There was no shortage of unprecedented events as we were writing this book. Oil and food prices rocketed and then fell back to Earth; there was a devastating earthquake in Haiti; banks failed; and a new flu virus sparked a worldwide pandemic alert. None of these developments was predicted a year in advance—or at least, not loudly enough to be heard. For all our technological and forecasting skills, we proved unable to take appropriate measures in advance. Technology has been helping us satisfy our material needs since prehistoric times. We learned how to till the soil, how to communicate with one another, and how to stay healthy. Almost everyone in the Western world now has enough to eat, a roof over their heads, and clean water. A great many basic needs have therefore been met—so much so that some observers now claim that the need for further technological advances is diminishing. Recent events argue against such a view. Humanity is increasingly confronted with crises that, for the first time in our history, are global in scope. The food shortages we saw in 2007 occurred simultaneously in Asia, Africa, and South America; the recession that took hold in 2008 did so simultaneously worldwide; and when the flu pandemic broke out in 2009, germs were able to cross between continents in a matter of days. Climate change and oil depletion, meanwhile, are no less global challenges that we will face in the decades ahead. The globalization of disaster is itself rooted in our technology. Generations of engineers have steadily woven an international web of industries, communications, and markets that has resulted in planetary interdependence. These global networks are now so tightly knit that we share a common fate. We will now survive together or quite possibly perish together. The authors of this book are concerned about the new scale on which many of these pressing problems are now manifesting themselves. Because technology has been a key factor in triggering these issues in the first place, we believe it should also be part of solving them and of preventing similar problems from arising in the future.
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