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Challenge Match: adjensen vs vkey08: The United States is too reliant on technology

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posted on Sep, 28 2012 @ 06:03 PM
I would like to thank the ATS Debate Forum for hosting this debate, and my opponent, vkey08, for suggesting the topic and taking the "con" position.

The subject for this debate is "The United States is too reliant on technology."


vkey08 proposed this debate after I weighed in on a thread -- "Chinese hackers have control of US power grid" -- with the somewhat sardonic comment that critical systems needed to "cut the cord", get off of shared networks and that the idiocy of such systems being reachable from outside boggled the mind.

While we crow about the ability of our military to operate Taliban-killing drones from the comfort of an operation centre in the United States, and delight in the technological marvels that turn every aspect of our lives into "systems", we often fail to recognize that there are those who plot to turn our automated systems against us, and we're handing them the keys to doing just that.

Anyone remember Red Dawn? I am sure that the 1984 movie has more than its share of fans on ATS (including myself,) but its premise today seems almost bizarre -- invasion, thirty years ago, was an event of physicality -- boots on the ground, guns in hand, blood, terror, death. Today, the United States is under constant invasion by foes from around the world, who sail on copper wire and fibre optic cable, seeking vulnerabilities and areas of exploitation in our technological infrastructure.

Whether Islamic militants, upset over a YouTube video, attacking US financial institutions, the aforementioned Chinese hacking into the power grid, the possibility that a person's pacemaker could be hacked, or thousands of other instances that were estimated to have a cost in the United States of over $100 billion in 2011, it should be abundantly clear that the United States is in a very vulnerable position.

How deeply has this flawed technology insulated itself into people's lives? Almost completely… from birth to death, we are being surrounded by a cocoon of electronic concierge. We learn from it, we meet our spouses through it, we hand our money over to it, we are doled out our worldview from it, and we argue about it… through it.

But beyond those obvious instances of technology's omnipresence in most people's lives, there are far more problematic systems that affect us and we barely know the first thing about. The most significant is the United States power grid, a complex system by which electrical plants are connected to boost efficiency and redundancy. The downside of such an interweaved system was readily apparent in August 2003, when a cascading failure resulted in 30 million people losing power in the northeast states and Ontario. Eleven people died, and it took several days to get the system back up and running again. The IEEE undertook a study of such complex systems and determined that future blackouts are not only unavoidable, they are inevitable (Source).

In other words, a naturally occurring widespread blackout is not a matter of if, but when. This does not take into account man-made disasters, whether through negligence (which played a role in the 2003 event) or through maliciousness, domestic or foreign. And such vulnerabilities are not limited to the power grid -- similar issues have been identified in other distribution systems, including petroleum, natural gas and water (Source).

Finally, the increasing urbanization of the American population, which has gone from about 5% at the nation's founding to over 82% today, has resulted in a populace which is not only overly dependent on a smooth functioning infrastructure to feed them, but which also inherently lacks the skills that would be necessary to fend for oneself in the face of a collapse of that infrastructure. America is always about five days away from urban famine, and the likely societal upheaval that would result from such an event could destroy the country.


How did we get into this position? Largely it is the result of poor planning, unexpected application and responses that are not commensurate with the actions. Our computer networks are built on one of the most insecure platforms imaginable, Windows/DOS (in Microsoft's defense, both are legacy systems designed in the 1980s, and it is unfeasible for them to just chuck it out and start over.) We have a bulletproof global computer network that was designed for the military and to withstand a nuclear assault, and which naturally resists efforts at regulation and restriction. And we have corporate and government mentalities that are reactionary, rather than preventative, as regards security.

And it doesn't stop here. We know about the downside of Fly-by-Wire technology, but are we ready for Drive-by-Wire? Well, ready or not, it's here. Intel is designing a chip to implant into your brain to control your computer and in the wake of Oscar Pistorius' appearance in the 2012 Olympics, people are beginning the ethical debate of amputating healthy limbs, in order to benefit from technically advanced prosthetics.

And, for those who are not yet sold on the over reliance of our society on technology, may I present the ultimate embracement of it, Transhumanism.

Transhumanism takes a multidisciplinary approach in analyzing the dynamic interplay between humanity and the acceleration of technology. In this sphere, much of our focus and attention is on the present technologies, such as biotechnology and information technology, and anticipated future technologies, such as molecular nanotechnology and artificial general intelligence. Transhumanism seeks the ethical use of these and other speculative technologies. Our theoretical interests focus on posthuman topics of the singularity, extinction risk, and mind uploading (whole brain emulation and substrate-independent minds). (Source)

How much more reliant can one become than when your very existence is dependent upon technology? But, for some, this is our utopian future, the goal of a slippery slope that is daily greased by convenience, marketing and an increasingly ethically devoid world.

posted on Sep, 29 2012 @ 08:35 AM
First off, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to once again debate, and I would like to thank adjensen for the time to allow this to go forward.

What is technology? That's a question we must answer before we can even get to the meat of this debate. Well simply put Technology is any item/invention/tool that we as humans make to assist in life, and the things we must do in life to survive. To us, a simple fire pit with a hand rotating spit may not seem like technology, but to ancient peoples, it was state of the art, much like our iPhones and iPads are nowadays, so one must actually look at this a little more carefully, before one actually decides whether we are too dependent upon it.

1) There are tools we use in our everyday lives that require no electricity, and are still driven by what I will term later and throughout as "people power" Are we dependent on those tools, not by a long shot, do they make our lives easier, of course.

2) There is another class of tools that run solely on electricity, and therefore cannot function without the power grid. This debate would not be possible without a few of those tools, as electricity is needed to power our computers, our phones, our internet, our routers, et al. Are we totally dependent on these tools? Again not by along shot, and I will tackle this one first and foremost with a simple anecdotal bit of evidence.

In October of 2011, the Northeast United States was hit with an off season snowstorm, this came only a month and a half after Hurricane Irene (granted it was only a Cat1 storm) plowed through and up the Connecticut River Valley. On the evening of Oc28th, however, Irene would have looked like a godsend. The power transformers, under the weight of the heavy wet snow started to fall and explode, within hours almost all of Northern Connecticut was plunged into darkness. No light, no heat no nothing. We are used to short term (24-48 hour) power outages up here in the winter but noone expected this. 12 days of darkness, no ability to cook, create hot water, heat homes, or was there? This was a total loss of our modern technology, noone could communicate, stores had to take cash, but how do you get cash, with the ATM system being down? (Banks did figure out a way, but you had to use your own bank) all we had wa a battery operated radio to tell us when the power may come back on, operative word was "may" we were looking at the first extended outage ever in our area.

Did people start looting and killing each other without their Twitter and Facebook? no. Did people start trying to invade others homes and steal food? no, people worked together, shared resources and got by. Little cooking pits sprung up in backyards, fueled by wood and paper, people sate, people played, people got by.

12 days later, personally I was laughing as I sat at my desk looking at my computer (which I honestly thought wouldn't work again after being in Sub-freezing temps for an extended period) and finally went to bed. I was awoken at 11:35PM when all of a sudden.. WHOOSH, everything came back to life again. the noise was almost deafening after a week and a half in silence. But everyone made it without the fancy electrical gadgets we all have come to use and take for granted. So are we dependent on this level of tech? No if we were noone would have survived those temps for more than 24 hours, or after 3-4 days people would have dropped dead from starvation. Does this level of tech makes our lives easier? I cannot disagree with that, BUT, and here's the but, people are resilient creatures, we can handle and adapt to just about anything, and if it all went off tomorrow, I don't think t would be as bad as the new show (which I love by the way) Revolution makes it out to be, it would be difficult, but we would adapt, showing that we are not the sum of our gadgets and interconnected web, but the people that USE the tools, as they were intended to make life easier. And that my friends is the basic thing we have to remember. Technology makes our lives EASIER, however, as a species we can sever ourselves from it if we choose to, and move on.

posted on Sep, 29 2012 @ 06:07 PM
vkey08 makes an excellent point in her opening round response -- technology isn't simply "high technology" -- computers and lasers and iPods, but everyday objects that are the result of human intellect. Houses, clothing, artificial sources of heat, all of these are technologies, no matter how "low-tech" they might seem.

In geography, there was a view of cultural development called Environmental Determinism, one aspect of which was the claim that the activities at a place were reflective of the natural environment, climate in particular. We do not grow pineapples in Minnesota, after all -- it is too cold, the soil is wrong, the growing season too short, etc.

For reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, environmental determinism needed to be refuted, and it was very well done so by the contrary notion of Possibilism, the observation that man, and his technology (no matter its nature) trump nature, and that the activities at any given location are not dependent on environment, but rather the choice of man. We do not grow pineapples in Minnesota, but we could if we chose to, it's just that the costs associated with constructing greenhouses and carefully maintaining the trees makes importing them from Hawaii more economical.

I would suggest that much of the population of the United States exists only under the provinces of possibilism, and if that underlying technology was taken away, our society could collapse in a disastrous fashion.

vkey08's personal example of living through a natural disaster is a great one -- I have had similar experiences, the most significant being the 1997 Red River Flood, which effectively drowned the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, flooding almost every house, including my own. Were there riots, panic in the streets or desperation? Well no, but, while we didn't have electricity, we still had plenty of other technology. I had a power generator to run a couple of lights, power tools and to keep my cell phone charged, but what if I didn't have access to gasoline to keep it going? What if Target, on the end of town that didn't flood, hadn't been open? Or if the Red Cross wasn't on the scene with bottled water? Things would have been much different.

However, in the case of the Connecticut power outage of last year, I note this important variable:

Hartford CT weather for first two weeks in November, 2011

During the two weeks that followed the storm and outage, temperatures were in the 50s and 60s, with lows generally in the 30s. Not balmy, but not unbearable, either. Let's contrast that with a January in Minneapolis:

Minneapolis, MN weather for first two weeks in January, 2011

With temperatures in that range, the loss of electricity for several weeks would mean people would die, pure and simple. Cut the power to Minneapolis for an extended time in the winter, and we would see American refugees, fleeing for their lives to warmer climes.


In reality, technology is not simply something that we have developed an attachment to, or a fondness for the convenience of, it is what defines us, as a species. For large segments of the population, modern medicine, and the treatments that technology offers, are the only reason that they are still alive. Whether for good or for ill, it is the technology of the automobile that allows the populace to live in the manner that they do, rather than being backed like sardines in a tin, because the furthest a person can travel in a day is limited to a horse's gait.

If we limit our views to superficialities, such as Facebook, television or power lawn mowers, one can easily consider life without them (well, there are those who might not,) but once we look at the true depth that technology has become intertwined with our lives, it becomes readily apparent that to truly "cut the cord" would mean, not simply a new outlook, but real, significant pain, suffering and societal upheaval.

Evolution of the human race has ended, nature triumphed over by our great technical prowess, and the only means of advancement is a furthering of said technology, as the spiral of convenience, addiction and acquiescence continues unabated. It cannot be said that it can only end in the enslavement of mankind to his machinery, because that, it seems, has already occurred.

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 01:33 PM
I have to concede this challenge match to my opponent, I have a family emergency to attend to and will not be on enough to finish, I thought it would be a quick deal, but it's become a far more involved situation.

I would love to revisit this in the future however..

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 10:32 PM
Because vkey08 has had a family emergency which has prompted her conceding this debate, as her opponent, I similarly withdraw. Kindly show the record as no win, no loss, no change in score.

Thank you.

posted on Dec, 3 2012 @ 07:16 AM
This debate is hereby re-opened for completion.

posted on Dec, 17 2012 @ 02:47 AM
Due to repeated lack of response this debate is now closed for good.
edit on 17-12-2012 by Skyfloating because: (no reason given)

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