Sir Mark Walport recently wrote an interesting article for the Government Office for Science to discuss whether genetically modified organisms are a good thing. As the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, he claims that we have a ‘horrible habit’ of judging technologies generically, rather than recognising the new benefits and new risks of each development.
Sir Mark’s role is to maximise the impact of science, technology, engineering and social science on people’s health, wellbeing, resilience and security, as well as on the economy. He suggests that questions surrounding IT should be specific, focusing on the precise use of the individual technology. For example, when talking about genetic modification, we should look at the organism in question, the modifying gene and the reason for the change. Makes perfect sense. Another example of technology under the spotlight is 3D printing; when discussing the pros and cons we need to assess the example of a gun being created surreptitiously from a design downloaded from the Internet, compared to a life-saving spare part for medical equipment.
These questions are raised and debated by government scientific advisers on a regular basis. Currently, Sir Mark is advising on a fast-growing application of IT – the ‘internet of things.’ This relates to people as much as the things in our lives. The technological devices we use daily are controlled by internet-enabled microprocessors cleverly able to communicate with each other. Mobile phones are the key example! We like it when the information is anonymised – warnings of traffic jams, for example – yet we’re not so happy when our personal information becomes compromised.
The Government Office for Science has advised the Prime Minister to find experts able to identify opportunities and concerns, then develop an action plan to establish how services can be delivered more efficiently and resources can be used more effectively. But surely we don’t want to rely solely on IT as a means of communicating… Of course it’s important, but we shouldn’t forget the basic human need of personal engagement. No technology can replace the value of interaction in meetings or the fun of a chat around the water cooler!
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Government’s policies on IT, please get in touch. I can direct you to the right department – with or without the use of IT, whichever you prefer!