Monday, July 18, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell: When technology fails

Looks like some more great talks will be posted on TED from the Edinburgh conference.

By the end of World War II, the United States military had spent $1.5 billion on the Norden bombsight, a device that promised to be so accurate it was said a plane could drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet, according to author Malcolm Gladwell.

Speaking Friday on the last day of the TED Global conference, Gladwell said the device, designed by engineer Carl Norden, indeed could allow bombers to hit their targets -- but only under perfect conditions, such as a cloudless sky. In the real world, the sight often failed to find its mark.

In a raid on a German chemical plant, only 10% of thousands of bombs hit the target, said Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point" and other best-sellers.

He posed the question: Why do people place so much faith in technology such as the Norden bombsight to solve problems?

Today, the U.S. military has a bomb-delivering device that truly can achieve great accuracy -- the drones firing missiles to attack militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet Gladwell argued that drones aren't necessarily accomplishing more than the flawed World War II-era bombsight; he said suicide attacks against Western targets have increased.

"The issue isn't the accuracy of the bombs you have, but how you use the bombs you have," and whether you should use them at all, he said.

Gladwell's question was one of a series of thought-provoking issues raised at the conference in the Scottish capital.