The science of using what we already have

For a very long time, I’ve wondered about a core tenet of our modern, technology driven era: that what we have now is inherently better than what we have before. For example, most people will insist that farming with oil consuming tractors and modern implements is far better than anything we could have achieved continuing to use animal power, and they make that claim based on very little if any evidence.

It is because of that uncertainty that I was fascinated by the story of Bart Weetjens, a man who trains rats to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis. What Weejens has done is taken a modern, technological problem and solved it using an idea based on something that required very little technological development. His TED talk is an extraordinary understatement of the idea I think he has introduced.

And what is that idea? For me, it is the science of using what we already have instead of inventing some new, potentially damaging solution, to solve a problem. What if the problem with, say, using horses to farm isn’t that tractors are more efficient but that we never developed the technology to use horses far enough? Weetjens, I think, takes that approach with finding mines and disease.

What else can we apply this principle to?