In later years, he would visit the university in Lima, Peru to deliver a lecture. His spirit of adventure led him to hike on the ancient Inca Trail, starting from nearby Cusco, the ancient capital of Inca civilization. After a few days of hiking and camping in the wild, he would arrive at the Sun Gate on a mountaintop to get a first glance of the ruins of Machu Picchu, an abandoned city of Inca civilization. As he would come down on the remainder of the trail to explore the ruins in details, the old thought “Why and how did an advanced civilization come to oblivion on earth?” resurfaced.
Recently, on a sabbatical leave, Prof. Smith was spending a semester in the university in Tel Aviv, Israel. One weekend, he would cross the country’s border to enter into neighboring country Jordan. He wanted to visit the pink city of Petra, once inhabited by the advanced Nabetean civilization, abandoned, and re-discovered in modern times. As he was exploring the remnants of their artful architectures and advanced irrigation system scattered throughout the lost city, his latent thought of the disappearance of an advanced society re-emerged. Over the years, Prof. Smith dug into history literature to get a sense of the factors that led to the demise of various advanced civilizations. Most of the time, the natural causes like droughts, floods, and earthquakes were blamed. In some cases, the effect of long-running wars with a neighboring society was also put forward.
Now sitting in a café, just outside the ruins of Petra, he would reconnect with the rest of the world via his smart-phone. Two headlines stood out. A data-analysis company, secretly profiling millions of members of a social network site, was able to manipulate the outcome of the past national election in favor of a nationalistic leader, bent on building walls around its border to keep away citizens from a neighboring country. The same company had also been implicated in manipulating public opinion of a country on the other side of the Atlantic to detach herself from a long-lasting union of several other countries in the region.
Prof. Smith began wondering “Did those ancient civilizations self-destruct, while attempting to safeguard their superiority?”