EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Technology is awesome, but not always

Writer: Kevin Keqing Liu  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-11-08

Whenever we speak of technology, often such words appear in our mind: high-end, magnificent, classy…

No doubt technology is more or less constructive. Rarely do people think that it's more or less destructive, too. Just as a coin has two sides, technology has its good and bad.

Technology-driven development of our human world may be divided into four industrial revolutions that were triggered by steam engines, electricity-powered machines, computers, and cyber-based artificial intelligence.

While steam engines have extended and even freed human hands and go beyond what humans are physically capable of, it's been at the heavy price of burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel whose explosive use has been polluting our Earth for nearly 260 years. Electricity is generated also by burning coal or, to a lesser extent, uranium, a fatally radioactive material, or from flowing water of reservoirs that drown vegetation, damage wildlife habitats, and cut off migratory paths.

Computers extend the capability of human brains in terms of speed, storage and information processing. However, it is one of the largest consumers of electricity worldwide and its users' inactivity-induced physical discomforts are widespread due to prolonged sitting in front of them, to say nothing of its giving birth to cybercrime, cyberterrorism or even cyberwarfare. Before long, we can hear the news that a hacker invades the control system of our autopilot car and plunges it into a river.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly catching up or, in some cases, exceeding human brain capability. In 2015 and 2016, AlphaGo became the first AI device to easily defeat the world's top human Go players. It signaled a pre-warning that humans sooner or later may fall into slavery to self-learning machines.

As technological development turns increasingly complex, humans tend to be increasingly dependent on it and vulnerable. Passengers get stuck in the cold elevator of a 30-story high rise building; the digital map leads you to a dangerous cliff on the seashore when you intended to drive your sedan to a summer resort by the inland mountain in an unfamiliar city; strong solar storms paralyze the electricity grid causing residents to be without power and water for days; plastic bags degrade into invisible micro particles entering human bodies along with what we eat, drink and breathe, and eventually sinking everywhere in the body gradually damaging the organs; nonbiodegradable packages are thrown, ending up in rivers and oceans where fish die from eating it; thousands of nuclear bombs now in the hands of several countries are powerful enough to be able to destroy the earth multiple times.

Technology certainly creates new job opportunities. It wipes out more old ones. This phenomenon has become an obvious daily occurrence and unemployment caused by it is a big concern.

Technology helps cure diseases and reduces poverty, yet contaminated air, water, soil and food, as well as sound, luminous, and electromagnetic pollution are causing new physical and mental diseases and widening the gap between the rich and poor, the so-called "relative poverty."

Rainforests, the lungs of our dear Mother Earth, especially in the Amazon region and Southeast Asia, have been cut down at a rate faster than ever before due to availability of more sophisticated cutting and transportation tools. These precious plants absorb the excessive heat from the sun, inhale what industrial process emits and humans and animals breathe out – carbon dioxide, and exhale what humans, power plants, aircrafts and vehicles, etc, breathe in – oxygen. Can't we treat trees kindheartedly?

Our dear Mother Earth is no longer a paradise for living creatures. The consequences have been large-scale species extinctions and more are in danger. Don't they deserve equal rights to humans' in terms of existence?

The top urgent issue is climate change caused by global warming that accelerates as technology advances. As temperatures rise, one of the severe environmental impacts is the melting of massive ice covering Arctic and Antarctic areas, raising the sea level that, before the end of this century,may flood Shanghai, Tokyo and New York, and release the fatal viruses contained in the ice for millions of years that humans are not immune to. Unless we immediately act to reverse the trend, the stark warning issued by Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest astrophysicists, may become reality: the civilization on the earth might discontinue in 200 years and our planet might turn into a "fireball" by 2600 and, therefore (a small number of) human beings would need to emigrate to another planet such as Mars to continue our civilization.

The alarm is sounding. Fortunately, many countries are on alert and taking action, but not enough is being done.

(A former banking professional, the author is a business executive who has been published in English and Chinese internationally.)