Churchill on the Future of Technology

Winston Churchill arrived in Boston to address a Massachusetts Institute of Technology forum on the future of science and technology.

The audience for Churchill’s speech at MIT in March of 1949 numbered 14,000 people. He had more people listening by radio and the largest television audience of the time for a live event. Harry Truman was the other main speaker on the program, but he canceled at last minute, possibly out of fear of being upstaged.

Churchill delivered his address at the Boston Garden in front of the mural workers are touching up above.

Churchill began modestly:

I was so glad that in the first instance you asked me to talk about the past rather than to peer into the future because I know more about the past than I do about the future, and I was well content that the President of the United States, whose gift of prophecy was so remarkably vindicated by recent electoral results, should have accepted that task. We all regret that his heavy state duties prevent him from being here tonight. I shall therefore presently have to do a little of the peering myself.

Churchill captured some of the wonder of the technology of flight and submarines, when each was still relatively new.

Humanity was informed that it could make machines that would fly through the air and vessels which could swim beneath the surface of the seas. The conquest of the air and the perfection of the art of flying fulfilled the dream which for thousands of years had glittered in human imagination. Certainly it was a marvellous and romantic event.

He  also covered a fear familiar to anyone who reads the news in the internet age–about whether technological progress might outstrip society’s ability to keep up.

…In the first half of the Twentieth Century, fanned by the crimson wings of war, the conquest of the air affected profoundly human affairs. It made the globe seem much bigger to the mind and much smaller to the body. The human biped was able to travel about far more quickly. This greatly reduced the size of his estate, while at the same time creating an even keener sense of its exploitable value. In the Nineteenth Century Jules Verne wrote “Round the World in Eighty Days.” It seemed a prodigy. Now you can get round it in four; but you do not see much of it on the way. The whole prospect and outlook of mankind grew immeasurably larger, and the multiplication of ideas also proceeded at an incredible rate. This vast expansion was unhappily not accompanied by any noticeable advance in the stature of man, either in his mental faculties, or his moral character. His brain got no better, but it buzzed more. The scale of events around him assumed gigantic proportions while he remained about the same size.

Read Churchill’s entire speech here.

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