Tragedy and Technology Touches All of Us


By Samuel Greengard

There are no words to describe the ugliness and darkness of the past couple of weeks. We have endured the murders of children and their teachers in Connecticut. We have had to deal with an assault on a mall in Portland, Oregon that left two people dead and hundreds of others terrified and scarred.  

I’m especially shaken because Stephen Forsyth, the Oregon man gunned down at the Clackamas Town Center attack, was my son’s basketball coach two years ago. Senseless, horrendous and depressing doesn’t even begin to define things. I live in a community that is experiencing a world of hurt right now. An estimated 2,200 people attended his service a couple of days ago. I was one of them.

Unfortunately, these incidents are only the tip of the bullet. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence every year. Yes, I’m aware that an attacker can wield a knife, broken beer bottle or something else. I’m aware that it’s nearly impossible to keep guns out of criminals’ hands. But the sad reality is that in virtually all other developed nations, the murder rate involving guns can be measured in the dozens or less.

I don’t profess to have the answers about our nation’s escalating level of violence or how the Second Amendment should be interpreted. I do know this: There’s an aspect of this problem that receives scant attention. While weapons have become increasingly sophisticated and lethal, very little is being done to make them safer. Thousands of children are killed every year as a result of gun negligence (I refuse to use the word accident because it masks the irresponsibility of the gun owner).

Why don’t weapons have high-tech locks to prevent children from using them? Why aren’t weapons manufactured with biometric controls so they can’t be used if they’re stolen? (The shootings in Portland and Newtown both involved stolen weapons.) Why isn’t it possible to know who is buying what over the Internet and at gun shows? Imagine if today’s vehicles had no air bags, crumple zones, safety locks, seat belts, head restraints and anti-lock brakes? Imagine if homebuilders didn’t adhere to any framing, electrical or plumbing codes?

It could get worse. Cybersecurity firm Internet Identity predicts the Internet will be used for murder within two years. Connected cars, IV drips, pacemakers and other devices are at risk of hacking and attacks, it reports. Let’s not even ponder the risks of smart bullets, microbots and nanoparticles.

We have some critical choices to make about technology, including how we manufacture products, what we buy and how we consume everything from violent video games to guns. There will always be bad people who do bad things. The key question is, Do we attempt to produce safer devices and put reasonable restrictions in place or simply maximize profits, toss up our hands and accept whatever comes along?


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