The top tech stories for the tumultuous 2001 are intertwined with the changed political, economic and social world in which we live. The terrorist attacks on the United States, the rapid and effective military response a world away, the decline of the New Economy, and the ascent of the Old Economy are all stories that demonstrate the breadth and limits of technology.
In the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, box cutters and fanaticism were used in a deadly low-tech combination. While technology cannot replace vigilance, the proper use of technology can help extend the eyes, ears and human reasoning needed to prevent further attacks. Security, business continuity planning and computer-assisted identification systems are now a major part of any companys IT planning. Adopting the right technology without an overreliance on what technology can accomplish and without undermining the rights upon which the United States was founded will be an important part of the legacy we hand our children.
The military response in Afghanistan showed how effective a force is developed when you create the right mix of technology; formidable, well-trained troops accomplishing specific objectives; and strongly supported native fighters. The contrasting images of cavalry charges and smart bombs being precision-guided by troops on the ground showed that even organizations as tradition-bound as the U.S. military can adapt and win by balancing human resources and technology.
The decline and evaporation of the dot-coms will be the stuff of books and legends for years to come. Unbridled enthusiasm, blind greed, and the overwhelming belief that technology alone could surmount all economic and social hurdles combined to create the dot-bomb crash. The dot-coms now find themselves in the history books, along with those failed investors in the South Seas real estate bubble and the Holland tulip craze.
While it is difficult to see what was saved from the South Seas and tulip adventures, the dot-com legacy leaves not only economic failure but also technological success. Those once-maligned Old Economy companies are now the ones that will profit from all that dot-com investment. The promise of frictionless business practices, closer ties with suppliers, and a Web that will allow consumers to get a good deal and a good product are all within the reach of business today.
This issue includes our views on the biggest tech stories, the biggest disappointments along with the most impressive technologies and most useful products and developments. Weve learned a lot this year. Some of those lessons were devastatingly difficult; some were learned looking up from the bottom of an economic crater. Technology still holds the promise of a way to help in the creation of a better society. Lets hope we can take the lessons of 2001 and apply them toward a better 2002.