Scientist: Technology can solve problems, introduce new ones

Technology may help solve climate change, but it can also lead to robots that handle jobs now completed by humans

Technology holds the ability to solve some of society's problems, but can generate new issues or require measures that people are unwilling to take, said Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center, during a Friday talk at the World Futurist Society conference in Boston. The end result is that humans are "in the midst of a wholly unexpected technology revolution."

Bushnell's wide-ranging talk covered topics including climate change, robotics and education, and how technology has affected each area.

Bushnell focused on the need to address climate change and develop renewable energy resources. Without solving these problems, cities located on bodies of water will be flooded and humans will need to adjust to living in a warmer climate. Technology can be used to improve the environment, but governments and people do not want to adopt large-scale policies.

"We can't fix these things without big ideas," he said. "We are obsessed with minutiae."

Robots and automation will improve production methods and ultimately help lower the cost of goods, Bushnell said. However, "we're making machines that are more productive than us," he said. This will ultimately lead to a "sea change" in how people lead their lives.

As machine intelligence approaches human intelligence, more advanced and productive robots will handle greater duties. But unemployment will rise as robots handle more tasks that are now handled by humans.

"I try to determine what jobs robots can't do. The answer is none," Bushnell said.

While robots perform jobs once completed by humans, such as bank tellers and gas station attendants, teachers, pilots and soldiers will eventually be replaced by machines.

"I can tell you more and more engineering jobs are being automated," he said.

With more people unemployed, they can spend their free time in three-dimensional virtual worlds since virtual reality covering the five senses will allow vacations that simulate the real experience of sitting on a tropical beach.

Those who still hold jobs will most likely telecommute and use the Internet to conduct even more aspects of their lives, such as shopping and receiving medical care.

Education will also not be immune from technology. Bushnell's version of learning is conducted in virtual environments where students can learn physics with renowned scientists. They will learn on software that was written by some of society's keenest minds, who created applications that motivate students to learn.

"The brick-and-mortar education system is not sustainable," he said. "It has to go virtual. It's not worth saving because we can do it far better virtually."

The era of technology and medicine is already here, he said, as people receive artificial retinas and hearing implants. Technology has even made its way to the brain as chips are implanted in the organ to repair faults.

Bushnell predicted that in 10 years silicon implants will start being implanted in human brains. This will allow society to connect to a complex network of computers and give people omniscience.

While attackers target computers now, in the future they would go after brains that are infused with technology. Bushnell mentioned that a technology-biology terrorist attack is a possibility in an integrated world.

Bushnell said that while some of what he discussed may not come to pass, the only way to see what happens is to live and see what develops.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags popular sciencefuture technologiesgreen IT

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Fred O'Connor

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?