universe!