Whenever I hear about a new technology that “empowers the individual,” I know that one thing is likely to be true about it: It will soon (if not already) be turned to negative and harmful ends. And yet, we as a society keep falling for the line that somehow every new technology will give us more control over our lives and make us somehow happier, more connected, safer and more powerful (but only in a good way).
It’s true that practically any technology can be turned toward harmful ends; we haven’t banned knives because they are used both to cut food and kill people. But it is the scale of damage that can be done by an individual that is changing.
Newspaper columnist Molly Ivins used to joke that she was not anti-gun, but pro-knife. In a 1993 column she wrote:
In the first place, you have catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.
Ivins was getting at the increased scale of damage that can be done by, say, automatic weapons versus a knife.
Guns have been around for centuries and have been made more lethal over time. But their lethality may someday soon seem quaint given the future of “empowerment” that awaits us.
I start with unmanned aerial vehicles which are more familiar to us as drones. Their initial use case was actually as toys, remote-controlled model airplanes for which there remains robust demand among hobbyists. How innocent all that seems compared to the killer drones now deployed by militaries around the world! …
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