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Is Progress in Technology Always Beneficial?

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Message Stephen Unger

Alcohol is a prime example. Many people are able to enjoy it on a regular, or occasional, basis, in small quantities, without becoming addicted or suffering other ill effects. But it is perhaps the most widely abused drug, ruining, often ending, a great many lives in a variety of ways. The death toll includes thousands of non-drinkers killed annually by drunk drivers. In addition to detrimental effects stemming from various degrees of intoxication, alcohol causes, or exacerbates, many debilitating or fatal illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and liver disease.

The benefits of automation, application of technology to perform tasks normally carried out by humans, are obvious. It can reduce or eliminate tedious or dangerous work, and sometimes perform tasks more reliably or more accurately. It significantly lowers labor costs. In a just society, it would be reasonable to expect that automation would lead to most people enjoying increased income and more leisure time. But, in today's world, the benefits have been seized by a small, wealthy elite, while large numbers of people have lost their jobs [2].

Television is a fine medium for entertainment. It has great potential for education. But a good case can be made that, very often, particularly for children, it is grossly misused, consuming time and energy better used for physical, social, or intellectual activities.

Long-term harm

There are other technologies, with obvious apparent benefits, that have serious detrimental effects that are not obvious, but that are manifested only after long-term use. Let's take a quick look at three major examples: tobacco, lead, and asbestos [3].

The development of cigarette-manufacturing machines in the 1880s stimulated a large, steady increase in cigarette smoking. Per-capita annual cigarette consumption in the US in 1900 was about 54. It rose steadily, reaching 4290 in 1966. When its deadly nature became widely known, US consumption began falling. By 2011 it was down to about 1230. Over 440,000 annual American deaths are currently attributable to smoking, including over 45,000 non-smokers dying from second-hand smoke. For each smoking-caused death, about 20 people suffer from serious illnesses caused by smoking. About a third of smoking-related deaths are due to cancers, with cardiovascular diseases accounting for a similar number, and a wide variety of other diseases, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, adding to the death toll [4].

Tobacco companies remain in business, denying the deadly nature of their products. They continue to advertise, though there are various laws, federal and state, that restrict tobacco advertisements in various ways. They have expanded exports, and, while smoking rates have been falling in the US and in many other industrialized countries, they are rising in various third-world countries. Worldwide, there are more than 5 million tobacco-caused deaths annually, and this number is increasing.

Lead was one of the first metals to be widely used for many purposes. Since ancient times, it has been known that it is a dangerous substance, as those who mined it, or worked with it, suffered from debilitating, often deadly diseases. This did not stop its use for an increasing number of purposes.

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Stephen Unger Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical (more...)

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