The entire world is changing in the information technology age. With these changes bring new fears, of the future, of technology, and of what may happen when there are new ways of doing things. After all, robots and intelligent houses are always scary in popular entertainment media.
Some people may not appreciate just exactly how much the globe is changing, so here is one small factoid to put things in perspective. The International Labour Organization just released its Key Indicators of the Labour Market report on September 5. This report marks one of the most significant changes in all of recorded human history . farming is no longer the dominant industry in the world.
This significant change in the very core of human existence is undoubtedly the result of technological advancement. And the Republic of Korea is a technological republic that in some ways is more advanced than any other country in the world, especially in information technology. However, it was not always this way. The introduction of modern technology in Korea around the turn of the previous century was marked with fear and superstition. One example is the first import of electricity to what was then the Joseon Kingdom.
Robert Neff, historian and long-time resident in Seoul, wrote an interesting article for OhmyNews International about superstition and the first introduction of electricity to Korea. Here is an excerpt from his account.
According to a newspaper account given by Frank Carpenter, a journalist who had traveled around the world and had spent a considerable amount of time in Korea, the first power plant established in Korea was on May 30, 1894 at Changdok Palace. The chief engineer was Thomas W. Power, an American who worked with the American Trading Company in Japan. Power made a contract with Emperor Kojong to supply the palace with electricity, and in return he would be paid with funds from the royal treasury.
On paper it looked good but the Korean government was notoriously plagued with corruption and when it came time to be paid the corrupt officials "concluded to let this young American whistle for his money until he gave a big bribe [to the controlling officials]."
Mr. Power, however, had an ace up his sleeve; he "realized that his majesty was in deadly fear of assassination and that he would go crazy if he had to spend all night in the dark." So "Mr. Power went to the plant, and by the disconnection of a screw arranged it so that it would run perfectly without giving light. About dusk that evening there was a great excitement at the palace. The buttons were turned but the globes would not burn. As it grew darker the emperor sent his messengers to Mr. Power to ask what was the matter. He replied that he had not had his money, and that the spirits who ran the light plant would no work until he was paid. His majesty thereupon asked why the money had not been sent and told the corrupt officials that if it was not delivered at once their heads would go off."
The money was received almost immediately: "a soap box full of gold dust and nuggets." Some of the nuggets were flat, showing that they had not gone far from the mother lode, and one was as big as the palm of your hand. The gold was sent to the mint at Osaka. It netted in the neighborhood of US$50,000, and Power handed back the balance after he had taken out the US$47,000 due him."
It should be added that as soon as he received his gold, Power graciously turned back on the power and the "spirits of electricity began to work."
Of course electricity is much better understood today, and the fruits of a strong electrical system are all over the countryside of Korea. As the significance of technological power grows in the world, no country can afford to fear the changes that technology can bring, unless they want to be left as a side note in history. Society as a whole must come to face and dismiss the fears of robotic servants, and of the ubiquitous control that a ubiquitous city may exert over its inhabitants. When faced with the possibility that new technologies might possibly malfunction and endanger lives, one must acknowledge that current technologies do the same thing and somehow people survive. When faced with the objections that security vulnerabilities in new software applications might pose risks for its users, one must keep in mind that security vulnerabilities have been around since the first pick was made for the first lock on the first door. While the details of technology must change over time, the principles by which humanity lives their lives does not. In this post-farming age, let us not fear the future, but embrace it. Hug a robot today!