What are some social and economical impacts (positive and negative) related to lasers (an application of quantum mechanics)?
To the extent that there can be said to be a flip side to every coin, then the development lasers, which emits an intense, highly concentrated beam of monochromatic light derived from the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation, can be said to have involved both social and economic ramifications that both serve and threaten the well-being of mankind.
The development of the field of quantum mechanics opened up a massive world of opportunities for the evolution of science and medicine. As scientists advanced their knowledge of the atom and of subatomic particles, they were able to envision a large number of practical applications for the use of lasers that have proven instrumental in the improvement of medical care, forensic sciences, and the design and construction of precision machinery for the manufacture of safer aircraft and more efficient rocketry, and much more. One of the most important, and beneficial applications of laser technology has been in the field of medicine. The intense beam provided by the manipulation of photons opened up many new avenues for the treatment of tumors, especially in the brain, and for the conduct of minimally-invasive surgical procedures. While the everyday application of laser technology in the field of medicine may be as mundane as their use in cosmetic surgery, the development of “laser scalpel” has revolutionized the methods by which extremely intricate life-threatening surgical procedures are conducted.
The medical applications of lasers are socially and economically beneficial to mankind, as are the industrial applications, including more efficient cutting, welding and soldering in the manufacture of automobiles and aircraft. The application of lasers has made for more accurate assessments of distances in astronomical calculations, and for the determination of precise calculations for land-based surveying. All of these applications have proven economically beneficial without posing moral quandaries. The flip side of the coin could be the military applications of laser technology that have already proven morally problematic. During the 1980s, the Soviet Union deployed lasers aboard some of its naval vessels that were used to blind American pilots flying overhead, and the American military has experimented with lasers in the development of politically-contentious weapons intended to destroy incoming ballistic and cruise missiles. The Air Force’s Airborne Laser program, for instance, was a very expensive project intended to enable modified aircraft to fire a laser beam at enemy missiles in-flight, thereby preventing those missiles from reaching their targets. Many Democrats in Congress opposed this program because of their concern that developing such a capability would precipitate an arms race, and that the program’s cost was out of proportion to the potential benefits the laser would provide.
The military applications of lasers go well-beyond the potential missile-defense applications, and include anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons as well as improved targeting mechanisms. Whether one opposes these programs on moral or social grounds is an individual decision, but some of these programs have proven very politically controversial, especially the development of lasers intended to disable the satellites of other countries during times of war.
The application of many technologies can be good or bad. It is all a matter of intent on the part of those possessing such capabilities.