Technology is the Step-Mother of Necessity

Posted on January 14, 2012


by Chris Williams (Thinking Like a Cheetah)

If necessity is the mother of all invention, then concept is the father of technology. While needs produce items of necessity, ideas produce items of ingenuity. Realistically no one needed an airplane in 1903, but that didn’t stop the Wright brothers from making their first flight. This same thought could be applied to the automobile, light bulb and satellite technology. At the time each of these were not items of necessity, however today most Americans would say they can’t live without them.

As we moved into the latter part of the 20th century technologies began developing faster than they were utilized. We were inventing things that would later have a necessary use. The light bulb was invented to provide light, but Teflon was invented with no specific use in mind. The same thing could be said of other technologies like Kevlar, GPS and even the internet. While some of these had an intended specific use, it morphed into something else and the intended use quickly faded.

Fast forward into the 21st century, we are looking at concepts to drive new technology; however we may need to look at this conversely technology driving concepts. It may even be helpful to look at new uses for older technologies if they can be upgraded for a new use. While necessity may be the mother of all invention and concepts the father of technology – I submit that technology is the step-mother of necessity. We should be looking to off-the-shelf (OTS) technologies to create our needs. This idea of using OTS technology to create needs is not much different than the approach the enemies of the U.S have recently used.

Over the past decade these adversaries have used existing technologies, quite successfully, to perpetuate their existences and campaigns. These technologies have largely driven their concepts and ideas. The U.S. approach, on the other hand, has been reactive and much more traditional. As an Army we have managed to create some unique solutions to complex problems, but this has occurred mainly at the tactical level and occasionally at the operational level. Moving into the future where the threats will likely continue to be non-traditional we may need to relook our approach. We should examine existing technologies and how we can apply them rather than develop costly concepts that produce capabilities which will likely be overmatched in short order. While we spend billions on developing new technologies the late Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone. This technology could easily become the next step-mother of necessity among Army needs. Up next – Synthesizing ideas is the step-father of necessity.