Spiralling Technology Brings Abundance - and Reinforces Social Divisions

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Saliem Fakir

The RAND Corporation's survey (www.rand.org) of the Global Technology Revolution 2020 maps out the new technologies on the rise. The report identifies 16 technology applications (TAs) which will determine economic competitiveness and military superiority in the future - spurring a technological race between the major powers.

Three regions will dominate: North America, Western Europe and Asia. South Africa is on the list, but way down in the hierarchy of technologically superior countries.

Of the 16 most important revolutionary technologies, those with the highest rate of convergence between them are biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology.

The Rand study is sponsored by the US's National Intelligence Council, the primary objective of which is to identify trends in technology and science that will impact on the US's security and supremacy.

The spread of technologies are impressive. Some of the innovations that are on the cards range from targeted drug delivery for tumours and pathogen location, to green manufacturing that offers cleaner environments, hybrid vehicles that rely on little conventional fuel, tissue engineering, wearable computers to go in clothes, handbags and jewellery, body monitoring and disease management control.

You may ask what is the point of it all - will this bring happiness? For all intents and purposes, the desire for power and the quest for immortality seems to be the primary driving force behind technological progress.

The Enlightenment philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, did not necessarily view the transition from "savage" simplicity to development as a portent of hope and achievement.

If anything, he saw in it the possibility of greater inequality and class divisions.

For Rousseau inequality in economic, social, political and moral life was "unnatural", and was a result of humans separating themselves from nature, establishing private property as a means of exploitation, and where the state became a defender of private property and privilege rather than looking after the needs of all its citizens.

This point of view attracted considerable attack from the establishment then as it would most certainly do today. Rousseau saw in abundance the roots of envy and emulation - two vices, in his view, responsible for social division and unhappiness.

In a technologically savvy world, inequalities are reinforced through technological disparities between nations.

Technology either locks you into the world's economy or the lack of it locks you out.

For Rousseau, spiralling need led to human enslavement. He was alluding to a peculiar inversion of consequences: you find a need, you satisfy and achieve short-lived happiness, only to find a need for another problem - "the privileged few gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude lack the bare necessities of life".

For instance, the fear of death has led to revolutions in genomics and the biological sciences in general. In the foreseeable future it will be possible for every individual to possess their own genomic information, and so be able to predict their disposition either for long life or early death through the pre-identification of diseases before their occurrence - marking a revolution from generalised medicine to individualised applications of medical technology. …