Undoubtedly, the greatest technological achievement in recorded history occurred in Lower Mesopotamia approximately 6,489 years ago, when a Sumerian engineer inserted a rotating shaft into a solid wooden disk and created the “wheel” . History does not record a date when the first wheel fell off its axle.
Without the wheel, the car would never have been invented. Same, sir. In 1913, Walter Johnson of Middletown, Connecticut, would never be hit by Edith Wilmore driving her father’s car, when Edith Wilmore ) traveling with her five girlfriends.
Humanity has always been the beneficiary of, and forever beholden to, “technology” as we continue to build on thousands of years of achievement in a never-ending journey of success, failure, and more success.
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just discovered 10,000 ways it won’t work.” -Thomas Edison.
However, advances in technology always have unintended consequences. Humans have navigated the seven seas since we first figured out how to build a seaworthy ship. But most sailing is limited to staying within sight of land so you know where you are so you can figure out where you’re going. But we can always find a way. As early as 3,000 BC, Polynesians were able to navigate a large part of the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii in the north to Easter Island in the east to New Zealand and parts of Southeast Asia. They tracked the movement of ocean waves as well as the flight of birds, clouds, sun and stars. But in the open ocean, you never know exactly where you are. Explorer sailors like Magellan just headed in one direction until they encountered something.
In 1759, John Bird built the first sextant based on previous technology. By setting the clock to the time in the port of origin and taking a sextant reading once or twice a day, a ship could map its latitude and longitude position to an accuracy of about a mile. Now we have a GPS. Even your smartphone GPS is accurate to five meters under the open sky…as long as your battery is fully charged.
For the same reason, ships have sextants and “ship bells”. Technology, no matter how advanced, is susceptible to malfeasance, incompetence and force majeure.
Hundreds of flights to and from Manila, affecting about 65,000 passengers, were canceled on New Year’s Day. We won’t speculate on why until all the politicians and pundits share their wisdom. However, it’s safe to say that either someone screwed up or some technology failed.
Less than two weeks later, some 10,578 flights to and from the U.S. were delayed and 1,353 canceled. Again, we won’t speculate on why until all politicians and pundits share their wisdom. However, it’s safe to say that either someone screwed up or some technology failed.
Obviously, it is important and absolutely critical to find out what caused the problem so that the necessary changes can be made to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening again. But “zero probability” is simply not possible when it comes to technologies created and maintained by humans.
Norwegian historian Christian Lous Lange wrote, “Technology is a useful servant, but also a dangerous master.” But as author Alice Kahn writes, there is a phone number we can dial: “Access to technology fails to improve life For a list of all ways of quality, press three.”