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Lec 2 | MIT STS.069 Technology in a Dangerous World

PROFESSOR: What impres meimmediately on September 11 th was the fact that– at least as faras we know, there were no projectiles involvedin these attacks, and the vitality that causedall this destruction was the vitality, as John pointed outthat’s concentrated and to participate in the very systemsthat we are dependent on. And the gunmen did anunfortunately successful errand of turning those systemsin on themselves– turning our organizations in on themselves. And that’s astriking fact in that it points to thesense, which has always been the case, that ourown engineerings are both potential saviorsand potential crypts and potential artilleries. It’s also quite striking thedegree of engineering aptitude that went into this attack. At least severalof the attackers themselves were engineers. I was struck to learn thatBin Laden himself was improved as a civil engineer andthat his family comes out of the construction business. So it’s natural, in a certain sense, that he thinks about builds when he would thinkabout attacks, and that’s been proven inthe delegation strikes in Africa as well.I think that’s an importantfact for parties at MIT to contemplate. In no way indicts the entireengineering professing, but one of the reasons thisattack is so disturbing is that we at a placelike MIT are not comfortable with the idea ofcool calculation being turned toward these ferocious points. It’s a similar matter that wasraised during the Holocaust, it’s a same edition that wasraised during the Vietnam War with the overuse of systemsanalysis in that context. That terribly point, in a sense, gives a absurdity into the way that we think about technology.MIT, by its owndefinition in a way, is a place that seeks toimprove science and technology for the betterment of humankind. In general, disasterslike this blow a flaw in our technological life. In this case, literally. The methods that werely on every day , not only airlinersand houses, are revealed in ways that wedon’t see them customarily. And I can think ofmany of them, I’ll list a few now, thatare ordinarily merely under our public radar screen. Of track, thereare beings on campus who think about thesesystems all the time. So as we mentioned, airtraffic, aircraft themselves, the air traffic controlsystem, communication systems, cryptography. The security systemsaround the airport. General information, organizations use of the internet, world wide web for meaning. The emergency response system inNew York City and in Washington in response to thePentagon attack. Of track, cell phones. Remarkable closing of theloop on the cell phones aboard one of the aircrafts, andthere’s a distinct possibility that the presence of eithercell phones or tush back phones actually impeded that effort.And strikingly, the language that’s used on virtually all sidesof the current discourse has to do withsystems and networks. I would remind you that thevery language that parties use to talk about the terroristsand Al Qaeda societies is as networks withcells, connects , nodes, investigation organisations, law enforcement officers organisations, again, expending the variousinformation and other types of systems. Security systems totrack the hijackers. Some of these thingswe adoration, clearly. Others of them are notas comforting for us, but absolutely, the room thatthis event opens up what Manuel Castells’ called”The network society” is very revealing, and one of theunpleasant actualities about it is that we are so dependent onthese technological systems, and more, by their very nature, they’re adaptable and open.This is one of the reasonsthey’re so successful. You can hop on an aircraftwith an hour’s worth of day and be across the coast. Ditto for othertypes of systems, and hitherto, their veryflexibility and openness is partly what makesthem vulnerable. And in a certain sense, one of the prices we will ever live withfor our adaptable, open, large-scale organizations, which we use every day is the fact that theseshadow or parasite organisations, terrorist organizations, medication considering organizations another type of nefarious systemswill live on their underbelly, and in some way, we haveto come to terms with that.Of track, theflexibility in this case was a great advantage. I mull the flexibilityof the systems– the urban plan in New YorkCity– is truly astonishing. Financial structures, electric power structures. One period, I would be pleased to do justa study of the lane they rewired the part Southern Manhattanelectric grid in order to get the stock market up to acceleration. But these are the same kinds ofconcerns that stimulate the Al Qaeda system difficult to targetand difficult to remove, although there are someinteresting ideas in the press being flip aroundabout how you deal with those kinds of networks.One more project to closewith is also the issue of symbolism in this story. What’s striking about– assomeone who thinks about figurative engineerings and thesymbolic power of technology is the way that these twotechnologies at least, if not others, that we thinkof as figurative of American or general technological lifethat would be the aircraft, which is– for Americans, has oftenbeen a symbol of freedom, a token of speeding, a epitomize ofrelease from worldly concerns was, again, turned in on itself. Also, aircraft being oneof America’s most proud industrial concoctions, Boeing aircraft. And ditto the WorldTrade Centers, of course, tolerate for capitalism, American capitalism, even world financial systems, and part of the reason that these attacksare so devastating to the Americanculture is because of that symbolic aspect. And hitherto, at the sametime, there is no sense that this is a purelysymbolic attack.These were very realtechnologies, real machines, real parties died. Real homes lostfamily members, and it points to the factthat what we consider symbolic and what we considertechnological are increasingly difficult to untangle, and that there is nothing to ever is a material element to whatwe choose to present as figurative of our culture and that materialelement has two sides to it ..

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