Can Technology Really Save Our Economy -and- Protect Us?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

Time was when Americans feared and avoided technology. We called those folks, Luddites. World War II changed all that when we geared up to fight tyranny and defeat the Axis powers. After the war, we tooled up for peacetime and built on the technological gains of five years of arms production.

We found radar, sonar, rocketry, nuclear fission and plastics. Our companies reached out to the vanquished powers of Germany and Japan and collaborated on research. Then something interesting happened… they became our competitors. Globalization was born. Fast forward fifty years, and the new millennium brought a host of new wars that provided the impetus for new innovation. That begs a terrible question: Are wars good for technology?

If we look at the great strides made in nuclear science in our Manhattan Project, the answer is clear from a technological viewpoint. Physics took a quantum leap forward. The horror of nuclear devastation sowed the seeds of discovery. From the tragedy of Vietnam came similar progress in chemicals, aerodynamics/avionics and electronics.

Later, ‘Star Wars’ technology helped precipitate the dissolution of the Soviet empire. While some called this technology ‘junk science,’ successive decades of space exploration have proved it scientifically feasible. The mere threat of the use of technology actually helped avoid a cataclysmic confrontation.

Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have moved squarely into the ‘Brave New World’ of IT-driven warfare. From advances in battlefield gear, clothing and sophisticated electronics we are now taking men out of the equation through the use of unmanned drones (UAVs) with extraordinary surveillance capabilities, monitored and guided from command posts thousands of miles away.

Can we transition technological prowess to peacetime and use it to solve domestic problems like terrorism and illegal immigration or must we mobilize manpower in massive numbers to stand guard at America’s southern border like sentries at medieval city gates?

The Chinese spent centuries building their Great Wall… with thousands of slave laborers. While it’s now considered a wonder of the world, I think a ‘great wall’ along the Mexican border would not be so favorably viewed. Technological advances like UAVs and maybe even laser surveillance fences must be deployed if we are to protect our border.

Passport protection is another issue. While the government has awarded millions of dollars in contracts to ‘securitize’ our passports to eliminate forgeries, the technology currently being employed is less than cutting edge. ‘Electronic passports’ containing imbedded threads of data are costly and not yet reprogrammable. So the old saying, ‘garbage in garbage out’ (bad or incomplete data) should concern all of us. There is another technology that is ‘home grown,’ right here in New Mexico. It offers a better alternative, and it is truly 21st century.

It’s called holography. Holograms are light-sensitive images and something we first heard about in the seventies when one appeared in a film called, “The Man that fell to Earth’ with David Bowie, produced by a small group of techno-artists that included Britton Zabka, one of the world’s premier holographers. Zabka, lives in Albuquerque and has been busy refining and patenting his discoveries.

To hear him talk about holography is like listening to a wizard, an artist and a seasoned scientist all in one. He explained the practical application of his patented technology. “Imagine going in to the DMV or passport agency and sitting down on a revolving chair, turning ever so slowly while a digital motion camera films you.

It’s then fed into a computer database. A special digital laser printer that I developed transposes the digital information into a holographic movie segment that projects images two inches behind the card when illuminated by light. What you end up with is a seamless image that shows the individual from all angles in motion and that’s perfect for ID cards.”

Sandia National Labs tested his technology and found it to be “98% forgery proof.” The technology has not yet made it to our passports, but this hasn’t deterred Zabka who says, “Our national security deserves the very best technology, especially during these trying times, and I’m committed to making holography a household word when it comes to passports, credit cards and anything that can be forged.” Maybe through technology we can beat our swords into plowshares and make progress peacetime – dependent after all.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat and former Director of the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology. He is now Honorary Consul for Germany and CEO of his own high-tech consultancy company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

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