Event Summary: Age of Discovery


By Sasha Rosshandler

AGE OF DISCOVERYOn the 2nd October 2017, the Henry Jackson Society hosted both Professor Ian Goldin (Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University) and Dr Chris Kutarna (Sauvé Fellow and Fellow of the Oxford Martin School) in an event chaired by our Research Director, Timothy Stafford. The talk, titled ‘Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance’ provided an insight into how the present day is a contest between the bright and dark sides of discovery, with physical technological developments vastly outpacing those of social technologies; a potential threat to the further development of mankind.

Based upon the speakers’ new book titled Age of Discovery, the talk also incorporated present-day challenges to thought; the question of how Trump is President of the United States and how we came to leave the European Union top of the agenda. Ultimately it appears that as various paradoxes develop, we are unable to understand the rationale behind them. Resultantly, our reluctance to use the past to understand the present has become apparent. With a discourse of disruption and rapid change, society has continued to fall behind technological developments and this could be to the detriment of society if unchallenged and unchanged.

With technological developments going as far as artificial technology and geoengineering that essentially take our capabilities beyond imaginable levels of just a few decades ago, we have to understand whether we can reasonably use these new responsibilities that come about from our technological developments. Ultimately, can we as society be trusted to use these new powers to better ourselves, or will we negate the issues apparent? It appears that the understanding and use of historical findings is paramount to the successful continuation of both society’s and technology’s development in-tandem with each other.

The early modern era had the problem of a significant lack of information that did not allow for the development of new maps. In regards to the use of history to understand the present, Christopher Columbus’ misconceptions were used. When Columbus arrived on the shores of America, he was convinced he had made landfall on Asia. Ultimately the map of the world that he was picturing in his head was wrong and according to his view, the landmass now known as North America simply did not exist. It was a ‘new world’ that he had found. Of course today we now know that his original assumption was entirely false. However, the lack of information throughout history meant that maps had not been challenged. Maps were assumed complete and entirely correct despite a lack of exploration. This mistake is the perfect analogy for the fact that ideas must be challenged. Human thought cannot be disregarded in the way of technological advances, and human thought is vital to the advancement of society.

In an age in which over six billion people are connected almost instantly via the handheld technology available to us, human thought has taken a backwards step. Only 40 years ago, only two and a half billion people were connected by comparatively slow methods. With these advances continuing, it is becoming increasingly likely that each time our politicians make the age-old promise of providing an improved life to all of its citizens, they are promising an entirely implausible goal. Our focus on technology over society being the key, detrimental reason for this.


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