The New York Times profiled a significant technological breakthrough on Wednesday, and their commenters set immediately to demanding it be destroyed. There have been luddites fearing change and calling for stagnation for as long as there have been humans more intelligent than them trying out new things, but, call me crazy, it really seems the luddites all are getting louder.
We are just a year or two from charging our electronic devices wirelessly. The company working on the technology profiled, uBeam, has not only realized the dream of Nikola Tesla and developed a commercially-viable way to wirelessly charge electronic devices, they have also demonstrated that they can send information through sound, positioning us to develop entirely new ways of communicating with one another. The applications are surely numerous. But ignore the cool ass NYT article for a minute and look at the responses. Nick Bilton’s piece is an inadvertently perfect, terrifying study of the thing that could actually bring our modern society to its knees: dumb asses.
“These things should be banned,” writes Allen Braun. He goes on to cite high energy inefficiencies (which do not exist), as if a world without wires wouldn’t be worth the year or so it might take for technologists to tweak the problem (which is, again, not major). More importantly, why are we so obsessed with conservation of energy at all? If you live in the Western World you probably have fresh drinking water, which is increasingly something that poor people in poor countries do not have. This is not a technology problem. We know how to turn salt water into fresh water. What we lack is the energy to do it at scale. We don’t need to be conserving energy right now, we need to be using more of it. A lot more of it. And to do that, we need to develop new ways to produce a shit ton of it. Hi, nuclear power. Care to dance? But oh right, the same people screaming at the top of their lungs about the horrors of global hunger refuse to allow our technologists the power it will take to build our way out of the problem.
Of course, what really seemed to piss the commenters off was an entirely-fabricated (truly, invented by the commenters themselves) health risk. This is important to discuss in the age of the internet because people actually listen to internet commenters. One imagines Bilton didn’t cover the health risks associated with the technology that don’t exist because, like, they don’t exist. From parking sensors on cars to fluorescent light ballasts, we’re hit with ultrasound all the time. But Bilton receives his lumps from the groundlings nonetheless, and one wonders what will happen when some opportunistic politician listening to today’s mob-invented health issue decides he’s found a new platform. I’m sure he’ll win his election. But where does that leave us?
Today, we have computers in our pockets with which we engage the entirety of human knowledge. We are eradicating diseases that have previously crippled entire continents. We are mapping our own, individual genomes. Or, I should say, a few of us are doing these things. The great majority of us are busy legislating web censorship, halting the development of vaccinations against scary-as-fuck viruses like Ebola, and blocking our neighbors from accessing their own, personal genetic information.
Concerning the shape of the future, there will be no middle-ground between utopia and what you’re looking at right now. Things will change, regardless of action or inaction. This is simply the nature of the universe. But our global population is increasing exponentially. We are running out of fossil fuels. And unseen threats — from asteroids to super bugs — could strike, literally, with no warning, at any moment. So let’s be very clear: if you aren’t working on solving the problems, get out of the way of the people who are. Because I’ve seen the apocalypse, and it’s not Skynet; it’s a politician appealing to an idiot on Twitter.