People don’t trust technology the way they used to. According to a Pew Research Center report this summer, the share of Americans who believe that tech companies have a positive impact has dropped from 71% to 50% in just four years. That’s partly because of the growing power of technology to pry into our lives, and partly because of concerns that those developing and wielding this power are doing so unscrupulously.
But then technology goes and does something like finding a lost Minnesota boy and his dog in a cornfield in the dark of night.
To be clear, technology didn’t do it alone. After 6-year-old Ethan Haus went missing along with his family’s Brittany spaniel in rural Sherburne County last Tuesday afternoon, dozens of emergency workers and more than 600 volunteers joined the search. But the crucial element was a drone operated by one such volunteer, a professional photographer. The remote aircraft carried a thermal camera that located the pair, weary but unhurt, nearly 10 hours after they’d disappeared.
The outcome illustrates a key point — that we benefit from advances in technology when they’re in the right hands and put to a helpful purpose.
Which is a perpetual topic for debate, since the field and its purposes are wide-ranging. Consider drones alone. They’re popular among hobbyists. They’re useful on farms and construction sites. Under some visions, they would ply neighborhoods, dropping off packages from retailers. In military applications, they provide surveillance and deliver deadly payloads.
The software that connected Hellfire missiles to Predator drones is, in fact, among 33 examples in “The Lines of Code That Changed Everything,” a recent article at Slate. We recommend giving it a read, not just for informational value but for illumination of how widely computer code affects society, and of how deceptively simple — and fallible — it can be, originating as it does as a signal between brains and fingertips.
We also recommend, for those with the means of accessing it behind its paywall, “The Privacy Project,” a yearlong focus by the New York Times Opinion section on the myriad implications of our advancing world. One recent entry: “Are We Ready for Satellites That See Our Every Move?”
That’s unnerving. But here’s what matters at the moment: A little boy is home safe, and it was a marriage of flight and imaging technology, leveraging human goodwill, that made the difference.