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Will Technology Save The World?

 

That the planet has morphed into a place of contradictory forces since the advent of industrialization is highly arguable. For instance, the invention of the automobile has replaced the horse for transportation, but at the same time it became the culprit for polluting the air we breathe. Pessimists indicate that the world is heading to self-destruction in the near future unless we take drastic measures now to stop or retard the horsemen of the apocalypse from advancing any further. Optimists, on the other hand, see the slaying of the dragon in the power of technology to solve problems for the world. The rhetorical question is this: can technology really save the world? In this editorial, a few examples of technological advances are presented to show how technology is thus far trying to help mitigate problems for the world in which we live.

 

By all indications, the world is in political, social, religious, environmental, and economic turmoil. Political instability, for instance, has made the world a powder keg ever since man descended from the proverbial tree. Some foretell that the world is heading toward implosion very soon. Nuclear proliferation, unabated famine, unemployment, terrorism, climate change, pestilence are eclipsing the viability of the world. A man-made "Big Bang" is expected to explode within a few years.  Currently, the world is facing frightening kinds of diseases such as the recent pneumococcal bacteria, a new strain of deadly bacteria known as killer klebsi plague (klebsiella pneumonia from China) and the list is disturbingly long.

 

For a brief discussion of what and how technology will bail humankind out of the herculean task of saving the world, related topics have been combined into three major areas: Health and Pestilence; War and Famine; and Natural Resources and Ecosystems.

 

Health and Pestilence. While technology has not been able to get rid of death, it has come closer to finding the fountain of youth. On account of advances in medicine, our life expectancy is massively longer than our ancestors'. This welcome shift has primarily happened in the last four generations.  Life expectancy in most countries has doubled since the 1900s.

 

Technology is finding new ways to help us live longer, healthier lives. For example,  "Epigenetics" can tell us what diseases we may inherit from our ancestors; "Gene Editing with Molecular Scissors" has the potential to remove inherited diseases and fight different kinds of cancer; "Artificial Pancreases" may transform the lives of patients with diabetes; "Electronic Wearable Devices" are invented to save people's lives by warning them of conditions they were unaware they had; "Apple's Research Kit" could provide health providers with unprecedented amounts of data on all kinds of serious health conditions; and "Big Data Analysis" will help unlock the cures for conditions that have the potential to either ruin or even end many people's lives.

 

Humankind has fought pestilence for centuries for it is a fatal, epidemic disease such as the bubonic plague, a.k.a The Black Death. Although no longer in our daily news, as they had been in the past, ebola, HIV, Bird Flu are still a menace to the world population. Recently, The World Economic Forum proposed four ways in which technology can help fight future epidemics: firstly, by messaging to warn people of the hazards and how to avoid contracting any virus; secondly, by delivering training to health workers in the field; thirdly, by enabling health workers, agencies and other health providers to monitor the spread of disease; and finally, by providing real-time monitoring to see how a virus is spreading and predict where it is heading. All of the foregoing ways are based on technological innovations.

 

War and Famine. Although technology has advanced warfare by the invention of much high-tech weaponry, such as the drone, the unmanned aircraft in the arsenal of many nations encouraging aggression against one's enemies, technology has also enabled the world leaders to communicate freely through such social media as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to cite a few. Technology has also harnessed us with SMS tools (short message service of most telephone, internet, and mobile-device systems) to counter misinformation and rumors that previously caused terrible violence by preventing conflict in some countries such as Brundi. 

 

SMS technology uses standardized communication protocols to enable mobile devices to exchange short text messages. An intermediary service provider can facilitate a text-to-voice conversion to be sent to landlines. SMS was the most widely used data application, with an estimated 3.5 billion active users, or about 80 percent of all mobile subscribers, at the end of 2010. Technology can be used to real-world conflict by countering online rumors and misinformation.

 

Climate change and war are the two main factors causing world hunger. According to the UN, world hunger is once more on the rise. The prevailing opinion is that climate-induced droughts create insecurity for food and water and thus contribute to social unrest when their supplies become limited for nutrition and health.

 

Climate change also menaces existence to deprive people from living on their ancestral lands. Bangladesh, for example, is not only losing the coastal portion of the country to climate change, but it is also losing an irreplaceable culture of people surviving in their homeland since the deepest of history.

 

It has been said that the next world war will not be fought over fossil fuel, but over water. Some have argued that drought was the key driver of the revolution in Syria and when climate change really exacerbates the environmental conditions, countries like Sudan become uninhabitable.

 

Despite its negative impact on humans and the environment, Western cultures still love meat in their diets. Technology has come up with lab-grown meat which will soon be available in the supermarket freezers. Currently, to alleviate the run-away demand for meat, protein-based meat-free burgers are marketed to carnivores of our society.

 

The world already makes more than enough food to provide for every person on Earth, but, unfortunately, people of some countries are still starving from lack of food because it is not evenly distributed. According to Oxfam reports, 65 percent of the world's hungry people live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. It is worth to note that none of the countries are found in the Western hemisphere or Europe.

 

To lessen the problem of food not being evenly distributed, technology is establishing Supply Chains that keep food fresh, especially in warm countries where food spoils quickly. Social networks such as the WeFarm platform also enables better communication between remote farmers. Furthermore, technology can help predict drought through Satellite Data and Mobile Phone (or smartphone) information to identify vulnerable areas and to enable preemptive actions before a problem arises.

 

Natural Resources and Ecosystems. Since the Industrial Revolution, the world population has begun to consume more natural resources than the planet can regenerate. On August 1, 2018, the world hit Earth Overshoot Day, the point in our calendars when we tip into consuming more natural resources than the planet can regenerate in a year. Global Footprint Network, an international not-for-profit organization, calculates how humans are managing or failing to manage the resources of the world, reports that in the first seven months of 2018, we have consumed a year's worth of essential resources such as food, water, and clothing. Compared to previous years, this is a new glaring record.

 

In the 21th century, we are using resources and ecosystem services as though we had a bigger planet (a 1.7 Earths). Such an ecological overshoot would prevail for a limited time before our ecosystems massively degrade and ultimately collapse. As world biodiversity continues to dive, the health and functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems like forests, the oceans, rivers and wetlands will be degraded beyond repair.

 

Technology is trying to transform how we identify, measure, track and value the many services and resources nature has been providing us as essential for life from the depths of the dense forests to the deepest oceans. Blockchain technology is coming to the rescue. By virtue of this technology, consumers are enabled to track, for example, the entire journey of their tuna, empowering us with certification and traceability of resources. Currently, World Wild Fund (WWF) in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand joined forces to stop illegal fishing and slave labor in the Tuna fishing industry by using Blockchain technology. Satellite data and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) tracking devices are also being used to monitor and understand global fishing vessel traffic.

 

Another effective technology is Remote Sensing used in planning, monitoring and evaluating the impact of projects on the ground. This technology has enabled WWF to monitor the developments of extractive industries in ecologically-sensitive areas including World Heritage sites. The Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA is developing an algorithm that enables the detection of deforestation from palm oil expansion using remote sensing data. Currently, researchers are exploring the potential to expand Remote Sensing technology to other commodities.

 

The technology of drones and crowd sourcing are effectively being used to monitor forest health and to detect illegal logging. Drones are playing a great role in safeguarding our forests. The World Research Institute has developed Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring and alert system that uses crowdsourcing to allow anyone to create custom maps, analyze forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world.

 

Thermal Imaging technology is enabling governments to combat poaching. In wildlife rich countries in Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, etc., park rangers patrol the pitch-black savanna to search for armed poachers who hunt for bush meat and ivory. Thermal Imaging video cameras have enabled rangers to catch poachers and deter many of them from attempting to poach.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is helping conservation efforts. In China, for example, WWF and Intel are applying AI to help protect wild tigers and their habitats including other species found in the area.

 

This year, global heat wave has set the Arctic Circle on fire. From Japan to Sweden, and from Qatar to California, a global heat wave is setting records, igniting wildfires, and killing many people all across the world.  The year 2018 is making new records. At this writing, Carolinas are flooding with 30" of rain in one day as a result of Hurricane Florence. Technology alone will not stop climate change, but it can help us reduce the damage to the environment. Although the world is facing a limited chance for reversing climate change, but greener technologies such as clean energy (e.g., solar energy), non-polluting transportation (e.g., electric vehicles), and sustainable food (e.g., genetically altered plants) can help us control a livable life on Earth by keeping the horsemen of the apocalypse at bay.

 

Technology seems to have already made great strides toward saving the world; it has been the wing of rapid progress for humans to combat all that is detrimental to a healthy and peaceful existence on our tiny planet Earth. Governments, armies, nations, corporations alone cannot solve our pressing problems. The key to success is to engage the people, to make each one of us aware of our potential to make a difference.  Additionally, nations have to work together for success. Out of teamwork, comes synergy to combat the negative forces, the drains, and the outright detriments to our world. The key to success lies in the enlistment of every individual, in every society, in every region, in every country and to make them believe that they can make a difference toward saving our much-abused world.

 

 

Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.

Senior Review Editor

California State University, Long Beach

 

 

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