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Science, Maths & Technology

What if popular demand takes us in the wrong direction?

Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2005

There's much to be gained by encouraging a wider public engagement with technology, says Nick Braithwaite. He's responding to Lord Broers' final Reith Lecture.

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The consequences of our technology-enabled lifestyle are not always positive.

Broers' highlighted air transportation and general energy consumption as areas that currently pose serious threats to the environment – yet these technologies are made available ‘by popular demand’.

Popular demand for air travel: Queues at Heathrow, 2007 [Image:Wolfiewolf under CC-BY licence] Creative commons image Icon WolfieWolf via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
Popular demand for air travel: Queues at Heathrow, 2007 [Image: Wolfiewolf under CC-BY licence]

We must be better informed if we are to take responsibility for our actions or make objective assessments of the risks involved. That means the public has a responsibility to engage more with the technology it uses.

Public engagement with technology and its consequences is an altogether more worthy pursuit than merely a public understanding of science.

A new debate on nuclear power is beginning. New generations worldwide are set to demand levels of energy for which a dramatically increased nuclear option is a serious contender.

Some have been over the ground before, but the technology and the market have evolved.

It’s time to worry again about issues of safety, risk to the environment and the legacy of nuclear waste.

To join the debate the ability to distinguish between facts, values and beliefs will be essential – it always is in matters of technology. The triumph of technology now needs to be matched by triumphs of communication, education and debate about technology.

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