Book Warns Against Modern-Day ‘Technology Trap’
Professor and Author Highlights Problems with Ever-Stronger Technologies
Apr. 14, 2011
Modern society’s ability to develop more powerful technologies – coupled with the inevitability of human error – could lead to disaster on an unprecedented scale, according to a timely new book by Dr. Lloyd J. Dumas, professor in UT Dallas’ School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
In The Technology Trap: Where Human Error and Malevolence Meet Powerful Technologies, the professor of political economy and public policy argues for moving toward technology and national security systems that have the same or greater potential effectiveness but without the accompanying risk of catastrophic accidents.
“We should not be dealing with technologies that don’t allow room for a wide range of errors or potential threats,” Dr. Lloyd J. Dumas said.
The current crisis involving the threatened Japanese nuclear reactors is a perfect illustration of the limits of our ability to maintain safe control of powerful technologies, Dumas said.
“We cannot always anticipate and prepare for the threats these technologies will face from natural disasters as extraordinary as the gigantic earthquake off the coast of Japan or from something as commonplace as human fallibility,” he said.
In his newest book, Dumas cites a long list of incidents in which human error led to dangerous or potentially hazardous results. For example, there has been an average of one serious nuclear weapons-related accident every seven months for the past 60 years. He also points out that, from 1975 to 1990, more than 66,000 members of the U. S. military were permanently removed from their positions involving nuclear weapons because their performance was deemed unreliable.
“The central argument in the book is that people can always be counted on to make mistakes, not to mention the people who have bad intentions and deliberately attempt to use technology against their real or imagined enemies,” Dumas said. “We should not be dealing with technologies that don’t allow room for a wide range of errors or potential threats. Because we can’t perfect ourselves or our systems, we shouldn’t be using technologies that don’t allow for a very large margin of safety.”
The Technology Trap, published by Greenwood Publishing Group, includes the author’s analysis, as well as true stories that show how easily situations can go dangerously wrong, despite everyone’s best efforts to prevent it.
Dumas said The Technology Trap does not advocate an anti-technology "return to nature" or underplay the achievements of our high-tech world. The book considers the potential for disaster that exists in the modern age, examines how we arrived at this stage and explains why most commonly proposed solutions to the risks can’t be relied on to prevent disaster. The book also suggests realistic options that might forestall human-induced technological disasters, he said.
Dumas is now finishing another book, The Peacekeeping Economy: Using Economic Relationships to Build a More Peaceful, Prosperous and Secure World, which looks at how nations can structure economic relationships in a way that could potentially eliminate the need for military-based threats. That book will be published by Yale University Press later this year.
As the author of many journal articles and seven previous books, Dumas has spoken at the United Nations and more than 250 conferences and special lectures since 1980, including symposia sponsored by the Sandia Nuclear Weapons Laboratories, the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Laboratories, the U.S. State Department, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and J.P. Morgan Chase.
From 1991-93, he was vice chairman of the Governor's Taskforce on Economic Transition of the State of Texas. In 2002 and 2005, Dumas was awarded two sequential Ford Foundation grants to develop methods for increasing transparency and accountability of international economic consulting on development and transition.