Are we the masters of technology, or is technology controlling us? During the second morning of the workshop participants discussed the need for global collaboration and regulation on technology, the implications technology could have on our identity as humans, and the future of biotechnology.
As technology is levelling the playing field in real life, storytellers also need to level the playing field. Ra Page of the British publishing company Comma Press wants society to break free of the ‘Hero Myth-mould’ of industrial age storytelling.
In such stories we have a familiar hero: the rebel, or the ‘Chosen One’, who is somehow different from the rest of society. While this is an effective way of storytelling, it also isolates the hero from the rest of the world. Page envisions a more collaborative way of storytelling, via collective stories from multiple viewpoints.
The other participants also discussed this need for a more collaborative approach in today’s society. Svend Aage Christensen, from the Danish Institute of International Studies, brought up the need to reduce industry influence on governments. Many big companies use their large financial power to influence politicians.
While there has been an effort to regulate this at the national level, the global and regional levels need more attention. In this global economy, Christensen points out, there is a great need for international economic and political oversight.
More specifically, Ulf Dahlsten from the London School of Economics, calls for the need for more international market laws. These laws would allow the restriction of funding of ethically debatable research even if there are currently no laws against it.
For example, research into enhancing human strength could lead to an unfair advantage for the rich who could afford such enhancements. International market laws would allow funding to be cut until evidence is gathered and laws can be put into place to regulate such research.
Enhancing human capabilities with technology? Perhaps he is talking about cyborgs, but surely that kind of technology is still far in the future. Yet according to Kees de Vey Mestdagh, from the University of Groningen, this is not true.
As people become more reliant on technology, they become in essence cyborgs, or technologically enhanced humans. After all, it is conceivable that without technology, society as we know it today will quickly fall apart.
Because of our reliance on technology, it is a scary thought that corporations control much of our personal information, economics, and even behaviour via IT. De Vey Mestdagh believes that our rights to digital privacy and property require more solidification. Such protection would safeguard us from some corporation subtly manipulating our consumer choices via cleverly placed advertisements.
This point is further elaborated on by Rinie van Est of the Rathenau Institute. He believes that the robotisation of the industry and private life is inevitable. If every part of our life becomes digitalised, every part of our life will also be recorded in some machine. We must find a way to let these digital recordings remain private.
Dirk Stemerding, from the Rathenau Institute, points to a possible future in which we could rely on technology for anything from food and medicine, to chemicals and energy. In bio-based economy all these things will be made using synthetic biology and biotechnology.
Many disapprove of the high-tech, profit-driven industrial side of biotechnology. Yet Stermerding hopes for a smooth societal transition into a bio-based economy. For this to happen, there needs to be more publicity about the great possibilities of a bio-based economy as the alternative to our fossil-fuel based economy.
By Hannah Park