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Author: Tom Hewitt

Leaping forward into the dark

Updated Tuesday, 5th April 2005

Are human needs shaping technology, or are a few enjoying technology for its own sake? Tom Hewitt respons to Lord Broer's first Reith Lecture.

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The bicycle was a nifty invention. Sir Alec Broers is correct, however, to put it in its place in the ranking of ‘great British inventions’.

I share his enthusiasm for achievements in science and engineering. But are plagues really under control?

Is travelling a few hours to cross the globe such a desirable achievement?

Is accessing billions of words from your desk such an advantage?

And for whom are these achievements available?

Shacks alongside Mumbai airport [Image: cactusbones under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]
Shacks alongside Mumbai airport [Image: cactusbones under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]

And is technology determining the future of the human race… or is it the other way round - the human race steering technology and thereby determining what priorities are set and which solutions are sought?

Increasingly, the headlong advances of science and technology leave the world all out of kilter.


‘We’ can fly faster across the world, ‘we’ can expect a longer life, ‘we’ can process more information. But where does this leave others? Picking up the crumbs?

Globally – as any international statistics will demonstrate – the human race and its technologies have failed to alleviate world hunger, to improve child and maternal mortality rates, to reduce environmental degradation, and still less to make 'all information available to everyone'.

The technological potential is there but the opportunity is not taken. This failing is mostly about a lack of political will. But engineers cannot wash their hands of such responsibilities either.

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