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Decade Ends Very Differently Than It Began

WASHINGTON - How wrong we were.

The decade that ends this month began with monumental fears of technology.

As the chronometers turned to 2000, humans braced against Y2K doomsday scenarios of rogue computers launching missiles, erasing bank accounts, causing jetliners to crash and generally sending humankind hurtling backward.

The optimism that came from a sense of shedding last century's horrific wars, poverty and hunger was tempered with a fear of technological bondage. We braced for the dark side of the "soul" of computers that Tracy Kidder described in his best-seller, "The Soul of a New Machine" - the story of humans working inhumane hours to create more powerful computers.

Less than two years later, we were reminded in fire, smoke and blood that humans are still the biggest threats to humanity.

On that clear September morning in 2001, suicide - destruction in its basest state - became the most potent weapon of the age. The new machines, it turns out, only facilitate and magnify failings in the human soul.

"Modern technology," President Barack Obama said when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, "allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."

It wasn't that long ago that American politicians were touting the peace dividend and new freedoms ahead with the Cold War at an end. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and Eastern Europe threw off the bonds of 70 years of first Nazism, and then communism.

The new president who took office in January 2001, George W. Bush, talked about releasing long-neglected Africa from the vice of poverty and disease.

We were nearly as close to previous decades' warnings of a new global ice age as we are to the decade-ending debate about global warming.

When this decade began, Barack Obama was an obscure Illinois politician. Now he's a president with a peace prize presiding over a fresh escalation of an eight-year war in Afghanistan.

What is the lesson of the decade?

That all events, no matter the scale, are human events.

Make no mistake, humans more than ever are shaped by the technology and machines they have created. The instantaneous connectedness of the Internet, the legions of Blackberry-reading jaywalkers or texting drivers on our streets, the remote-control wars we fight with satellites and drones, all attest to that. So do all the comforts of touch-screen living.

But killers who fly jets into skyscrapers or plotters who hide away in primitive mountain caves all feed off the basest human emotions that have been around since the dawn of humanity.

Their hate is the province of no millennium, and no invention will ever change a human heart.

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