Does advanced technology lead to better societies? It's not hard to argue in the affirmative -- few of us would want to live without computers or telephones or electricity -- but a strong case also can be made that high-tech makes life better for some, while at the same time leaving others even further behind.
In response to our recent article here called "Saving Lives," blogger Dale Carrico wrote a passionate and well-considered essay about the need to use today's resources and technologies to deal with the problems that exist, instead of sitting back and waiting for something better in the future.
Dale's post, which was reprinted at the widely-read WorldChanging site, says:
[T]here can be something profoundly problematic about such a focus on superlative technological developments when the problem we are considering in particular is the redress of global poverty and injustice that already demands the most urgent and immediate attention from any human civilization worthy of that name. . .
If tools exist to imperfectly redress hideous global poverty and treatable illnesses here and now (and they do), then it is precisely our effort to redress these injustices with these tools we have on hand that best ensures that the future tools available to future people (and we may very well be those people ourselves, after all) will be used to do the same when finally they arrive on the scene.
He's right, of course. Unfortunately, it's difficult to imagine a radical shift in priorities taking place without some sort of crisis to prompt it. Those getting the most from the status quo can be expected to strongly resist changes.
Molecular manufacturing will be an incredibly significant, transformative, potentially disruptive technology. It will be the greatest source of power the world has ever known -- power for someone.
When that technological capability arrives in the near future, it could proliferate exponentially, bringing benefits to people all around the globe. But will it be used for that purpose? Perhaps we should take a look at the way the power of technology is used today. Who gains the most? Who suffers or is left behind? Are we doing all we can now with the capabilities we have?