Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Automatically Install Updates?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Automatically Install Updates?

Article excerpt

An appraisal of the shiny and new from GM crops to IT calls for better oversight, says Richard Joyner

The Ethics of Invention: Technology and the Human Future By Sheila Jasanoff W. W. Norton, 320pp, £17.99 ISBN 9780393078992 Published 30 September 2016

The effectiveness of the longbow gave an advantage to Henry V's troops at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. More recently, nuclear weapons threaten our annihilation, while advances in genetic engineering perhaps promise eternal life. Writers such as Johan Norberg and Matt Ridley have painted optimistic pictures of the benefits of new technology. In this readable and absorbing book, Sheila Jasanoff, professor of science and technology studies at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, presents a more pessimistic view. She points out that while new technology may benefit some, it will be too expensive for others and could cause harm. She reviews the approaches that have been adopted to regulate new technologies, presents a number of illuminating case histories and offers thoughts on how we might do better in future. She makes a good case that technology rules us just as much as laws do.

Jasanoff is sceptical of most of the approaches to evaluating new technology that have been tried so far. Risk assessment too often allows technical people to mark their own homework. The US Office of Technology Assessment, which operated from 1972 to 1995, was too much in the grip of party politicians to gain general respect. She speaks approvingly about a wide-ranging public consultation on the possible introduction of genetically modified crops that was carried out in the UK from 2001 to 2003, under the banner "GM Nation?" It concluded that there was much opposition to, and little appetite for, the introduction of GM crops, which was not what Tony Blair's government wanted to hear. …

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