When has technology progressed too fast?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A thought for today: there certainly have been instances where a far too rapid progression of technology has led to a possible overall reduction in progress overall. It's similar to the Federation's Prime Directive in that extraordinary technology in the hands of a society that is not yet ready for it will certainly bring about disaster (think Caligula with nuclear weapons), but not quite as dramatic or obvious.

One possible example: heavier-than-air flight. What would have happened if the first successful flights had taken place a decade later, in 1913 instead of 1903? The balloon had been around for quite some time already, and let's assume the Wright Brothers had instead spent their time working on lighter-than-air transportation, and due to advancements made there the Hindenburg disaster had never happened, and though airplanes were eventually invented dirigible technology also happened to progress at the same time and remained a transport option into the present age.

If so, would we have launched our first satellites through rockets, or would we have devised a method similar to the one JP Aerospace is currently working on? This method involves a small airship which then docks at a permanent station far up where a much much larger airship then takes the satellite to orbit using both hydrogen (there is still a bit of atmosphere to work with at that altitude) and an engine. If that had happened we would have had a method of launching satellites into orbit with an incredibly high rate of success, much higher than a chemical rocket.

And one other: if the space race between the US and the USSR had never happened, space travel would certainly have taken much more time, perhaps an extra five years to a decade more for each milestone achieved. At the same time though there would not have been the immense outpouring of energy in the beginning followed by the hangover afterwards, after bragging rights had been won by the US and much of the motivation for going there had faded. What if the first Moon landings had taken place in the late 1970s instead, after a smaller but steady increase in NASA's budget instead of the huge spike followed by a massive decline?

Unfortunately there is probably little practical application to this; these are more what-if type scenarios than anything else, as it is next to impossible to predict during the present day which technology we are ready for, which we are ready for but would be better off without for a few more years, and which we are ready for right now. But a look into the past this way may lead us to a rediscovery of something forgotten that we would do well to begin working on again, as is the case with JP Aerospace, a concept that deserves much more attention and funding than it is currently receiving.

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