"Humanity has made little real progress over the past century or so. Technological innovations have taken place, but the overall condition of humanity is no better. War, violence, and poverty are still with us. Technology cannot change the condition of humanity."
Have technological innovations of the last century failed to bring about true progress for humanity, as the statement contends? Although I agree that technology cannot ultimately prevent us from harming one another, the statement fails to account for the significant positive impact that the modem-industrial and computer revolutions have had on the quality of life at least in the developed world.
I agree with the statement insofar as there is no technological solution to the enduring problems of war, poverty, and violence, for the reason that they stem from certain aspects of human nature--such as aggression and greed. Although future advances in biochemistry might enable us to "engineer away" those undesirable aspects, in the meantime it is up to our economists, diplomats, social reformers, and jurists--not our scientists and engineers--to mitigate these problems.
Admittedly, many technological developments during the last century have helped reduce human suffering. Consider, for instance, technology that enables computers to map Earth's geographical features from outer space. This technology allows us to locate lands that can be cultivated for feeding malnourished people in third-world countries. And, few would disagree that humanity is the beneficiary of the myriad of 20th-Century innovations in medicine and medical technology--from prostheses and organ transplants to vaccines and lasers.
Yet, for every technological innovation helping to reduce human suffering is another that has served primarily to add to it. For example, while some might argue that nuclear weapons serve as invaluable "peace-keepers," this argument flies in the face of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people murdered and maimed by atomic blasts. More recently, the increasing use of chemical weapons for human slaughter points out that socalled "advances" in biochemistry can amount to net losses for humanity.
Notwithstanding technology's limitations in preventing war, poverty, and violence, 20th-Century technological innovation has enhanced the overall standard of living and comfort level of developed nations. The advent of steel production and assembly-line manufacturing created countless jobs, stimulated economic growth, and supplied a plethora of innovative conveniences. More recently, computers have helped free up our time by performing repetitive tasks; have aided in the design of safer and more attractive bridges, buildings, and vehicles; and have made possible universal access to information.
Of course, such progress has not come without costs. One harmful byproduct of industrial progress is environmental pollution, and its threat to public health. Another is the alienation of assembly-line workers from their work. And, the Internet breeds information overload and steals our time and attention away from family, community, and coworkers. Nevertheless, on balance both the modern-industrial and computer revolutions have improved our standard of living and comfort level; and both constitute progress by any measure.
In sum, enduring problems such as war, poverty, and violence ultimately spring from human nature, which no technological innovation short of genetic engineering can alter. Thus the statement is correct in this respect. However, ifwe define "progress" more narrowly--in terms of economic standard of living and comfort level--recent technological innovations have indeed brought about clear progress for humanity.