Demons of Invention From Railroads to AI

Hi Everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Welcome back to another blog. Today we will talk about the Demons of Invention From Railroads to AI. History has seen remarkable inventions that shaped society. Railroads and artificial intelligence (AI) are examples. These innovations brought benefits and advancements. However, they also brought unforeseen consequences and challenges. They unleashed what we call the “demons of invention.” Railroads and AI have positive impacts, but also unintended consequences. Achieving balance and responsibility is an ongoing quest.

Inventions revolutionize the world and change human history. They improve lives, boost economies, and create opportunities. However, they can also have negative effects and unintended consequences. These challenges affect individuals, communities, and societies. This article explores the demons of invention through railroads and AI. By examining their historical significance and positive impacts, we gain insights. We also uncover the monsters unleashed by these groundbreaking inventions. Through this, we understand the complexities of technological progress.

Technological progress divides opinions. It’s nothing new for new inventions to face ridicule, criticism, or even condemnation. According to technology philosopher and historian Christian Vater, skepticism towards technology can be traced back to the earliest written accounts of technological theories.

He mentioned several reasons for this skepticism, such as the intricate nature of technological innovations and the resulting lack of knowledge or comprehension. For instance, people may fear losing control or becoming emotional.

Helmuth Trischler, the head of research at Deutsches Museum in Munich, disagrees that people’s skepticism towards new technologies indicates a widespread fear of technology. He argues that this assumption is based on a narrow viewpoint and believes that it is beneficial for individuals to evaluate things rationally.

Vater highlights the importance of distinguishing between rational evaluations of potential outcomes of technology and irrational, unchecked resistance towards it. Vater further differentiates between genuine concern and unwarranted panic.

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Technological inventions often evoke a mix of worry and fear, as exemplified by the railroad.

The Railroad

The railroad, which was invented around 200 years ago, has become a commonplace means of transportation for people and goods worldwide. It has become an integral part of modern society. However, during its early stages, some individuals viewed the railroad as a creation of evil forces.

England inaugurated the world’s first public railroad in 1825. From then on, steam locomotives rapidly and loudly traveled across Europe, bringing with them a fear of trains and what Germans called “Eisenbahnkrankheit” or “railway sickness.”

People believed that the cause of this problem was the carriages’ speed, which reached up to 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 miles per hour) at that time. They considered this speed to be quite fast. Additionally, the uncomfortable vibrations experienced while sitting in the carriages were thought to contribute to the issue.

Victorian England witnessed the expansion of the railway network. However, public disapproval of this form of transportation persisted, which was evident in the form of humorous drawings and detailed reports by the police.

Trischler acknowledged that people’s reactions during that time were completely understandable. When faced with technological advancements, it is natural for individuals to feel the need to adjust and adapt. This adjustment process often triggers fears, leading to pessimistic predictions and a sense of unease. Trischler explained that news reports tend to evoke emotions, especially when it comes to technology, which is inherently tied to our emotional responses.

The Apprehension Surrounding Nuclear Energy

In the past, not all technological advancements led to negative feelings. Take nuclear energy, for example. Back in 1957, Munich saw the construction of the first German research reactor. Just four years later, nuclear energy was introduced into the national power grid for the very first time. During the 1960s, people viewed atomic energy as a cheap and clean substitute for oil and coal, and it sparked hopes of a new industrial boom.

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In 1975, protesters in Germany raised their voices against constructing a nuclear power plant. They occupied the construction site in Wyhl, a town in southwestern Germany. These critics expressed concerns about climate change, the depletion of groundwater, and potential security issues related to nuclear plants.

The anti-nuclear movement grew stronger as more incidents occurred, like the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 in the United States and the Chornobyl meltdown 1986. These events caused widespread fear and concern among many people.

The German government had been debating nuclear energy for many years. However, after the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011, they finally made a firm decision to completely phase out nuclear energy in Germany.

Some parts of the world view nuclear energy as a great replacement for fossil fuels, while in other countries, it stirs up deep existential concerns.

Vater and Trischler view the nuclear energy debate as a triumph for democracy. According to Vater, a society that wants to preserve its participatory democracy and avoid becoming too focused on technology relies on the kindness, comprehension, and backing of its citizens.

Human vs. AI: A Clash of Abilities?

The current AI debate shows us how easily opinions can shift between trust and doubt, acceptance and rejection. In 1956, John McCarthy, an American computer and cognitive scientist, introduced the term “artificial intelligence.” He used it to describe a field of computer science that aimed to develop machines capable of human-like intelligence.

The field has seen numerous advancements over the years, and recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the chatbot ChatGPT. This chatbot was launched in November 2022 and caused quite a controversy right away. In March, Italy took the lead by temporarily blocking the software. However, it is now permitted again, but with a requirement for users to provide proof of their age.

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AI has been hailed for its potential to bring numerous benefits, such as enhancing healthcare and bolstering road safety. However, it is important to note that criticism of this technology also exists.

People have two main concerns regarding AI. On one hand, they are worried about potential misuse, fake information, and how it might affect their careers and ideas. On the other hand, some fear that as AI advances, it could gain more power and eventually take control away from humans.

Trischler believes that people’s fear of AI stems from the complicated nature of technology. He states that concerns are particularly raised when dealing with extensive technical systems that appear impersonal. Vater agrees and suggests that it is reasonable to have questions about how AI could affect one’s job, rather than having a general fear of machines.


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