Presence and Prescience by Johnson Favaro

I could never get past the kitsch of the acting and the sets of the original Star Trek series that Gene Rodenberry created and put on TV in the 1960s enough to appreciate the thought behind it. Still, the show was as everyone now knows progressive, ahead of its time. It had a diverse cast and some of the technologies it imagined such as the voice activated computer and the “communicator” have fifty years later become indispensable in our daily lives.  (Although not yet the “transporter”, a technology that may remain a figment of our imagination.)  The show’s stories were penetrating: Why do we eat? What is love? What makes us human? I believe that Rodenberry set the show in a far-off future in far-off places to create a safe place for the popular culture to ask those questions, to behold who we are and what our future might be:  How will we evolve? Will we progress?

For a hundred years or more technology seems always to have been the answer:  better technology will enable us to evolve.   It’s been our almost unconditional certainly unquestioning faith that machines will make our lives and ourselves better.  We now know though that technology unchecked (and the science behind it) has caused problems with which we now have to contend:  global warming (underway), extreme poverty (modern medicine both the problem and the solution) even robots who think for themselves (maybe around the corner).  And while new science and technologies (photovoltaics, machine learning and nanotechnology) may hold the answers to the problems that old science and technology have created how do we know that they will not in turn create problems we cannot now foresee?  

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