History of high tech

Sometimes interesting thoughts about technology come from odd sources — a former Israeli prime minister by way of a much-hyped inventor, for instance.

The Business Software Alliance’s third annual Global Technology Summit in Washington, D.C., in October featured an impressive list of technology-industry

luminaries, from “”father of the Internet”” Vinton Cerf to Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove to Tom Ridge, the U.S. homeland security secretary. Dean Kamen — an inventor best known for the Segway, that two-wheeled, stand-up “”human transporter”” that had the hype machines working overtime a few years ago — gave the closing speech.

Kamen rode into the conference room on a Segway, and it did seem like an intriguing gadget. But what he had to say was more interesting.

He told a story about Shimon Peres, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, Nobel laureate and former prime minister of Israel.

He said he met with Peres a while ago in New York, and they talked about the teaching of history. He said Peres told him that after years of believing it was important to teach children history so they could learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid repeating them, he had changed his mind. He had decided that we should give up teaching history, because far from learning from their parents’ mistakes, young people are only learning their prejudices so they can repeat the same mistakes.

That gloomy observation isn’t surprising coming from someone who has been involved in the morass of Middle East politics for most of his life. But there’s more: Peres proposed that instead of teaching history, we should teach kids more about technology.

In particular, he wanted to bring together children from every part of the Middle East — not just Israel, but the Palestinian Authority as well — to learn about technology together.

Kamen, whose organization FIRST has run robotics competitions and other technology events for kids in the U.S. and elsewhere since 1992, said he has agreed to help organize this.

Kamen said he doesn’t really think Shimon Peres wants to eliminate the teaching of history, and that he probably put it that way for effect.

Bringing kids from different cultures together is almost sure to increase understanding between those cultures, and perhaps solving problems together can show them they have something in common. It’s also true, as Kamen said, that technology — the Internet and the fax machine, for instance — has done more to reduce oppression in China than history has. (He also said technology did more to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but that was military technology.)

Technology can, if we use it the right way. Or it can be the opposite if we use it the wrong way.

Kamen pointed that out, citing a probably apocryphal comment by Werner von Braun, who helped develop weapons for Nazi Germany before working on the U.S. space program, that his job was to get the rockets up and where they came down was not his concern.

“”Technology gives us a chance,”” he said. “”It allows us to do good better, it allows us to do bad better.”” Much as learning the mistakes of the past allows us to avoid them in the future, or repeat them over and over.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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