Technology: A Love Story

We all are sub consciously governed by parallel philosophies which lies beneath our all actions and inactions, and philosophies when shared form the collective conscious of a society. Like an Artist who through his Art mocks the society, challenges its conventions and invents a whole new thought process, a technologist is also no different from him. Technology is mere a reflection of an inventor’s personal philosophical beliefs. To interpret the allegory of technological world, I dig down deep in the minds of three great men who embarked on a journey to change the world and set the foundations of Modern technology as we see today.

On 6 June 1884, a young Yugoslavian scientist named ‘Nikola Tesla’ landed on the shores of America with little besides a letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, a former employer. In the letter of recommendation to Thomas Edison, Batchelor wrote, ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man’. Batchelor was right, Tesla was not just as great but much more intelligent than Edison. He superseded Edison in faculty and ability to decipher the most complex problems. There was one more thing where Tesla differed from Edison and that was his philosophy of social structure. Edison came from hierarchical conservative background, while Tesla was deeply influenced by newly brewed socialist philosophies in Europe and an Indian philosopher named Swami Vivekananda who said that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God. Imbued by the teachings of Vivekananda, Tesla completely disrupted electric Industry. Electricity then was distributed through highly inefficient DC current generators and most of the technology which was patented by Edison was expensive and hence it was reserved only for bourgeoisie class. In 1894 Tesla invented AC electric technology, which was far more efficient and could be distributed to every household in America inexpensively. His invention had put him in direct confrontation with Edison and his corporate friends, Tesla’s lab in New York was burned down and war of AC vs DC had begun which eventually Tesla won. He did not stop there; he was a man on a mission to illuminate the entire world and to break all social barriers. In 1899, Tesla started working on a new technology which promised transmission of electrical power wirelessly to the remotest corner of the world for almost free of cost but he could not fulfil his last dream, his labs in Colorado were vandalised again and he was threatened for his life. He lived rest of his life in oblivion and died in a hotel room in New York. All his life, Tesla sought to reduce social distance, such as in communication for better understanding, transportation, and transmission of energy, as a means to ensure social equality. In pursuit to do so he invented the modern radio which formed the basis of current mobile communication and controlling systems and his invention of AC electricity was the greatest service to mankind in 20th century.

Post world war 2, world got polarised into soviet leaning leftists and American leaning liberals. An Imaginary Iron wall stood between two worlds and then came 1960s which was the decade of social revolution. People were fighting the state for civil rights on both sides of the wall and it gave rise to new counter culture of Anarchy. 9th December 1968, a different anarchy was born in the lab of Stanford research Institute, it was a technological anarchy and its inventor was a computer scientist. His name was ‘Douglas Engelbart’. What he demonstrated that day was later known as Mother of all demos and set the foundations of modern internet and personal computing. Engelbart, with the help of his geographically distributed team, demonstrated the workings of the NLS (“oN Line System”) to the 1,000 computer professionals in attendance. The live demonstration featured the introduction of the computer mouse, video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, bootstrapping, and a collaborative real-time editor. Engelbart believed that society can be governed by a collective intelligence without the intervention of central authority and thus state would be irrelevant. His vision was to connect every individual through a personal computing device with its own intelligence and form a network of intelligence sharing which will make the authoritative mainframe and super computers obsolete. His inspiration for the invention came from an Article titled “As We may think” by ‘Vannevar’s Bush’ that he had read in Philippines while he was serving for US Navy as radio technician during World War 2. Engelbart was also strongly influenced by the philosophy of linguistic relativity developed by Benjamin Lee Whorf, which stated the sophistication of a language controls the sophistication of the thoughts that can be expressed by a speaker of that language, Engelbart reasoned that the state of our current technology controls our ability to manipulate information, and that fact in turn will control our ability to develop new, improved technologies. And for the same reason he developed computer mouse and hyper media as a means to reduce the friction between human computer interactions and improve our ability to manipulate the information directly and which in turn would help to add more intelligence to the network. Engelbart ideas of networked personal computing inspired many early entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley.

One of the entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley who jumped into the race of personal computers was ‘Steve Jobs’. But in contrast with other technology entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was different, he was neither a scientist nor an engineer, he was a rebellious Artist. In 1972 after dropping off from Reed College from his engineering course, Jobs would crash into Fine Arts classes every day and that is where he discovered his love and passion for Arts. In 1974, in quest of spirituality, Jobs travelled to India. He spent 7 months India wandering in Himalayas and on the plains of Ganges in Northern India. After returning to USA, he became a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism, engaged in lengthy meditation retreats at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the US. In India he learned two most important lessons of his life, first, how the most complex problems in the world could be conquered with art of simplicity and second, that the power of intuition is greater than intellect. He founded Apple computers in 1976 and infused his learning into the products that Apple designed in subsequent years. He believed intricacies of technology can be simplified by means of Aesthetics. Contrary to popular beliefs, Jobs did not invent a personal computer, Smartphone or a tablet but what he did invent is simplified PCs, Smart phones and tablets. He always valued intuition over intellect, at the time when digital music industry was dying and best of the best technology corporations were wary of rescuing it, Jobs was busy designing iPOD and with which he also invented a whole new ecosystem of music industry.