What WWI Can Teach Us About Misjudging Tech and Social Change
By Eugene Scherbakov
via the carnegie.org web site
On an unremarkable day in January just over one hundred years ago, the age of empire in Europe came to an end. The colossal states that ruled over vast, multiethnic territories with supreme self-confidence suddenly ceased to exist. Empire’s end arrived with a bang, not a whimper, to be sure. Though the Treaty of Versailles that came into effect in early 1920 redrew the map of Europe, the great monarchs sealed their own fate when they ambled unwittingly into the fires of the Great War. Their demise demonstrates the cost of miscalculation when the pace and scale of technological and social change outstrip political capacity and imagination. Once begun, the war proceeded according to a brutal logic of bloody and unexpected escalation, culminating in the destruction of the very states that had presided over the rise of modern Europe. As we reflect upon the war a century later, we may be surprised to find that the similarities between our time and that not-so-distant past are more troubling than the differences.
Over the course of the 19th century, scientific and technological progress advanced at such a pace that the governing bodies could scarcely grasp the enormity of the transformation of the very ground beneath their feet. They were lulled to complacence by their own seeming immutability. Changes within their realms were embraced as indications of progress and celebrated in tribute to the greater glory of the states themselves. Writing of the replacement of gas streetlamps with electric lighting, the novel rapidity of horseless carriages, and the newfound ability to soar aloft like Icarus, the Viennese writer Stefan Zweig recounts how “faith in an uninterrupted and irresistible ‘progress’ truly had the force of a religion for that generation. One began to believe more in this ‘progress’ than in the Bible, and its gospel appeared ultimate because of the daily new wonders of science and technology.”
Technological progress in turn-of-the-century Europe may strike modern readers as quaint and innocuous. Today, after all, leading firms compete to achieve quantum supremacy in computing, political leaders darkly intone that mastery of artificial intelligence will lead to global domination, and Silicon Valley billionaires look to the stars — investing immense capital in the production of satellites and spaceships to mine the mineral wealth of asteroids.
Just as in Zweig’s Vienna, however, today’s world leaders are hard-pressed to comprehend the complex networks of social and technological forces that undergird the foundations of modern life.
Read the entire article on the carnegie.org web site here:
External Web Site Notice: This page contains information directly presented from an external source. The terms and conditions of this page may not be the same as those of this website. Click here to read the full disclaimer notice for external web sites. Thank you.