By Jason Gallimore
The bodies of young men entangled in wire. Arms, legs, the blood of brothers, sons, fathers, soaked deep into the muddy plains of France, Belgium. Lands we now travel, drink wine, taste chocolate, post selfies to Facebook.
World War I was hell. Trench foot, fever, malaria, faces so unrecognizable a new thing called “reconstructive surgery” was born. Great idea. Help the troops. It made sense. The purpose was noble. Then we messed it up. Reconstructive surgery evolved into cosmetic plastic surgery. Billions of dollars every year boost a market to make us look that much younger, that much tighter, that much happier. We are good at screwing things up.
Technology, the internet, social media, terms that no doubt incite a visceral reaction. It started with a noble cause. Let’s connect people. Let’s make it easier to communicate. Then the chat rooms, how nice. Chat rooms for bird owners to talk about bird owner things. Then chat rooms where sexual predators lurk. Social networking sites — “I can reconnect with old friends! How great!” Then the drunken messages. Then the crippled marriages from affairs sparked from “connecting” on MySpace, Facebook or any plethora of others. Yep, we screwed that one up too.
3D Printing, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Virtual Reality. All great ideas, but now also used for purposes of damage and destruction.
You get the point. We are good at screwing things up. We are good at turning good things bad. So, what do we learn from this? The saying goes “If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” I want to tweak that a bit. “If we don’t think about and plan for the bad things that could come from the next big thing, we are doomed to see the worst version of that next big thing.”
In 2016, I was living near Silicon Valley. Some Brainiac guys (not to be named) reached out to me. My name was passed to them from an Air Force Lieutenant that told them I lived in the area and that I knew a thing or two about aircraft maintenance protocols and best practices. They showed me around and solicited my input. Their company was developing small helicopters that could fly to and from locations purely from inputs on a phone app. Think Uber, but instead of a car with a person picking you up, a small un-piloted helicopter lands in your yard, then you get in and it takes you to the destination you typed in the app. Thankfully from my evaluation they were a long way off from this being something that would be implemented in our society. They needed many FAA approvals and had years of testing to get through. It sounds like a great idea though, right? My answer is maybe. They quoted traffic studies and told me magical stories about how they would keep costs down. It all sounded well and good until I asked a few questions.
“How will you handle people sabotaging the helicopter?” “What happens if someone tries to shoot it down?”
“Will there be age limits, size limits, how will you verify these things?”
“How will you verify it’s safe for flight after each flight?”
“Can a mom carry a baby into it?”
There are a million more questions. I’m sure you are thinking of some of your own right now.
I could feel their muscles tensing up. They answered with some smooth response like: “We have a vision, and we are working towards that vision, and we will take care of many things through our development process.”
Now I don’t mean to drag their company through the mud. It was quite inspiring to see two guys in their mid-twenties with so much ambition working to create something that can truly change this world.
I simply point all this out to say let’s learn from the past. Let’s think about the good, the bad and the ugly of the next big thing we bring into this world. As knowledge about science and technology continue to progress at a rapid rate, the consequences of not thinking about the potential bad outcomes become more and more catastrophic. Let’s get better at keeping things meant to be good, good, and putting thought into how to prevent these good things from becoming bad. Let’s stop screwing things up.