Technological Stagnation

August 31, 2012 § 3 Comments

Science fiction stories are all about technological progress, and ubiquitous throughout science fiction is the assumption that the future will be filled with technology much more advanced than our own.  This assumption, though present in science fiction, is made by virtually every human being in their musings on future society.  Many people go as far as to postulate a future technological singularity, which would entail a rapid outburst of technological growth bringing technology beyond anything we can even comprehend. This assumption of universal technological progress is only logical, because throughout human history technology has always grown, and often exponentially.  Even in historical periods with relative technological stagnation, technology has always been progressing, even if at a much slower pace.

But what if in the future this is not the case?  What if we reach a point where technology  has grown as much as it ever will, and because of the laws and constraints of the Universe, it can never advance any further?  For instance, one of the most popular laws relating to technology is Moore’s Law which talks about the rate at which computer chips are getting smaller.  However, if it is true that the Universe is discrete rather than continuous as some have suggested recently, there is a definite limit to how small a computer chip can get, because there is an absolute limit to how small anything can be.  The Universe is filled with these types of limitations and laws, and it makes one wonder if we will one day be so technologically advanced that these laws begin to limit our progress.

Or alternatively, what if human society reaches the point where we no longer desire or need technological progress?  It has seemingly always been the case that human beings have been creating new technology, finding new and better ways to accomplish tasks.  But what if this desire disappeared?  What if some technological disaster rid humanity of its love for new technology, leaving only the fear of technological disaster?  What would human beings do instead and how would society change?

Both of these technological stagnation scenarios would make very intriguing topics for science fiction stories, but even more so, they could reveal a lot about humanity’s relationship with technology and the dangers of technological growth.

-PJ Jedlovec (pjjed)

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§ 3 Responses to Technological Stagnation

  • pjjed says:

    – PJ Jedlovec

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  • kevinmilewski says:

    PJ,

    I think you’re hitting on a unique idea here. It seems as though you propose a future disaster that is internal to humans themselves, being that loss of desire and motivation. Each societal advancement stems from an idea created by someone that recognizes opportunity for change. The idea of possible complacency one day is a very chilling thought, moreover if it was against our will. Say, for example the technological singularity you mention reveals that all our efforts are futile. Or perhaps humans all together stop producing endorphins from a genetic mutation and happiness is no longer felt. Will society just stay at one place?

    Kevin M.

    Like

  • kcesarotti says:

    PJ –
    This post is really interesting because I feel like in most of the science fiction I have read, the futuristic societies created by the author have new, fantastical advantages in technology that continuously expand. But what if technological advances eventually reached a ceiling? Curiosity is an innate human characteristic – the quest for innovation and knowledge is what fuels both art and science. But if humans stopped attempting to improve technology, what consequences would that have for society? The world could advance to the point where, like the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, where people have achieved such levels of comfort that they lose the drive to improve. The idea of technological stagnation could be an interesting exploration into what defines the human condition.

    Katy Cesarotti

    Like

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