An essay by Decatur Scott, as provided by Shana Ross
Art by Justine McGreevy
Q: What technology or scientific advancement was the biggest mistake in human history?
Carey Murphy, research and development, Kinetic Informatics
Using quantum entanglement to power garage door openers. I mean, I hate changing batteries on a transponder as much as the next guy, but it’s just irresponsible to have a remote that opens and closes the door to your house from anywhere in the universe.
Michiko Hawley, researcher and professor, Harvard University
The dolphin translator. The tech is brilliant, but it was just a bad idea. Dolphins are wicked smart, and they’re super angry, very bitter as a species. Nothing nice to say to us, about us, etc. And the thing about the translator tech is that once you’ve gone public with it, everyone knows it exists, it works … well, it’s not like you can STOP talking to the dolphins now. You’re stuck. And it just sucks to have to keep hearing, over and over, about all the awful things humanity is responsible for, and have these smug self-important fish nagging and nagging about how pod responsibility starts with individuals. It’s really damaging to your self-confidence, right? Just … ugh.
Imbolo Fogel, former National Science Advisor
Using multiverse travel to beat traffic. It worked, 96% of the time, and using back roads on other worlds to shave a minute or two off your commute is the kind of brilliance that should have been celebrated. But it sucked to have every other pocket universe gang up on us and tell us that our reality was the worst, and that they’d never, in their combined unfolding of spacetime, seen such selfishness. I mean, who wants to be told their existence is a terrifying ethical void? I honestly don’t even understand it, which they say is exactly the problem. And when they sealed us off from the rest of probability, they even took our time machine, twelve years before we invented it, so we never even got a chance to play with it.
Kevin Santiago, Education Director, British Science Museum
That weird subspecies that got created after we passed the CRISPR act, and some joker–who should have done hard time, even if he was a baby-faced golden boy from the same frat as the president–thought it would be really funny to rickroll his buddy in quality control, and altered over 300 embryos before someone caught on that he was embedding song lyrics in their DNA. Weird coincidence that all the alterations were survivable, but, like, how do you explain it to the kids?
Nancy Mbue, Senior Editor, Scientific American
The ingestible nanites programmed to emerge from your follicles fully integrated with your hair–actually, those were a brilliant idea. And should have been the most lucrative advance of the century! Who doesn’t want their hair and nails instantly customizable? Cosmetics are cash, always. But whoever decided to put the interface on wifi is the real villain here. Might as well have made the password “password.” Took less than a week for folks to hack, and you know trolls. Suddenly, popular girls who were picky about dating started sprouting horns and bald spots, awful words and penises started appearing in the hair of nerdy kids who were just trying to fit in. And because: America, they went from embarrassing socially awkward teens at prom to murder in just under 72 hours. They caught the guy who used his wife’s own hair to strangle her. The guy who quietly caught women’s hair in subway trains so they were pulled to their death, he would have gotten away with it, if he hadn’t done so many. Ugh. Toxic masculinity and subreddits who teach idiots how to hack anything and everything–this is why we can’t have nice things, people.
Marley Cranston, Analyst, People Power Inc.
Teleportation. Definitely teleportation. Sure, it’s the kind of thing we’ve been dreaming about for centuries, but we only imagined the good stuff–never being too far away to head home for Mom’s chicken soup when you need it, never being stuck in traffic, getting to instantly vacation in the most beautiful places on earth. Even high and mighty political fantasies, like the world finally knowing global peace as we become neighbors, all of us, and see how small our differences really are. Yeah. All it really meant was the obliteration of work/life balance. No commute, so everyone stays at the office, down to the wire. And you’re expected back after whatever human frailty got you to leave for a while–kids, spouse, whatever. And there’s no excuse for being offline while on vacation–if some crisis happens while you’re on the beach a thousand miles away, you just have to come in until it’s resolved, it’s instant. I remember my grandmother saying “Oh, I had a boss like that once, she expected me to answer any email within five minutes, and if I didn’t, she’d text until I responded.” Ha. Those were the days.
Esmeralda Kwan, Senior Director of Research, Boston Dynamics
Killer robots. We really should not have made those. Everyone who said “I told you so,” you were right, OK?
Don Kohl, Boca Raton, FL
The wheel. It was all downhill from there. Get it? Get it?
Decatur Scott is a science journalist with a fondness for the lost art of reporting in print media. Her first TED tweet, on the evolutionary advantages of the shrinking human attention span, won a Peabody Award. She lives in Washington, DC, where she is working on her memoir, Surviving the Robot Uprising: How, Why, and What Now. The book is for entertainment purposes only, and she cannot be held liable for any sentience or other damages that may result from downloading review copies on networked devices.
Shana Ross bought her first computer working the graveyard shift in a wind chime factory, a beloved HP whose hard drive resides in her basement with a number of early works. Her writing career has been dormant for 18 years for reasons both practical and best discussed in therapy, but she has been making a respectable living as a consultant, executive coach, and global leadership expert. In 2018, she dyed her hair purple and is starting to turn that all around. This is her first published fiction.
Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities with the hope of making our own a little brighter. You can see more of her artwork and find links to connect on social media through her website justinemcgreevy.com
“In Hindsight” is © 2019 Shana Ross
Art accompanying story is © Justine McGreevy