[Este texto es un fragmento del libro Nanotecnologia viva, de Sonia Contera, catedratica de fisica de Oxford. Una version anterior del libro se publico en 2019 en ingles, lo que motivo que EL PAIS entrevistara a Contera. Tras leer esa entrevista, Arpa Editores se puso en contacto con la autora para publicar esta version actualizada y en espanol del mismo]
One of the main reasons that drives scientists to engage more deeply with democracy and society is the unease created by the effect of technology in an increasingly unequal world, and also the more or less widespread perception of technology as source of inequality. As is the case with most activities that generate economic profit and political power, the rewards and benefits of science and technology are distributed very unevenly in our society. Much of the Western narrative of technology is about the surprise it produces, the shock to our lives, and the fear of unemployment and human redundancy. This narrative stems from the fact that technology has been used primarily to control and exploit nature. Not surprisingly, we anticipate that this technology will inevitably be used to make the socially and economically weak (and not-so-weak) redundant, or even worse, cannon fodder for the dystopian exploitation of human biology itself. . Science and technology promise to improve our lives, but they also threaten to remove what little control most people have over their use and exploitation. Science is central to the development and structure of society, and must be incorporated into our economic and political processes as what it is, a pillar of the system that must be modulated by democratic processes.
The possibilities that science and technology are bringing us will probably make the 21st century the best and most exciting time to be alive, but only for the few who can benefit from them: the educated, the well-connected, the powerful and the wealthy. Inequalities in income and in access to healthcare and education seriously threaten to derail the fabulous possibilities of our time. The future of “radical abundance” that scientists in laboratories around the world increasingly feel is within the reach of humanity will not occur if the benefits of technology are not shared more equally.
However, technology is not an external force acting on society. The applications of technology arise from the established conditions and decisions made by scientists, technologists, research funders, regulators, workers, consumers and, ultimately, the exploiters and owners of the means of production. . Society can determine the use and fair distribution of the benefits of technology. Robots will produce unemployment if the main goal of their deployment is productivity and income for their owners, but this is not the only possible outcome. They can also serve to make our lives more interesting and fairer (to cite specific cases, perhaps nothing has contributed as much to equality between the sexes as the invention of the washing machine or the production of contraceptives). Scientists are increasingly active in their commitment to society to create not only economic income, but also social and cultural value. Technological change can and must be harmonized by the dialogue between what is possible and what is desirable, and scientists must not be excluded from this dialogue.
Science and technology will make the 21st century the best and most exciting time to be alive, but only for the few who can benefit.
I would say that technology and equality can and should feed each other. We need political creativity for anticipatory and adaptive governance, to ensure that science and technology are used to reduce inequality, rather than become a new source of it. This governance will therefore need science and technology to become a reality.
From my point of view as a woman, mother, physicist and educator, the vision is clear: the potential is enormous. In the laboratory, the international and multidisciplinary nature of our research at the interface of nanotechnology and biology empowers our students of all genders and sexes and from all backgrounds, enhancing their scientific and technological creativity and their social and industrial entrepreneurship. . Many applications of the new bionanotechnological materials sciences are potentially cheap and easy to implement, requiring minimal laboratory infrastructure. With the right framework, new technologies should become global forces to reduce national and global inequalities. We should take advantage of this potential. Nanotechnologists are already working to democratize scientific tools to produce cheap and easy technology that can reach people around the world, like the paper strip biosensor devices we use in COVID diagnostic tests. These inventions are part of the so-called “frugal design technology”: for example, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, born out of the University of Cambridge in 2009, created the Raspberry Pi computer, which costs about $35 and has sold more than 10 million copies. units. In 2017, the press brought us images of the Paperfuge, a centrifuge made of paper by Stanford engineers that costs 20 cents, capable of separating blood into its components using the principle of the pinwheel toy. Another example is the Foldscope, a paper microscope that costs less than a dollar.
Gaining skill in the control of matter naturally brings out the human instinct to produce cheaper and more democratic technology. Contrary to most of the comments we are subjected to by academics and the press, technology itself naturally promotes equality by making production better, cheaper, and more sustainable, and by inspiring scientists to seek simplicity and practicality. It takes a conscious and active political and economic effort to create and maintain the structures that generate inequality from technology, and not the other way around.
It takes a conscious and active political and economic effort to create and maintain the structures that generate inequality through technology, and not the other way around.
The seeds of technological progress capable of unleashing a global wave of success and business transformation have already been planted. Students are drawn to advancements, seeing them as an opportunity to disrupt economic systems that do not offer them a rosy future. They need to create technology that changes their world for the better, and this isn’t just happening in Boston, Silicon Valley, or Oxford. Technology can be a very practical solution to many local problems, and not just in the developed world; many citizens of developing countries put their hopes in science, which always attracts the interest of the most disadvantaged, perhaps because of the intrinsic power it has to reveal the depth of natural reality and to change it.
The convergence of sciences around biology offers great opportunities for development. For example, most Asian countries, which do not have a strong pharmaceutical industry (almost all except Japan), appreciate the possibility of developing medical technology that disrupts the current status quo. They foresee an opportunity for growth and even global dominance in technologies that will shape the future; this is clearly reflected in the research budgets for biophysics, engineering, and materials science projects touching biology and medicine in, for example, South Korea, China, Singapore, and Taiwan. It is clear that the research I have presented in this book is beginning to influence world economics and geopolitical strategies.
Doesn’t the fear of the developed world and the largely negative vision of the future of technology in the so-called “West” also reflect the fear of the rich and powerful of losing their privileged position in the world, and even the fear of Western societies to fall from their position of cultural and economic dominance? Isn’t it some kind of perverse and ambivalent game in which people who feel entitled to produce and exploit technology also produce anti-science fears not only to warn against its misuse, but to use fear as a means to make it easy to control? Does this ambivalent position not reinforce the current trend in much of the Western world to reduce budgets for education, basic scientific research and collaboration that may threaten the dominance of some major industrial players in the technologies of the future?
Although it is certainly a good idea to interrogate and regulate technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biology and nanotechnology, it is also true that for the large corporations that dominate the markets, many of the products and applications of new technologies are disruptive. , threaten their current models of sustainability and economic growth, and are developing in places outside their traditional control. These companies have the power to stop research and development that threatens their control by effectively lobbying governments. The media and entertainment industry can divert attention from real power struggles by creating narratives that contribute to the public’s feelings of alienation and frustration and turn them against an elite class of scientists, technologists, and experts. Fear of technology is used as a political and economic weapon as powerful as the technology itself.
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Source: EL PAIS