Activities Consulting Presentations ViewpointsContact


Technology Education and Terrorism by David A. Janosz, Jr. - October 2001

The September 11, 2001 attacks on America stirred Americans to an attitude of war.  “This isn’t a conventional war that we’re waging”, said President Bush a few days after the attacks and Americans understand why.  It will indeed be different from other wars fought by military forces.  It will also be different than the “cold war” that now seems to have ended so long ago.  But, have Americans really thought about what it will take to win this modern war against terrorism?  To find the answer to this question, we should think about what has decided the outcomes of all types of wars throughout history.

Will military prowess decide the war on terrorism?  Possibly, and the military is already beginning to do its part.  Special military forces may bring some of our attackers to justice, but will they win the war?  Probably not.  Will this war against terrorism be decided through diplomacy between the United States and other countries?  Perhaps.

What will decide this new war is the same thing that has decided the outcomes of wars of all kinds in the past.  What will decide this new war will be numerous advances in technology to make us less vulnerable to attacks such as those that took place September 11 and also those that are feared possible in the future. 

What new technologies will need to be developed?  Beginning with defense against the attacks we have already experienced, we clearly will need advancements in transportation and structural technologies.  From this point on, the design of skyscrapers and other buildings will have new design criteria in order to defend against terrorist attacks.  Their evacuation systems will be redesigned and reimplemented.  Regarding aircraft, there has already been talk of implementing systems, similar to autopilot that, once engaged, will return an aircraft to a safe landing without allowing override.  There has also been mention of utilizing stronger cockpit doors and even weapons that can “more safely” be used inside conventional aircraft.

We also need technologies that will defend us against attacks that have not yet been made, but are definitely possible.  We will need to develop stronger biotechnological systems to aid in the defense against a biological or chemical attack.  Companies and institutions are surely developing new immunizations and shields against dangerous chemicals.

We clearly need advancements in surveillance and other intelligence technologies such as satellites and listening devices so that we can anticipate and prevent as many attacks as possible.  We will surely redesign emergency response techniques and will implement use of new types of rescue and response equipment.

American ingenuity and engineering is what has won wars of all types in the past.  Advancements in aircraft technology changed the way World War I was fought.  Would we have put as clear an end to World War II without having developed nuclear technology for military use?  Developing the technologies that took us to the moon was a clear win in a key cold war battle.  “Smart bombs” brought a clear and decisive victory in the Gulf war of just a few years ago.

Most critically, Americans should think about the people that will develop these anti-terrorist technologies.  It is clear because of the nature and complexity of this new kind of war that it will last many years and, similar to the cold war, may not have a clear-cut end.  Because of the long-term nature of this problem, the people who will develop these technologies in the future are the students of today.  But, are students in our schools learning to think, to solve problems, to design new technologies?  Are students in schools studying the nature and scope of engineering design and technology?  They are learning how to use computers, but are they learning about technological development and the spirit of human engineering?  In some places, the answer is yes, but it is clearly not happening enough.  Students need to learn more about technology and the nature of technological design.  They should be thinking about problems and impacts of technology daily in their schoolwork.  Students need technology education today, so that they may be able to assist the United States in developing the technology of tomorrow.