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Hawaii’s Technology Crossroads and the TMT
By its very nature, technology brings change in society and undermines convention. It affects virtually every aspect of human endeavor — including organization of societies and the condition of human lives.

About the Author

  • Victor Craft
    Victor Craft
    Victor Craft is a retired aerospace worker having functioned as an FAA certificated Airframe and Powerplants Technician, Logistician and Quality Assurance director working on several major weapons systems. Vic also served tours of duty with the armed forces in Vietnam, Kenya and the United Kingdom.

Hawaii is at a crossroads. It is struggling on the one hand to become a more economically viable society while at the same time dealing with a heritage that some would argue is in direct opposition to the introduction of new technology. We are not the first society to face such questions and most likely won’t be the last. This argument has been raised by humans since the introduction of fire.

The preface to the Sloan Technology Series begins with the following paragraph.

“Technology is the application of science, engineering, and industrial organization to create a human-built world. It has led, in developed nations, to a standard of living inconceivable a hundred years ago. The process, however, is not free of stress; by its very nature, technology brings change in society and undermines convention. It affects virtually every aspect of human endeavor: private and public institutions, economic systems, communications networks, political structures, international affiliations, the organization of societies and the condition of human lives.

Thirty Meter Telescope Mauna Kea

An artist’s view of what the Thirty Meter Telescope would look like with laser operational at night.

Courtesy TMT International Observatory

“The effects are not one-way; just as technology changes society, so, too, do societal structures, attitudes, and mores affect technology. But perhaps because technology is so rapidly and completely assimilated, the profound interplay of technology and other social endeavors in modern history has not been sufficiently recognized.” — Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Perhaps we should visualize technology as a tool or a collection of tools. In which case, there is no human society that we know of that has gone completely without the use of tools. It is only the sophistication and complexity of those tools that separates the level of development of a civilization.

As the Sloan Foundation preface implies, change must be managed. In the early 1990s, “Change Management” was introduced, having its roots in the aerospace industry. Proposed changes to aircraft are not just installed without careful and calculated analyses. Every aspect of the proposed change is analyzed to remove any risk. Weight and balance, material, stress, maintainability, reliability and many other engineering disciplines review the potential change for hazards, as well as the potential for improvement. What change management emphasizes is teamwork and a reliance on facts.

Here in Hawaii, what might be termed “The Heritage Card” is used often to explain opposition to change. With due respect, some of this may be emotional and have little basis in fact. Hard words to say when one considers they may be disrespecting another’s belief system. Some of what was labelled kapu had its roots in practical reasons — some of it may have been there only to benefit the ali’i. Did kanaka have the opportunity to discuss the matter?

We have evolved in our society to allow all arguments on an issue to be aired. The current controversy over the installation of the Thirty Meter Telescope had its time to be argued in public. Obviously the decision was not in favor of those who now block its construction. Their claim is one that resides in a heritage issue that may or may not have validity in history. (That argument, too, has not been resolved.) Mauna Kea became sacred only at the insistence of people. It was there long before humans arrived and will be there long after what we call Hawaii as a state or nation is no more.

Change is inevitable. Progress will come one way or another. It has its intended and unintended consequences.

What this controversy has done is raised the issue of progress. Perhaps it is also linked with our continued slide into third-world country status. Parallels could be drawn between our relationship with the mainland and the one that exists between Greece and the European Union. We are not helping ourselves by continuing to fight each other. A question could be raised that had there been no outside influence or aid to Kamehameha I, would Hawaiian society have gone unchanged up to today?

Change is inevitable. Progress will come one way or another. It has its intended and unintended consequences.

No matter how we have arrived at this point in our history, we are here. Now where do we go? We can either embrace technology and manage it to mitigate or avoid unintended consequences or drive ourselves back to a society that dies from a lack of stimulation. Change will occur, be it either man made or from Mother Nature.

Looking back to a time clouded by a distorted vision of paradise will not solve the problems of today. Our focus, our vision must look towards the future.