by October 11, 2002 0 comments

Starting this month, we will have an irregular series of what might seem non-IT topics. This month, we look at the application of technology in instruments of war. In the coming months, we’ll look at applications of technology in areas like medicine, space and entertainment. When we first decided on this series, I was not very convinced of an overriding need to do it. Rather, it was an attempt at doing something different. But then, something happened along the way.

The story is like this. This last month, I had to spend more time in hospitals as a bystander, than in front of PCs. I spent more time meeting doctors and enquiring about diseases than meeting IT experts and discussing technology implementation. In that one month, I saw the entire gamut of life being played out end to end. The joys of birth, the joys and problems of growing old, the tragedy of death, I saw all this happen. 

We justifiably pride ourselves in our ability to build faster computers and faster graphics cards and better monitors and larger networks. And what do we use them for? Every time a graphics chip acquires the ability to display a few million more polygons, we exult that our games will run smoother, and that we will kill a few more aliens on our better monitors. What does not strike us is that perhaps a better display card coupled with that better monitor could also help a radiologist arrive at a better interpretation of an MRI or CT Scan, thereby saving many lives.

The biggest noise of all is made by chip companies alternately claiming glory for a few hertz more added in a race that already crossed the gigahertz barrier ages back. While we actively take sides in this debate, we tend to forget that many real-life systems like life-saving systems depend on embedded computers that top out at a couple of hundred megahertz!

We build huge networks spanning the globe to run ERP applications and take pride from the fact that we can raise a bill in umpteen world currencies at a keystroke. We tend not to realize that an equally impressive global network, of life-saving medical information or agricultural information can probably be built at a fraction of the cost. While discussing learning curves and adaptation costs of our enterprise-wide systems, we tend not to realize that if only doctors could be taught and made to access and use available global medical knowledge, many a life that is put to risk while he experiments could potentially be saved.

Talking of networks, when you are personally down for the count, it does not matter whether the huge networks you lovingly built are up and running all year. What really matters is whether the network of people who care enough for you are available 24x7x365. 

I’m not saying we should give up using computers for business or for pleasure. All I am advocating is that we should equally enhance other real-life uses of technology.

Krishna Kumar

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