Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oxcart Thinking

Will Hutton writes a piece at The Guardian today titled, “Don’t be blinded by the web. The world is actually stagnating.” It’s an interesting piece, and reflects thinking that I have addressed before.

When President Obama talked about having a million electric cars on the road by 2015 he believed he was thinking big. He was not; he was thinking small. Thinking big would be to demand that by 2030 we will have developed a mode of transportation that does not require cars at all.

Bob Hebert had an op-ed in the New York Times on Friday in which he bewailed the influence of money in our political process, and implies that the problem is the money and the politicians and that the solution lies in removing the money from the equation. That is universally the thinking to solving the problem, and all efforts at doing so have failed. No one has even thought of trying to come up with leaving the money in place and finding a way to render that money ineffective; finding a way to reach the voters in a way that will convince them to ignore the paid advertisements.

A lifestyle which supported 2.5 billion people in 1950 will probably not support 7 billion people today, and it all but certainly will not support the 9 billion people of the next generation. An election protocol which worked for a population of 10 million might not work for one of 330 million.

All of the “problem solving” today involves what Hyman G. Rickover called “oxcart thinking.” He was advocating the application of nuclear propulsion to develop what would become the first true submarine, the first ship whose natural element was below the surface of the sea, and said that if the military designers had always thought the way that current naval designers did we would be fighting land wars with armored ox carts instead of tanks.

And we are designing armored ox carts. Every approach to solving problems involves today’s technology done bigger or smaller, faster or slower, in lesser or greater amount, but all of it consists of mere tinkering with what exists today.

Email is hackable; so we try to make it hackproof instead of developing a new protocol which cannot be abused. The Internet is so heavily corrupted as to be all but unusable, so we tack more and more patches onto it instead of developing a new, more intrinsically secure and conveniently used medium. Our elections are corrupted by money, and when efforts to remove the influence of money fail we seem unable to find another avenue of solution to explore.

Our oxcarts are becoming so heavily armored as to become immobile.

No comments:

Post a Comment