Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Does Better Technology Mean a Better World?

Ok, enough blog posts about gardening and cooking. I named this blog to talk about sustainable living, so I'm going to branch out this week. I've been thinking about the title question a lot without an easy answer and recently came across two articles that seemed to be debating the same issue.

The first was Elizabeth Kolbert's book review in the New Yorker of Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined". Kolbert questions his premise, that violence has really declined as a result of statehood and civilization. She argues that we're as violent as ever: "This is one of the lessons of Auschwitz and it's why, since 1945, most people have hesitated to argue that modernity and violence are opposed."  Given the holes Kolbert pointed out in Pinker's book (such as his discounting two world wars and ignoring colonialism), I am inclined to agree with her.

The second was a blog post on Innovations, which cites several ways in which smart technology could sync different systems to help cities run more smoothly. Some, like Living PlanIt (a centralized system that would control all aspects of a city's systems, from emergency services to interior climate control) sound like a hacker invite.  But one idea that seems positively genius is conversation between cars on traffic flow. Rather than have sensors broadcasting whether a road is clear (which then attracts lots of cars and congests the road), cars broadcast their travel time to other cars, which then use that information to calculate the best route to your destination. It's smart because it's crowd-sourced, and because it's fast. The information that highway A is clear isn't outdated by the time your car gets there.

There are plenty of other examples of technology and its role as our hero or villain. I am still conflicted. What do you think - can technology solve our human woes? Or will technological advances just change the scene for the same conversation?

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