Democracy and Nature: The International Journal of Politics and Ecology, Vol. 4, No. 1, issue 10 (1997)
Technology: Past, Present, (Future?)
Abstract: This article attempts to follow the evolution of technology in the course of history and tries to understand the logic (or the lack of logic) that was the basis for its creation in each stage of history. Also, it attempts to identify the people that were the
In 1829 , in a series of lectures at Harvard, the physician Jacob Bigelow observed: “There has probably never been an age in which the practical applications of science have employed so large a portion of talent and enterprise of the community, as in the present. To embody... the various topics which belong to such an undertaking, I have adopted the general name of Technology, a word sufficiently expressive, whch is found in some of the older dictionaries, and is biginning to be revived in the literature of practical men at the present day. Under this title is attempted to include an account... of the principles, processes, and nomenclatures of the more conspicuous arts, particularly those which involve applications of science, and which may be considered useful, by promoting the benefit of society, together with the emolument of those that pursue them.” For that American physician and intellectual, even at the beginning of the 19th century, the aim of technology was profit and together with that (maybe) the benefit of society.
Thirty-tow years later, in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was established in Boston. The name “Technology” in the title of MIT was proposed by Bigelow himself “to indicate that the study of science at MIT, rather than being a form of polite learning, would be directed toward practical ends.” 
This is how not only the “name” , but also the “substance” of modern technology ,as analyzed in this article, were “given birth” through MIT.
A few decades later, in the First Edition of the (Merriam) Webster’s International Dictionary (1891 - 1903) we find the following definition for technology: “Industrial science; the science or systematic knowledge of the industrial arts, especially of the more important manufactures, as spinning,weaving, metallurgy, etc.” This was how technology was defined 40 years before the Second World War!
In the famous Second Edition of the (Merriam) Webster’s New International Dictionary (1934 - 1945) the 1903 definition is repeated, but one more version is added which considers technology to be “Any practical art utalizing scientific knowledge, as horticulture or medicin; applied science contrasted with pure science.”
Finally, in the 1993 Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary the definition has evolved as “the practical application of knowledge esp. in a particular area:...<medical technology>...” (Emphasis added). We see that in the present definition (of 1993) we do not find the term “scientific”, but the more general term “knowledge”.
Science had always been separate from technology. In the classical times science “belonged” to the aristocrat-philosophers. Technology was the task of the manual workers. In post-Renaissance Europe and especially in seventeenth-century Britain science acquired a socio-philosophical hue and “was seen as a progressive force, closely linked to the enhancement of the human welfare.” However, that did not last for long and during the eighteenth century in England “science became an activity for a cultured, moneyed and leisured class.” Indeed, “the term ‘scientist’ did not exist in Britain until the mid-nineteenth century; the phrase actually used was ‘a cultivator of science’.”
The meeting of science and technology took place only in the nineteenth century. Although the roots of modern technology go back to the Middle Ages. The first time that science was linked to technology was when the German Justus von Liebig (in 1842) applied chemistry to make synthetic fertilizer. However, this distinction between science and technology gradually faded away. For example, 50 years elapsed before there was a technological application by Edison of Faraday’s scientific discoveries in electricity.“Only seven years passed between the realization that the atomic bomb was theoretically possible and its detonation over Hiroshima and Nagashaki. The transistor went from invention to sales in a mere three years. More recently, research on lasers was barely completed when engineers began using it to design new weapons for the government...”
If we accept that technology is the “application of knowledge”, immediately there arise two questions: first, when did technology start and second, what is the relationship between technology and human nature.
We think that technology started when man, for examle, used for the first time a stick to shake a fruit off a tree and afterwards used a stone to break the hard shell of a nut. As for the relationship between technology and the nature of man we assume that all humans have an innate ability to use their mind to apply their knowledge in a practical manner, that is to act “technologically”. What is not innate to humans is to use their mind “scientifically”.
Let us examine the example of the primitive man that breaks the shell of a nut by using a stone. Almost instantaneously that man could estimate at what hight he should raise the stone, with what speed he should bring down the stone, and at which point he should strike the shell of the nut, so that he would simply break the shell and not crush the nut. If that man were to use mathematics and physics to atttain the same result, we find that it would take him hours, if not days, to solve the problem that the “technological” way of thinking solved instantaneously. And that is not the only thing. Man managed to solve (in a satisfactory way) the problem of the structural strength of a shell after the decade of 1950! In the text that follows, we shall try to test the validity of this assumption, about the relationship between the “technological” and the analytical scientific way of thinking, on the basis of the historical facts.
As we record the course of technology through history we are obliged to raise some additional questions: who decides how (to what end) is technology to be used and which will the technology be (of all possible technologies). These questions and the possible answers to these questions indicate that we accept that technology is “ an essentially human phenomenon, (and) is thus a social process.” One could add, that the history of technology is ,in essense, the history of mankind.
To proceed in this task, we divide the history of mankind, on the basis of technology, in three periods: The first period, which we call “past”, starts from the primitive man and reaches up to 1879, when Edison for the first time demonstrated the use of electric current for lighting. The second period, which we call “present”, starts from 1879 and reaches to the present. The third period is the future (if there is a future).
Already since the time of Neanderthal man (70,000 B.C.) humans used primitive tools. Due to the fact that the number of humans on earth was very small, they did not leave (or there have not been found yet) significant technological samples from those distant times. After that epoch, followed the period of stone up to the Neolithic period (around 10,000 B.C.). During all these tens of thousands of years human technology is marked by the following principal charachteristics: First, the human mind is used in a tacit manner. That is, the solution of the technical problems is achieved by “feel” rather than through “analysis”; it is achieved through what we have called the “technologigal” way of thinking. Second, for what end will the technology be used is decided collectively by the group that is using the technology and this end is the satisfaction of the needs of the group. And third, which that technology will be is again decided by the group, each member of which, possibly, contributes his own ideas to the solution of the technical problems.
Close to the end of the Neolithic period (around 8,300 B.C.) we find the city of Catal Huyuk, in Anatolia of present day Turky, which perhaps is “the oldest city in history”, and which flourished up to 6,500 B.P. “Its population reached 6,000 people. The foundations of the buildings and the burial sites indicate that there were no palaces or especially treated burial sites.All houses were approximately of the same size,a fact that suggests a lack of hierarchy. An additional element is that in Catal Huyuk there were no streets. “One moved from one part of Catal to another over rooftops, ascending or descending ladders, entering into the recesses of dwellings and crossing small squares.”Which indicates that Catal Huyuk must have been a highly collective community with direct contact of its citizens to one an other.”
Moving on from the Catal huyuk, of 8,300 B.C., we arrive to the Great Pyramid, of 2,700 B.C., in Egypt. The established theory holds that the pyramids were constructed with stone blocks carved at various quarries and transported at the site of the pyramids. It is estimated that it took 20 years to build the Great Pyramid and that each year 100,000 men were needed in the building process. In 1988 a chemical engineer, Dr. Joseph Davidovits, on the basis of extensive reasearch that he had done, proposed, through a book (which he wrote in collaboration with Margie Morris), a new theory according to which, the blocks with whch the pyramids were built are made of concrete that was poured in forms in situ at the site of the pyramid. By this method, each year only 1,400 men were needed to work in the construction of the Great Pyramid. This kind of concrete, which is called “geopolymeric concrete”, was prepared with a “cement” which had been used for thousand of years in the area and had as basic constituents raw materials, that were mined in a series mines in the Sinai. Davidovits succeded in resynthesizing the polymeric concrete of the ancient Egyptians in a modern laboratory.
Whether it was 100,000 or 1,400 people that worked to build the Great Pyramid the questions and the answers conserning the problem of technology are very revealing. Who decided that the Great Pyramid should be built? A single individual, the Pharaoh. What was the aim for the construction of the Great Pyramid? None! In essence it was a structure without any meaning. Who can claim that , if the 100,000 or the 1,400 people had the power to make a decision themselves, they would have decided to build the Great Pyramid by working for 20 years, in vain? This “urge” of using technology to create huge monumental structures, which one could call the “pyramid syndrom”, continued to prevail in the centuries that followed the building of the Great Pyramid and still prevails to this day.
Thus, in 1889, a civil engineer, by the name of Gustav Eifel, was instructed to build the “Eifel Tower” on the occasion of the (commercial) exhibition that was to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. Could it be, that, even if the aim of the commemoration was right, more modesty was in order (the tower has twice the hight of the Great Pyramid) for a historic event which had a certain meaning when that event took place? And the French story continued with Mitterend’s glass (dwarf) Pei pyramid in the court of the Louvre, etc.
The “pyramid syndrom” was transmitted also to the ‘new world’ of America with the construction of the Empire State Building in New York , in 1931, which had a hight of 1,250 ft (that is 262 ft above the hight of the Eifel Tower) and which later reached the hight of 1,472 ft through the addition of a 222 ft high TV antenna. But about the multistory building and the “family” of this kind of buildings we shall talk further down this article. Anyway, the “first” in relation to the skyscraper branch of the “pyramid syndrom” has moved to...Southeast Asia!
To a probable claim that these gigantic monuments constitute the “miracles” of humanity, one could answer that the real miracles of human endeavor are the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his comrades, or the folk (popular) music of all people’s, or Rodin’s sculpture’s, or the small arch briedges of old and even the bridges that were built in the course of thousands of years to this day, or the modest and beautiful houses that man has built from the Cyclades to all corners of this earth. That is, all the works of art or of structures which were created to either express the creative urge of man or were built for a concrete and rational purpose.
Returning back to the path of history(after wandering for a little in the fields of the “pyramid syndrom”) we arrive to the Greece of the classic era “and the Platonic disdain for the practical arts...” Then follow the centuries of the Middle Ages where we find the beginning of the roots of modern technology, as previously mentioned. The early twelfth century will see the invention of the lethal crossbow (which is the bow we usually see in William Tell films). Pope Innocent II will prohibit , under threat of anathema, its use against Christians, will allow, though, its use against the Muslims and other infidels. The decision on how to use the technology is again taken by a single individual. The aim of the technology is the infidel. Toward the end of the Middle Ages (1,100 to 1,300 A.D.) in the cities of Italy, Belgium,and Holland, there is a flourishing and an application of the concept of the Athenian “direct democracy”, this time, however, without the disdain for the modest arts. People in these cities “whether they do manual work, or work in the administration, or are merchants, or lawyers, were neither customers, nor bosses of anyone, except when they taught their art to their apprentices.” However, for various reasons,that become apparent later in this article, this “direct democracy” begins to decline. So, in the thirteenth century we meet the invention of the “mechanical clock.” In this case, also, it is very obvious who decides which will be the technology and to what end will it be used. The decision makers are the top members of the hierarchy of the Benedictine monasteries and the end for which the technology will be used is “ to provide a more or less precise regularity to the routines of the monasteries, which required, among other things, seven periods of devotion during the course of the day.” And, as Lewis Mumford wrote, “‘The mechanicel clock made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours and a standardized product.’ In short, without the clock, capitalsm would have been quite impossible.”
It is important to note that two centuries later a remarkable scientist, Leonardo da Vinci, kept secret his drawings for the construction of a submarine, because he was afraid that some people might use them for barbarous military purposes. The Leonardo case is the the first of a total of three cases, in which a scientist refuses to let his work be used for purposes that do not satisfy rational human needs. The other two are: first that of the English scientist Robert Boyle, who, a century after Leonardo, kept secret his discovery of a poison and second that of Leo Szilard, the scientist who essentially solved the problems of the nuclear sector (military and “peaceful”), who in 1946 quit physics, because of the way his ideas were used by the American state, and who switched to biology. Only three cases in the last one thousand years of human technology!
In the end of the fifteenth century the Europeans conquered America. The Europeans achieved this, basically, because “ in Europe (warfare) had become a science.” Therefore, one should agree with the remark that “ It was thanks to their military superiority, rather than to any social, moral or natural advantage, that the white peoples of the world managed to create and control, however briefly, the first global hegemony in History.” The principal agent for the creation of this colonial hegemony was the “warrior-merchant.” Perhaps, one of the most important contributions of technology to this brutal cause is the invention of the stirrup. The stirrup had been originally invented in the Far East, in 200 B.C., but reached Europe around 800 A.D. This technological invantion was used by the European “warrior-merchants” to fight on horseback, which was a terribly effective way to attack the enemy. By now, the decisions on what kind will the technology be and for what ends it will be used are not made by the King (the Pharaoh), the Pope, etc, but by the state that has already emerged and which almost coincides with the “warrior-merchant.” Aim of the technology: the commercial profit.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century we meet Gutenberg as he converts an old wine press into a printing machine with movable type. Fifty years after Gutanberg’s invention (which apparently was achieved by means of the tacit way of thinking), more than eight million books had been printed in 110 cities in six different countries. These books are filled with information that start with law, medicin, linguistics, etc and end up with information on metallurgy. There are even manuals on good manners. Up to that time this information was unavailable to the average person. Neil Postman is right when he observes that; “Nothing could be more misleading than the claim that computer technology introduced the age of information.” (Postman p.61). So, almost immediately after Gutenberg there is an information “saturation.” However, the most important effect of Gutenberg’s invention could be the consolidation and development of the nation-state, which had already been borne in the France of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a development that brought us to the “controlled” information of the twentieth century, which has been analyzed to a considerable depth by Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and Alex Carey.
Moreover, Gutenberg’s invention gave birth to the modern school “ which took shape in the seventeenth century.” The topic of the role of the modern school in the “control” of information, as a “ system of imposed ignorance,” a topic that cannot be examined in this article, is possibly one of the most depressing examples of who is using technology and for what purpose.
One of the most important events in the history of mankind was the discovery, in the middle of the nineteenth century, that cholera and typhus are spread through contaminated drinking water. This discovery took place in London, in 1854, (only 143 years ago!) through the efforts of John Snow, a physician. These efforts were based not on his scientific medical knowledge,as, on the one hand, this knowledge was limited (worldwide) and, on the other hand, the role of microbes, as a cause for disease, was not yet known (it became known quite a few years later). To solve this problem Snow, also, used the indirect way of tacit thinking. Through intuition he suspected that the difference in the number of deaths from cholera in different houses of the same street was due to the drinking water. Investigating the case epidemiologically he found that the two groups of houses , that showed a difference in the number of deaths, obtained their water from two different water supply companies. The company that pumped its water from a point upstream of the Thames ( water which was clean) showed fewer deaths than the one that pumped its water from a point of the Thames in the city of London.
From then on it was a matter of engineering technology, and a new sector of civil engineering was established, sanitery engineering. Again, it is important to discuss who pushed technology towards that direction and whose needs were to be satisfied. The push was given by the class of the elites for mainly two reasons: cholera and typhus, first (and importantly) wiped out most workers and those that survived were very weak, hence profits were diminished, and second, these epidemics did not discriminate as to social classes; the elits died also. The instrument for the push towards that technology was a report that was compiled by Edwin Chadwick and was published in 1842 under the title: The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. The conclusion of the report was that there is a “ close relationship between poverty and disease”! 
After the deliverance of humanity from cholera and typhus (but not from poverty) the way was open for the “present’.
The period of time that we have designated as the present era (from 1879 to the present) is charachterized by a dominant fact: the emergence of the big corporation.
The potential for the rise of the big corporation was furnished by science. There are, mainly, two types of industries that based their existance and their development on science. These are: “the electrical and the chemical industries”. The electrical industry emerged first and remained in a dominant position from 1880 to 1920.
The emergence of the electrical industry and, in essence, of the modern era, is due to Thomas Edison, who on the one hand transformed “invention from a haphazard phenomenon into a routine, businesslike enterprise”, and on the other hand he saw that his “investigations and experiments were inextricably informed by economic considerations”. After developing the first incandescent electric lamp, on October 21, 1879, Edison created , in 1889, the Edison General Elactric Company, whch in 1892 evolved to become (the very well known) General Electric Company (Edison himself had already withdrawn from the company) by merging with Sprague Electric and Motor Company (a pioneer in electric traction). “The most important impetus behind the formation of the General Electric Company... was the patent situation”. It was the sharing of the patents of the two merged companies that made possible the electric lighting of the cities of the world. The (rather savage) role of the patent in the shaping of the economic, social, and also of the technological structure of modern society is paramount.
The principal goal of the big corporation, with the patent as a weapon, was and is to secure a monopoly for itself. In general, there are two ways to use the weapon of the patent: First, through legalistic manipulation (mergers, parallel patents, etc) and second through the virtual elimination of the “lone inventor”. The first, the legalistic, results in the increase of the profits of the big corporation (and the increase of the poverty of the rest), however the second, the control of the inventions, has disastrous effects.
In essence it was and is the big corporation that decides what kind of technology humanity should have. Already the historical record is full of unbelievable monstrosities. At a House committee hearing of tha US Congress, one witness testified that “the greater the contribution (of the lone inventor), the more certain is it to be denied recognition by the entrenched corporations and their servile laboratory staffs. And the lack of such recognition...[in part] explains the shameful spectacle of every single one of the world’s great inventions having been forced to be idle until outside competition had forced their adoption despite the cunning and conspiracy of the great corporations in the field - and often only after the inventor was no longer here to receive his due reward (emphasis added).” Which technology are we talking about? What kind of progress are we talking about? Even worse, the big corporations not only “force to be idle” inventions that have already been made, but now they absolutely direct the research towards where it is beneficial for them and not for the population of the earth.
During the same period of the establishment of General Electric, another corporation that is involved with electricity, Westinghouse, becomes gigantic, on the basis of the invention on the alternating-current that it bought from the Croat Nikola Tesla which revolutionized the way of transporting electricity. As expected, there was a war between General Electric and Westinghouse. By 1896 over three hundred patent suits were pending. The “rational” solution that the two compnies found to the problem was to “agree to pool their patents, with General Electric handling 62.5 percent of their combined business.”
Concerning the alternating-current, that we mentioned, there is an instructive (and rather strange) sequel to this story, in relation to the themes of this discussion. Protagonist in this sequel was Charles Steinmetz. Steinmetz was borne in 1865 in the German city of Breslau. At birth he was afflicted with a physical deformity, hunchback. In the university, as a student, he had the (Greek) nickname “Proteus” (first among the many). While a student he joined the student socialist club, which was banned by the government after becoming affiliated with the German Social Democrats. When his fellow party members were arrested, Steinmetz took over the editorship of the party newspaper, “The People’s Voice”. In 1888 he managed to evade arrest by the security police and flees Germany. One year later, travelling by steerage, he arrives in the US as an immigrant, where he anglicizes his first name to Charles and adopts Proteus as his middle name! He works as an electrical engineer in the company of another German immigrant, Rudolf Eickemeyer, and in 1893 the newly formed General Electric Company purchases the Eickemeyer company, primarily to acquire Steinmetz, who was considered its major asset. During the same period Steinmetz announces the results of his scientific work, which, based on mathematics, solves all the problems in relation to the alternating -current. This contribution by Steinmetz is considered as one of the most important in the history of technology (and of humanity). If Steinmetz had not solved the problems around the alternating-current, perhaps life would have been different today.
Steinmetz became chief engineer of General Elactric, but he kept his socialst ideas to the end of his life. Moreover, he was politically very active as a member of the American Socialist Party (of that era of the first decade of the 20th century). The strange part of the Steinmetz story, as previously hinted, is that he, a socialist, “came to view corporate development as the centralization of the means of production that would ultimately, and inevitably, usher in socialism.” In 1922 Steinmetz ran on the Socialist and Farmer-Labor ticket in New York state for the position of state engineer and surveyor. He was not elected. A year later, on October 26, 1923, he died. He was 58 years old. Fourteen days after his death, on November 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted his first putsch and initiated his Nazi course to power and to the numerous holocausts. Hitler’s principal weapon was the technology that had reached to a considerable point of development, due (to a great degree) to the contributions of Steinmetz, the young socialist that the security police of Hitler’s predecessor’s failed to arrest 35 years earlier. The question is the same: by whom and for what purpose is the technology of the mechanical clock of the Benedictine monks or the altarnating-current of Steinmetz is used.
Going back to the science-based corporations that were involved with electricity we find out that and the other important sector of that industry, the telecommunications, follow a parallel course to that of the General Electric Company, in relation to their meeting with the problem of patents, etc. AT&T proves to be the entity in the telecommunicatins sector that corresponds to General Electric. “The radio-patent pool agreements of the 1920s, among such odd bedfellows as AT&T, GE, RCA, United Fruit, American Marconi, and Westinghouse, provide an illuminating example.”
Before leaving the electric industry we should mention that besides pure science, on which this idustry was based, it would not have been possible for this industry to develope without the tremendous contribution of the simple machine shop, which nurtured the mechanical engineer, and who in his turn made possible the practical application of the scientific discoveries on electricity. Indeed, we consider as very important to cite a “dramatic example” of the tacit way of thinking in a macchine shop.
At one (US) aircraft company they engaged a team of four mathematicians, all, of PhD level to attempt to define in a program a method of drawing the afterburnur of a large jet engine. This was an extremely complex shape which they attempted to define by using Coons’ Patch Surface Definitions. They spent some two years dealing with this problem and could not find a satisfactory solution. When however, they went to the experimental workshop of the aircraft factory, they found that a skilled sheet metall worker, togrther with a draftsman, had actually succeeded in drawing and making one of these. One of the mathematicians observed, “They may have succeded in making it but they didn’t understand how they did it.” [This example is mentioned on pp. 104 and 105 of Mike Cooley’s book, Architect or Bee?, see notes, who says about the above comment of the mathematcian: “This (comment) seems to me to be a rather remarkable concept of reality.”]
Let us now move to the other science-based big corporation, that of the chemical industry. As already mentioned the first attempt to link science to technology was made in the field of chemistry by Liebig,in 1842. From that time up to the end of the First World War the German chemical industry was the world leader in that sector of technology. After the First World war the US government seized all the German-owned patents in the chemical industry and with the help of these resources the US chemical industry, which had already intensified its efforts to meet the war needs in exrlosives, etc, took over as the world leader. The conduct of the big chemical corporation was and is similar to that of the electric corporation.
These two “pioneering” industries, the electrical and the chemical, were emulated by the oncoming new industries, mainly those involved in oil and in cars. For the new industries, apart from the above two, a catalytic role for their development were the twe major discoveries of the transistor and of the DNA. Perhaps the case of these two discoveries ( and that by Steinmetz on the electrical current) are the only ones in the history of technology that somthing major was discovered through the analytic scientific way of thinking and not through the tacit way as it usually happens. However, in spite of his analytical way of thinking William B. Shockley, one of the three scientists that discovered the transistor, drew up a legislative proposal “calling for the sterilization of all persons with IQs below 100” (See,Arditti, p.8). Shockley took part in the discovery of the transistor in 1956, only eleven years after the death of Adolf Hitler.
To exploit the potential of science/technology the big corporation used three main “tools”: the standardization, the university and the “art” of management.
Contrary to the myth about competition the free market cannot exist even for a minute. The solution for the survival of the big corporation was and is management and the intervention of the state. With the same logic in the field of technology the intervention through standardization was necessary for the running of the big corporation. The standardization had to do not only with the material aspects of the corporate activities but also with the men and the women that it employed. Thus, one could discern two aspects for standardization: first that which concerns the division of labor (men and women) and second that which concerns the standardization of materials.
The first aspect is dealt with by the “art” or “science” of management, which we discuss further down. For the second aspect, that of the standardization of the materials, one could say that there is essentially some logic in trying to avoid waste and technical difficulties by having for example one or, at the most, two types of bolts. That this helps increase the profits of the big corporation has nothing to do with the pure logic of standardization. What has a lot to do with these profits is the social system that feeds the big corporation.
Also, in relation to the standardization of the materials, one ,surprisingly, discovers the existence of some kind of direct democracy in the process of the drafting of the specifications for the standards that refer to the materials. For example, in the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), “almost 30,000 individuals (engineers, academics, etc) serve without pay” in the process of decision making, for the standardization of methods of testing and of the quality of materials. Of course, it is only logical to assume that the big corporations and the government shall attempt to impose their will, but it is a bit dificult to manipulate 30,000 people.
Given that the big corporation was created on the basis of the potential provided to it by science, it was only natural that in the course of its development the big corporation would turn to the place where science is cultivated, that is to the university. What the big corporation demanded and got from the university were, first, the solution of the technical problems (later, also of the human problems) of the corporation, and second, to “supply” the people who would apply the solutions that the university produced.
The way that research was done in the universities, for the benefit of the corporations, up to the Second World War, was for the corporation to “farm out” the work for the solution of its technical proplems to the university for a modest fee. So, the corporation shifted the cost of research to the university and used gratis the facilities of the university, the personnel, the libraries, the cost for the education of the personnel, the time of the researchers, etc.
After the Second World War almost all research in the US (the home of the big corporation) is done by the Pentagon through grants to the universities. Which, in essence, means that the population of the country subsidise the private corporations, since the corporations instead of paying for the cost of research themselves get gratis the results of the research that is done in the universities with Pentagon money, that is with the money of the taxpayers.
Important as it is, in its negative social effects, that the universities labor to solve the problems of the corporations (with taxpayer money, this pales before the fact that it is the big corporations that decide which will be the content and the kind of scientific research that is conducted in the universities.
The second “offering” of the university to the corporation, that is the human one, was the need of the corporation for people to apply the results of the research. Thus, a new “race” of men emerged, the engineers. This happened around the middle of the nineteenth century, when the polytechnic schools were founded. Although the ancestor of the polytechnics, France’s Ecole Polytechnique, had been founded already since 1794, we should agree that the founding of MIT offered the environment for the “genesis” of the engineer and of modern technology.
At this point one is bound to raise the question about the relationship of the polytechnic schools to their students and about the role of these students as engineers after their graduation. We thought that the best way to answer these questions would be to cite, in chronological order, the opinions of some of the leading figures in the training of the engineers during the last one hundred years, as we singled them out of the excellent book by David F. Noble, America by Design. It will be worth for the reader to find the patience (and the self - control) to go through the citations that follow:
1886: “The dollar is the final term in every engineering equation.” Nearly a century later A.A.Potter, the dean of American deans of engineering would say: “Whatever the numerator is in an engineering equation, the denominator is always a dollar mark.”
1896: “The financial side of engineering is always the most important; the sooner the young engineer recedes from the idea that simply because he is a professional man, the position is paramount, the better is for him. He must always be subservient to those who represent the money invested in the enterprise.”
1907: “(The engineers) do not realize that until they have learned to work first for the success of the corporation, and only secondarily to consider themselves, and also have learned to subordinate their own ideas and beliefs to the wishes and desires of their superiors, that they can really be efficient [sic].”
1911: “An educational institution resembles in some respects, a manufacturing concern...The goods produced must be of such design , finish, material ,etc. as to satisfy its patrons; likewise , the graduates of the educational institutions must meet the requirements of the concerns which are to employ them...”
1919: “Scientific men are only recently realizing that the effective power of a great number of scientific men may be increased by organization just as the effective power of agreat number of labores may be increased by military discipline...The prizes of industrial and commercial leadership will fall to the nation which organizes its scientific forces most effectively.”
1922: “If producers and users of steel rails were in conference they would discuss the uses which the rails are to serve, classifying the kinds of service, considering wherin past products had failed, inquiring as to the chemical analysis and metallurgical treatment. They would see improvement in production and discrimination in use. But the more difficult problem of the human material for technical and administrative leadership has received less attention...; how seldom do representatives of engineering industry and of enginneering education meet together for conference! Yet they are users and producers of a vital product. Let us try to agree on what we want and then determine how to get it and how to use it . How many boys of differing kinds can be individually developed and fitted to varying needs.”
1928: “there is some analogy between the college and the manufacturing plant which receives partly fabricated metal, shapes it and refines it somewhat, and turns it over to some other agency for further fabrication. The college receives raw material...The type of curriculum is in the last analysis not set by the college but by the employer of the college graduate.” (These words belong to Alfred H. White, professor of chemical engineering at the Universityof Michigan.)
1949: “Of course, in a broad way you are working (as an engineer) for society, the company, the department, your family, and yourself; but directly and primarily you are working for and through your boss, and, as a rule, you will best serve your own and all other interests through this channel.”
1978: In a conference at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington whose subject was Education to Meet the Nation’s Engineering and Related Technical Manpower Needs, the view of the academic teachers, as expressed by the president of one of the large Midwestern universities, was that “his institution was merely turning out the product that was most in demand - competent technicians to fill specific job slots...”
Although any comment on the above cited passages is redundant,we feel that it is our duty to cite a remark by Noble himself, which seals the matter: “Decades later (during the 60s) when rebellious students and professors began to rail against the ‘knowledge factories’ - machines that produced them and then employed them to produce others like them - few suspected how consciously those factories had been designed; because thay could not share the larger corporate persrective which comes with being on the top of the process and looking down, few could perceive themselves...”as those at the top perceived them, namely that “‘The research men of a nation are not isolated individuals but an organized and cooperating army’”.
To further clarify the relationship between the big corporation and the university we return to MIT. In 1920 MIT prepared and announced the so - called Technology Plan. Up to that year the assignment of research to the school was done in a not systematic way, so it was decided to put some order in this matter, with an ultimate goal of improving the financial situation of MIT. The plan aimed to accomplish this by adopting a standard contract to be agreed upon between the school and each of the various corporations. Beyond the fact that MIT’s doors were open to offer any help or service to the corporations, according to the contract the school agreed to “maintain a record of the qualifications and special knowledge of its alumni” and “to advise and assist [the companies] to obtain information regarding men for permanent employment.” (Noble, footnote,p.142).The Technology Plan was succssesful and “within a very short time over 150 companies had signed contracts with the Institute.”
After the Second World War, MIT’s Division of Industrial Cooperation was reorganized, renamed as Division of Sponsored Research “ and expanded to administer research programs with the government and the military as well as with industry”! Thus, began for the benefit of humanity the “golden” era of the Pentagon, which continues to this date.
The big corporation, which was continuously expanding to gigantic dimentions, inevitably, faced a huge problem, that of the organizing of the production process. This organizing had two aspects, that of organizing production in the work place and that of the control of the behavior of the workers as individuals not only in the work place but also away from it.
The big corporation in some way dealt with the first problem. The second problem, the so - called “man problem”, has rather never been solved by the big corporation, in spite of the tremendous efforts that it exerted. Perhaps, therein, in this failure, rests the hope of men and women all over the world.
In order to deal with this two - pronged problem the need arose for the creation of the “science” of management. Creator of the science of managment was the engineer, who transfered the scientific way of thinking, that he had been taught in the polytechnic schools, not only to the purely technical matters of the big corporation but also to its organizational problems. Thus, the engineers started to introduce in the educational and the research material of the polytehnic schools the study of social and psychological problems. Also, they started to incorporate these subjects as variables in their purely technical designs.
It is revealing that most of the literature of what was named the “management movement” from its beginning, in 1880, to the decade of the 1910s “is found exclusively in engineering journals”. Later management became a separate descipline with its own publications. Also revealing, as to the relationship of the engineers to the management of big corporations, is the fact that “in the 1920s the chief executives of General Motors, General Electric, DuPont, and Goodyear - four of the largest corporations in the world - had been classmates at MIT a quarter - century earlier.”
An attempt to deal with the first aspect of the problem, that of organizingn production at the work place, was made by Frederick Taylor, who in 1903 proposed a comprehensive system of “shop management”. In 1911 Taylorism died away, mainly through the refusal of the working people to conform to its barbarism. Also it is charachteristc that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, of which Taylor was elected as president, in 1906, never published Taylor’s famous work, Principles of Scientific Management. In contrast to this, Lenin in 1918 would say: “We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends.”
The engineers tried to deal with the second aspect of management, the “man problem”, through the “science” of psychology. Indeed, management and psychology linked from the first steps of their history. Whether an engineer was succssesful was not judged any more only by his technical knowledge and his abilities, but also in relation to how effectively he used the working men and the working women.
The worker is an irrational being, the manager is a rational being. Goal for the manager is to buy off the loyalty of the (irrational) worker. For example, “‘The executive who, by facilitating promotion...makes marriage a possibility for a young man’ - therby dealing with the ‘Sex Impulse’ - ‘stands to receive large dividends in increased loyalty and length of service...’” (Noble, p.314).
However, as expected, things were not and still are not that simple. Already by 1931 Harlow Person the director of the Taylor Society (during the 1920s) warned: “Stabilization of material forces is not enough; human relations must be stabilized...Stabilization of one industry is not sufficient; all industries of a nation must be stabilized...Stabilization of national industry alone is not sufficient; international economics must be stabilized,” (Noble, p.284). This kind of exhortations, as expected, lead logically to the use of the state and of military power to protect the interests of the big corporation. Which is a statement that describes very acurately the present era.
To complete this recording of the course of technology in the present era, we shall try to examine some concrete forms of present technology that we think play an important role in people’s lives.
Concrete Forms of Technology
- The Automobile
The automobile came into the world in a very unfavorabl era, the end of the nineteenth century. At that time people had solved their transportation problems in a quite satisfactory way. In the cities people moved by means of streetcars and between cities by means of railroads. For example, in the US, around 1916 the streetcars transported 11 billion (!) passangers per year. At this point one should note that “one of the most sound inventions that the human brain ever made, about 150 years ago”, was that of the rolling of a steel wheel on a steel rail, that is, the invention of the railroad.
Therefore, at the start of its history the automobile was useless to the mass of the population. However, the automobile was “useful” to the elites as a means for showing off and as such was used in the first decades of its history. As a matter of fact, in 1901, “Mercedes Benz estimated the ultimate world market potential to be no higher than 1 million cars”. Today there are over 400 million cars on the surface of the earth. Any discussion of the wordwide traffic problem, that the western civilization has created, is superfluous. In any case, it is a given that we cannot get rid of the carbon dioxide that comes out of the axhaust pipe of the internal combustion engine. That is a matter of physics. Therefore, the “greenhouse” fate is inevitable, if we continue our present way of moving from place to place. The, usually proposed, long term solution is that which has hydrogen as fuel. However, this solution is thought to be feasible only through the production of hydrogen by means of the electrolysis of water with electric current obtained through solar energy.
Conclusion: the future “life” of the automobile does not seem to be very rosy. Of course, the life of people (in meny parts of the earth) “concides” to the “life” of the automobile. Is there a solution?
To the above problems one should add two fundamental problems that the automobile has created for modern man. The first is the “social pollution” that the automobile has caused together with the material pollution. As an example we offer the words of a modern Polish Roman Catholic priest, who using two Fiats as an altar “blesses” thousands of cars congregated infront of him is saying: “God is the driver of this World and puts traffic signes that nobody can change”. However, it may be that the worst effect of the automobile on humans is the feeling of hate that accompanies men and women, when they get into their cars, but especially when they come out of their cars after driving on roads that are filled with other cars to the point of insanity.
The second problem is the highway, which was a consequence of the invention of the automobile. In the coming centuries, if there are still humans around, people will see the highway as one of the most irrational and barbaric constructions in the history of technology. Each year 200,000 humans die on the highways of the world; more than the number of dead in Hiroshima. Each year!
- The steel reinforced concrete
If an observer from an other planet could observe the material and social changes that appeared on the face of the earth during the last one hundred years, he would come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors for the existing material and social reality was steel reinforced concrete.
In modern times (if we ignore the work of Davidovits on the pyramids) cement was invented after a series of attempts that started since 1756, mainly in France and in England. In 1842, an Englishman, Joseph Aspdin, invented what today is called Portland cement (which was given that name because it resembled the stone that was used in masonry buildings and came from the English Isle of Portland). Around 1850, Joseph Aspdin, another Englishman, gave cement its final form. Thus, since 1860 began the era of the application of Portland cement.
As usually happens, with admirable frequency in the course of the history of technology, also the invention of steel reinforced concrete was made by a common man, a French gardner, Joseph Monier (1823 - 1906), who, in 1867, was the first man to place reinforcement of steel wire to the flowerpots of concrete that he was making. Ten years later, in 1877, a New York lawyer (!), Thaddeus Hyatt (1816 - 1901), solved the theoretical broblem of the behavior of reinforced concrete, which Monier had invented.
With the coming of the 20th century reinforced concrete starts to write its own history. In 1908 Edison predicts that the concrete will revolutionize the construction of buildings. He himself constructed eleven experimental all - concrete houses with the same forms. Each house was poured in a single day. These houses are still in existence.
The ease and speed with which man can make the reinforced concrete frame of a building enabled him to construct multistory buildings in infinit numbers. Before the advent of the reinforced concrete, the construction of multistory buildings was very difficult and time consuming. The vast majority of the pre-concrete multistory buildings had two stories or at the most three to four stories. Buildings with more than four stories were rare and (dangerously) extreme cases.
From the moment of the arrival of the concrete frame multistory buildings, life changed for the mass of 20th century men and women. The ease of construction of multistory concrete frame buildings, mostly buildings with 6 to 10 stories, allowed the state to cram a great part of the population into miserable apartment buildings. This happened not only in the capitalist states of the West, but also (mainly) in the socialist states of the East. This could not have been done, to the vast extend that it was done, if it were not for the reinforced concrete. The craming of millions of people into “buildings - machines”, in the cities, was the beginning of a huge number of social problems. At least two generations of men and women have grown up in these multistory apartment buildings, already, and they seem to have become a new kind of human, that of the apartment building, the human of the “building machine”. The social, political, psychopathological and even anthropological aspects of the problem of the crammed millions in these buildings has yet to be seriously addressed. And, as expected, the state, in spite of the, by now apparent effects, continues to cram the millions, as there is no reaction. So. once more, the question arises, who decided to use the technology of concrete in order to cram a considerable part of the human race in these “machines”? Had the men and women had the power to decide for themselves, would they have decided to “imprison” themselves in them?
The social problem of the multistory apartment building is multiplied to a fatal degree in the parts of the earth that are hit by earthquakes. And these parts are numerous. From the beginning of this century the newspaper archives, worldwide, are full of innumerable photographs of multistory concrete buildings in which their occupants were crushed to death, when they collapsed during an earthquake.
Concrete is an intrinsically brittle material, even when reinforced with steel ( chalk is another brittle material). A multistory concrete building, even with steel reinforcement in the concrete, cannot survive a big earthquake, if hit directly by the earthquake. The damage to a building is site specific. And the site might be determined by dimentions as small as a few meters! These are facts, consistently ignored by the state and its technical “commissars”. Which should be the reaction of, at least, those engineers who have by now understood the problem?
Concrete is an excellent material that enables man to construct rational, useful, and beautiful structures. One wonders, which would have been the picture that the man from another planet would see, if the technology of concrete was in the hands of the people and the decisions of what to construct and how to construct it, were made collectively in the spirit of direct democracy?
Following the spirit of the era medicine took a course that was parallel to that of the two other science - based corporate activities; the electrical and the chemical.
Up to the middle of the nineteenth century man was afraid of the doctors and disliked them, for the simple reason that the doctors not only were unable to cure people, but were extremely dangerous, given that they were using bleeding (to the death), arsenic, mercury, burning of open wounds with a red hot iron to ...disnfect it, etc. Ordinary people in the end understood that the doctors caused the death of many of their patients. By the middle of the nineteenth century cholera victims were given an even chance of being done in by the disease or by the doctor.
From the middle of the nineteenth century medicine started to invesigate disease on the basis of science, mainly in France and in Germany. However, in spite of the discoveries of Pasteur and of Koch in relation to microbes, etc, again there was no great benefit for the patients. Some people claim that the first time a human was really cured was in the midle of the 1940s, when the use of the antibiotics started. The “tecnological” way of dealing with disease was transplanted from France and from Germany to the US chiefly by William Henry Welch, who was trained in Leipzig of Germany in 1884. Welch through the Johns Hopkins University and the help of the “philanthropy” of the Rockefeller family, established the turn of modern medicine towards technology. As with electricity and chemistry this development affected not only the US medicine but that of the rest of the world.
The involvement of the Rockefellers with medicine is entirely understandable, given that the managers of the big corporations “believed that scientific medicine would improve the health of society’s work force and thereby increase productivity.” The opinion of the Rockefeller men, who were asigned to handle the matter of medicine, was that medicine was “an engineering task”.
After the Second World War the role of the “philanthropists” in “guiding” medicine was taken over by the state. This, from above guided, turning of medicine towards technology resulted in a situation in which today the physician, without realizing it, “perceives his patient more and more indirectly through a screen of machines and specialists; he also relinquishes control over more and more of the diagnostic process. These circumstances tend to estrange him from his patient and from his own judgment.”
It is not only the physician who believes in technology, but also the patient, who trusting greatly the information that the machine is providing, feels that the physician is not doing his job correctly if he will not use all the tools available to him through medical technology. So, “Everyone who has a headache wants and expects a CAT scan...roughly six out of every ten CAT scans...are unnecessary. Why are they done? As a protection against malpractice suits.” Also, it has been documented that 40% of all surgical operations are not necessary. The list of similar statistics is quite long and quite depressing. Perhaps one of the more disturbing (and ironic) statistic is the one which documents that, “wherever doctor strikes have occurred, the mortality rate declines.”
All these are consequences of the fact that at the turn of the twentieth century an amazingly small number of men (close to the “philanthropist” Rockefellers) decided which kind of medicin people should have.
Even more depressing is the situation in the emerging sector of biotechnology. Beyond the sensational ethical - religeous pseudo - problems, that disorient the population, especially after the cloning of a sheep by Dr. Ian Wilmut, the dominant factor that appears in this matter is again that of intellectual property, that is of profit by means of the patent.
Referring to the billions of dollars that US biotechnology is to profit through engineered animals and seeds, Noam Chomsky writes: “We are now speaking of control of the esentials of life. By comparison, electronics deals with mere conveniences... One cynical researcher remarked that as government-industry efforts are proceeding, some day parents might have to pay royalties for having children.” The first thing that Dr. Wilmut did, after the cloning of the sheep, or better the company that employes him, was to secure the intellectual rights before the scientific results were published in Nature. As for the ethical - religious posturing: why are not these people bothered by all these children that are living among us, as a result of a biotechnological intervention in some laboratory, but they are bothered by whether or not during the cloning process a “xerox” copy of the “Holy Spirit” (of which we all partake, according to the scriptures) is reproduced?
Perhaps, one of the, unbelievably, most dangerous problems in biotechnology “is that research is being done with an organism (E. coli) that naturally inhabits the intestines of all humans. (I)f one of these newly created bacteria, actualy a variation of E. coli, were to accidentally get into the human digestive tract, there is no way of foretelling the possible consequences. It could mean the extinction of the human race.” Already, in September of 1978, from a high security US federal animal disease center on an island close to Long Island a virulent virus escaped and infected cattle on the island. (This is one of the reasons that made us place a question mark after the word “future” in the title of this article.)
These are very serious matters and should be faced by all of us immediately and vigorously. There is already an encouraging example in the case of the protest movement against the construction of nuclear power plants. A few thousand men and women succeeded in virtually stopping the construction of nuclear power plants worldwide. No nuke plants are being built anywhere in the world (except those few ones that were left over to the US, which now they are sold by the US to the “socialist” China. And China buys them!). The anti-nuke movement has shown that there might be hope.
- The Computer
The first question one should ask in relation to the computer is: where is the computer used. The answer is: “No one, in fact, seeme(s) to know much about the broader uses and impacts of the computer.” From the available information the picture vis-a-vis the computer is the following: The use of the computer in banking, retail business,etc supposedly brought faster service for the consumer. However, it seems that on the one hand most banks are in an unstable condition, because of debts from credit - card holders, and on the other hand the consumer pays for the use of the computer. In general, in the companies that the computer is used heavily, the quality of service has fallen and the effects on the productivity, the health and the pay of the working people have been negative. A similar picture of instability appears in the stock market, where, according to 1988 data, the number of stock exchange acts had reached 300 acts per second. This speed made it decisively easy for huge parts of capital, during the last two decades, to be involved almost completely in stock market “gambling”and not in investments in industry.
Concerning the Personal Computer, it seems that half of those that own a PC never use it. Of those that use their PCs about 53% spend their time trying to learn how to use them or play video games.
As for the Internet, Chomsky’s remark that “The Internet is an elite organization. Most of the population of the world has never even made a phone call.”, seems to be quite true. The Personal Computer is used mostly by people between 35 to 44 years of age, who are college graduates and have incomes over $50,000 (at least in the US).
Finally, what has been rather settled in relation to the use of the computer, is that the biggest user of the computer are the military with their modern weaponry systems. “The proportion of electronics in the Pentagon’s budget is rising from 34 percent in 1980 to a projected 41 percent in 1997. By 1988 the (computer) industry boasted over $81 billion in military electronics.”
Also, for the developed countries, especially for the US, the computer made it possible for the economy to move from heavy industry to the corporations that deal in services ( beyond the “gambling” at the stock market, that we mantioned).
At this point, as this article nears the part that will deal with the future, we thought it appropriate to insist somewhat on the effects of the computer on man. Especially on the men and the women that make the computers. After all, we are told that the computer is the future.
Micrographics systems are now commonplace peripherals to computerized systems. “Employees over the age of 50 are frequently regarded as ‘visually handicaped’ and unsuitable for long term work with these systems.” Also, “ many companies will not recruit an electronics engineer over the age of 23”! What is more, “an International Federation of Informaton Processing working party recently suggested that mental hazzards ‘caused by inhumanely designed computer systems should be considered a punishuble offence just as endangering the bodily safety’.”
The problems that people face when working with computers should be considered as rather mild compared to the problems that overwhelm the people that make the computers. “In any honest estimation, electronics production work must be counted among the most dangerous of occupations...”
One never finds in History “social experiments” which have been set up in a real 1:1 scale. However. one such “social experiment” which describes the future (if we do not take our lives in our own hands) began and is continuing in the area where the computer started to “flourish”, in Silicon Valley, at the southeast of San Francisco. What happened in Silicon Valley is more or less this:
The heart of the computer industry is the “clean room”, where workers make the most sensitive computer components, the cips, disk surfaces, etc. This rooms are clean not for the protection of the workers that work in them, but for the protection of the microchips even from the particles that are found in the breath of a human (usually a female worker). Many compare the clean rooms to the intensive care units of hospitals. This time not for the care of a human. In the clean rooms there are toxic substances which in Silicon Valley have already caused women workers, that work in them, to give birth to babies with impaired hearts, lungs and livers, caused shrunken testicles to male workers, induced “chemical hypersensitivity”, an AIDS-like condition (that has alarmed the medical community, among whom immunological knowledge is still primitive), and a long series of other illnesses. In this “clean room” environment in Silcon Valley and other parts of theUS “Nearly one million women currently work in electronic production...; and hundreds of thousands more work for US companies in places like Mexico, Taiwan, and the Philippines.”
The computer industry dealt with this problem in a very “simple” way. It recorded the illnesses caused by working in the clean rooms as injuries at the work place. With the assistance by a rule adopted by the Reagan administration the industry found this arrangement as a very “satisfactory” solution. Actually, the computer industry has shown an admirable talent in relation to the meanings of words. For the computer industry there are “agents”, “chemicals”, “gases”, or perhaps ‘aggressive fluids”. These same substances for hydrology are “contaminants’, “poisons”, and “toxic wastes” (Hayes, p.65).
This has been a very sketchy recording of the effects of the computer production processes on the human body. Effects that one finds also in other industries, even if, there, they do lesser damage. What is “new” in Silicon Valley is the psychological annihilation of the men and the women that work there. “Life” in the Valley, as we know it, started around 1980. By mide-decade “(a)t some companies, over 80 percent of the employees were non-alcoholic substance abusers.” People in the Valley from the lowly workers to the top management spend annually $ 500 million in illegal drugs!
The unimaginably high frequency of divorce and the notorious wilting of relations between the two sexes introduced a new term in psychopathology the “Silicon Syndrom”. This situation is described quite accurately by the message on the T-shirts of Apple employees which proclaimed: “working 90 hours a week and loving every minute of it”. (A normal person, in general, works around 40 hours a week). “By 1988, Apple was soliciting bids for an onsite psychotherapy facility.” Already “at least 65 percent of Apple employees were ‘in therapy’.”
The psychotherapists say that since the people of the Valley cannot control their life in and out of the work place, the only activities left to them, that they can comtrol, are (health) food, exercise (aerobics and running), and “Shop Till you Drop” shopping sprees. The problem of irrational (compulsive) shopping has become one of the most serious problems in Silicon Valley. “When researchers asked over 34,000 mall shoppers their primary reason for a visit, only 25 percent responded that they had come to shop for a specific item.” Another study revealed that “four out of ten shoppers admitted that their closets were filled with unopened items.”
Finally, one of the most negative charachteristics of life in the Valley and of the quality of the work itself (i.e. of the final product), especially for those involved in military related work, is secrecy, which reaches the limits of paranoia. In the Valley the “need-to-know” rule of the secret services is supreme. This rule dictates that “... no agent is trusted (by his bosses) to have more information than those he ‘needs-to-know’ in order to carry out his official duties.”
In the Valley the aim of this rule is for the men and women working there not to know which is the final use of the computers they design and produce! This is the second time in human history that the state succeeds in keeping secret an object from the men and women that produce this very object. The first time was that of the Manhattan Project for the production of the first atomic bomb. In that project worked 150,000 people, but only a dozen people had the complete picture of what it was being produced and for what purpose.
To the logical question, how is it possible for people to produce an object without these people knowing what that object is and where it is going to be used, the answer is that you simply compromise the final quality of the object. Which is what happened in the production of the first atomic bomb, as there was no contact between the teams that tried to solve the various partial problems. Nobody knew what his neighbor was doing. Also, that is why it took them so long to make the bomb.
Similarly, the Silicon Valley computers that are incorporated in the nuclear warheads of the missiles, the “smart bombs”, and the other “objects” of the military are full of defects. It is not dificult to guess who will suffer the (collateral) effects of these defects.
This is the picture of modern electronics technology, as it appears in the place that it emerged, in Silicon Valley. Yet, “electronics technology has become so powerful that its control is now crucial to the outcome of any sweeping social change.” That is, the technology that created the transistor and then the microchip will decide what the future will be. Or, to be more precise, those that will decide which the evolution of the present electronics technology will be, will, actually, decide which the future will be.
(- The Future?)
If we assume that there is going to be a future for humanity, then taking into account the steps that man has already made in technology we might be able to estimate (not predict) which will be the probable tendencies in technology, in (at least) the near future, under the present (globalized) social system.
- On the basis of the up to this day history of the microchip, one can estimate that it is possible that the microchip’s performance will continue to double every 18 months or so. Which means that by the year 2,020 a small computer could be as powerful as all the computers in the Valley today put together. The matter of who will use this powerful computer and to what purpose remains open.
It’s up to us that it should not be used for “gambling” in the stock market or in the “smart” bombs of the Pentagon.
- It is by now confirmed, as previously mentioned through Noam Chomsky’s remark about the Internet, that “about half the people alive today have never made a telephone call.”
Satellites coupled with the powerful computers will make the transfer of information even easier and faster than today. Again the question that is raised is: will this satellite technology be used to saturate the earth with propaganda, disinformation, and entertainment “garbage”, as is done today with the older technologies of radio and television, or will it be used so that also the people in the poor countries will partake in the human knowledge?
- If the visions of the big car-making corporations materialize, that is the construction of a car that “thinks”, again with the help of the powerful computer, then that computerized system “may well involve the kind of technology and intelligence gathering once reserved for tactical warfare.” If we let the people that aim to such kind of technologies to decide that the dead on the highways, that each year number one Hiroshima, are not enough, then we should be to blame.
The alternative solution, sought by rational humans who decide collectively, should be to reduce the need to travel. To this end the realization of the irrationality of the automobility of the last 100 years versus the rationality of the accessibility ( through mass transportation) will help. In addition the “philosophy” of the “neo-traditional” small town, which, little by little, appears on the horizon, could bring about a vast social change in the gigantic gehttoes of the apartment buildings.
- “Our society went into the age of nuclear energy blindly, and we went into the age of DDT and other pesticides blindly. But we cannot afford to go into the age of genetic engineering blindly. Instead we must move into this exciting new era with an awareness that gene therapy can be used for evil as well as for good.” These are not the words of a radical leftist intellectual but those of a mainstream academic who spent 27 years at the National Institute of Health, of the USA.
- On June 11, 1976 there was a hearing before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives of the US Congress. The title of the subject of the hearing was: “Converting Solar Energy Into Electricity: A Major Breakthrough?”
The subcommittee discussed a proposal by the US physicist Joseph C. Yater for the conversion of solar energy into electricity. Beyond the theoretical basis of the proposal, the need arose to prove its practical applicability, by establishing the ability to fabricate devices (circuits) of very small dimensions.
From the minutes of the hearing before the subcommitteeone can realize that “among the scientists of the last quarter of the twentieth century the opinion is that the solution of the problem of production of energy from the sun will be found through micro-electronics (again the microcomputer). This , the physicist Richard Philips Feynman (1965 Nobel Prize in Physics) expressed with the phrase ‘There is plenty of room at the bottom’. The ‘bottom’ being the area of the atom and microcircuits.” This was written in 1986. Today, in 1997, only eleven years later, we see that , already, the fabrication of devices that are called “Microelectromechanical systems” (MEMS), which combine miniaturized mechanical and electronic components, has began. MEMS are fabricated by methods similar to those of the production of the microchip. Already MEMS have being fabricated which measure 200 microns, that is the size of two hairbreadths.
In the meantime, research on the so-called “self-assembling materials” is progressing. One can understand the concept of self-assembly by observing for example a raindrop on a leaf. The liquid of the raindrop assumes a spherical shape spontaneously by following the laws of physics. The idea, in relation to micro devices, is to use the self-assembling process to, in a way, have the microdevices fabricate thamselves, because man cannot make he himself so small devices
Whether or not the MEMS technology will be used to convert solar energy into electricity, as discussed before the subcommittee of the House of Representatives, depends on who will take the decisions in relation to technology during the coming decades. If things remain as they are today, then the suspicions of Subcommittee chairman Leo J. Ryan, as expressed toward Dr. Robert L. Hirsch of ERDA, might come true. We cite the appropriate passage from the minutes:
Mr. RYAN. ... , I am of a suspicious enough nature to believe that there are elements which would rather not see Mr. Yater’s invention become too succssful.
This leads to my next question.
Do you believe or feel there are outside pressures placed upon you and your agency in regard to this kind of discovery which you would charachterize as unhealthy or uncomfortable? (Emphasis added.
Dr. HIRSCH. Absolutly not.
How could the answer of (ERDA employee) Dr. Hirsch be different? How could he accuse the oil companies? Conclusion: once more the matter is open, who will decide about the use of this technology? The oil companies or the population?
- The problem of the poisoning of the environment could be the most dificult problem that man has faced since his appearance on earth. We can avoid to become extinct as a species by a variation of E. coli through political and social resistance. The problem that humanity cannot solve is the disposal of the nuclear waste that has being accumulating from the early 1940s untill today. No one knows what to do with them. It seems that the predicament is non-reversible. And it is us that allowd this to happen.
Following technology in its course through history, one observes that up to a point in time (that rather cannot be exactly determined) there was a measure of rationality that guided technology towards the satisfaction of essential human needs. After a certain era an element of irrationality started to charachterize technology (the pyramids,etc). Up to the Second World War technology was not a very important factor in the life of human societies. This can be inferred from the fact that society alloted a very insignificant percentage of its resources for scientific purposes. After the Second World War technology acquired an enormous influence on society (mainly through its relationship to the military-industrial complex), that is why it absorbs a very big percentage of the resources of society.
What one might call big technology has a history of no more than 50 years! The charachterization as “big” attempts to describe the, generally considered as big, three basic discoveries: the nuclear breakthrough, the transistor and the DNA. This big technology was used chiefly “to fulfill the needs of asociety that is warlike, competitive, hierarchical and unequal.”
Today society is at a crossroads (which is a rare opportunity) to start to change this present society into a rational society without wars, without competition, without hierarchies and without barbarous inequalities. To change it into a society based, for example, on an “inclusive democracy” as it is thoroughly treated in the book of Takis Fotopoulos Towards an Inclusive Democracy. And this, perhaps for the first time in history, is feasible through the rational use of the existing (and future) technology.
Whether this will be realized or not is in our hands.
Nikos Raptis is managing co-editor of the Greek language edition of Democracy and Nature. He wrote the books: Let Us Talk about Earthquakes, Floods and the...Streetcar (Athens, 1981) and The Nightmare of the Nukes (Karre, Athens, 1986). Also he translated and published Noam Chomsky’s books, Year 501 (Topos Press, Athens, 1994), and Rethinking Camelot (Topos Press, Athens, 1994).
 Noble, David F., America by Design, Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 3, 4
 Ibid, p. 23
 Arditti, Rita, et al, Science and Liberation, Black Rose Books, 1980, p.18
 Ibid, p.304
 Noble, p.xxii
 Garrison, Ervan, A History of Engineering and Technology, CRC Press, 1991, p.5
 Bookchin, Murray, The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1987, p.26; Raptis, Nikos, ANTI, No. 505, 1992, p.39
 Davidovits, Joseph, Dr and Morris, Margie The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1988, 263 pages. In this very interesting book besides the problem of the pyramids a number of serious questions are raised. For example, how was it possible to make, during and before the period of the pyramids, thousands of stone vessels (of which 30,000 were found only in one pyramid) carved out of very hard stone, in an age that there were no metals (toward the end of the period there was copper, which, however, is a soft metal)? And, what is more intriguing, how some of them were carved, which have a long narrow neck and rounded bellies? And, finally, how could the interior and exterior surfaces correspond perfectly? Furthermore, how, during the same period, ultrafine holes were drilled in tiny beads of very hard stone, which can be drilled today only with the most advanced technology. Also, what happened to the technology that the Roman naturalist, Pliny (A.D. 23-79) mentions in his book, Natural History, in which he describes some curious ceramic vessels, that, during voyages, were tightly corked and immersed into the sea in nets- where they automatically filled with pure, fresh water? As expected, the archeological establishment, not only discarded the theory of Davidovits, but they did not even agree to test it, by refusing to let Davidovts to take samples of the material of the pyramids in order to analyze them. Thus, he was forced to conduct his research on samples obtain from other sources.
 Arditti, p.69
 Raptis, 1992,p.39
 Postman, Neil, Technopoly, Alfred A. Knopf, New york, 1992, p.14
 Ibid, p.15
 Chomsky, Noam, Year 501: The Conquest Continues, South End Press, Boston, 1993, p.7
 Ibid, p. 8
 Postman, p.61
 Chomsky, Noam and Herman, Edward S., Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, N.Y. 1988; Carey, Alex, edited by Lohrey, Andrew, Taking the Risk out of Democracy, UNSW Press, 1955
 Chomsky, Noam, edited by Achbar, Mark, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1994, p.157
 Garrison, pp.176, 177
 Doyal, Lesley, The Political Economy of Health, South End Press, Boston, 1981, p.144
 Noble, p.5
 Ibid, p.8
 Ibid, p.10
 Ibid, note p. 42. One has to agree with David Noble that “Steinmetz deserves more attention than he has received.”
 Ibid, p. 93
 Florman, Samuel C., Blaming Technology, St.Martin’s Press, N.Y., 1981, p.111
 Noble, p.34
 Ibid, p.35
 Ibid, p.175
 Ibid, p.184
 Ibid, p.110
 Ibid, p.240
 Ibid, p.46
 Ibid: p.48
 Florman, p.151
 Noble, p.158
 Ibid, p.263
 Ibid, p.51
 Lenin, V.I., “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government”, (1918), Collected Works, Vol. 27, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 259
 There is information according to which the first automobile was constructed in China three thousand years ago. It moved with the help of turbines and “attained great speed”. See, Marsh, Peter and Collet, Peter, Der Automensch, Walter - Verlag, 1991, p. 9 Marsh and Collet give this piece of information citing Persian translations of Chineese texts of the Chou dynasty. The Persian ttranslations were translated into Latin by Roger Bacon, an English intellectual of the Middle Ages, who offered his translations to Pope Clement IV. In a letter written by Bacon in 1270 A.D. there is a citation to the Chinese automobile, which moved “with inestimable speed” (cum impetu inestimabili)!
 Raptis, Nikos, Let us Talk about Earthquakes,Ffloods and...the Streetcar, ( self published), Athens, 1981, p.14
 Ibid, p.19
 Renner,Michael, Rethinking the Role of the Automobile, Worldwatch paper 84, June 1988, p.7
 Marsh and Collett, p.39
 Brown, Richard E., Rockefeller Medicine Men, University of California Press, 1979, p.102
 Ibid, p.10
 Ibid, p.121
 Postman, p.101
 Ibid, p.101
 Ibid p.105
 Chomsky, Noam, Year 501, p.113
 Arditti, p.10
 Hayes, Dennis, Behind the Silicon Curtain, South End Press, Boston, 1989, p.33
 Hayes, note 5, p.189
 Cooley, Mike, Architect or Bee?, South End Press, 1980, pp.45,26
 Ibid, p.39
 Hayes, p.65
 Hayes, note 1, pp.178,179
 Ibid, p.116
 Ibid, p.144, 145
 Raptis, Nikos, The Nightmare of the Nukes, Karre, Athens, 1986, p. 106
 Hayes, p.99
 Key Technologies for the 21st Century, Scientific American - A Special Issue, W.H.Freman and Company, 1996, p.1, 11
 Ibid, p.49 (article by Robert Cervero)
 Ibid, p.60 (article by W. French Anderson)
 Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, June 11, 2976, “Converting Solar Energy into Electricity: A major Breakthrough?”, US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1976, Stock No. 052-070-03525-1
 Raptis, 1986, p.350
 Ibid, pp.348,349
 Arditti, p.2
 Fotopoulos, Takis, Towards an Inclusive Democracy, Cassell, London, 1997