Not long ago, there was a West African village that had an urgent need for clean water. The women would trek every day down to a river that was so contaminated it was leading to all kinds of preventable infections. Eventually, a charitable international agency provided research and funding for a well.
Engineers came in, did a survey and drilled the well right in the middle of the village. To their surprise, the next day, the women walked past the well and kept going to the contaminated river. The Engineers were mystified. Finally, they decided to bring in some Anthropologists to talk to them and figure out why the new well was not being used.
When the Anthropologists came, they asked the women a simple question, “Why are you walking past the well with the clean water to go all the way to the river with the contaminated water?” The women said, “We understand that this water is better, but you don’t understand why we walk so far. It’s not just to get water. For us, this is a way to get away from our men and children, to spend some time with other women and to break the routine of the domestic household. So, to have this well right here in the middle of our village doesn’t serve our purposes.” The Engineers ended up moving the well further away so that the women could sustain their cultural practices while also getting clean water.
I am tired of hearing that science and technology will save the world. It is almost the same as saying, “Jesus will save you!” It evokes the very same passive quasi-religious hope that something or someone out there will magically solve all our problems, bring abundance into our lives, help us live forever and bring back the dead.
I am sorry to break this news to you but, science and technology will not save the world. It never has.
For example, we have the science and technology to provide water, food, shelter and sanitation – the mere basic necessities, to every hungry and homeless person on our planet. Yet, 800 million people are starving. 800 million lack access to clean and safe drinking water. Another 2 1/2 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. An estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide and as many as 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing.
Global warming is another obvious example: we know the science – it is pretty uncontroversial and conclusive. We have the technology needed to move beyond both fossil fuels and meat consumption – the two most damaging factors not only to our environment but also to our own health. Yet, we are not taking action. We’re waiting and hoping that science will turn out to be wrong. Hoping that someone else will give up driving an SUV or eating meat three times a day. Hoping that artificial intelligence will come and solve all of our problems.
Our civilization is like an Alcoholic with a failing liver – we hope we can 3D bio-print a new one just in time while failing to acknowledge our self-destructive habits and our own responsibility. We fail to address the actual problem, rather than the symptom.
It’s like hoping to win the lottery – it’s not totally impossible, but it is almost certain we won’t win. [And even if we do, then what? It will only provide more time, not necessarily a solution.] So, we sit, and wait, and hope for science and technology to come save the world.
We are getting fat and lazy as we are eating and driving ourselves to death, both personally and collectively. We are destroying ourselves and our planet. We put our hopes and fears in things like God, science and technology. We believe our techno-deity, a.k.a. “science and technology,” will save us. Or, the wrath of God-like super-intelligent AI will destroy us. We keep telling ourselves that convenient story. That lie. And thus we keep avoiding an inconvenient truth: humanity is the greatest threat and hope for itself, not some omnipresent, all-knowing, almighty force residing outside of us.
It is we who are the greatest force on our planet – the real destroyers and creators. It is we who ought to take the blame for where we are today and the problems we have. It is we who are driving the train toward the train wreck. And we are the only ones who can move our own foot off the gas pedal and hit the brakes to save ourselves.
So what would Socrates say? Technology is NOT enough! And neither is science.
About the Author:
Nikola Danaylov is a #1 Bestselling Author of Conversations with the Future as well as a Futurist and Keynote Speaker. Nikola has spoken at many public events on topics ranging from technology, transhumanism and artificial intelligence to new media, blogging and podcasting. His Singularity.FM interviews have had 4 1/2 million views and have been featured on some of the biggest media and TV networks, which is why Professor Roman Yampolskiy has called Nikola the ‘Larry King’ of the Singularity.