Most of the topics covered in this column have focused on the Internet, which is just one technology among many. To begin with, let’s be sure what “technology” really is. According to Britannica, it is “the application of scientific knowledge to the practical purposes of human life or, as it is sometimes said, to the change and manipulation of the human environment”. (https://www.britannica.com/technology/technology)
Of course, there is an opposing school of thought that cautions us against change, ranging from “The best way to clear up muddy water is to leave it alone” (an ancient Zen Buddhist proverb) to the more summary provided by the Beatles in the song “Let it Be”. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere between the two philosophies. Another way to look at it is as a beautiful symbiotic relationship between science and engineering. Science advances engineering, which in turn advances science. Science is the basis of engineering, and engineering is used to build structures that can be used to test science. Three good examples are medical, gaming, and climate technologies.
THE GAMES WE PLAY
Medical technology has evolved from the use of plants and chants to x-rays and pharmaceuticals to prevent, diagnose and ameliorate many diseases and other mishaps. A contemporary example could be found in our country’s response to the scourge of COVID. Due to advancements in other technologies such as transportation and communications, COVID has been slowly but surely pushed back.
Games, on the other hand, are considered a waste of time for many but a tonic for many others. They flourish under the wing of the Internet but they existed in various forms many thousands of years ago.
“The history of games goes back to the ancient human past. Games are an integral part of all cultures and are one of the oldest forms of human social interaction. Games are formalized expressions of play that allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Common characteristics of games include uncertainty of outcome, agreed rules, competition, distinct place and time, elements of fiction, elements of chance, prescribed goals, and personal enjoyment. The games capture the ideas and worldviews of their cultures and pass them on to the next generation. Games were important as cultural and social events, as educational tools, and as markers of social status. As a pastime of royalty and the elite, certain games became common features of court culture and were also given as gifts. The games…were seen as a way to develop strategic thinking and mental skills by the political and military elite.
“In his 1938 book Homo Ludens, Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga argued that games were a primary condition for the generation of human cultures. Huizinga considered play to be something “older than culture, for culture, however insufficiently defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them how to play”. Huizinga saw games as a starting point for complex human pursuits such as language, law, warfare, philosophy, and art. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_games)
You don’t read much about climate tech (except in my good friend’s column above) but I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal by Patricia Price that updates the general public on existing technologies that deal with climate change.
The article begins with a brief discussion of the problem and follows with a range of possible solutions, “Climate experts from a United Nations panel recently expressed concern about the state of climate science, saying that the past decade has seen the highest average annual emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities on record.Countries, they said, must move away from fossil fuels quickly if they have any hope to achieve the goals set out in the 2015 Paris climate accords… The Wall Street Journal recently asked energy academics and researchers what breakthrough climate technologies they think have the potential to be the most transformative. Some spoke of technologies on the horizon; others focused on existing technologies that could be deployed to help bring the world back to zero i 2050.
In a future column, I will try to summarize what they said about new technologies being developed to end or at least reduce the effects of climate change. and if you can’t wait, the quickest way to access Price’s full article is to search: “Can technology save the day?” “An interesting question, because technology was partly responsible for our current dilemma. Can technology be used to solve the problems created by technology or will it make things worse? I don’t have an answer, but I know we have to proceed very carefully.
Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is professor emeritus of computer science at Plattsburgh State. He recently retired after 30 years there. Prior to that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer, and consultant to the US Navy and private industry. Send your comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.