Some people think that technology can solve all of the world’s problems. There are plenty of other people, incidentally, who think technology will exacerbate some of those problems. They don’t want genetically modified food, for example. But some great global issues, like climate change, well, wouldn’t it be nice if we thought that scientists and engineers could solve us out of those without a great deal of pain? Well, here’s a thing, technology is very difficult. Scientists and engineers will make progress, but they’re not going to make progress quickly or easily. And it’s no good just hoping for them to get rid of the problems, we have to think about the role of the rest of us in these things as well, because when you talk to scientists and engineers they’ll always point out that it’s not just the technology that matters, it’s everything that goes around it.
Take the example of electric cars. It’s not just the battery technology which will get slowly better and hopefully make electric cars drive further and drive faster and drive on lower amounts of energy, it’s also everything else. The infrastructure around where you charge your battery, the power stations that go with the battery, the legislation that makes the batteries legal, the marketing that will make the cars with the batteries sell; all of these things have to be in place as well. And if you look at lots of other big giant leaps forward in technological terms, the Internet for example, it wasn’t just the scientists and engineers who got us to where we are today, it was the entrepreneurs who saw the opportunity to harness the technology and get us where we are today.
So we must always ask ourselves not just what are they going to do for us, the scientists and engineers, but what are we going to do for them? How are we going to take whatever incremental and advances that they make, how are we going to take those and make sure they’re exploited, that they’re introduced, that they get through the legislative hurdles or other bits and bobs that need dealing with?
That’s my view, but you can join the debate with the Open University.