In “The Lake View: This World and the Universe” Steven Weinberg uses military history to show how elites become enraptured with the most dramatic technology, not necessarily the best.
From the knight on horseback, who frequently lost to peasant archers and foot soldiers; to the dreadnought battleship, to the long-range bomber, to intercontinental missile defense systems, top-level strategists advocated technologies that proved to be budgetary black holes, sucking up resources vastly disproportionate to their strategic and practical value. And even more important, Weinberg says, over-emphasis on these technologies launched arms races that damaged the economies of the entrapped nations without delivering any practical benefit.
It is worthwhile to keep this in mind when listening to sales pitches from vendors, salutatory articles in press, or trend data from analysts. “If we pursue this strategy how much of our resources will it demand?” “What will happen if our competitors follow the same path – where is our advantage?” “Is there a cheap or simple counter?”
When considering an investment in budget-busting new technologies offering “game-changing competitive advantage,” remember the generations of lordly knights in staggeringly expensive “high-tech” armor, overwhelmed by peasants armed with hunting bows, kitchen knives and rows of sharpened sticks.