Every year brings its surprises and opportunities, but some can leave us speechless in the face of what happened. In March 2020, all the inhabitants of the planet found us before an unknown world: that of fear and seclusion due to the risk implied by a pandemic, a phenomenon that, with local exceptions, was only known by historical reference. However, it took no more than a few weeks for vaccines capable of fighting the virus to emerge, vaccines whose technology had been in development for years, but which suddenly found practical application. The rest is history: the testing stages of these vaccines began immediately, followed by their accelerated vaccination rolldown through the year that is now ending. One cannot help but marvel at what technology makes possible -and the risks involved.
As in other years, I take this moment to quote some of the great thinkers, this time regarding the issue of the moment: technology.
“All of our exalted technological progress, civilization for that matter, is comparable to an ax in the hands of a pathological criminal.” Albert Einstein, 1917
“Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of these two has the grander view?” Victor Hugo, 1862
“Intelligence will become more and more collective; innovation and order will become more and more bottom up.” Matt Ridley 2019
“Every civilization has been grounded on technology. What makes ours unique is that for the first time we believe that every man is entitled to all its benefits” Jacob Bronowski, 1972
“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” B.F. Skinner, 1969
“Think of this: When they present you with a watch, they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren’t simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it’s a good brand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren’t just giving you this minute stonecutter that will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you -they don’t know it- they are gifting you with a new, fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that’s yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging on to your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it foes on being a watch; they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, someone will steal it from you, it’ll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of trademark and the assurance that it’s a trademark better than the others, they gift you the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are gibing you yourself for the watch’s birthday.” Julio Cortazar, Cronopios, 1962
“Inventor, n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers, and springs and believes it civilization.” Ambrose Bierce, 1911
“If the human race wants to go to hell in a basket, technology can help it get there by jet.” Charles M. Allen, 1967
“Without slavery there is no cotton; without cotton there is no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to universal commerce, and it is world trade which is the condition of large-scales industry.” Karl Marx, 1846
“Sometimes I wonder. I’m making explorations. I don’t know where they’re going to take me. My work is designed for the purpose of trying to understand our technological environment and its psychic and social consequences. My purpose is to employ facts as tentative probes, as a means of insight, of pattern recognition, rather than to use them in the traditional and sterile sense of classified data, categories, containers. The better part of my work on media is actually somewhat like a safecracker’s. I don’t know what’s inside; maybe it’s nothing. I just sit down and start to work. I grope, I listen, I accept and discard; I try of different sequences -until the tumblers fall and the doors spring open.” Marshall McLuhan, 1969
“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.” Edward O Wilson, 2009
“Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains.” Eric Hoffer, 1955
“The main ingredient in the secret sauce that leads to innovation is freedom. Freedom to exchange, experiment, imagine, invest and fail; freedom from expropriation or restrictions by chiefs, priests and thieves; freedom on the part of consumers to reward the innovations they like and reject the ones they do not” Matt Ridley, 2020