“Science and technology are fundamentally changing society”, says Steen Rasmussen, physicist, center director at the University of Southern Denmark and now one of the main organizers of the workshop ‘An Emerging Technological and Societal Transition’. He states that not only he, but everyone should be aware of these dramatic changes.
These changes make it important that there is a conversation, placing science in a bigger picture. “Scientists have a social responsibility to be involved in the political debate.” Hence the idea of the workshop was formed, bringing together specialists from all different fields. By organizing the workshop, Rasmussen wants to start a public conversation about the challenges, the opportunities and the important political and societal issues. He notes that “the future is overwhelming, but by decomposing the problem in smaller chunks we will be able to attack the problem scientifically and produce a concrete and tangible roadmap.”
Mad and evil science
Rasmussen has gathered participants from a large variety of research fields to reach these overarching goals of the workshop. However, all participants have their own motivations. Ra Page, the founder and editorial manager of Comma Press, would like to see more interaction between scientists, artists and writers. Science is changing: knowledge about technology and artificial life is becoming more widespread. Page thinks it is important to break through the clichés of mad or evil geniuses and unaccountable scientists merely doing the bidding of corporations. The stories must change along with the changing science. Can we recycle and adapt the old stories or do we have to create new types of stories? By participating in this workshop he wants to meet scientists to discuss new technologies, so new stories can be written. Furthermore he would like to find out if new technologies, for example technologies that allow you to download product ‘blueprints’ and 3D-print them at home, will make us more or less social.
One of these constantly changing technologies is the computer. David Ackley, a computer scientist at the University of New Mexico, USA, has come to the Netherlands to participate in the workshop because he is concerned about computer security. “If there is a problem, we blame persons. However, the computers suck no matter what we do.” He wants everyone to realize that computers could be better than they are currently. “They will get faster, smarter and safer.” Ackley thinks this is achievable in ten years. Nowadays, they use one central processor and memory. So when security is broken from the outside, hackers can take over the control of the whole computer. However, by making one computer that consists of a lot of tiny computers, it doesn’t even matter when one is taken over. “It’s like having the flu, you will get better.”
This link between computers and the flu may be of special interest to Kristina Korsholm, daughter of organizer Steen Rasmussen. She is an actress, model and author living in Los Angeles and is currently making a documentary with Pernille Rose Groenkjaer about artificial life. Korsholm states that the theoretical models that are being used for education and economy do not fit society anymore. “Technology is changing, but the models for the economy stay the same. Because of this, jobs are disappearing, making people fear the new technology.” She believes a turnaround is needed, showing that technology can actually help us. Therefore, Korsholm thinks it is important that the participants, specialists from all different research fields, start by developing a new roadmap. Scientists need to come out of hiding and get out of their ‘safe room’, in order to make science more understandable for citizens, policymakers and the media. Furthermore, she hopes to reach a new target group with the documentary by making science sexy.
A strange combination
One may see this as a strange combination of people. Who would have thought that a physicist, an editor, a computer scientist and a model were going to work together? From all over the world, they have come to the Netherlands to participate in this workshop. Although each participant has their personal goals, they all share the objective: to create a future in which science and technology are not feared but embraced and where technology is designed to serve a better society for all.
By Jannica Swieringa