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Can technology deal with planetary catastrophes?

Jared Heng | Oct. 15, 2008
I dont think my sleep would be affected much by knowledge that an asteroid might hit the earth 1,000 years from now.

World-ending disasters like giant asteroid collisions and extreme climate change have aroused both fear and strange fascination worldwide. The movie, Armageddon, is an example that reflects peoples desire to avoid, yet understand, such catastrophes at the same time.

A giant asteroid collision with the earth has been a hot discussion topic among scientists, who have suggested several technological solutions to avert such risk. Many experts contend that the question is not a matter of if but rather when such a disaster would occur. Their argument is based on existing huge craters on earth, which they claim mark past collisions.

Some suggested solutions include using nuclear weapons to destroy the asteroid, or powerful rocket thrusters to change its deadly trajectory. However, scientists concede that existing technology is unable to deal with this threat. For example, nuclear weapons might blow the asteroid up into many smaller, but still deadly chunks headed for earth.

While I welcome scientific developments in this area, the television media tends to cover a little too much on it. Perhaps its in response to human curiosity surrounding the chilling possibility of a giant asteroid collision with earth, no matter how remote it may be.

I dont think my sleep would be affected much by knowledge that an asteroid might hit the earth 1,000 years from now. Of course, if such an event is expected to occur within our lifetime, thats a different story.

I believe there should be more coverage instead on technological solutions to existing real world problems. For example, improving warning systems for tsunami or earthquake detection to increase lead times for evacuation would save many more lives.

Another example would be technological developments in biomedical engineering, perhaps more advanced artificial hearts that allow patients to live much longer. Improved scanning systems that allow efficient monitoring of shipping containers for terrorist activity might also be an area Id be interested in.

In an age where nuclear war, ever evolving deadly viral strains, and natural disasters could wipe out entire populations, over-emphasising issues such as the perceived asteroid threat would be folly. As such, media coverage should focus more on technologies that address more down-to-earth issues.

Jared Heng is staff writer for Fairfax Business Media, where he covers hot topics in the IT industry such as green computing, unified communications and software as a service.


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