January 16, 2017
Martin Luther King Jr. was a lot of things to a lot of different people—a reverend, a leader, an icon—but he’s not exactly known as a technologist. Yet, in 1964 at the Nobel Lecture in Oslo, Norway, MLK had a few insightful things to say about the rampant acceleration of technology occurring throughout his lifetime. Granted, MLK almost certainly could not have conceived of the level our technology would reach some 53 years later, but his words still bear meaning.
“Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
With this statement in mind, it can be argued that technology has been instrumental in beginning to heal the sorts of divides MLK references here. So, in honor of the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we’ve compiled a short list of ways in which technology has made the world a better place and continues to help us “live together as brothers.”
Technology and the Soul
- Medical Technology: This is a favorite topic of ours on this blog. Between nanobots, genetic engineering, robotic surgical assistants, advanced transplant techniques, and more, medical technology has saved countless lives.
- Accessibility of Information: Information is everywhere and constantly at our fingertips. Granted, this access is often squandered on cat videos or other frivolous things, but it can also be used to spread powerful positive messages. For example, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube has been viewed 1,213,618 times between August 2013 and January 2017. That’s an enormous amount of reach and an enormous amount of exposure.
- A Connected World: Seven years ago in 2010, a little less than 2 billion people were connected to the internet. Today that number is over 3 billion. That is almost half the world engaging in discussion, dissemination of ideas, and exposure to each other’s culture. Plus, with advances in Google Translate, communication across language barriers becomes ever easier.
- Renewable Energy: In 2016, solar and renewable energy became cheaper than coal in more than 30 countries. This marks a serious shift in the way we should start thinking about renewable alternatives. As King says, we may be flying like birds and swimming like fish, but we can now do so without taking something from the environment for the privilege. As a testament to how far renewables have come, Scotland was able to generate 106% of its electrical needs for a day exclusively from wind power.
- Self-Driving Cars: Uber this year tested their fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Once this emerging technology is refined and ready for mass use, we will be able to drastically cut down the number of automobile collision fatalities. Every year, car collisions claim 30,000 American lives. With self-driving cars, the human error that causes these accidents will be removed from the equation.
The Safest Time to Be Alive
We truly live in remarkable times, and technology has played a central role in that. Yes, there are rough edges that need to be smoothed out and adjustments that need to be made to acclimate, but this is the safest time in human history to be alive. That is not to say that tragedy does not still exist. It simply means that violent crime is down 35% between 1995 and 2014, child mortality is down, disease is down, and the traditional threats to the human life have diminished over the last several decades.
Looking ahead with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in mind, there is plenty to be optimistic about.
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