In a previous post, I threw out the idea that politics can get in the way of technological advancement. I hope this idea is pretty obvious to anyone reading. A great example would be the fact that we are STILL not pursuing alternative fuel sources in the US the way we should be. When you combine big companies with lots of dough (like oil companies and automakers) with the reality that politicians can be bought, you end up with a climate in which the intertia is against technological advancement. Oil companies and automakers are putting their money behind the status quo, and as a result: no hydrogen fuel cells, no ethanol, and far too few cars getting more than 30 miles to the gallon. There are hybrids, yes, but they’re still way too expensive and the technology is still young. The fact is, as a nation, we’re just not taking this problem seriously.
But my thoughts are running in a different direction today. I submit that there’s another way politics can get in the way of technology. We’re poised on the brink of so many advancements, it’s dizzying. Every month we do fusion a few degrees cooler and superconductivity a few degrees warmer. Every day we get a little closer to mapping the protein sequences in the body (the Human Proteome project — the next big advancement built on the Human Genome project). Quantum computers are making strides. Carbon fibers are now at the strength to make things like space elevators possible. We’ve even seen reasonable theories for faster-than-light travel. And the list goes on.
So what could get in the way? I contend that politics can. I throw economics in there too, but in many ways that’s a function of politics, so let’s stick with that for now. I mean, let’s face it. It seems like more people are blowing more other people every single day. The news is as depressing as it gets. I’d love to see technology advance by leaps and bounds in my lifetime — people living on the moon, etc. But I think the unfortunate reality is that we just can’t afford it. We’re putting so much political and economic energy into just keeping the world from blowing itself up, that I think we may be stuck with tinier, shinier cell phones, faster computers, a growing web, and a few personalized medicines. Beyond that, I’m not sure we’re going to see the really cool stuff any time soon.
Think about it. What happens if Iran and North Korea really get nukes? (Actually, only one has to get them — either would sell to anyone who hates us.) What about if Russia reverts to it’s familiar communist ways? Putin’s definitely making that fear seem more real. How about the fact that we can’t seem to stop the handouts from being handed out within our own borders? And to make that situation worse, I can’t turn on the news without hearing somebody call for giving a pass to a few million more illegal aliens. The whole world seems to think we’re a bunch of Nazis (read: we have very few allies). And if the ACLU and others get there way, we’ll put the rights of the terrorists above our safety one time too many, and end up with DC or LA getting turning into a grease spot by some terrorist wacko with a nuke.
To say the least, these are not the ideal conditions for massive technological advancement … at least not in the world of someone who’s played Civilization as much as I have.